Friday, April 3, 2009

Travel Etiquette - the new travel rules

People are travelling more frequently and farther afield than ever before, thanks to the huge growth in affordable travel and easier access opening up of areas previously off the beaten track to visitors. The exhibitor list for November’s global showcase, World Travel Market, in London underlines how the world is getting smaller as more destinations target tourism. But does travel broaden the mind? As we jet off to distant lands and come face to face with different cultures are we really savvy travellers? Apparently not, judging by the plethora of etiquette guides in high street and online book stores telling us how to behave when we travel so as not to upset our hosts. They could be just more examples of political correctness gone mad, of course. Yet the trend would seem to show that while we are taking holidays in ever more exotic and distant lands, our understanding of these country’s cultures and the sensitivities of their people is sadly lacking. We may have smiled at HSBC’s series of TV adverts highlighting the differences in cultures around the world, notably the business traveller whose Chinese hosts order ever-larger eels for him at dinner because he mistakenly thinks he has to eat everything on his plate, but committing faux pas in other countries is a serious issue and can have repercussions. In 2004, the government of Thailand announced that it would publish an etiquette guide for visitors to try and tackle the problem of insensitive foreigners after posters for the film Hollywood Buddha showed a man sitting on the head of Buddha – deeply offensive to the nation of devout Buddhists. The poster also upset monks from Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Burma and sparked large demonstrations. It was quickly withdrawn by the producer, but not before the damage had been done. Uncouth behaviour while on holiday is another no-no which can upset locals as well as embarrass fellow holidaymakers. We all know about Brits behaving badly in Mediterranean holiday hotspots such as Ibiza or Faliraki, on Rhodes, from TV documentaries. But it isn’t just a British phenomenon. Germany’s Travel Channel produced its own guide advising German travellers how to behave abroad in 2005 after conducting a survey which found three out of five holidaymakers from the country cringed when they encountered loud-mouthed and beer-swilling compatriots abroad. Lack of understanding about what is acceptable in other countries is again a problem, too. “Many German tourists are naively oblivious to the most commonplace rules of behaviour in other countries,” the guide said. They included blowing your nose or using a toothpick at a meal table, both practices considered acceptable at German dinner tables according to the respected Knigge Guide to Etiquette. But lack of cultural understanding is a two-way street, with local residents often unaware their habits or blunt questions may offend or upset visitors. Prior to this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, officials from the Dongcheng district of Beijing put up posters to educate locals on how to properly welcome visitors during the Games. They advised residents to avoid asking questions about visitors’ age, salary, love life, political views, religious beliefs and other sensitive topics commonly discussed. Other pre-Olympics campaigns aimed to educate Beijingers included how to queue and to avoid spitting in the street. Silly questions posed by visitors to tourist attractions run by WTM exhibitor English Heritage take the biscuit when it comes to lack of understanding about where you are visiting, however. During a tour of palatial Osborne House on the Isle of White, the former summer home of Queen Victoria, one visitor asked if it was where Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne lived. Another asked why the English were so fond of building ruined castles.

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