Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
11 Tourist Immersion or Tourist Gaze:
the Backpacker Experience
Ketwadee Buddhabhumbhitak
Naresuan University, Phitsanulok, Thailand
the tourist desires to understand the local society
and culture (Jansson, 2006). The degree of
socio-cultural immersion that a tourist desires
from a host society is varied. It could be said the
socio-cultural immersion of the tourist within a
host society is determined by how the tourist
perceives himself, the meaning of tourism and
his attitude to the social world. Cohen (1973)
argued that the degree of tourist socio-cultural
immersion could be placed on a continuum. He
viewed travel as a social activity that varies for
each individual. At one extreme of the contin-
uum 'modern man' seeks novelty and shuns
familiarity when he travels, while at the other
end of the continuum 'traditional man' relies on
the familiar 'bubble environment' during his
travel. Cohen's (1973) modern man is the con-
ceptual representation of what he called the
'non-institutionalized tourist', who can further
be categorized into two main types: the explorer
and the drifter. Explorers have an independent
travel pattern and avoid mainstream tourist
sites. However, despite novelty being sought
during his trip, the explorer still looks for familiar
conveniences in his travel choices. The drifter
also seeks independent experiences and a high
degree of novelty, but differs in his degree of
immersion in a host society. While the explorer
tries to immerse himself in a host society, he
cannot abandon his comforts and native way of
life. This differs from the drifter who endeavours
to immerse himself wholly in a host society by
'living like a local'.
The backpacker market has been gaining interest
as a niche worthy of research since the 1980s. The
typology of a backpacker that is often cited is one
of a non-institutionalized tourist who avoids pack-
age tours, travels independently and seeks to
engage with the host society and culture (Jarvis,
1994; Welk, 2004). However, recent research sug-
gests that backpacker tourism has become another
form of conventional mass tourism (Richards and
Wilson, 2004b). Cohen (2004) believes a conven-
tional mass tourist is different from an indepen-
dent traveller, such as a backpacker, because of his
degree of 'strangeness'. While a backpacker
desires to get rid of his status of strangeness in a
host society, a mass tourist is not interested in
doing so. It is this change in thinking within the
literature that was explored in this chapter. This
was achieved by investigating backpackers' ideol-
ogies and actions in relation to the concepts of
'tourist immersion' and 'tourist gaze'. These two
concepts represent two extremes of a continuum,
with 'tourist immersion' being more aligned with
independent (backpacker) travel and 'tourist gaze'
being more aligned with mass tourism.
Tourist Immersion
When the term 'immersion' is used in the con-
text of tourism, it refers to the degree to which
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