One of the occupational hazards of being a sociologist, especially a sociologist who has studied tourism from a sociological perspective (for a dissertation on post-Soviet change in the Baltics), is that I have a hard time just being a tourist. Instead, I see manufactured sights, events, and experiences all around me, existing in suspended, somewhat artificial states designed primarily for touristic consumption. There are few genuine, 'real' experiences while one is a tourist; most of what we see and do while on vacation has been crafted for our viewing, entertainment or consumption as tourists. I recently had the excellent opportunity to view the touristic enterprise sociologically as our family joined over a dozen Seattle families on a soccer tournament tour package that brought us to Spain's northeast coastal region and to Barcelona.
We stayed for a week on the tourist strip in Malgrat de Mar on the Costa Brava where low-budget all-inclusive hotels were interpersed with cheap food joints advertising British food and Dutch food, tourist nightclubs, and dozens of tourist shops with made-in-China kitsch and knock-off sports jerseys. The beach was parallel to us, and seemed to be enjoyed mostly by the tourists staying in the hotels. This tourist location is designed to bring thousands of visitors in and
out, and the tourism industry has crafted the 'inexpensive beach holiday
on the Spanish Mediterranean,' complete with mass-produced food, cheap
shopping opportunities, and what might best be called cheesy evening musical entertainment on the
hotel pool decks or at the discos on the strip. (Our hotel featured Simon Grant! From England! ...and singing cheerleaders from the
Czech Republic.) We tried to venture out beyond the strip, to try to get a more authentic experience of local life, local food and the local language, Catalan. After all, we were in Spain, or more specifically Catalonia, but so far, it was not the Spain that most Spaniards know.
Thinking about tourism in this way, as a series of manufactured experiences, does tend to deflate what others might think of as amazing and novel sights and events. Sociologically-speaking though, made-for-tourist locales, sports tourism events, and museums all reflect attempts by one group of people (those who comprise the various actors in the tourism industry) to create products, views, and events for the consumption of other people (those people that buy the touristic product). Tourism is a simply another socially constructed endeavor.