Identity in tourism

In my Intro class, we have been doing presentations about cities, given a particular scenario, a particular tourist, and understanding the tourism system; the big umbrella of variables that comprise the tourism offerings of a destination.  We are now shifting to tourism motivation, and consumer decision-making.  This inevitably leads to a conversation on identity, both from a consumer standpoint, and destination.

Identity is one of those concepts that may be hard to articulate.  Which then could inevitably lead to a discussion of lifespan, and concepts in travel motivation.  The push and pull factors.

Mapping out thoughts
Mind mapping out thoughts on social research

I enjoy teaching Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality.  I have given examples about my own motivations and asked them to keep in mind their own reasons to travel and use the tourist system.

I had one of the moments of truth of why I like Pennsylvania. I tell them the story of driving home from my former place of origin.  Here is the story:

Why I loathed Illinois and its flatness. I am transformed at that demarcation line that separates one reality with another. On the drive home, along route 70, just past Columbus, I start to hit the Appalachians. I feel this giddy sense of home looming in the distance, tugging, pulling me to hurry. Even though I have a standard sedan and long for something with a little more zip (like I see on BBC’s Top Gear), my car handles the new textures of the landscape pretty well. I hit the West Virginia border and the broad smile that cracks my lips will soon turn into bouts of sporadic laughter as I hit the gorges and mountains. I know they aren’t as severe as other places but I’m home. I’m back in my mountains.


Pittsburgh is next and the Turnpike from New Stanton to Donegal. Fourteen miles separate me from Ligonier and it is one of those drooling moments in anticipation of the mountains that flank either side of my car that has me intoxicated to roll down the window and breathe the sweet air.

This part of western Pennsylvania reminds me of Perthshire in Scotland and that might have something to do with my ‘lang for hame. I can take a breath as I hit the crossroads that bisect over Route 30, drive past the Fort and hit the center of town. I careen counter-clockwise around the island that holds its famous bandstand of old Ligonier and hit the road that will take me up to my mountain. I used to take Route 30 (Lincoln Highway, which even extends into Illinois) from Greensburg, but a severe rear-ender in ’09 limits my desire to use that route any more. Yet, I know once I am past Latrobe, past Derry, I hit the winding roads that our ancestors used to go west. I traveled it this past summer while at home with my mother and her gal pals to lunch at Latrobe airport. I rolled down my window then, and drank in the smell of the pine, mountain laurel, and sweet wild garlic. I am glad to see Sleepy Hollow Restaurant being rebuilt and Idlewild Park still going strong. But I digress. Memories tug at my heart, and I tell them.

Band Stand Ligoneer, PA
Band Stand Ligoneer, PA

I tried to express to the students how it feels to be pulled by a destination. How it tugs at your heart and makes you act. I stood before them, my hands outstretched as I explained the drive under the

“lush canopies that crowned my beloved paths. …find my way home to the places of my present and my past… (Pudliner, Home, 1987).”

My hands glided one way and then another as I mimicked the drive over Route 271 or Menoher Highway (Menoher pronounced Men-ocher), visualizing it in my mind as I darted one way and then another as my tires hug the curves. My eyes ever watchful looking for that fluff of white tail of a deer before it crashes from the foliage and ruins a perfect drive. Or the blare of blues and twos, and I’m caught for lack of concern for the drive, and driving ability.

I hit the top of Laurel Mountain and realize I have held my breath. We have hit close to 3,000 feet in elevation and the views are breathtaking on a ‘good’ day. I am back in my Highlands–the Laurel Highlands and memory slips into recalling driving through Perthshire, from Pitlochry and north to Inverness.

Laurel Mountain
Winter on Laurel Mountain

I know now I am on the downward drive to Johnstown and my home atop Westmont Hill. I love the curve at the bottom of the hill, know the line of sight, know when I have to pump the brakes ever so slightly and ease into the curve, allowing centrifugal force to pull me around the curve. I love the rush of adrenaline, the thrill. Even when it is winter, even when I know I have to slow to a crawl to take that curve…I cannot best explain it and sometimes, as I tell my students, you can’t. You can’t explain entirely why people love a destination. It just is. But if we don’t ask the right questions, how will we know what they expect and want.

And that leads back to identity.  From that passage you can obtain a sense of my own identity.  From stories, conveyed online, or through traditional delivery, we can gain a sense of a traveler’s identity.  Who they are?  What they like?  What might motivate them to make a decision?  For a destination, it is the promotional currency of images, the written word that engages us to act.  We can construct an identity from various forms of information, and the nuances of destination.  Constructing that identity is imperative in the marketing function to push and pull people to engage, and act, to make a decision…

More later…

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