Tourist isn’t a Dirty Word, Except to Tourist Snobs

Posted: December 20, 2010 in Life, Spain, Tenerife, Travel
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I think anyone travelling abroad who has no interest in the place they’re visiting beyond their hotel is wasting a wonderful opportunity to add colour to their lives as well as abusing a great privilege that many people in the world could never afford in their wildest dreams.

In fact if it were up to me I’d introduce a questionnaire that had maybe 10 basic questions about the destination someone was travelling to. They’d have to get 50% correct before I’d allow them on the plane. Andy says this is the fascist in me.

Saying that, I’m not one of those people who looks down my nose at tourists (except stupid and rude ones, but then that’s not because they’re tourists, that’s because they’re stupid and rude) and I can’t really understand those who do, especially those who have the term filed under the distasteful words section of their brain just after paedophile.
On Tenerife we’re all tourists in one way or another; the only ones who wouldn’t be are the Guanche and there’s none of them left. Let’s face it the conquistadors who alighted on Tenerife 500 years ago and thought it looked like a nice place to set up home are only separated from those who do the same today by the distance of time.

Big, Brash & Beautiful...unless you're a tourist snob.

But last week I was reminded that there are other types of holidaymakers that are neither your stereotypical tourist, nor discerning traveller and one of these is the tourist snob – someone who is under the impression they are a savvy traveller and treats other tourists like they’ve got the plague.

A few years ago I read an article  about a couple who liked to visit restaurants in France that were off the beaten track . On one occasion they were horrified to find another British couple enjoying lunch in one of their favourite haunts. It upset them so much that the place had been corrupted by ‘tourists’ that they promptly left. The very idea that the presence of another British couple made the restaurant less charming was laughable.

Charming leafy atrium or tacky hotel lounge?

Last week a couple of acquaintances visited Puerto de la Cruz for the first time. They didn’t like it. That’s okay – it isn’t for everybody, but their reasoning irked me. They found it too busy, tacky and overdeveloped. It was the puente weekend so yes it was very, very busy…with Canarios. Yes, like many towns across Europe, Puerto is overdeveloped…and mostly because of residential blocks built for Canarios. The tacky part may have been an allusion to the bright and brash funfair in the harbour car park frequented by…yup, you’ve guessed it, Canarios. So ostensibly what they disliked most about the place was that it was actually too much of a working Canario town for them. Tellingly they though Punta de Hidalgo was fabulous. Yet there was no mention of the word tacky for that tired, 50s built, blot on the Anaga landscape. But it had the one ingredient that was important to them – it was serenely quiet. And to them serenely quiet seemed to equal authenticity.

In truth they didn’t want to discover the real Tenerife, they wanted something that ticked all the boxes that they felt added up to authenticity.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with that; we all have our likes and dislikes, but I do have a problem with someone who is snooty about a place not being authentic because it isn’t purpose built to meet their idea of what authentic should be.

I’ve heard people say that they wouldn’t consider visiting Puerto because it might be too touristy. Again what nonsense. Do they say that about Barcelona, Edinburgh or London? All popular travel destinations that teem with tourists, but that doesn’t mean they’re not authentic. It’s a ridiculous notion. What’s more these tourist snobs are rarely to be found in the centre of a carnaval street party, or amongst the thousands who fill Playa Jardín during midsummer’s eve, or watching a local band at one of the town’s mainly Spanish bars. Another indication that they’re not really seeking authenticity.

I grew up on a Scottish island that attracted hordes of tourists in the summer months. When our highland games were held the place was packed out with visitors, but the games were staged for locals first and foremost (yes we liked to wear kilts, toss cabers and eat deep fried haggis in batter) and at no point did we consider them touristy. Had a tourist snob who didn’t live there yet thought they knew better suggested otherwise they would have found themselves being tossed through the air along with the finest Scottish pine.

Tourist snobs aren’t travellers at all; they’re just fussy people who want everything to be exactly as they think it should be. The big difference between them and visitors who want British beer, Brit bars and Brit food then pick their holiday to suit is at least the latter group is honest about not wanting to experience the real Tenerife.

  1. islandmomma Life on a Small Island and Beyond says:

    I thought about this a lot since I first read it. I most definitely used to be a tourist snob, but I’m not sure if I still am or not. I was in Los Cristianos xmas shopping last night, and had to go back this morning, for instance, and definitely mourn its loss of character over the years I’ve lived here, in trying to make itself everything to everyone. I didn’t mind the tourists so much I guess. I can easily imagine just wanting to chill out on a beach or by a hotel pool and not move around much if I’ve had a hectic and stressful time at work in a city. To be honest, though, what I do avoid are places which have become ex-pat havens, rather than tourist havens.

    • dragojac says:

      This was a getting it off my chest sort of blog. I was disappointed by the reaction of friends of a friend to a place I love for not getting that it was Canarian first and foremost and a tourist resort second.
      I’m probably a travel snob, but I’m not snooty – I don’t want fobbed off with purpose built; I want the real deal whether it’s pristinely pretty, or gritty and urban. The irony in this case was that it was probably the real deal that didn’t appeal. I think that whilst we want places to remain special and unchanged, they invariably grow bigger and lose some of their charm whether they’re a tourist resort on Tenerife or a mill town in the north west of England.
      You wrote a photo blog recently about seeing beauty in all sorts of things and I couldn’t agree more – it’s possibly a photographer thing. There is something that sets towns on Tenerife apart from others for me and that is a heartbeat and a soul you can feel. It seeps into the grubbiest apartment blocks with their lines of clothes drying over cluttered balconies. But some people just don’t get it.

      Here’s a question – do you find that you get a lot of satisfaction out of showing people who enjoy travel and the quirks of different cultures your favourite bits of Tenerife? If so you’re not a tourist snob…but you might be a travel snob : )

      Interesting places are like a good book – they deserve to be shared…but only with people who appreciate them.

      • islandmomma Life on a Small Island and Beyond says:

        In answer to your question – I LOVE doing that. I love how surprised they are when they see it isn’t all concrete and drunken bimbos. That said – they actually came in the first place!

        Apropros of dining I had a dreadful, expensive meal in Los Cristianos/Las Americas (on the “border” honestly not sure which it is!) over the festive season, which kind of made me realize the differences in my expectations. I ordered grilled salmon, and when the miserly dish came it was raw in the middle. The last time this happened to me I had the worst food poisoning of my life, so I sent it straight back. They clearly popped it in the microwave and back it came, quickly, with scant good grace on the part of the waiter, and no apology. Guy commented on the difference in how that would have been dealt with in the US (multiple apologies and a complete new meal, and maybe a discount too). It made me realize that my expectations are higher in that kind of place. It’s aimed at tourists/foreign residents, and always busy. It used to be ok at one time, in fact. My expectations were, therefore, good service, nice decor and excellent food cooked with a little imagination. It scored only on decor. In a small bar in the back of beyond I would probably have had much better food, definitely at a much better price, and possibly a nice, chatty server, but I likely would have started out with lower expectations, or should I say, different expectations.

        The art is not to have expectations I think, to take it as it comes, but learn from the mistakes!

      • dragojac says:

        It’s just not acceptible service…or it shouldn’t be. You’d think that with an economic crisis hanging over Spain, restaurant owners would take a bit more care in ensuring a good dining experience…but not always the case on Tenerife. Trouble is that some have had it fall into their laps for too long.

        Interesting what you say about expectations. Haven’t thought of that before but I guess, yes I also expect less from a little shack than from a fancy joint…but then thinking about it some of the tastiest food I’ve eaten has come from ‘little shacks’. Jerk pork in Jamaica comes to mind.

  2. […] Tourist isn’t a Dirty Word, Except to Tourist Snobs […]

  3. Hi, I really liked this post because I’ve been traveling Europe a lot since I moved to England and have had many of these thoughts. I live in London now, so I see London as both a tourist destination and place to live.

    The only time I’d say was good to leave “touristy” places would be for the food. I’ve found in my travels that food in the heart of tourist areas, while maybe authentic, is overpriced and geared more for a tourist market. For example, eating in the restaurant at the botttom of the Empire State Building, or a restaurant in Leicester Square. Mostly though, walking only a couple blocks away from the main areas is sufficient because as you said, locals do live, work and eat there.

    • dragojac says:

      Excellent comment (and not only becsause you agree).

      Absolutely right about the downside to touristy areas – the restaurants geared only towards visitors. In some restaurants, especially in the purpose built tourist areas, restaurant prices can be up to three times higher than in towns that are predominantly populated by local people.

      One example is cherne (grouper), a common local fish that is usually about 6/7 euros in traditional local restaurants. However, in restaurants that don’t get great reviews but happen to be located in an ‘upmarket’ tourist area, I’ve seen it priced at 18/20 euros.

  4. A very thought provoking blog. By your definition I suppose I am a tourist snob but I am not going to apologise for that. I like to go to Greek islands but I prefer those without airports because this keeps package holidayers away. I have an ambition to visit all of the remoter parts of Spain and once again this is because I don’t like what the British have done to the coastal strip and the costas. When I was a holiday tourist I visited the Canary islands for sun sea and sangria, I haven’t been there for 10 years so it might be time to get a cheap flight and return, this time with an open mind.

    • dragojac says:

      Sounds like you’re more like a travel snob…nothing wrong with wanting to avoid the masses. I’m a big fan of the Greek Islands myself and would probably have moved there if they had year round tourism. Not so long ago Tenerife would have been one of the last places I would have visited…even for a holiday. but then I discovered, thanks to a friend on La Gomera, that what was usually portrayed in the British press and TV was unrepresentative of the majority of the island. Like most places travel 5 minutes outside the purpose built resorts and it’s a different world.

      Here’s a little test that’s quite revealing and might even surprise people who think they’ve got Tenerife nailed. Get a map of Tenerife and draw circles just around the tourist resorts. Now look at the size of the bit outside the circles – that’s Tenerife 🙂

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