Impressions from the 2017 SIETAR Europa Congress
Dimitris Polychronopoulos on the Film Festival Opening Documentary ‘Holi-days’ by Randi Steinberger, facilitated by Maura di Mauro:
It was my second SIETAR Europa congress and my first congress as an organiser. We all have our unique paths of how we learn about SIETAR. I come from the tourism industry and completed an MBA in 2015 with the idea of changing career paths. It was while studying for my MBA that I learned about intercultural management. Of all my MBA classes, intercultural management resonated with me the most. As I looked into the topic further on my own further, I discovered SIETAR. Since I’ve lived in seven different countries and sojourned in an additional eight, I enjoy learning more about intercultural theories while bringing my own intercultural and language-learning experiences to the field.
After the opening keynote speeches, the SIETAR Europa film festival began with a documentary about tourism. Facilitator Maura di Mauro invited me to attend the opening of the film festival because of my experience in the industry.
The 2002 documentary ‘Holi-days’ by Randi Steinberger was the opening film. After the film took us to Jerusalem, Florence and Las Vegas, I reflected on my own experiences with these three cities. Every interview in Holi-days about Florence was already familiar to me becauseI’d hear the same things before from the travellers on tour with me. For example, some people are primarily interested in shopping.
Tourism is often the first intercultural interaction for people. Some travellers are not interested in educating themselves about other cultures. One of my roles as a tour director has been to encourage people to learn something about the culture, regardless of their original motives for visiting a new country.
An interesting point of the film is a critique of the tourism industry itself. The industry assigns a value to something and gets everybody to agree on it. So, Florence becomes inundated with tourists and begins to feel more like a theme park. Then locals feel that tourism damages a place by destroying its authenticity.
After the film, we reflected on the intercultural field and tourism. All of the tourists are different. My experience leads me to believe that most of them just want to enjoy their holiday. Some of the top things of interest are food, drink and shopping. Then I would say they are interested in the history and the local economy and demographics. To some extent they are interested in the culture and to a lesser extent they are interested in the language.
The discussion among those of us in the audience brought us to the topic of how the intercultural field can contribute to the tourism field. What do tourists want? Do they want authenticity? Do they want intercultural competence? As one member of audience said, most people travel for escapism. A small percentage want cultural enrichment.
Maura added that it depends on the tourist, since the cultural tourism niche is growing faster than other niches in Italy.
The documentary demonstrates that open mindedness does not necessarily go hand in hand with travel. How you travel and the mindset you bring with you is an important aspect. The fact that you leave home will already take you out of your comfort zone, regardless of where you go.
Maura strives to educate her tourism students in intercultural competencies. Tour guides also play an important role in facilitating intercultural understanding. One of the ways tourism professionals can bring intercultural awareness to the industry is by inspiring tourists to think about their own culture while experiencing the cultures they encounter during their visit to new places.
More impressions from the 2017 SIETAR Europa congress can be found here.