Few words in the English language seem to carry as many negative connotations today as “tourist”.
It might not quite match “chav” or “benefit cheat” as a term of abuse, though, in some people’s minds, there is a natural link, but it is increasingly used as an insult, notably by the inhabitants of towns and cities which attract large numbers of visitors.
But why should that be, especially as most of us are tourists at some time or another?
It might be helpful to ponder some authoritative dictionary definitions:
A person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure (Oxford Dictionary)
A person who travels for pleasure, usually sightseeing and staying in hotels (Collins English Dictionary)
A person who travels to a place for pleasure; one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture (Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
One who travels for pleasure (The Free Dictionary)
A person who is travelling, especially for pleasure (Dictionary.com)
There is a strong measure of consensus, therefore, on what constitutes a “tourist”. Travel and pleasure are the key elements.
What’s wrong with that? Seems pretty tame doesn’t it? So why do we use it in such a derogatory fashion nowadays?
I’ll confess that, as I am forced off the pavement on Oxford Street in London for the tenth time in the space of a hundred yards, or witness the loutish behaviour of visitors to one of the many festivals celebrated in my hometown, I am prone, not only to mutter but launch into a full-scale rant, about “bloody tourists”. I have even found myself sneering at flabby, inappropriately attired families from Florida, Kansas or indeed the UK just like any native or lifelong resident of San Francisco, the city recently anointed the snobbiest in the United States.
Not particularly pleasant, is it?
They may affront our sense of fashion, walk too slow in front of us, fail to speak our language, clog up our streets and generally disrespect our culture, but what right do we have to object to this just because we have the good fortune to live in a place that other people find worthy of visiting too? After all, without the money that they bring in to the local economy, there would not be the funding to maintain, let alone enhance, the attractions and services that we all enjoy.
In 2012 San Francisco received over sixteen and a half million visitors who spent almost nine billion dollars. Only five other American cities surpassed these amounts. Yet San Francisco is only the fourteenth largest city in population terms. Tourism is huge.
Nor should we forget that most of us are tourists too at one time or another, and probably without realising it, display some of those objectionable habits that we despise in others.
The word “tourist” was once a bland, descriptive word. There was no judgement implied in its usage. But that is no longer the case.
It is a sad symptom of a less tolerant age, one where we seek to deny others the right to share in our good fortune.