Mark Jones: Contrary to appearances, Brits really do like tourists – honest
Something to Declare
Mark Jones started writing about travel for The Evening Standard in the 1990s and has been a regular contributor to the travel pages of The Independent since 2011. He edited the British Airways magazine High Life and now divides his time between that publication, the Best Western Magazine Do Not Disturb and writing. He is a past Travelex Magazine Writer of the Year (for Krakow) and in 2013 won the AITO Travel Writer of the Year award for a piece on the Galapagos. He divides his time between the Chiltern hills and the Andalucian mountains. Geographically, he specialises in – everywhere and nowhere.
Sunday 12 August 2012
Someone in Lisbon said this to me: "We get a lot of Spanish tourists. We smile nicely and take their money. Then we have a laugh because they've no idea how much we hate them." The last time I heard something like that was in Jordan after they opened the border to Israelis – only the Jordanians left out the smiling nicely bit.
We "hate" tourists for a whole lot of reasons. Perhaps they symbolise the big and noisy neighbours. Or maybe they represent an unpalatable culture or religion. Or sometimes tourists are disliked simply because, like those Spanish in Portugal, they're oblivious to what we really think. Remember that scandal in the Maldives where two local wits did a scurrilous commentary on an English couple's video of their wedding in paradise?
The people in Lisbon and Petra weren't bitter and twisted. They were hospitable, intelligent souls who didn't appear to have a misanthropic bone in their bodies. But then hating tourists, or certain tourists, is the sin that does dare to speak its name – it's something that normally nice people will happily admit to.
All of which brings me to London, the Olympic city. Otherwise pleasant Londoners regularly deprecate tourists. Why? For what I can make out, it's nothing more than the sin of getting in the way.
Really, this is a failure of empathy. When we go about our daily business in our home cities, we are like bats flitting between each other at pace – and just as blind to our surroundings. When we are travelling, we dawdle, look up, gaze at interesting locals. Of course we get in the way.
I'm not pretending to be blameless. I work on the Strand in central London, and at 5.30pm at Charing Cross station, I'm more like an ice hockey player barging aside the idiots trying to negotiate the barriers with their useless maps and plastic policeman hats.
US visitors bring out the very worst in us. Most Americans, it seems, approach travel in a spirit of big-hearted innocence and friendly curiosity. Just because they exhibit those traits in loud and confident voices, some Londoners take a dislike to them.
Why? The dollars they bring are vital to our economy and, just as important, our status in the world. We should be going out of our way to thank them personally for coming over, especially those brave ones who defy the US's regular fits of national collywobbles when there's a bomb within 1,000 miles of the UK. Those people should have a personal welcome from Boris Johnson and a special map advising them how to avoid the Aberdeen Steak House.
I asked someone senior in the British tourism industry what she'd like to change about our image abroad. She said: "We are admired rather than loved ... they don't see us as fun-loving and some are unsure of their welcome."
One nation, she said, had very successfully turned around its dour reputation. They're now seen as almost hedonistic and certainly tourist-friendly. The Germans.
If that's not a call to arms, I don't know what is.
Mark Jones is editorial director of British Airways' "High Life" and Best Western's "Do Not Disturb' magazines
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Thailand tourism video Love En Route criticised for featuring Instagram stalker
Luggage: The journey from canvas rucksacks to carry-on capsules
Eurostar re-opens between London and Paris after person killed by train in Kent
The Atlas of Beauty: Photographer travels around the world to capture cultural diversity through stunning portraits of women
The 10 Best hiking boots
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...
£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...
£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...
£25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...