Selling places

There is a gigantic global infrastructure of hotels, travel agents, transport providers and marketers driving the industry forward in search of ever more exotic, unusual places creating 'must see' destinations. Tourism is the coalface of branding: out there, garish, and, at its worst, prostituting the city. Everything is on the move to keep the frenzy of tourism going: Bangkok transforms itself from 'Asia's bargain basement' into 'the coolest city on the planet'; 'Ich bin ein Berliner - how the city learnt to party'; 'Tel Aviv has the edge of Belfast, the spirit of Rio and the 24 hour attitude of New York';

'Mumbai's the word - get to grips with one of the world's most extreme - and now most fashionable - cities'; 'C'est chic - you bet - for the US, Montreal is Paris without the jetlag. Montreal can do that version of itself in its sleep'; '[Shanghai is] the most exciting city on Earth. There's a boom-town exuberance to Shanghai with its outlandish skyscrapers, designer shops, hip bars and world-class restaurants.'44 Favourite destinations change by the season: one day it is Reykjavik, the next Ljubljana; and then the lure of the tango in Buenos Aires. You even hear, 'Move over New York, bring on Bratislava.' There are the perennial favourites, usually prefaced by the phrase 'the irresistible charms of ...' (Paris, Venice, 'Brazil's most vibrant city', etc.).

And everything has to be 'cool', 'hip' or 'hot'. 'UK Cool: Why we are hip again'. There are the 'cool capitals - Amsterdam, Berlin and Vienna' - and 'mid-sized cities get hip'. The elemental, primal and visceral is a strong theme and the 'cold': 'try the untamed North'.

By contrast it may be themes such as glimpses into Russia's repressive past, gay tours, firing kalashnikovs or tracking wolves. Or ever dreamt of taking the kids to the beach in Europe, but find the logistics daunting? Stay at the pretend beach at Centre Parcs, a controlled indoor setting whose signature feature is a large dome that houses a landscaped waterpark and tropical pools, play zones, restaurants, shops and a spa and other 'novelty features'. Or you want something more exclusive? How about the private world of Mustique in the Caribbean, where even the locals aren't allowed to go. Is that too dull? Try Stalin World in Grutas Park, Lithuania, which mixes humour and history. An imitation Soviet prison camp interspersed with old communist statues may not sound like the ideal place for a good time, but in the search for the exotic anything goes. Or try the more sedate Statue Park in Budapest where another collection of old Marxes, Stalins and Lenins looks down on you.

Excitement is promised and stimulation provided. The reality is that most of the experience is pre-digested and manipulated. And, on return, the tourist hunters bring back their trophies. Instead of brandishing rifles or shooting animals they shoot pictures and bring back souvenirs, memories and a passport stamp. It is still a conquest. It is collecting experiences, collecting places, collecting things. What is left for the city? It has to clear up.

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