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New Media and Travel: How New Media Practices Shape Tourism

Heidi J. Davis
MS Doctoral Candidate, Art Education, Indiana University, Bloomington


New media is transforming tourism.  This article highlights new media as a tool for translation and creative production in tourism. Tourism is a favorable context for studying new media practices of translation and production in both the physical and virtual worlds. According to Bruner, tourism contexts are transitory, creative spaces.(1) These qualities mirror new media practices, which are often ephemeral and teeming with creative production. Tourism routines and social conducts offer a rich space for viewing how new media influences the ways we meet new and foreign experiences.

Pixels and Foreign Spaces

As with most disciplines, there are a variety of definitions for new media and tourism. This article follows the new media principles set forth by Manovich and the tourism definitions delineated by Graburn. According to Manovich, all new media consists of pixels, which are representations of numbers and binary code. Further the digital representation of old media is considered new media.(2) For example, a newspaper from the 1950’s that is viewed in a digital form, would be considered new media. A film reel that is not pixilated would not be considered new media.

Graburn defines tourism as a temporal experience that takes a person out of the ordinary, everyday experiences and into foreign and unordinary spaces.(3) Under this definition exploring an unknown mediascape in the virtual world would be considered tourism similar to exploring in the physical world. Foreignness can be met in local and distant lands, in real or digital forms.

Carie’s theory of tourism, built upon Graburn’s ideas, is also fundamental to this paper. Carie’s concept recognizes the tourist moment, which captures the essential role of narrative in the study of tourism.(4) Carie’s theory focuses on the difference between the lived experience that exists in real-time and the translation of that moment through narrative. This article focuses on tourists’ narrative translations.

Narrative Translations

Today’s narrative translations have roots that extend into the long established practice of narrating one’s travels through imagery. The visual heritage of new media practices in tourism link back to early explorers, guidebooks, and the advent of the mass-produced camera. Many acclaimed travelers presented their travels through souvenirs, illustrated maps, and sketchbooks (e.g., Lewis and Clark expeditions).(5) Another visual heritage example is found in an early guidebook by Richard Ford titled Handbook for Travellers (sic) in Spain (1855). In it he advises the reader to bring, “…liquid water-colours, camel-hair brushes, permanent white, and good lead-pencils”.(6)

Modern photography became widely accessible in the 1890s and quickly became a tourist staple.(7) Camera use (and later video use) had a significant impact on tourism and began to shape the narratives people desired. Tourists started framing travel destinations around the potential for good photographic opportunities. Boissevain shares a study where tourists preferred the inauthentic made-for-tourists dances over locally authentic dances. Even though the tourists knew it was inauthentic, the tourists preferred the made-for-tourist dance in part because it offered better views for taking pictures.(8)

Nash illustrates the imperialist trends that follow tourist photography.(9) Nash suggests that spreading the ideals of one people onto another, whether those ideals are accepted voluntarily or not, is imperialism. Urry writes about the tourist gaze which also contributes to Nash’s definition of imperialism.(10) When certain views and photographic opportunities are valued over others, the culture modifies to meet those desired opportunities. Photography in any context, not just tourism, is an imperialist act because it literally is a form of capturing the locals for one’s own collection.

These behaviors illuminate some of the ways in which widespread photographic use was a pivotal point in tourism. However, the biggest impact has occurred with the development of social networking in digital culture. Tourists of today are narrating in two worlds—the physical and digital.

Creative Production

The net generation, defined by Oblinger as those who have grown up with the cell phone (born after 1982), established profound markers within the digital culture. The term Web2.0 describes a new approach to operating not only online, but also in the world. This approach includes expectations for instant information, multitasking, constant connection, and creative production.(11)

To illustrate, imagine the experience and narrative translation created by the nineteenth century traveler on the Grand Tour. This tourist carries a guidebook, watercolor paper, and ink washes making sketches from recommended views, included in the guidebook. Contrast that translation narrative with that of a backpack-toting, contemporary Eco-Tourist. This backpacker carries adaptive hypermedia for creating a real-time personalized guide.(12) Also inside the backpack are a camera phone for texting and emailing photographs to family and a digital video recorder for tweeting (posting) the narratives on Twitter.(13) These narrative translations are digital forms of the lived experience—quite different from the translation methods available to the 19th century tourist. The impulse to share the travel experiences is a common thread, but today’s tourist creates an augmented reality—a physical and virtual touristic moment.

Today’s tourists can tour digitally—that is without physically leaving their home via the internet. Avatars touring virtual worlds, such as in Second Life, are encountering foreign spaces and imaginative phenomena that exist only in virtuality. Tussyadiah and Fesenmaier argue that this type of touring relies upon the imagination rather than the body.(14) The virtual tourist creates an entirely new form of narrative translation.

Flash Forward

In this newly formed digital culture the shape of tourism is drastically changing. The concepts of foreignness, home versus away, and the translation of touristic moments are being redefined. This article points at some questions for future discourse. What does it mean to be foreign? Are you considered away from home if you are able to stay connected in real time to your home? Devices like the Media Sling which stream your home television to your computer anywhere in the world bring up the question: how many pieces of home can you bring with you and still be a tourist—that is, still be experiencing the foreign. Just how much foreignness is required?

The tourist moment in virtual worlds may be fundamentally different from those that occur in the physical world. In the virtual world, there is no gap between the real-time lived experience and the narration of that lived experience because the avatar is a narration of the self. For example, an individual guiding an avatar, which is a virtual version of the self, is digitally narrating while simultaneously touring. When watching oneself, here in digital form, it challenges the notion that the touristic moment is separated from the real-time moment.

From this concept of the digital tourist, additional questions arise. For example, who is the guide and who is the tourist in this digital culture of travel. Is the tourist that is guided by adaptive hypermedia the tour guide or is the new media the tour guide? In the case of the individual on the computer guiding an avatar—who is the tourist? As we chart the course to answer these questions and pose new ones in future discussions, we will further our understanding of foreignness and translation in new media.


1. Edward Bruner, “The Balinese Borderzone,” Culture on Tour (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

2. Lev Manovich, “What New Media is Not,” The Language of New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002).

3. Nelson Graburn, “Tourism: the Sacred Journey,” in Hosts and Guests, edited by Valene Smith (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989).

4. Stephanie Hom Carie, “The Tourist Moment,” Annals of Tourism Research 31, no. 1(2004):61-77.

5. Barbara Fifer, Vicky Soderberg, and Joseph Musselman, Along the Trail with Lewis and Clark (Helena, MT: Farcounty Press, 2002).

6. Richard Ford, Handbook for Travellers in Spain (Paris: Galignani and Co., 1855), 46.

7. Orvar Lofgren, On Holiday: A History of Vacationing (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002).

8. Jeremy Boissevain, “Coping with Tourists,” New Directions in Anthropology, edited by Jacqueline Waldren (Providence: Berghahn Books, 1996).

9. Dennison Nash, “Tourism as a Form of Imperialism,” Hosts and Guests, edited by Valene Smith (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989).

10. John Urry, The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies (London: SAGE Publications, 1990).

11. Diane G. Oblinger, “Growing up with Google: What it Means to Education,” Emerging Technologies for Learning 3, (2008), 11-29.

12. Keith Cheverst, Nigel Davies, Keith Mitchell, Adrian Friday, and Christos Efstratiou, “Developing a Context-aware Electronic Tourist Guide: Some Issues and Experiences,” CHI Letters 2, no. 1,(2000), 17-24.

13. It should be noted that similar social networking websites exist, such as Facebook, flickr, and youtube.

14. Iis P. Tussyadiah and Daniel R. Fesenmaier, “Mediating Tourist Experiences,” Annals of Tourism Research 36, 1(2009): 24-40.