[OUTLOOK]When travel teaches nothing

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[OUTLOOK]When travel teaches nothing

The Incheon International Airport is filled with people leaving for other countries day after day in the midst of debate on the North’s missile incident and heavy downpours in Korea.
This summer, the number of people who go abroad for their vacations is expected to hit a record high. Seventeen years after traveling abroad was fully liberalized, the annual figure of Koreans going overseas is about to reach 10 million.
Korea is not alone in this trend. Despite wars, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, tourism is still booming all around the world. Last year, more than 800 million people went to other countries on their vacations and sales in tourism industries totaled as much as 480 trillion won ($500 billion).
According to a report, 10 percent of all the people on earth work in tourism-related businesses.
Nearly everywhere on earth is full of tourists all year round. Tourist attractions such as historic sites have become like Disneyland. Remote areas that remained untouched until recently are now visited by an increasing number of travelers.
Tourism has become a key word that summarizes major trends after the late 20th century, which include post-industrialism, the consumer revolution, information technology and globalization. Nobody can deny that this is an era of traveling.
In fact, humans have an instinct for traveling. For three million years of human history, except for the last 10,000 years, humans lived as nomads. Humans have curiosity about unknown worlds, unlike animals that are satisfied and stay in the same spot once they are warm and their stomachs are full.
Therefore, the boom of traveling abroad is nothing new but just makes us acknowledge the prototype of human beings ― man as a traveler.
A major driver of this trend is package tours. Package tours were first invented in Great Britain in the middle of the 19th century and have since been developed further in terms of safety, fees and opportunities.
However, these types of tours have disadvantages as well. Because package tours are commercialized items after all, the schedules on these tours are more or less the same as each other and focused on sightseeing.
As such advertising copy as “a thorough expedition across 8 countries in Western Europe,” or “Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento all covered” reveal, the main purpose of such a trip is to go to as many places as possible during a short period of time.
It is difficult to become close with locals or to really be exposed to local culture through package tours.
Let’s focus on package tours by Koreans. Due to deep-rooted nationalism and a short history of package tours, the package tours available in Korea are too “Korean.”
As Koreans are obsessed with their own food, Korean tourists see eating foreign traditional food as scary.
As Korean tourists believe they should visit as many places as possible, they rush foreign drivers and guides. Some drivers and guides have even learned the Korean expression “balli balli,” meaning “hurry.”
In addition, the current trend of traveling abroad has a problem of inequality. There are few chances for people from rich countries to meet people from poor countries. High- class people seldom meet working- class people face to face as equal human beings.
Developed countries and underdeveloped countries, and rich people and poor people do not “hang out” together, even on vacation.
According to the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, traveling in a genuine sense means moving to a different place, a different time and a different social class.
This means to learn about a new history in a new place and to reflect on one’s life in a new setting.
The mass consumption of overseas travel these days seems prosperous on the outside but feels empty inside.
Despite a surge in the number of travelers, globalization seems unstable and world peace is still far away.
Traveling abroad is and must be different from going to another country to fight in a war or do business or get a job, because traveling is supposed to broaden understanding between people.

* The writer is a professor of sociology, graduate school of environment studies, Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jun Sang-in
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