Americans Discover Vacation: While Disparaging Tourists

I am sure you have probably had a conversation about restaurants in which you or someone you are speaking with dismisses some eatery as being “for tourists.” That means it is probably overcrowded and overpriced. What’s more it is somehow not authentic because its patrons aren’t locals.

That attitude toward tourists, what they do and where they go, turns out to be nothing new. In fact it is as old as tourism itself. In an earlier post (Americans Discover Vacation: Overcoming Our Heritage), I included a quote from James Kirke Paulding describing traveling as “the most exquisite mode of killing time and spending money ever yet devised by lazy ingenuity.” Paulding was a member of the early 19th century American literati. He dipped his pen into various types of writing that included a novel, comedic stage plays and a satirical periodical. These were different times and such writings apparently qualified him for a number of government jobs that eventually ended up with an appointment as Secretary of the Navy.

John F. Sears, author of the Sacred Places, the book where I found Paulding’s quote, describes his writing as “poking fun at the hurry, pretensions and superficiality of the tourists.”



That was from 1828. Travel at the time was slow and expensive. Only the country’s elite were participating, which was the case for a good part of the 19th century. Middle-class Americans at the time were religiously conservative, moralistic and generally preached industriousness. Anyone with the time and money to travel was viewed in much the same light as the European aristocracy. They were thought to lack not only endeavor but also sufficient moral rigor.

Writing in Working at Play, Cindy S. Aron notes that “by the last half of the nineteenth century writers and cultural critics were offering parodies of tourists and noting the inauthentic quality of tourist attractions.” In the same book, Aron quotes a 1975 New York Times article about the bathers at Cape May, suggesting that their primary pursuit was “flirting and gossiping.” That wasn’t intended as a compliment.

And then there were the folks who were active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries promoting the American West as a travel destination. They showed their disdain for “easterners” who chose to travel to Europe.

So when vacationing was confined only the country’s elite, most of their countrymen were quick to criticize. But as travelling became something that involved a broader segment of Americans, the tables were turned and the elitists didn’t view these new tourists that kindly either.



In discussing the reaction of some to the fact that a more economically diverse group of Americans started to visit Niagara later in the 19th century, Sears writes. “…the excursionists who arrived after railroad fares declined usually visited Niagara Falls only for a day. The genteel tourist regarded them as less cultivated. They appeared more eager for exciting diversions than the better-off tourist, less inclined to the quieter pleasures of a sylvan walk.”

Out West, similar sentiments were being expressed by John Muir, an author who was an advocate for wilderness preservation and became a founder of the Sierra Club. Because of his role in petitioning for the legislation that established Yosemite as a national park he has been referred to as “father of the national parks.” But he was no champion of the common man as tourist. According to Sears, “Muir detested the ordinary tourists who made a quick tour of Yosemite’s points of interest and then left.”

The promotion of the national parks focused on comparing the authentic experience of nature as compared to “the crass concerns of commercialism and cheap amusements of common tourist attractions,” according to Marguerite S. Shaffer, author of See America First.

Sears sums it up like this: “Tourists as a species have a bad name; they are regarded as superficial, crass, insensitive to their surroundings.” Aron offers a similar view: “Tourists, both popular and scholarly wisdom contend, are vulgar, superficial, provincial, gullible, and entirely lacking in taste or sophistication.”



The attitudes of these 19th and early 20th century commentators was only the beginning. In more recent times, Hollywood chipped in with some classic movies portraying family vacationers as laughable, bundling boobs. Once the growth of global travel sent Americans around the world and brought visitors from every continent to the U.S., our inherited attitude toward tourists mixed with ethnic stereotypes and prejudices to produce even more vitriol to be hurled at the people who stop by and throw some cash into the local economy.

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29 Responses to Americans Discover Vacation: While Disparaging Tourists

  1. Lenie says:

    I hope that the tourist is being looked at more kindly today as I live in an area that depends heavily on tourism. If you’ve heard of Tobermory, you may know that in winter time when it’s only the locals, the population is around 2,000 but during the summer it increases to more than 20,000. Since this is located at the end of nowhere, it’s a good thing they are able to count on tourists and there the tourist is King.
    Another great post about vacations and tourist. Really enjoying this series.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. patweber says:

    We live in a tourist town – Williamsburg VA. When we first moved here 15 years ago we started to explore every restaurant in the area. Who knew where we were going was considered, Tourist Restaurant Route. We still laugh when we were getting our check from the LAST one we visited there. When the server said thank you as he handed us our bill he chimed in, “And come see us next year when you are in town.” That explained soooo much. I feel like we were the working class tourist. Can totally relate to your post Ken.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jacquiegum says:

    I can completely relate to this, living in Charleston SC…rated #1 tourist destination by Conde Nast for 3 years running:) My biggest complaint about tourists here is that they assume everyone in town on vacation too! They completely ignore crosswalk lights, walk and drive as if they and everyone around them has no destination or time constraints. I try not to be like that when I am traveling…. I try:)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. maxwell ivey says:

    Hi Ken; yes things have changed quite a bit. now tourism is one of the leading industries and many countries, cities, towns, and business owners concern themselves primarily with how to create and promote new tourist attractions to drive income to their economy or business. my dad used to make it a point to find at least one place of historical significance and visit it while we were in a town for their fair or festival. yes tv and movies do poke fun at the hapless american tourists whether they are in the u s or traveling the world. this is a common theme whether the show is based in the u s or in most industrialized countries. thanks for sharing. I love all the bibliographic references. keep up the great work, max

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Donna Janke says:

    Interesting look at the history of attitudes toward tourists. I can understand locals getting annoyed with tourists who take over places and don’t respect the life of the locals, as pointed out by some of the comments. That is just plain rudeness. What I don’t understand is how some tourists today can look down on other tourists because of the way they choose to travel or spend vacation time, implying one way of seeing the world is better than another.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a fascinating peek into the history and views on tourists. I can see how tourists really get a bad name for themselves though, especially those who don’t research a country’s customs, food, etc before traveling there or worse yet those that travel around the world defacing other country’s national monuments, etc. that you read about in the news.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tim says:

    Great post Ken and I guess not much has changed over the centuries. As a big traveler myself I do find myself chuckling a bit when in San Francisco where I live and getting annoyed at the tourists. Do I act like this “deer in headlights” kind of way when the shoe is on the other foot; probably. Tourism is about as superficial a past time as there is as only the best is taken in while leaving the problems and less desirable under-belly of destinations left for those who live there. But, tourism is an escape and to escape you see everything through rose colored glasses. Why not, you will have to go back from where you came soon enough. Of course there are exceptions to this and some countries, Myanmar, Cambodia, etc, demand a closer look under the covers by any who travel there.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Meredith says:

    We all love to hate the tourists…until we become one. 🙂 It’s so good to get out and see the world differently, but hopefully we would welcome those who visit us as well. It’s interesting to see how little people’s attitudes have changed over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kire Sdyor says:

    I live in Boston, we don’t have tourists…we have students. I’m reminded of a Jimmy Buffett song where he complains of the tourists in the Florida Keys, while he has done more to bring tourists down the A1A since Flagler built the railroad. Great read. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s easy to get annoyed at how tourists sometimes behave. Unfortunately it has not changed. The worst was when I was living in London, UK, which is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Add to that that my local supermarket was Harrods and you can understand that tourists could be annoying:-)


  11. andleeb says:

    I am really enjoying this series. Last year my family visited Niagara Falls but unfortunately I missed. I want to visit and have read a lot about it and heard stories from family about it. I hope I will someday visit.
    In early centuries only rich people were travelling but now I think if we have a check on the deals by hotels and airlines, we can keep our travel in budget and even it is possible for a common person to travel and see the world.


  12. Alice says:

    Tourism is a blessing and a curse. I really hate to see how some behave around nature, monuments, and have no respect for another country’s history or culture. How many don’t insult monarchies but when in a country with a monarchy they want to see everything, watch the changing of the guards, and meet some of those royals? We travel frequently before and after we became parents. We have strict rules: if you do not litter at home you do not do that in someone else’s country either. You will respect their way of live as you are in their country. If you disagree, make a mental note and decide later if that country is still a vacation destination for our family. On the other hand, we met tourists who were in awe and wanted to learn about a culture, buildings’ history, habits, cuisine, and wanted to know where the locals hang out. I guess it comes down to personal responsible behaviour, integrity, and respect. We do not leave them at home when we travel. In fact, we make it a point to bring them along everywhere we go.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love tourists and I savor being one. Living in LA we’re inundated with tourists traffic, especially in Hollywood and Santa Monica. Whenever I see tourists they’re so happy, snapping pictures or waiting with baited breath in hopes of seeing their favorite celebrity pass by sipping a Starbucks. It’s joyous. When I travel I go all out trying to soak up the essence of each place I visit. Truthfully the only time I’ve seen a rude tourist watching some of the American tourists interact with European residents. It’s almost as if they are disappointed Europe isn’t exactly like the US, they even get annoyed if the Europeans don’t speak English, what is up with that?


  14. I bet there is a whole study about tourism, vacations and its social impact in a modern culture. Another interesting blog, I like seeing the correlation between time, economics, society and tourism. If realism in computers gets more and more advanced, virtual reality etc, I wonder what that will have on tourism?


  15. Andy says:

    As others have already pointed out, tourists should be judged on a case-by-case basis. Tourists who correctly understand that they are guests and who are on their best behavior should be welcomed. Tourists with a self-centered “Serve me” attitude should just go home.


  16. Erica says:

    I think I had the biggest problem with tourists when I lived in NYC. When you are a New Yorker, the sidewalk to you as the highway is to people living in most other places. You use it to get somewhere fast. I would despise getting caught behind a group of tourists. They would usually be standing spread out over the whole sidewalk, walking super slow with tons of bags in hand creating a huge obstacle for getting by and getting to my destination on time. They would usually be looking up into the skyline and completely oblivious to those on the ground. Oh well, most economies would tank without tourists. And it is fun to be a tourist when you are on the other end of the equation.


  17. I can completely relate to this. Living in London, England.
    What a great post about vacations and tourist. I am enjoying this series.


  18. This is great. I get pretty anoyed by tourists when they walk so slow in Dulbin, and when they stop dead in the street, it’s so frustrating. That being said, I know that I too tend to stop suddenly when I spot something I want to take a photo of when I’m travelling!


  19. Being born and raised in Los Angeles we saw a lot of tourist and I mean a lot. But with the understanding that this is Hollywood and everyone wants to see Hollywood. Instead of look at tourist as a negative most of the time we went on the tours with them and had fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I grew up in a tiny tourist town- on the Sunrise Side of Michigan. It was delightful- there was always something fun to do- new people to meet! I still always try to smile and help out strangers, now that I live in a big city that’s it’s own tourist destination. 🙂


  21. Beth Niebuhr says:

    Oh yes, the Ugly American. I do find it embarrassing when some of my fellow USA-ites are traveling and expect people of other countries to treat them as they are treated in America. They don’t get the concept of When in Rome… Traveling to me, is all about celebrating the local sites and customs.


  22. Jason @ says:

    I think some areas cater and like tourist more than others. I’ve been in cities where everyone is nice and try to help you out. I’ve also been to a couple places where that wasn’t the case.


  23. My first trip out of the country was to Germany and the German friend I was traveling with immediately taught me tourist-etiquette, how to avoid being an Ugly American, and how to soak up the flavor of a place by truly interacting with those who live there. I’ve been thankful for these lessons on every trip I’ve taken since, both to Europe and traveling in our USA. For the NYC commenters, I have to say that when I traveled there last May I was amazed at the patience you folks showed with tourists. It was great! Thanks for the blog, Ken.


  24. cheryltherrien says:

    Wow…. An interesting history of the ‘tourist’. Not at all what one would expect. I am pleased to say that I am not the typical tourist. Immersing in the local culture is what brings us understanding.


  25. Pingback: Americans Discover Vacation: Book Reviews | off the leash

  26. I live in an area whose economy is based on tourism. And oh do the ‘locals’ love to complain about them. They leave out the parts where the area is obsessively clean, lots of activities, jobs, low property taxes, and that family and friends just love to travel from anywhere to see you.

    Worked a number of times in the tourist industry, and while taking tourists out into wilderness areas was akin to herding cats at times (fellow guides and I had a mantra ‘bring em back alive’)…one of the things I adored about the tourists was seeing the area through their fresh eyes, watching their joy of discovering, and their curiosity.

    Never given the history of tourists much thought before and this essay and the references was just excellent. Thank you, Ken. Have an excellent week.


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