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Travel and the Mind

Michael Palin
Michael Palin gives his advice about international travel
BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Travel and the Mind will be broadcast on Thursday, 09 August 2007 at 20:30 BST.

Fancy a barbecue in Antarctica or an overnight stay in a South African township?

Almost anything's possible, as Britain's travel industry expands and tour operators compete to offer cheap flights to ever more exotic locations.

Britons took over 10 million trips outside the traditional comfort zones of Europe and North America over the past year.

But has travel changed the way we relate to the rest of the world?

Analysis this week goes on holiday with Britain, featuring dispatches from the global tourist industry and interviews with some of Britain's most famous travellers, such as Michael Palin.

It explores whether our trips to places like India, Vietnam and Rwanda have had any real impact on international understanding.

One effect of Western visitors is that there is a now a 'plastic fantastic Chinatown' in China's second city Shanghai.

It was built to fulfil tourists expectations of what China should look like, according to Professor Can Seng Ooi, a leading theorist of the travel industry.

He believes the way places adapt around the tourist's expectations makes genuine cultural exchange unlikely, and that even backpackers or other 'travellers' cannot overcome this.

But a leading study of tourists visiting the Taj Mahal in India showed there were significant differences between package tourists and backpackers.

While both behave in predictable ways - tourists guided by their tour operators, and backpackers by their guide books - the backpackers have the distinct advantage of more time to interact with locals.

We hear from advocates of this 'slower travel' such as Michael Ellingham, founder of the Rough Guides travel books.

The programme explores the argument that there's a more 'authentic' way to travel than plain tourism.

But the programme also discusses whether the search for the 'authentic' can get in the way of meaningful discovery.

We hear from social historian Professor John Walton, who says the claim to be a 'traveller' rather than a tourist is a continuation of the way British people have always sought status by claiming they travel better than others.

The domestic social conflict has now been exported to places like Thailand or South India, as British travellers 'discover' beaches only to see them redeveloped as resorts for British package tourists.

Yet another development seems to indicate a real engagement with foreign history: so-called 'dark tourism' describes the growth in package tours to places such as Holocaust concentration camps or sites of war in Vietnam.

But how can it be that while tour companies offer us 'home stays' in Soweto, the South African township, our interest in serious foreign documentaries on TV seems to be falling?

Analysis explores the way TV and other media are reacting to an increasingly well-travelled nation, and what developments like our changing taste in food - as well as in international political movements like opposing the Iraq war or sympathy after the Asian Tsunami - tell us about the way travel has changed us.

Presenter: Richard Weight
Producer: Mukul Devichand
Editor: Nicola Meyrick


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