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WORKING THE PROBLEMS OF TOURISM Barry Brown University of Glasgow, UK Abstract: Much research looks at the ‘‘problem of tourism’’: tourists cause changes to both themselves and their destinations, influences which are open to critique or comment. Some- what less attention has been given to the ‘‘problems of tourists’’: the issues, worries, difficul- ties, and solutions during vacations. This article presents an ethnographic study that attempts to take these concerns seriously. The focus is on the ‘‘work’’ of tourism: the organization and arrangement of the experience. The paper describes how tourists work in groups, use maps and guidebooks, and lastly pre- and post- visit places. An ethnomethodological approach is applied to the different ways in which tourists collaboratively find solutions to their problems Keywords: tourist practices, ethnography, ethnomethodology. Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Re ´sume ´: Le travail des proble `mes du tourisme. Beaucoup de recherches conside `rent le «proble `me du tourisme»: les touristes causent des changements a ` eux-me ˆmes et aux destina- tions, des influences qui sont critiquables et qui pourraient provoquer des commentaires. On a fait moins attention aux «proble `mes des touristes»: les questions, soucis, difficulte ´s et solu- tions pendant les vacances. Cet article pre ´sente une e ´tude ethnographique dont le but est de prendre ces pre ´occupations aux se ´rieux. Le centre d’attention est le «travail« du tourisme: l’organisation et les dispositions de l’expe ´rience. L’article de ´crit comment les touristes travail- lent en groupes et utilisent des cartes et des guides, ensuite il de ´crit des lieux de pre ´- et de post–visite. Une approche ethnome ´thodologique est applique ´ aux diffe ´rentes fac ¸ons dont les touristes trouvent en collaboration des solutions a ` leurs proble `mes Mots-cle ´s: pratiques tou- ristiques, ethnographie, ethnome ´thodologie. Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. INTRODUCTION City visiting involves many practical organizational activities. Consid- erable time is spent arranging what to do, where to go, reading maps, finding transport, going to information offices, and more. Indeed, many of the hedonic aspects of tourism, as well as its impact on places visited, depend on this mundane organization and the decisions made about what to do next. The pleasure of arriving relies very much upon the work of the journey. While tourism has attracted much critique and discussion, much less attention has been paid to these practical problems, the mundane Barry Brown is Research Fellow in the Department of Computing Science, University of Glasgow (Lillybank Gardens G3 8QQ Glasgow, UK. Email <[email protected]>). His research interests include mobility, studying and designing technology for leisure and entertainment, and the crossover between geography and technology studies. He has published widely on the use of technology, and edited books on the social aspects of mobile telephones (2001) and new music technologies (2005). Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 364–383, 2007 0160-7383/$ - see front matter Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Printed in Great Britain doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.09.003 www.elsevier.com/locate/atoures 364

Working the problems of Tourism

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Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 364–383, 20070160-7383/$ - see front matter � 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Printed in Great Britain



Barry BrownUniversity of Glasgow, UK

Abstract: Much research looks at the ‘‘problem of tourism’’: tourists cause changes to boththemselves and their destinations, influences which are open to critique or comment. Some-what less attention has been given to the ‘‘problems of tourists’’: the issues, worries, difficul-ties, and solutions during vacations. This article presents an ethnographic study that attemptsto take these concerns seriously. The focus is on the ‘‘work’’ of tourism: the organization andarrangement of the experience. The paper describes how tourists work in groups, use mapsand guidebooks, and lastly pre- and post- visit places. An ethnomethodological approach isapplied to the different ways in which tourists collaboratively find solutions to their problemsKeywords: tourist practices, ethnography, ethnomethodology. � 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rightsreserved.

Resume: Le travail des problemes du tourisme. Beaucoup de recherches considerent le«probleme du tourisme»: les touristes causent des changements a eux-memes et aux destina-tions, des influences qui sont critiquables et qui pourraient provoquer des commentaires. Ona fait moins attention aux «problemes des touristes»: les questions, soucis, difficultes et solu-tions pendant les vacances. Cet article presente une etude ethnographique dont le but est deprendre ces preoccupations aux serieux. Le centre d’attention est le «travail« du tourisme:l’organisation et les dispositions de l’experience. L’article decrit comment les touristes travail-lent en groupes et utilisent des cartes et des guides, ensuite il decrit des lieux de pre- et depost–visite. Une approche ethnomethodologique est applique aux differentes facons dont lestouristes trouvent en collaboration des solutions a leurs problemes Mots-cles: pratiques tou-ristiques, ethnographie, ethnomethodologie. � 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


City visiting involves many practical organizational activities. Consid-erable time is spent arranging what to do, where to go, reading maps,finding transport, going to information offices, and more. Indeed,many of the hedonic aspects of tourism, as well as its impact on placesvisited, depend on this mundane organization and the decisions madeabout what to do next. The pleasure of arriving relies very much uponthe work of the journey.

While tourism has attracted much critique and discussion, much lessattention has been paid to these practical problems, the mundane

Barry Brown is Research Fellow in the Department of Computing Science, University ofGlasgow (Lillybank Gardens G3 8QQ Glasgow, UK. Email <[email protected]>). Hisresearch interests include mobility, studying and designing technology for leisure andentertainment, and the crossover between geography and technology studies. He haspublished widely on the use of technology, and edited books on the social aspects of mobiletelephones (2001) and new music technologies (2005).


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‘‘what and how’’ of tourists arranging what they do. Although visits to‘‘exotic’’ places, and the effects on those places by tourists, have been afertile area for research, in the literature it is difficult to find answers tosuch straightforward questions as how tourists find out about what tovisit, how they travel between different places within an area, andhow they decide what to do.

Recent research has attempted a more sympathetic and detailedengagement with bodily practices, feelings, and thoughts. In a similarway, this paper attempts to engage directly with these mundane prac-tices. It explores the ‘‘work’’, not in terms of paid employment butin the form of the organized purposeful activities which are part oftourism. There is much of this, in organization, management, plan-ning, and directing. Looking at this explores MacCannell’s (1976)observation that tourism can be ‘‘hard work’’.


Tourism is a global process that has been characterized by manyresearchers in terms of the tourists’ effects on the host country, orthe constraints applied to their experiences (Apostolopoulos, Leivadisand Yiannakis 1996; Butler 1991). Discussing the constrained nature ofthe experience, Dann comments that ‘‘one does not have to be a vul-gar Marxist to make the widely acknowledged point that tourism oper-ates as a vast system of social control’’ (2003:406). One alternativeapproach to starting with ‘‘vast systems’’ is to follow what specifictourists do in specific settings, to focus on the views and approach oftourists themselves. This follows the growing appreciation of studyingtheir perspectives and views of the places they visit (Crang 1999; Pearce1995; Tribe 1999; Urry 1995). One example of this is Edensor’s (1998)descriptions of the reactions and views of tourists to the Taj Mahal.Similar comments can be found back in MacCannell’s foundationalwork—a serious move away from an ironic stance: ‘‘The rhetoric ofmoral superiority that comfortably inhabits this talk about touristswas once found in unconsciously prejudicial statements about other‘outsiders’ [. . .] the modern critique of tourists is not an analytic reflec-tion on the problem of tourism—it is part of the problem’’ (1976:10)However, even MacCannell relapses into a mocking stance in the intro-duction to the second edition, complaining about the ‘‘Abercrombieand Fitch tourist’’ (1999:xxiii).

Harrison is one author who has developed an empathetic engage-ment with these experiences, revealing the depth of tourists’ feelingsand engagement: ‘‘While tourists might be, as Urry suggests, ‘collectorsof gazes’, vulgar and banal may not be the only terms which describethe experience’’ (2001:160). In her interviews, the experiences of trav-eling described were of great personal value, often life-changing. In-deed, they contained something of an irony, with both a detachmentand an engagement with the destinations. Their culturally conditionedaesthetic supported a detachment from the ‘‘real’’ worlds that they vis-ited while deeply engaged in the experience of being a tourist. As

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Jacobsen (2003) points out, it is not simply tourists traveling in a ‘‘tour-ist bubble’’; rather, there is a complex engagement of material prac-tices with bodily actions and emotions, not without exploitation, butalso potentially rewarding to the host and guest. Others (Bell 2002;Nash 2001; McCabe and Stokoe 2004; Wickens 2002) have exploredthe language of tourists, the performative aspects (Mordue 2005),and accounts of self-transformation (Noy 2004). Very broadly, thiswork has opened up the study of the practices, emotions, experiences,and interactions of tourists themselves, following related currents with-in human geography that have renewed interest in the study of the‘‘embodied subject’’ (Thrift 2000).

Although following these approaches, this paper makes two depar-tures. While the importance of the practices of tourism has been estab-lished, there is still a lack of detailed descriptions of the everydayproblems of organization, time, and site. As Fodness and Murray com-ment, there is a lack of ‘‘detailed knowledge of the basis of actual tour-ist behavior’’ (1997:504). The interviews, which are frequently used asprimary data, can lead to the analysis of views expressed, rather thanwhat is actually done. Indeed, the literature still does not answer ques-tions concerning how tourists go about prioritizing different attrac-tions, or how they navigate the complex assemblages of localtransport and geographical information. Rather, paradoxically, askingtourists what they think may not be a good way of getting at the judg-ments that can be seen in actual activity. One corrective here is the useof observation and ethnographic work. While ethnography does notleap free from these perennial problems, it does allow an alternativeaccount of tourist behavior based on activities rather than accountsof activity (Maanen 1995). A closer engagement with the actual prob-lems and experiences is possible: exploring tourism as a ‘‘discoveringpractice’’ as it happens, rather than one presented after the fact ininterviews.

A second departure of this paper is the focus on city visiting in a FirstWorld country. With the important exception of heritage tourism(Bagnall 1996), much research focuses on the more exotic–as betweenthe First and Third World—rather than mass tourism within the FirstWorld. The majority of experiences are within the First World, oftenwithin one’s own country. As commented by Aramberri, much of cur-rent research ‘‘does not help to explain the nature of modern masstourism’’ (2001:739) in the popular forms such as the package holidayand the city break. Specifically commenting on city visiting, Selby com-ments that ‘‘there appears to be a very poor understanding of the cul-ture and experience of urban tourism’’ (2004:186). The dataexamined here is of urban tourism: Western tourists visiting a Westerncity.

In terms of approach, this paper is motivated by a broadly ethno-methodological perspective. This is still a somewhat rare approachin studying tourism; exceptions include McCabe and Stokoe (2004)and the related self-reflective approach (McHugh, Raffel, Foss andBlum 1974). Yet ethnomethodology has been gaining attentionrecently in a diversity of fields, in part because of the tools it provides

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for studying the details of social situations. One body of work usingethnomethodology has been called ‘‘workplace studies’’. This work,while originating in the study of technology, has gained attentionmore broadly in sociology, management, and geography (Barley andKunda 2001; Brown and O’hara 2003; Button 1993; Harper andHughes 1993; Heath, Hindmarsh and Luff 1999; Heath, Knoblauchand Luff 2000). Starting with the pioneering work of Suchman(1983), these studies have paid close attention to the moment-by-mo-ment flow of the activity involved in work. As Barely and Kunda put it,‘‘in [workplace] studies one encounters flows of choreographedattending, prescient anticipation, mutual adjustment, and entwinedaction, out of which routinely emerge without remark a stream ofdecisions that often have life-or-death implications’’ (Barley andKunda 2001:89). These undertakings have gained attention for boththe details they uncover, and how they revitalize a postpositivistapproach to empirical research (Laurier and Philo 2004). This hasalso motivated a number of studies outside the workplace (Goodwin2000; Laurier, Whyte and Bucker. 2001; Lee and Watson 1993 ; vomLehn, Heath and Hindmarsh 2001).

In these studies, as with ethnomethodology more broadly, one findsa focus on what Garfinkel has called ‘‘the missing what’’ (1996:99) ofeveryday life. This is not just the minutiae or trivia of life, but rather themassively prevalent, yet intricately varied structures of how the world isarranged. These structures are assumed in academic work but seldominvestigated in themselves, and they are missing from much academicenquiry: how people interact (Sacks 1995), talk (Atkinson and Heri-tage 1984), walk (Ryave and Schenkein 1974), use computers (Button1993), travel (McHugh et al 1974), break the law (Sacks 1972), or cry(Beach and LeBaron 2002). Thus, for example, when individuals con-verse, they do not usually all talk at once: there is structure in turn-tak-ing activity (Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson 1974). When offered aninvitation, there are certain ways of refusing that avoid rudeness (Sacks1995). As in these examples, activities are structured yet not simplydetermined by these structures. Rather, structures are seen and usedin the everyday organization of the activity. These are the structuresthat ethnomethodology has studied—something of an inversion ofthe notion of structure as it is commonly deployed in the socialsciences (Garfinkel 2002).

Ethnomethodology, however, is not merely a demarcation of subjectmatter. It differs from symbolic interactionism or approaches such asthat of de Certeau’s (1984) in that while it shares a concern for thedetails of the social world, it sees the significance in these details them-selves, rather than what they say about wider concerns. So de Certeau’swork on walking in the city quickly stops talking about walking andmoves on to an argument concerning the constraints on walking,and its similarity with language. As an alternative, Ryave and Schenk-ein’s (1974) piece on walking stays on topic and asks questions suchas how it is that people can walk in the street as a group. This dependsupon skills such as being able to see ‘‘pairs’’ and groups so one doesnot walk through the middle of a group, or between a couple. Rather

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surprisingly, they discover that walking relies upon being able reliablyto see groups and couples.

Therefore, an ethnomethodological approach to tourism starts byimmersing itself in the details and contradictions of the tourists’ expe-rience. In McCabe and Stokoe’s ethnomethodological work (2004), forexample, the construction of the ‘‘spatial-moral’’ order of talk aboutplaces is explored. This is an order formed nowhere but in the collec-tive activity of talk. It may not be possible to explain immediatelyinequality or exploitation, but if one is to understand tourism it isessential that the details of what is involved in visiting and travelingare understood. This is what ethnomethodologists mean when they ar-gue for ‘‘taking the phenomena seriously’’ (Livingston 1987:4).

Study Methods

Methodologically, studying tourists ethnographically presents inter-esting challenges. For example, most tourists are highly mobile; thereis no single location at which they stay, and no single site where all theactivities that constitute tourism can be explored. Therefore, one hasto occupy a range of settings, and follow tourists as they plan to visitdifferent locations. The strengths of ethnography as a tool in develop-ing long-term understandings with a small group of people also clashto an extent with the temporally bound nature of a holiday.

To address this problem, this study used a range of techniques, com-bining video with participant and nonparticipant observations. Thecities that were studied, Edinburgh and Glasgow, are the second andthird most popular cities for tourists in the United Kingdom after Lon-don (Star-UK 2000). Summer is particularly busy for both, with theEdinburgh Festival (Prentice and Andersen 2003) a major attraction.This influenced the type of tourists found: predominantly those whohad arranged most of their own travel. While the package market isobviously a very important part of tourism—31% in the case of leisurearrivals to the United States (USDTI 1999)—the focus was on thosewho arrange their own activities. This included ‘‘backpackers’’(Loker-Murphy and Pearce 1995), but also those on short city breaks,and those with a specific sporting interest, most prominently hill-walk-ing and golf.

Three main pieces of qualitative data were collected. Ten days werespent in Edinburgh and Glasgow both observing and videoing tourists.A focus of this work was the documents used by tourists, such as maps,guidebooks, and train timetables. These observations were combinedwith five video diaries, made by the researchers accompanying touristswhile sightseeing on a day out in the city. Groups of tourists were re-cruited from friends and family of university staff, followed aroundfor a day, videoed as they chose what to do, observed as to how theyarranged their visit and navigated their way around. These groups in-cluded two families with children visiting together, one group of threefriends, and one group of four friends, one individual traveling alone,and a retired couple. These videos were challenging to collect, since

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there was a need to accompany the tourists while not excessively dis-turbing their day out. However, this data proved to be particularly valu-able in allowing analysis of the planning of activities and how thisimpacts subsequent plans.

Lastly, an observational study in Glasgow’s Tourist InformationCenter was conducted over a three-month period (Brown 2004). Accesswas gained to the information center for watching the activities fromboth behind and in front of the serving counter. This way, 40 hoursof observation were collected, and this data was used to examinehow the staff managed the supply of information to customers.Although video data could not be collected in this setting, conven-tional ethnographic methods aided the study of how tourists and staffmanaged their interactions over a prolonged period of time. In partic-ular, the staff of the information center had considerable experiencethemselves in analyzing tourists (they had their own ‘‘mundane compe-tencies’’ in working through the problems of tourists). One potentialbias in this investigation was the focus on English speakers (althoughmany foreign language speakers were interviewed, data was limited tothose who spoke English). Thus, absent from the data are observationsof the special problems of those who do not speak the main languageof a visited city.

Problems and Solutions

The results from this study are organized around the mundane prob-lems tourists face, and the solutions they find. Broadly there are fourkey problems: tourists need to decide what activities to do, how to dothose activities, when to do them, and finally where those activities are(and how they can get there). More directly, the fieldwork revealsthe solutions that tourists use to these problems: share them with oth-ers, consult guidebooks to decide what to do and see, use maps tomove and find attractions, and draw on pre- and post-visiting to ar-range both planning and the accounts of tours given to others.

The first, seemingly straightforward, problem which tourists face inan unfamiliar place is what to do. Unlike paid employment, where tasksare often determined (in part) by an overall goal or by other people’splans, tourism is more open-ended. It encompasses a broad range ofactivities such as sightseeing, relaxing, shopping, and visiting friendsor family. However, whatever tourists do, they must at least make somesort of decision about it, usually in advance. This must take into accountthe time it takes to get to different places, and balancing the attractionof different sites. Moreover, when one arrives at an attraction, this prob-lem often reappears on a different scale, such as which parts of a largemuseum to visit. In respect to the question of what is to be done, touristsneed to work out how to do these different activities. Ignorance aboutlocal customs is an often-mocked feature of tourists. Even straightfor-ward activities such as buying goods can be organized differently in dif-ferent countries, compounded with the problems of working with a newcurrency, and ‘‘looking stupid’’ as one holds up a queue.

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Additionally, tourists have to manage when they do differentactivities. They are usually constrained in time, because of the needto return home at the end of the holiday. Time is also a problem inworking with organizations providing services: opening times must becoordinated with schedules of public transport, such as trains or buses.This is compounded by the prebooking problem. Many facilities, suchas hotels or transport, require prebooking, so decisions often need tobe made before one has even been to a place. Accommodation, in par-ticular, needs to be booked in advance, usually without knowledge ofwhat a hotel is like, or the area around it. These three problems in turninteract with the fourth problem: finding where things are. Usually,many of the attractions are distributed around a city. Thus, there is aneed to minimize the time spent traveling between them, understandwhat one might see and do along the way, and group together thoseclose together. In doing so tourists must also navigate public transport,often with limited information, or unfamiliar road systems.

It is worth emphasizing that these problems are not simply negative.Indeed, traveling and finding out where to go is part of the very enjoy-ment of tourism, which can transform even mundane activities intosomething enjoyable or even romantic. Train journeys, for example,are a common resource for the travel writer, and bus and undergroundsystems can have their own pleasures (the author’s pleasure in thesmell of the train’s tires in the Parisian metro, or the electronic soundsof the Tokyo subway). Particularly in city visits, walking between placesis an important part of being in a place, with street life being one of theeasiest ways to access the natural life of locals. The solution of workingout where to go is not a chore, but a crucial part of the enjoyment:‘‘getting there is half the fun’’. The strategies tourists use to handle sit-uations are often finely tuned to both the problem and the enjoymentof working through it.

Therefore, the fieldwork can be discussed in terms of four solutionsto these problems. Each involves applying the resources which touristsfind (other people, guidebooks, maps, time). These do not have a one-to-one relationship with each problem, since they solve different prob-lems which are often simultaneously intimately related. Although theseproblems have been divided up for the purposes of analysis, tourists ad-dress them as an interconnected puzzle, rather than each oneseparately.

Sharing the Visit with Others

The first solution to be described is sharing the visit with other tour-ists. Tourism is very much a social activity; in the United States 79% ofleisure visits involve groups of two or more (USDTI 1999). Since leisuretourism is predominantly group-based, there is considerable intra-group interaction and collaboration. Figure 1 shows some frames takenfrom a video of two tourists who have just arrived at Edinburgh’s maintrain station. The first consults an ‘‘A to Z’’ street guide to the city, andwhile the second glances around the railway station, the first finds the

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Figure 1. Tourists at a Train Station


correct page of the map. After the first tourist points at the map, thesecond takes out her glasses, glances at the map, and then points toan exit sign in the station that names the street it leads to. They thengive the street guide a last look, pick up their bags, and leave thestation.

Even in this simple excerpt, one notices a division of labor betweenthe two tourists. The second looks around the station to find the exit,while the first finds the correct page on the map. She holds the map soas to make both it and her progress in using it available to her compan-ion. On finding the location she is looking for, she points to the map,and her friend then points at the sign showing the name of the streetreached via the exit. With these two items of information, they nowknow where they are on the map, where the exit will take them, andhow to proceed to their destination.

Reading the map is done here in such a way that it can be ‘‘checked’’by the first tourist’s companion. If she makes a mistake (which is easyto do), or if they later find themselves lost, the companion can inter-vene. The two share the job of remembering the route. Being the‘‘main map reader’’ implies certain responsibilities (if the group getslost, the map reader can be held responsible). The task in this casehas a certain ‘‘moral incumbency’’. However, this responsibility canbe shared, as together they use the environment to move betweenthe map and a course of activity. The sign in the station is used to linkthe map with where the station exit leads.

Along with the collaborative working together in this clip, there isalso a negotiation going on. The two are deciding what they are going

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to do as well as how. Touring as a group involves considerable coordi-nation in this way. The desire to visit different attractions, or to see dif-ferent museum exhibits, means that groups often split up and thenneed to coordinate getting back together. This can present consider-able challenges, since tourists are highly mobile. It is in these situationsthat mobile phones become a useful tool, in that calls can be made be-tween individuals or subgroups.

Another way in which visits are shared is through meeting other tour-ists (Loker-Murphy and Pearce 1995). The standard jokes about holi-day romances display something of how meeting other people is anintegral part of many tourist experiences (Singh 2002). In part, theseopportunities come from the lowered barriers to social contact. Indi-viduals are ‘‘on holiday’’ from many of their home commitments.The facilities that they use, such as hostels, trains, and buses, can alsoafford social contact. One reason behind these social contacts, and cer-tainly a common conversation topic, is the exchange of stories and ad-vice on where to go and what to visit. However, these meetings andconversations are not just forums for the exchange of information.They provide a ‘‘ticket to talk’’ (Sacks 1995): an excuse and a basisfor more general conversation. The social contact that these conversa-tions initiate may be of more value than the mere exchange of informa-tion—they are as much platforms for establishing other (possiblytemporary) social bonds, as enjoying the company of new people.

Putting Guidebooks in their Place

A second method used to solve problems is the use of publishedinformation. The two quintessential tourist publications are the guide-book and the map. These are often used in combination when navigat-ing and finding out about what to do in different places. While theformer have been given some attention, they have generally been seenas texts to critique. There is little discussion of how guidebooksbecome incorporated into activity. A classic example is Cassou, who ar-gues that tourists are ‘‘imperiously caught up in a closed circuit ofobligatory stops at places sacralized by guidebooks’’ (1967:29). Morerecently Dann comments that ‘‘under the ocular-centric perspective,tourists feel duty bound to go to a sight that has been prefigured inguidebooks and brochures as ‘worthwhile’’’ (2003:477). While worksuch as Hutnyk’s (1996) is more sensitive to the content of guides,there is still a real absence of consideration of guidebooks as books:as physical paper objects with a role both in interaction and navigation.

Guidebooks come in many different forms, from free handouts toMichelin and Baedeker. One practical reason why they are so usefulto tourists is that they catalogue, in a structured and relatively standard-ized form, relevant aspects of the destinations. They list accommoda-tion (with phone numbers), attractions (with opening times),recommended bars and restaurants, and more. This standardizationcan make strange places feel safer to tourists by reducing theiruncertainty. In use, however, this information needs interpretation,

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Figure 2. Tourists Consulting a Guidebook


as guidebooks need to be put in their place. What they say has to becombined with other information, in particular that of maps, or advicefrom locals. Guidebooks are also collaborative artifacts: conversationtaking place around them, pointing either at a map or in a direction,so as to link together the establishments being discussed with their po-sition. Guidebooks thus need to be converted from general prose toactivity.

Indeed, finding and locating an attraction from a guidebook can bea challenge even when it is very close by. Figure 2 shows a group oftourists looking for a particular historic house. Barry is the researcherhere, Tourist 1, an unnamed tourist, and Fran the tourist in the firstline. The transcript here uses a simplified version of the notation devel-oped by Jefferson (1984). Square [brackets] show overlapping talk,underline shows speaker’s emphasis, shows a pause, with numbers in-side the brackets showing the length of the pause.

The confusion of the tourists here is apparent, and the volunteeredassistance of the researcher (Barry) is only partially helpful. The con-versation takes place around a guidebook and a page of text describ-ing different attractions. The tourists talk about an old house they arelooking for, point at the guidebook, and then attempt to find thatlocation on the street. Even though they are only a few meters fromthe house, navigating with the guidebook causes some confusion. Asatellite navigation positioning system here would have been of littlehelp; the tourists’ problem is in moving from the guidebook to thestreet they are on. Although they find the house’s address, its streetname (‘‘Lawnmarket’’) is not enough for them to find the house with-out some work. The street they are on is labeled ‘‘Lawnmarket’’,although it is often simply called ‘‘the High Street’’ by locals, since

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it is a continuation of that street. Confusingly, ‘‘Castle Hill Street’’ isvery close by too:

The tourists go through a number of descriptions of where thehouse is and what it is like to help them find it (‘‘to the left of DeaconBrodies’’, ‘‘very old’’, ‘‘six story’’, ‘‘477’’) with eventually the age help-ing them to find the house: ‘‘it’s probably the old one’’. The problemof location formulation that the tourists face is this:

For any location to which reference is made, there is a set of termseach of which, by a correspondence test, is a correct way to refer toit. On any actual occasion of use, however, not any member of theset is ‘‘right.’’ How is it that on any particular occasions of use someterm from the set is selected and other terms are rejected? . . . I seekto direct attention to the sorts of considerations that enter into theselection of a particular formulation, considerations which are partof the work a speaker does in using a particular locational formula-tion, and the work a hearer does in analyzing its use (Schegloff1972:81).

The work then involves matching these different formulations andthe streets in which they find themselves. Indeed, it is the formulationof ‘‘very old house’’ that lets them eventually discover it. Even with aguidebook, and the assistance of a local, the tourists need to workthe guidebook to ‘‘place’’ the old house on the street they are actuallyon, and overcome some of the confusions of streets which changename, the difference between how a street is named on a map and aname that locals use. While a year such as 1620 certainly has an impres-sive effect (especially perhaps to US tourists), it also has a straightfor-ward practical significance. The knowledge of the age helps themfind the house they are looking for.

Before discussing the rhetoric in which guidebooks envelop tourists,one should stop and consider practically how tourists use guidebooksto find things in cities. They combine the book information with whatthey find from particular places, such as street names or train timeta-bles. This is the work of putting guidebooks in their place–the materialpractices of working with them as physical books, using them to findattractions on difficult to navigate streets.

Moving with Maps

The second popular publication widely used in the observations wasthe map. They have of course been well-researched in fields as wide-spread as cognitive psychology and cultural studies. Way-finding, inparticular, has been explored in depth (Golledge 1992; Hunt andWaller 1999; Kitchin and Freundschuh 2000; MacEachren 1995) in arange of controlled and experimental settings. However, one short-coming with this literature is a lack of knowledge concerning naviga-tion in real-world settings. Malinowski and Gillespie comment that‘‘although spatial ability research conducted in small-scale or labora-tory settings has flourished, fewer studies have been done in real-world,large-scale settings’’ (2001:75). Correll and Heth go further and argue

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that there is an important need for studies of ‘‘humans navigating real-world routes’’ (2000) since little work has looked at navigation in situ inactivities which are not part of an experimental task. Exceptions suchas Lawton (1996) have tended to focus on issues such as gender differ-ences. Questions remain about how maps are used in combination withlandmarks, how real-world way-finding tasks differ from the ‘‘navigat-ing from A to B’’ tasks studied in experiments, and in the social inter-actions which take place around maps (Montello 2003).

The data collected on map use for this project showed many varieduses, which differed from maps as a straightforward tool for planning aroute between points A and B—discussed at more length in Brown andLaurier (2005). Tourists used them in situations where they did notknow exactly where they were going, but had only an idea of a partic-ular area that they were heading towards. This was usually because theybelieved that they would find something interesting in that area,although they had no specific attraction in mind. Alternatively, sometourists used maps to go towards a specific type of establishment, suchas a cafe, but with no specific one in mind; they would head towards astreet where they thought there would be cafes.

Tourists often had only a rough idea of where they were, and woulduse a map to locate or orient themselves so as to head in a roughly cor-rect direction, rather than along a specific route. So, in using a map,tourists might not know where they are, might have little idea abouttheir orientation, might not know where they are going, and mighteven be unsure about what they were looking for. Map use is often lessabout explicit route-planning and more about wandering around a cityin a roughly correct manner. The routes used were more directionalthan specific, with tourists frequently stopping en route, using themap to find the direction to walk in, and then setting off again.

Another feature of map use is their combination with guidebooks. Akey aspect of this is simultaneously solving the problems of wherethings are and what things are. One way of doing this exploits the‘‘social zoning’’ of cities. As any frequent tourist will know, one of themost effective ways to find a restaurant in an unfamiliar city is to simplywander around a central area. Although by no means perfect, walkingaround exploits the tendency of certain facilities (such as restaurants)to be clustered in particular areas. One can also judge establishmentsby their appearance and menu. These clusters are exploited in tourists’use of maps. When choosing where to go, it is often safer to pick anarea with more than one potential facility. Tourists would thus head to-wards a restaurant zone of a city, often with one in mind, but with theflexibility to go elsewhere should that restaurant prove to be busy orunsuitable. By combining maps and guidebooks, clusters of facilitiescan be identified in addition to heading towards a specific establish-ment. Of course, this geographical clustering is hardly accidental.

This is not to say that maps are never used for working out how to getto specific places or attractions. Following a route on a map involvesconsiderable interpretation as one moves around a city (Smith1996). A tourist has to read the map and use it to make sense of thestreets and landmarks they see. Observations showed many tourists

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pointing or turning their bodies towards different places to help workout where to go and the connections between publications and whatthey could directly notice (see also the extensive work on alignmenteffects in ‘‘You are here’’ maps by Levine and Jankovic 1982; Montello2003).

A common use of maps is consulting them prior to getting to theplace they describe. Indeed, this pointed towards a much–neglected as-pect of using them: their educational function. A major aim of using amap is to learn about a place sufficiently so one can get around withoutusing one, learning about a place by looking at where the streets go,the names of the streets and potential landmarks. Using maps in situby the process of traveling around, involves also learning about sitesand streets in such a way that upon returning one will have more ideaof location and how to get around. Maps provide an overview and allowone to fit observations and traveling together, to, hopefully, at somepoint, travel without a map.

Pre- and Post-visiting

The last solution to be discussed concerns how tourists use pre- andpost-visiting of places to manage their holiday. While the focus so farhas been on the visit, tourists do considerable work planning, in gath-ering information and deciding what to do. They pre-visit a place byreading about it. A such a tourist can do some of the organizing activitybefore the holiday begins. As with many of the other solutions outlinedabove, pre-visiting is both practical and enjoyable. It extends the excite-ment of the holiday and builds anticipation, as well as giving touristssome sort of idea of what they are visiting before they get there. AsParrinello points out, anticipation can be a major part of motivatingtourists (1993).

Pre-visiting also happens while on the holiday itself, with touristsgathering information about places and planning what they are goingto do. One important aspect of this is that it is satisficing (Simon 1955),in that plans are ‘‘good enough’’ rather than detailed programs ofactivity. Indeed, the plans are often deliberately ambiguous so thatthey can take into account future contingencies. As Suchman (1987)argues, plans do not determine behavior but rather are used flexiblyin deciding what to do. This acknowledges that decisions are ofteneasier to make when one is actually in a particular place. For example,when planning a route, describing a complete route in advance using amap is often quite difficult (and planning an exact route would beimpossible). An alternative approach is to plan a tentative route inadvance, and then pick specific roads by using road signs when driving.Route plans, when implemented, can thus adjust to take into accountthe local circumstances.

In this way, tourist plans are often deliberately designed to be only asspecific as necessary. A number of the tourists interviewed talked aboutallocating days to particular places before they traveled. This sort ofplanning leaves a lot unspecified: when each day starts, what activities

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are done in each place, travel between places, and so on. This tech-nique acknowledges that these details are better kept flexible until clo-ser to the time, as they will be dependent on local transport details, andcan be adjusted in the face of other local contingencies, such as chang-ing weather. Indeed, a stereotypical bad holiday is one that is exces-sively planned, in that changing circumstances are not taken intoaccount.

Another feature of tourist plans is what can be called their ‘‘prospec-tive/retrospective’’ nature. Even on the most pre-planned tourist visit,what is going to happen on the trip is unknown until it actually hap-pens. Holidays are often beset by changing circumstances, or by discov-ering what a place is really like when one gets there. As a holidayunfolds and plans are actually carried out, the blanks in plans becomefilled in, specific. When a holiday is complete, and one looks back atwhat actually happened, it can then appear to have been plannedand orderly, since at this point one knows what actually happened.

This is a fundamental limitation of post-holiday interviews, since theaccounts given systematically delete much of the choice, uncertainty,and discovery of holidays as experienced firsthand. In interviews, tour-ists often gave accounts of their holidays replete with order: ‘‘we did itbecause of this’’. However, when one is actually at the point of decid-ing what to do, tourism is better characterized by its uncertainty. It is adiscovering experience since one cannot avoid coming across the newand unexpected. Traveling to the airport one does not know for sure inadvance that the flight will be on time. At the heart of tourist problemsis the simple fact that traveling is literally a journey into the unknown.Tourist activity in this way makes sense because of a prospective orien-tation to what is going to happen next, yet also depends upon the ret-rospective planning and organization that has gone before. Theactions of tourists have a strong ‘‘prospective/retrospective’’ orienta-tion, as Schutz (1962) puts it. This orientation means that the accountgiven after one rerun lacks the blanks and uncertainty of a holiday asprospectively experienced. The orderliness of activity is overplayed,since the uncertainty has been resolved.

Lastly, tourist plans follow or copy plans provided by others. Whilemuch of the literature on tourism has emphasized the constrained nat-ure of tourist activity, the structures provided by organizations can alsobe seen as enabling in how they are used by tourists to arrange theirpractices. The structures provided by institutions were frequently usedas devices to assist in the organization of what to do. So, for example,bus tours were used by tourists to help organize the visit in this way.One group took the tour bus on the first day so as to obtain an overviewof the city that they used on later days to organize the rest of their visit(Cohen 1985; Holloway 1981). The organization of the city into attrac-tions by the tour provided a structure that they could use in decidingwhat to do with the rest of their visit. However, the tours were not astrict plan that determined what tourists did. Again, there is a contrastwith the discussions of tourist constraints mentioned earlier in this pa-per. Cheong and Miller assert that travel agents, hoteliers, tour guides,and vendors constrain tourists’ movements, behaviors, and even

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thoughts (Cheong and Miller 2000). The structures described here donot just constrain but enable and make tourism possible. While thesestructures are provided to tourists, tourists adapt them to their ownuse.

If pre-visiting is about planning, then post-visiting is about reminisc-ing and sharing. Tourists often get together in groups to talk throughtheir holidays, or to talk about them to others who were not there. Pho-tographs are very important for this activity in that they provide aframework around which stories can be told and experiences shared.Talking through the visit with photographs can take place both withthose who were present on holiday and those not; in one form it is rem-iniscence, in another it allows the experience to be shared. The com-bination of talk and interaction around pictures supports both theseactivities. Post-visiting is thus a powerful way of extending the enjoy-ment of a visit beyond itself. Photography also demonstrates how tour-ists are not isolated individuals but are part of a social network. Theactivities and experiences of one group of tourists can be shared morebroadly—providing pleasure to others, and also exhibiting the tourists’taste and skill. This post-visiting acts as a recommendation mechanismfor different places: it allows one to see what places are like throughfriends, outside the commercially produced views of brochures andtelevision (Crang 1999).


After this discussion of some of the practices of tourists, it is worthreiterating the value of describing them without necessarily producingor working the description into an overarching ‘‘theory of tourism’’.Detailed empirical work can act as a corrective to the tendency of the-oretical work to deny the specificities of particular places and practices(Brown and O’hara 2003). As this paper shows, the mundane practicesof tourists are not simple activities; instead there is depth and detail inhow they arrange them.

In considering, for example, the relationships between guest andhost, as both Aramberri (2001) and Sherlock (2001) argue, these termsgloss over many of the complex interactions and role reversals betweentourists and locals. Organizations as diverse as the bus tour company,or the Tourist Information Center, provided help in the form of‘‘pre-cooked’’ structures that could be used to decide what to do next.Yet these structures do not simply determine or control what touristsdo. Using a map or guidebook involves their working to integrate thattour into specific practice. Ignoring this work allows the portrayal oftourist activity as simply constrained or scripted, yet an adequatedescription must take into account the choice and flexibility enjoyed.Tourists are not, in Garfinkel’s memorable term, ‘‘cultural dopes’’(1967).

The discussion of collaboration in tourism also presents a challengeto views of the ‘‘lone traveler’’. As Urry points out: ‘‘the satisfaction [oftourism] is derived not from the individual act of consumption but

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from the fact that all sorts of other people are also consumers of theservice’’ (1990:131). It is not simply that tourists statistically visit ingroups, or even that they frequently want to meet other tourists (Lo-ker-Murphy and Pearce 1995). Rather, it is that tourism is socialthrough and through, in the interactions among tourists and betweentourists and their environment. Arguing for the collaborative nature oftourism highlights its sociable (Simmel 1949) nature as much as its so-cial nature. Tourism is as a much forum for conversation, talk, andrelaxing with others, as it is a visit. The matter at hand for many maynot actually be the place visited, but rather the opportunities for socialinteraction and exchange. A focus on traveling, the visit, or the placeexperienced may ignore that it is an occasion to spend time with signif-icant others. Thus, the activities covered in this study can also act as asetting for interactions that are of value and enjoyment to tourists, sim-ply because of the time spent in the company of others or those metwhile traveling.

The introduction discussed the ordinary actions that this paper out-lines as the work of tourism. In some senses a term like work glossesover the details of what is involved, since much of tourism is not cor-rectly describable as work. Yet, the surprise it generates when appliedto tourism highlights some of the more mundane activities that mightescape notice. It is not that tourism is work, or tourism is play. Instead,the pleasures (and frustrations) of tourism come from combining andbalancing these problem-solving activities with the more straightfor-wardly pleasurable. A tourist can enjoy finding an unusual bar, arrang-ing time to see three museums in a day, getting confused in a shop, orsimply spending time with a friend or family member seldom seen.Tourism is both hedonic and emotional (Goosens 2000), orderedand planned.

While attention here has been focused on the city tourist, it is possi-ble to speculate about the applicability of these observations to othertypes. All tourism is characterized by the journey into the unknown:even the most planned and organized visits must take into accountthe unknowable late flights, unexpectedly busy roads, or discoveringa new part of a familiar town. In this sense, all tourists face problemsthat need to be managed.

This paper has spent considerable time on what may seem very mun-dane details of tourist practices. In closing, it is worth underlining thatthe mundane is not something inherently of little importance. To thoseunfamiliar with ethnomethodological reports, or studies that focus onpractice, the mundane can appear as a departure into the insignificant.However, as Sacks’ work (1995) states, the massive pervasiveness ofmundane action makes the impact of these practices both powerfuland subtle. Seemingly trivial details, such as how maps are used, canhave a large impact on tourist practice worldwide. Rather than seeingthe source of tourist action in the socioeconomic structuring of theworld, this approach starts literally where tourists start, asking, ‘‘wheredo I go now?’’ By paying close attention to the activities of those beingstudied, the questions of tourists themselves can be placed at the centerof understanding tourism.

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Submitted 23 June 2004. Resubmitted 17 November 2004. Resubmitted 5 January 2005.Resubmitted 8 August 2005. Resubmitted 26 January 2006. Resubmitted 9 June 2006. Finalversion 30 August 2006. Accepted 8 September 2006. Coordinating Editor: Jens Kr. SteenJacobsen