It is a little-known fact that service exports account for more than 70 percent of U.S. jobs, with travel and transportation earning more than $230 billion dollars annually.
Here in New Hampshire, total direct traveler spending exceeds $5 billion dollars; and food preparation and service alone contribute nearly eight percent of all in-state jobs.
With the travel industry being such a vital contributor to our economy and the well-being of residents, why do we bite the hand that feeds us by insulting those people who are paying the freight?
The term “tourist” was introduced innocently enough to describe “one who makes a continued ramble or cultural excursion” (Unknown, circa AD 1640).
The activity of “touring” dates back to classical times, when people journeyed for pleasure, stopping here or there along the way. Not surprisingly, before long, disreputable businesses evolved with the principal intent of separating travelers from their money. English writer Graham Green labeled such places “tourist traps.”
For many years, the word “tourist” has been a pejorative — freely used to denigrate those individuals or groups who travel to destinations seasonally. Beginning during the latter part of the 19th century, Rusticators — affluent people who spent their time in the U.S. countryside, especially during warmer months — brought with them an air of superiority. Some treated the local “help” (i.e., maids, custodians, waiters, clerks, and shopkeepers) with contempt. Thus, a decided “we” versus “they” attitude evolved in some vacation communities.
When children of the mistreated staff heard stories while sitting at their dinner tables, they became the next generation to exhibit distain for the strangers in their midst. Soon, some unfortunate adjectives were used to describe those interlopers — e.g., “miserable tourists” or worse.
Suffice it to say, as the term tourist evolved, it carried strong negative connotations not deserved by the vast majority of seasonal visitors. Without a doubt, that word should be avoided by members of the travel industry.
This is where state agencies and local destination marketing organizations are needed to place everything in proper perspective. Residents of popular tourism locales need to be made further aware about the positive impact of visitor spending upon their general welfare.
At the same time, a strong message must be sent to visitors about respecting our natural resources and the people who reside here. In the words of Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the state’s department of business and economic affairs, “It is important to realize that we are dependent upon a natural asset that is not infinite in its capacity to provide beauty.” Our visitors have a responsibility to leave behind no detrimental evidence of the time they spend in our state.
In the final analysis, mutual respect is a must. Next time we encounter an out-of-stater, let’s not label her or him a “tourist.” Rather, each should be treated as a guest in our 9,349 square mile home.
Contrastingly, once inside our borders, those visitors shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking it is proper to put their dirty boots on our furniture. Perhaps foodie Andrew Zimmern said it best: “Be a traveler, not a tourist.” Granite Staters, too, should heed those words when we foray away from home.
Mark Okrant writes for InDepthNH.org. He is professor emeritus of tourism management and policy at Plymouth State University, having spent more than four decades as a tourism educator and 25 years as research coordinator for the state’s division of travel and tourism development.