In this issue I will be discussing how social media has transformed the types of experiences that tourists now find themselves engaged in. Moreover, I will be suggesting that these transformations have caused an explosion in the number of simulated experiences that are now on offer to tourists. In order to do so I think it is imperative to first reflect on the vast academic material that has been written on simulations, and more specifically hyperrealities. Jean Baudrillard was the first real exponent of the concept of hyperreality with his work “Simulacra and Simulations”. Jean Baudrillard diagnosed that the proliferation of information and technology has had a phenomenal impact on the way that individuals consume products and services. He later added that the consumption of too many fictions has greatly reduced our perception of what is deemed as real. This is reflected in contemporary tourism as many tourists have become immersed in seeking out authentic experiences. However in attempting to seek out authentic experiences they have in turn been met with more and more fictitious experiences. Therefore, many of these tourists are now failing to recognise and comprehend the realism of their encounters.
We are very much living in a highly visualised culture and a simulated induced world. This can be illustrated using the examples of the film and gaming industry. Showing in the cinemas and on T.V are films like Bladerunner, The Matrix and Minority Report which illustrate the complex nature of the hyperreal bubbles that consume us. Notably this has continued in recent times with the release of films such as Inception and Limitless. In terms of the film Limitless just imagining working at that level of intensity is a difficult enough task for many of us. Even the latest television programmes like “Black Mirror” involve the intensification and replication of completely unimaginable events. The gaming industry can be utilised to illustrate the difficulty in establishing a difference between the real and the fake. Bart Simon emphasised that games are represented as a matter of simulation, and specific games like Medal of Honor merely distract us from games of the real. This post-modern society has instinctively created brand new versions of the simulated experience, and has therefore expanded the hyperrealities that currently exist. I believe that advancements in technology like social networking sites have driven a remarkable interest in film induced tourism. Social networking applications like Foursquare tend to display information about where films are set. For example, when you check in with Foursquare at the University of Lincoln you will find that part of the film Possession was filmed in the Faculty of Media, Humanities & Performance building, back when it was the University library. Likewise films such as The Da Vinci Code have boosted Lincoln Cathedral’s income and generated significant increases in visitor numbers. Another example of this is Blairquhan Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland; this was the setting for the 2005 film “The Queen”. Blairquhan Castle was used as a substitute location for Balmoral Castle. This castle has become a popular attraction for American visitors who are interested in learning about the history of the British monarchy. I believe that this experience would not be possible without the expansion of the way information is mediated, via the internet and through social networking sites. These applications have acted as a resource and they have given users more information at their immediate disposal. However, the sharp rise in technology has resulted in this highly visualised culture, where the information that is being presented is distinctly lacking in depth.
In summary, the desire to consume and the expansion in technology has been the driving force behind this post-modern contemporary society. As a consequence, we as a society have created our own hybrid version of the Matrix, and we are naturally immersing ourselves in an elaborate simulation. More importantly, we are seeing a rapid deconstruction and diminishment in the beauty of the authentic. Gradually, this graphically simulated world is slowly descending into a virtual game, which is being played simultaneously on a number of levels and intensities. Individuals are failing to make distinctions between real life experiences and sophisticated replications. Moreover, the responses that we give are being controlled and configured by this simulated environment. Social media has transformed the types of encounters that tourists are now being exposed to. In particularly, we are transcending into a profound virtual hyperreal bubble, which is unsurprisingly lodged in an artificial world.
To start with I believe it is important to define the core elements that will be dealt with in this short article. For this purpose instant gratification will be referred to as a direct, instantaneous experience. Whereas delayed gratification will be denoted by a person’s ability to wait in order to obtain a particular item. There has been very little academic reference to the concept of instant gratification. Although delayed gratification over the years has received far more attention. More recently, delayed gratification is said to be becoming a deeply unfashionable concept as many individuals are only interested in what is available to them immediately. In many respects, this would seem to show a switch from a delayed gratification culture to an instant gratification culture. Voase is part of a small minority of academics who has alluded to delayed gratification being threatened by the growing culture of instant gratification.
Advances in technology exist to be one of the key antecedents for establishing and supplementing this instant culture. The rise in the internet can be seen as a contributing factor in the emergence of this impulse orientated culture. The essence of this culture is associated with the pursuit of easiness where individuals can choose to indulge in an instant. We are all a part of this consumer driven society and consumerism has diminished our ability to delay gratification. However this instant gratification culture is not being mirrored in all industries. Tourism is one of those industries that fails to reflect and is not representative of the shift into this instant culture. Academics like Voase insist that tourism enjoys augmented salience in a culture in which gratification is otherwise compromised. Within the tourism industry it is incredibly difficult to find something that is instantly available. If you take a holiday for instance, there is usually a waiting time between you booking your holiday and you embarking on that holiday. For many the preparation of the holiday may be more important than the holiday itself. Purchasing holiday essentials like clothes suitable for the climate is a must, and simply visualising the holiday experience is part of this delayed process. Even short weekend holidays require you to check in at the airports three hours before, or better still pack your suitcase for a car journey! I would consider many tourism purchases to be ones of gradual accumulation over time, where the tourist plans to go on holiday, and culminates in the tourist travelling to their destination. Increasingly, society has shown an over reliance on products that are instantly available. An example of this is the introduction of ebooks from the likes of Apple and Amazon. Some ebooks are available a year ahead of paperback, and many consumers are now not willing to wait for the book to be released in paper format.
To sum up, antecedents like advancements in technology have enabled this instant gratification culture to reach new levels of intensity. Delayed gratification seems to have almost vanished from vast parts of our capitalist culture. However delayed gratification is still shown to be prevalent in industries like the tourism industry. Voase emphatically noted that changes in the cultural condition are threatening gratification gained through consumption. Tourism stands out as a field relatively unaffected by these advances. The industry (tourism) is not representative of our culture of impulse purchases that we invest in on a daily basis. The tourism purchase is a process of gradual accumulation, this delay in each phase of the proceedings could actually lead to greater and a more meaningful satisfaction, rather than the regular spur of the moment purchases. Therefore, tourists may not be immediately affected by their purchases, but this delay in the process may in fact produce a longer lasting and more memorable experience.
The year of the London Olympics has finally dawned upon us. London 2012 has been widely dubbed as being the “Regeneration Games” even before the Games have commenced. Like many other Games the London Organising Committee have recognised a series of development opportunities. These have come in the form of exploiting tourism agendas and regeneration plans which hope to transform the heart of East London. This begs the question of what are the long term objectives of the 2012 Olympic Games. Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport) is adamant that the games will be utilised as a driver to inspire more people to play sport. In recent times, the government has moved into an entirely new direction with the creation of the School Games and a new Youth Sport Strategy, namely Creating a Sporting Habit for Life. This is certainly well intended but I denote that it may be the last chance saloon for the government, and it may prove unsuccessful in reaping the rewards of the Games. Enhancing the state and quality of sport in the UK was already a difficult enough task without them realigning vast amounts of money away from sport. These governments cuts may start to erode and displace the sports development system. I am rather dubious about these new strategies, partly because I believe that the government is using the School Games as a last resort. For many that are already involved in sport and those that could be involved, these funding cuts may prompt a funding gap resulting in participation levels dwindling in the long term. But at the same time after the “feel good factor” of the Olympics has passed you may start to see rapid increases in the rates of those dropping out of sport.
Within the long term plans of the Games the organisers need to establish what will happen to the facilities and infrastructure after the Games has run its course. What has been noticeable from a government perspective is that the press and media centre’s situated on the Olympic park have been said to have gathered significant amounts of commercial interests from the likes of Loughborough University. At this moment in time a major issue is the long term legacy of the Olympic stadium, after West Ham United’s ownership bid collapsed. This was partially the result of persistent legal action from the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and other clubs such as Leyton Orient. But out of this disastrous situation there have in fact been a number of positives. On the 11th November 2011 London won the right to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships. This change in events could actually work in favour for West Ham United unless Tottenham Hotspur drastically alters their plans. West Ham United reiterated that they would retain the running track in their original planning application, whereas Tottenham Hotspur on the other hand wanted to remove the running track. The organising committees for both the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2017 World Championships now have to rethink the future role of the Olympic stadium. I would like to see the Olympic stadium fully utilised and retaining the running track would act as a valuable asset for the 2017 organising committee, and to the hosting of the World Championships.
Ultimately, the initial legacy plans will be compared to the resulting benefits that may be gained from hosting the Olympics (if in fact there are any significant benefits!). I would just like to leave you with a few final thoughts which primarily concern whether hallmark events like the 2012 Olympic Games actually live up to the hype, and whether the organisers succeed in making their regeneration visions a reality. Undoubtedly, it can be said that on many occasions the Olympic Games fall short in reaching the projected image or vision for the Games. Moreover, the Olympic Games is unable to build long term community cohesion, integration and is incapable of meeting the needs of the wider community.