Tourist sights or sites?

This is an idea. In my thesis, I have unpacked the term ‘sightseeing’ from a semantic perspective, focusing particularly on the ‘-seeing’ part to compare the active and passive meanings of the verbs “seeing” and “watching” respectively. If tourists commonly spend extended periods of time at an attraction and during this time engage in different forms of interpretation and sense-making, such as photography, which extend beyond visual perception, ‘sight’,  why is it we never talk of ‘sightwatching’?

Afterwards, I thought it is also worth discussing the ‘sight-‘ part through a worthy homophone: ‘site’ (think Clifford (1997) with roots/ routes).

If tourism study has moved beyond the visual, as the performance turn contends, to focus more upon the tourists’ sensuous interactions with the terrain and texture of a destination, then it figures that the term sight should be replaced with something that reflects tourists’ embodied interaction with touristic places. Here, a reasonable choice is “site”. A “site” brings to mind a multilayered place which suggests participation, interaction, dynamism: a domain of happenings and human activity; while the predominantly ocular “sight” suggests somewhere to be encountered, visually, from a distance, a place that remains in some way aloof from the visitor. A site is a heterogenuous, participatory environment, home to varied forces and inputs; while a sight exists on a more singular plane, and is usually separated from the viewer, like a famous artwork or museum artefact, by a barrier: physical, invisible or by distance. The site exists at ground level and is ready to be accessed, interacted with and possibly affected by tourists; while the sight exists at a rarefied height and while visible, is not to be grasped by visitors in a physical sense. The site is responsive and mutable to visitor contact: it may be graffitied, dwelled within, rearranged, adapted; the sight is inert, it’s appearance is constructed for but not by visitors, chosen by professional tastemakers. The site is to be interacted with directly, it’s raison d’etre is to invite participation or activity of some kind; the sight can only be touched indirectly, through a representation or souvenir, usually those distributed by the governing body of the sight itself. The site may occur instantly and spontaneously, without prior planning or established rationale and may continue to live it’s (sometimes brief) life along this course; while the sight is always carefully framed in advance, its appearance concocted and controlled to display a deliberate, often fixed image. In sum, the site is a venue of activity; the sight, a distant, mediated image.

In this light, ‘site’ then becomes a much more suitable metaphor through which to locate touristic experience than ‘sight’. As such, to look at sitesharing, rather than sightsharing, takes the focus beyond what is seen: the distinct visual image a particular location provides for tourists and the consumption of an atmosphere created by things seen: postcards, souvenirs, vistas, and iconic images.  Instead “sitesharing” proposes the consumption of a multilayered location which tourists interact with across many fronts, be it the physical topology of the location that is experienced sensually, the virtual destination described across the cumulative tourist narratives online, the official destination configured through promotional material, polished copy and official destination hashtags, or the social matrix of the other visitors at this place: both ones encountered in person and in the online audience, through the talk and stories which accompany tourist experience. While sights still exist, take the presentational places like restaurants or bridges mentioned previously as examples of locations which have been  constructed to be impressive visual backdrops for tourists, the internet is making them more site-like. These places invite visitors to interact with the location even at the same as this interaction is directed toward particular focal points: feature walls, or particular photograph points. The virtual components of these locations are largely built by the narratives of amateur tourists so that the sites’ meaning may be constructed by the guests rather than prescribed by the location itself. Thus, rather than the distant sight, in this era of connected tourism, the matrix-like site, a place of happenings, is a more suitable metaphor for tourism studies.

A simple visual explanation? Here:



One thought on “Tourist sights or sites?

  1. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be actually something which I believe I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely huge for me. I am taking a look ahead in your subsequent publish, I’ll attempt to get the hold of it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s