Tourism is all about people, and sometimes people do stupid things when on holidays. This is also a topic that Denis and his colleague Stephen Pratt have looked into. “We attended a number of conferences and seminars about the concept of smart tourism, where people use technology to resolve problems like over-tourism and overcrowding, for example,” Denis says.
“Then we thought, well, everyone discusses this smartness. But there's something within the human nature that prevents us from acting smart when we should know better.”
When it comes to what stupidity in tourism is, Denis says, “stupidity is behaviour that is detrimental to the actor and also to others. Something that doesn't benefit anybody.”
People tend do stupid things when they go to a place where they don't know the local rules and cultural traditions. “Even if you travel to, let's say, North Queensland from Melbourne or Sydney, you're taken out of your place,” Denis says. “You don’t know how to behave around crocodiles and cassowaries, for example, and that can lead to some unfortunate events.”
Is there 'stupidity in tourism'?
In their paper “Stupidity in tourism”, Denis and Stephen found that there are a number of reasons why people behave differently when on holiday. “People don't feel vulnerable,” Denis says. “They think, ‘oh, I can do anything I want.’ They think they know everything, but they don't. If you think that nothing can affect you, then you think you don’t need to take any precautions.”
But there are other reasons as well: “When you travel away from your usual residence, you don't have your usual social restrictions,” Denis says. “When on holidays, you know that your friends, your family and your employer are not around. In all likelihood, they will never find out what you did.” This leaves the door wide open to some things that people would never dare to do at home.
Ways to help people become ‘smarter’ tourists
Denis and Stephen compared Western tourist behaviour with tourists from China and found that there are differences when it comes to how people behave when on overseas holidays. They found that Chinese tourists behave better on holidays than at home nowadays, whereas many Westerners behave better in their hometown.
“We think that was because, a couple of years ago, the Chinese public became aware of the bad press that they were getting. That was when the government implemented ‘information sessions' to let people know how to behave overseas,” Denis says. “After that, Chinese tourists became more self-conscious about their behaviour.”
However, Denis says that these information sessions probably wouldn’t work with Westerners, especially if they were mandatory. Instead, he suggests that travel guides that people buy before they go on holidays could tell them more about local customs. “It's tricky to inform tourists in the right way. You want to make it entertaining; you don’t want tourist to feel dumb or lecture them,” Denis says. “You need to frame a message in a positive way that helps improve their behaviour.”