What exactly plays in the minds of travellers, especially from the Europe and the western world when they journey to ‘foreign worlds’ and ‘exotic cultures’ such as Africa?
Are these trips made to broaden one’s horizon and inadvertently enhance prejudices?
According to this article which appeared in The Star Malaysia, “Many travellers want to play explorer – which in itself is a very colonial image.”
Indeed, stereotypes abound in advertisements and travel offers to Africa, hinting at racism and colonial sentiment. Please, read the full article below…
When we travel, we want to experience new things, broaden our horizons, educate ourselves.
But do trips to “foreign worlds” and “exotic cultures” only enhance our prejudices?
Many travellers, especially from Europe, head to new countries with the dream of expanding their horizons and experiencing something new.
Words like “exotic” or descriptions of “colourful locals” are often used in articles and advertisements for travel offers – and also contain a lot to unpack in the way of stereotypes.
“Exotic, foreign, different – all these descriptors used in travel titles rely heavily on otherness and increase the gap between guest and host,” says Antje Monshausen, head of tourism watch at the Brot fuer die Welt charity group in Germany, who pushes for fair, responsible travel.
Rosaly Magg, from the information centre 3.Welt in Freiburg, Germany also deals with the connections between tourism, culture and racism.
“Ads in the style of 1,001 Nights are especially problematic because colonial patterns are reproduced here,” she explains.
Many travellers want to play explorer – which in itself is a very colonial image.
“On safari, for example, the colonial history is marketed as luxury expeditions into the wild,” according to Magg.
More than meaningful than the text that accompanies descriptions of travel destinations are the images: Locations in Africa, for example, are usually accompanied by pictures of empty desserts, or of parks filled with giraffes and lions.
Any people who are pictured are taking part in folksy poses, for example during a ritual dance.
“A stereotypical image is being shown that captures only a small part of a country’s diversity and its people. And through the repeated use of these exotic pictures and cliches, stereotypes are stengthened,” says Monshauser.
This happens to many countries, but especially African ones, which often advertise wildlife and safari destinations.
“Such advertisements don’t motivate travellers to deal with the country and its people because the people are seen more as scenery and aren’t at the centre of attention,” says Monshauser.
She points to the fact that many trips to countries such as Morocoo, Thailand and Ethiopia are booked through travel agents in Germany, which means these operators should be held responsible and should try to encourage travellers to look beyond traditional tourist trappings.
One way to improve things is to use fewer images, she says.
Tourists can also take control, for example by consuming books and movies from and about the country they’re planning to visit.
They can also take tours with local agencies or do a home stay; otherwise, contact is quickly limited to hotel staff and street vendors.
“Guests wants to know more than just the bare facts about tourist sights. How do people in their host countries live, how do they go about their everyday lives?” says Claudia Mitteneder, managing director at a tourism association in Germany that looks at how interested visitors are in meeting locals through the use of surveys.
The surveys have found that 84% of German holidaymakers who have experience in developing countries want objective and credible information about the places and their people; 72% would like a sensitive account of how things really are in the host country.
Tour guides should create a more differentiated image of a country and its people. They can not only inform their groups about a country’s unique cultural or religious aspects, but also facilitate encounters between them.
“When tourists meet locals on holiday, there can be a lot of inhibitions to making contact. But there’s so much to learn – for both sides,” says Mitteneder.
To make the holiday successful and profitable, a good tour guide should build bridges between the cultures, in Mitteneder’s opinion.
A little tact is often required in these scenarios, especially when it comes to heated topics or a country’s political situation.
“Encounters that take place on equal footing often see the most success when there are similarities between guests and hosts,” says Monshausen.
For example, a teacher from Germany and a teacher from Ghana have a lot to talk about in regard to work and experiences.