Happily, in the past two decades, there’s been a huge trend in tourism development to embrace authentic places and experiences — to return cities, towns and resorts to their real selves. And perhaps not surprisingly, a whole business called “place branding” has grown around promoting the special aspects of places. People have figured out that when it comes to place, the genuine trumps the bogus. Visitors of all kinds, and not just highbrow types, value what is real and distinctive about the places where they vacation.
Lately, this trend has resonated most vibrantly in the desire to eat locally — to find those awesome Penn Cove Shellfish ?oysters from Samish Bay, Wash.; genuine low-?country cooking at Hominy Grill in Charleston, S.C.; or the perfect smoked reindeer in Luleå, in Swedish Lapland. (I’m drooling as I write this, because I’ve savored all three of those examples.)
Music is interwoven with place, prompting a flight to Lafayette, La., for real zydeco music; or to a Klezmer festival in Berlin; or to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion show in St. Paul, not far from his mythical — but perfectly authentic — Lake Wobegon. Similarly, we want to find the local art gallery in Phoenix that has works by Nava?jo artists or the little spot in Seoul, South Korea, that showcases colorful Korean folk art. The list goes on, the point being that we want to find the local in the places we visit.
And what about local people? This may seem a little harder, but it’s really not. You do need to be a little brave, and you must demonstrate interest or curiosity. Maybe it’s a simple question, asked without judgment, and prefaced with a sincere statement that shows respect. I’ve been talking to strangers all my life and, once you overcome some natural resistance, you’ll discover the joy of chatting, even briefly, with a genuine New Yorker, Sydneysider or Mancunian (that’s someone who lives in Manchester, England).
To me, respect for places and the joy of discovering new places make travel better.
Rob Britton has worked in travel, including airlines, since 1969. He now consults and teaches as a guest lecturer at business schools worldwide.