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The Technology of Tourism


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The Technology of Tourism

Just a few years after Boswell and Johnson toured Scotland, two new types of tourists appeared. The first of these was the picturesque tourist. William Gilpin toured Scotland in 1776, and his experiences and recommendations to future picturesque tourists were published in his Observations, relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1776, on Several Parts of Great Britain; particularly the High-Lands of Scotland. The second type of tourer, the English hunting gentleman, also possessed a high amount of economic capital. Again he had his own guide book, A Sporting Tour Through the Northern Parts of England and Great Part of the Highlands of Scotland, published in 1804 (Butler, 1985, p. 375). Nevertheless, 'to the average individual, travel to the Highlands in the first half of the nineteenth century was still expensive, slow, and troublesome' (Butler, p. 377).


A Busman's Holidya extract

The excursionists of the travelogues find their mode of transport determined by the business interests of the films' sponsors. A Busman's Holiday (1959) (above) was sponsored by Shell-Mex, BP Ltd and Scottish Omnibuses and Bonnets over the Border (1962) (below) was sponsored by the National Benzole Company.

Bonnets over the Border

Thomas Cook and Mass Tourism

This situation underwent a profound shift in the middle of the century with the expansion of the national railway network, virtually complete by 1863, and it was in Scotland that Thomas Cook devised and consolidated his excursion schemes. In 1863, Cook (1866) recorded how he began his excursions into Scotland in 1846, taking a 'large party of Excursionists' to the Low Country: in 1847 he toured the Western Highlands and Islands, and in the following year the North East of Scotland (Cook, pp. 109-129). Cook's earlier tours followed the established picturesque tours of Scotland that took in Edinburgh, the Trossachs, Loch Lomond, Loch Long, Loch Katrine, and Dunkeld, as well as the Highland Railway and the 'Royal Route' via Balmoral, and steamboat trips from Oban to Staffa and Iona. By 1870, Cook was offering what he significantly referred to as a 'Grand Tour' of the Western Islands, the Caledonian Canal, Inverness, Blair Athol, Killiecranke, Dunkeld, Perth, and Edinburgh. Cook claimed that together, 'These great tours embrace all the great outlines of Scottish Scenery, and with the deviations that may be made from them, are sufficient to constitute a tour of Scotland' (p. 3). He claimed that after twenty six years of these activities; 'I calculate that I have taken by special trains nearly 40,000 visitors to Scotland' (p. 113).

A contemporary article on 'The Excursion Season' (1853, October 29) in Chamber's Edinburgh Journal described how 'The midland excursions to the north, under Mr Cook's management, are really very curious and deserving of attention' (p. 280). How was the guide book Cook published different from the other travel guide books that began appearing in the 1830s such as George Bradshaw's Railway Guides (1839), John Murray's first handbook to the Continent (1836), or Karl Baedeker's first guidebook to Holland and Belgium (1839)?

Cook's Directory was more than a guide to a tourist destination, it was a guide to a whole system, and this system was directed not at individual travellers, but at Excursionists, supervised groups ranging from forty to two hundred travelling together; Cook transformed travel into a cultural technology. Cook opened up and facilitated the field of subjects who could operate within it; designed the tour, booked railway carriages, steamers and hotels, issued tickets, published a guide book for the tour, and accompanied the excursionists on the tour itself. As James Buzzard (1993) argues, Cook was responsible for 'the evolution of a co-ordinated, interlocking system of institutions and conventions extending out into the wide world to enable and shape tourist experience' (p. 49). Cook and his company functioned, to use Cook's own term, as 'tour managers', organising the deployment of a whole range of pre-existing cultural practices and developments in transportation and communication in the new field of mass tourism.

A Busman's Holidya extract
Billy Connolly encounters the authentic and the touristic in Clydescope (1974). The film was sponsored by the Clyde Tourist Association.

In Search of Authenticity

Jonathan Culler (1981) argues that the key criteria modern travellers used to distinguish themselves from tourists is 'authenticity':
The distinction between the authentic and the inauthentic, the natural and the touristy, is a powerful semiotic operator within tourism. The idea of seeing the real Spain, the real Jamaica, something unspoiled, how the natives really work or live, is a powerful touristic topos, essential to the structure of tourism. (p. 131)

Drawing on Culler, Buzzard argues that 'If there is one dominant and recurrent image in the annals of the modern tour, it is surely that of the beaten track, which succinctly designates the space of the 'touristic' as a region in which all experience is predictable and repetitive, all cultures and objects mere 'touristy' self-parodies' (p. 4). Buzzard argues that, partly thanks to Cook, 'the exaggerated perception that the Continental tour was becoming more broadly accessible than ever before gave rise to new formulations about what constituted 'authentic' cultural experience (such as travel is supposed to provide) and new representations aimed at distinguishing authentic from merely repetitive experience' (p. 6).

Between 1800 and 1918, amongst upper and middle 'touring classes' 'anti-tourism evolved into a symbolic economy in which travellers and writers displayed marks of originality and "authenticity" in an attempt to win credit for acculturation' (p. 6). While acculturation was the object of the touring classes, and while the 'authentic cultural experience' of an other way of life was the object of Boswell and Johnson, there is no evidence in the Directory to suggest that either acculturation or authentic culture were the object of the Excursionists in Scotland. While the travellers' aim was to stay off 'the beaten track', the Scottish Excursionists aim was to stay on it.

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Author: Richard Butt Images are drawn from the SCRAN database.