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  • Writer's pictureSarah Beals Sager


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Today we are talking about tourism.

Shout out to all the travelers who chose to stay home the last 11 months (help).

How does it feel to go to your favorite place? Especially somewhere you’ve been to before, and you know you’ll be returning with family and friends. Is it a pilgrimage? Is it part of your heritage? Was it part of someone else’s heritage first? Why do you keep going there?

“The U.S. travel and tourism industry generated over $1.6 trillion in economic output in 2017, supporting 7.8 million U.S. jobs” (“Travel, Tourism & Hospitality Spotlight” 2020). U.S. tourism involves huge companies and small businesses alike. There are branded and chain destinations, and there are once-in-a-lifetime, unique experiences. Tourism is something we do to feel fancy, to treat ourselves, and to test our comfort zones. Tourism defines the modern individual in that “if people do not travel, they lose status: travel is the marker of status”(Urry 1990). Once you go and come back, you carry currency in stories, pictures, and possibly items, unique to you.

My research focuses on historical tourism and film-induced tourism. I’m interested in places that have been around for generations, and I’m interested in places that have been featured in TV shows and movies. I’m susceptible to good storytelling, I won’t deny it.

Let’s start with historical, old places. “Old places… are like the air we breathe: surrounding us, sustaining us, influencing us, and even a part of us” (Mayes 2018). I’m not just talking about historic buildings. Think about how old land, water, and sky are. Stepping into an old place centers us in our time, but also has the power to bring us out of time. This is when you think about all the people that ever have or will visit this place, and all the events that ever have or ever will take place where you are.

Anthropologist Keith Basso worked with members of the Western Apache tribe to create a map with Apache place names instead of the settler colonial names. While working on the project, he wrote a book about how the Western Apache use places in their storytelling. Place is critically important to identity because, “what people make of their places is closely connected to what they make of themselves as members of society and inhabitants of the earth” (Basso 1996). Landscapes stretch far beyond the human conception of time and space, and therefore, how we treat it is very much a reflection of our past, present, and future values. Dr. Glen Coulthard, a Yellowknives Dene and Indigenous Studies professor in British Columbia, calls this concept grounded normativity or:

“... [the] modalities of Indigenous land-connected practices and longstanding experiential knowledge that inform and structure our ethical engagements with the world and our relationships with human and nonhuman others over time” (Coulthard 2014).

Place is very important to our individual, long-term identities. When you are visiting or thinking about an old place, that old place is carrying some of your intangible heritage. Intangible heritage being the ideas, customs, and skills associated with culture, anything that isn’t a physical object, which includes the vast, rolling landscapes featured in storytelling. It is important to know that we are rooted in something that will exist beyond our short, human-length, lives.

If we agree that old places are heritage sites (and we do), is it a pilgrimage to visit them? Tourism serves as modern pilgrimages where tourists “quest for authenticity” rather than something “sacred,” leading sites create “staged authenticity” (Urry 1990). Staged authenticity is the balance created by 1) the tourism site between reality and predictability, and 2) the audience accepting the necessary preparedness in order to receive the experience (Urry and Larsen 2011). The tourist seeking staged authenticity is “unlike the religious pilgrim who pays homage to a single sacred centre, the tourist pays homage to a large array of centres and attractions” (Urry and Larsen 2011). Staged authenticity in cultural tourism becomes problematic in relation to the power dynamics of the places being toured, who controls access to those places, which stories are told and how, and what the tourists actually come to see. Staged authenticity is also something in which filmmakers excel and brings us to film-induced tourism.

Dr. Sue Beeton wrote the book on film-induced tourism. She defines film-induced tourism to include all visual media, and “relates to on-location tourism that follows the success of a movie made (or set) in a particular region” (Beeton 2016). Film-induced tourism can be sudden, like in the case of Starz’ Outlander (2014) series. Scottish film locations reported up to a 200% increase in visitor activity since the show premiered, and this is because Outlander binds an emotional story to a visual landscape that is accessible to a loyal fanbase (BBC News 2020). Outlander is a historically based fiction by Diana Gabaldon, placed partially in 1700’s Scotland. These stories are grounded in a historical time and place, without being historical themselves. The balance between history and historically inspired suggest that guests are less interested in authentic tourism and are now looking for “the staged authenticity of a society focused on infotainment,” or how to learn in the most fun way possible (Beeton 2016). Well managed destinations see that demand, and provide themed education related to associated films.

As research on film-induced tourism strongly suggests, tourists are more likely to visit a film location with which they have a personal attachment (Kim 2012). The personal attachment means that the tourists have seen the film, and they liked the film enough to experience it again during vacation. This time, the audience is not just watching the film, they are living it.

People are also becoming more intentional with their tourism. They are re-evaluating their tourism experiences opting to avoid “commercial and shallow” exploitations of culture, where the people featured are not seeing profits, and had little to no say in how they are being represented (Brunner 2005). In order to get better, heritage and film-induced tourism sites must balance scholarly information with popular information, and they must balance the need for tourism income with the cost of their heritage, lest they become problematic.

Hopefully, I have explained why land, and old places are critically important to one’s identity, and my identity is complicated. I come from unceded Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute territory in Colorado, and went to a school founded by the guy responsible for the genocide of Arapaho and Cheyenne people (Clemmer-Smith et al. 2014). I’m currently living on Konkow Maidu land in California, surrounded by places named after a guy who forcibly enslaved them (Magagnini 2016; Dil 2020). I think that’s messed up. If you want to know more about whose land you are occupying, you can go to and find out. Once you’ve done that, look to see if those tribes need donations or other forms of support. It’s always free to read and follow them on social media. We also have a list of Indigenous organizations on our website, and we try to keep it up to date. Just go under the acknowledgement tab.

If you learned something from this installment of Slightly Problematic, give us a like. If you learned two things, consider subscribing and leaving a comment. You can get a hold of us online at, or on social @sltprbdotnet. Until next time!


Sarah Beals Sager


Sarah is an anthropologist, librarian, and designer. She sees the world as interconnected stories and works to bring those connections to light. She focuses her research on popular culture and how it becomes identity and heritage within audiences. Sarah has studied film-based tourism extensively, specifically how stories can be powerful enough to physically transport and immerse audiences.

Slightly Problematic allows Sarah to continue exploring anthropology without looking for one, perfect solution. She loves her team and is totally pumped to continue their journey together.


Works Cited

Basso, Kieth H. 1996. Wisdom Sits in Places. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

BBC News. 2020. “Outlander Tourism Effect a ‘Double Edged Sword,’” February 15, 2020, sec. Highlands & Islands.

Beeton, Sue. 2016. Film-Induced Tourism. 2nd ed. Place of Publication Not Identified: Channel View Publications.

Brunner, Edward M. 2005. Culture on Tour: Ethnographies of Travel. United States of America: University of Chicago Press.

Clemmer-Smith, Richard, Alan Gilbert, David Fridtjof Halaas, Billy J. Stratton, George E. Tinker, Nancy D. Wadsworth, and Steven Fisher. 2014. “Report of the John Evans Study Committee University Of Denver.” Denver, Colorado: University Of Denver.

Coulthard, Glen. 2014. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Univ Of Minnesota Press.

Dil, Cuneyt. 2020. “Statue of Pioneer Linked to California Gold Rush Is Removed.” Associated Press, June 15, 2020.

Kim, Sangkyun. 2012. “Audience Involvement and Film Tourism Experiences: Emotional Places, Emotional Experiences.” Tourism Management 33 (2): 387–96.

Magagnini, Stephen. 2016. “American Indian Rock Opera Shines Unflattering Light on Sacramento Pioneer John Sutter.” The Sacramento Bee, May 11, 2016, sec. Arts & Theater.

Mayes, Thompson M. 2018. Why Old Places Matter. American Association for State and Local History. United States of America: Rowman & Littlefield.

“Travel, Tourism & Hospitality Spotlight.” 2020. SelectUSA (blog). January 25, 2020.

Urry, John. 1990. The Tourist Gaze, Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies. Theory, Culture, & Society. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Urry, John, and Jonas Larsen. 2011. The Tourist Gaze 3.0. 3rd ed. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

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