Ever wondered why hotel staff turn down your bed?

October 1, 2010 at 7:06 pm | In ideas, social_critique | 3 Comments

Yet another section in Erve Chambers’s Native Tours jumped out at me today (see previous entries for other examples). Chambers references (pp.106-7) the work of Graham Dann, who in 1996 “described some of the ways in which language is used to promote various kinds of tourism, as well as to regulate and control interactions between tourists and hosts.”

Language is key to “socializing” the tourists – getting them accustomed to the focus of whatever the tourist experience aims at, whether it’s the nostalgia register; spasprech (health tourism); gastrolingo (food & drink oriented tourism experiences); or greenspeak (eco-tourism).

What I found most fascinating was this, however:

The process [Dann] describes is one in which tourists are invited to play the role of the child about to explore new physical and cultural terrain. Their socialization begins with guidebooks and marketing brochures, which assure the tourist-child that his or her safety and comfort needs will be assured and that there will be plenty of opportunities to satisfy his or her biological and emotional needs. Once they have arrived at their destination, industry workers guide the tourist-child to a bed, even turning down the sheets, provide food, and offer the assurance of 24-hour contact with the front desk. Dann describes the work of other scholars who have suggested that this child-parent relationship persists throughout the traveler’s visit. The goal of tourism industry representatives is to transform the tourist from the “natural Child (with unlimited wants) to the adapted Child (with trained needs).”

I have to admit that I never thought of it this way before – but it makes sense. As Dann (via Chambers) notes, it helps explain a lot, for example the nearly irrational temper tantrums tourists are capable of throwing over what, in other circumstances, might be minor details. “I’m not being taken care of,” would be the Child’s inner thought when a reservation isn’t honored or if the towel service isn’t up to snuff. That’s when the client/ guest/ tourist can act like a brat – and having paid dearly to be that Child (trained or not), she or he feels entitled to scream.

Check out this image posted to Flickr by fujiapple (it sure makes Dann’s / Chambers’s point!)…

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