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Official Tourism Websites: A Discourse Analysis Perspective

Official Tourism Websites: A Discourse Analysis Perspective

by Richard W. Hallett, Judith Kaplan-Weinger

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Official Tourism Websites: A Discourse Analysis Perspective investigates the construction and promotion of identity of tourist locales by the designers of the official websites for destinations such as Santiago de Compostela, Spain; the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia; New Orleans, Louisiana and Gary, Indiana; Myanmar/Burma; US Sports Halls of Fame; and, in


Official Tourism Websites: A Discourse Analysis Perspective investigates the construction and promotion of identity of tourist locales by the designers of the official websites for destinations such as Santiago de Compostela, Spain; the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia; New Orleans, Louisiana and Gary, Indiana; Myanmar/Burma; US Sports Halls of Fame; and, in recognizing the influence and popularity of such sites, three websites parodying the imaginary nations of Phaic Tan, Molvania, and San Sombrero. Analysis addresses how tourism websites foster social action and, therefore, contribute to the (re)construction of nations and other communities by variably fostering re-imagination, rebirth, renaissance, promotion and caution, and patriotism. Recognizing that tourism texts can function to both construct and embody identity for their respective locales, this investigation employs critical discourse analysis, multimodal discourse analysis, and visual semiotic analysis in the investigation of web texts and images.

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Channel View Publications
Publication date:
Tourism and Cultural Change , #23
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Barnes & Noble
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Official Tourism Websites

A Discourse Analysis Perspective

By Richard W. Hallett, Judith Kaplan-Weinger

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2010 Richard W. Hallett and Judith Kaplan-Weinger
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84541-191-6



clearly the language of tourism will increasingly become a language of cyberspace. (Dann, 1996: 161)

Discourse of Tourism

Not surprisingly, given the spread and rising influence of technology, we find ourselves, some 12 years after Dann's prediction, exploring this very medium — the language or discourse of tourism on the world wide web. Our initial foray into this area of inquiry began a few years back when Rick began researching a trip to his second 'home' to visit his 'host family', that is, the family with whom he had lived while he was an English-language teaching fellow in Lithuania in the mid-1990s. Unlike research in the 1990s, which would have been conducted primarily through traditional texts, e.g. printed travel guides and maps, Rick initiated this research by turning to the internet. He didn't have to go any further than the homepage of the official Lithuanian tourism site to find a 'rich point' (Agar, 1996), which has led us into the 'culture'/'grammar' of tourism websites. Here we are, a few years later, still immersed in the investigation of these sites, having traveled to numerous nations and cities, transported not through the planes, trains, buses, cars and legs that move the traditional tourist, but rather through the lexical and visual texts that populate websites and transport the (post-)modern traveler. As Dann explains,

Via static and moving pictures, written texts and audio-visual offerings, the language of tourism attempts to persuade, lure, woo and seduce millions of human beings, and, in so doing, convert them from potential into actual clients. By addressing them in terms of their own culturally predicated needs and motivations, it hopes to push them out of the armchair and on to the plane — to turn them into tourists. Later, the language of tourism gently talks to them about the possible factors or attractions of competing destinations. Thus, since much of the rhetoric is both logically and temporally prior to any travel or sightseeing, one can legitimately argue that tourism is grounded in discourse. (Dann, 1996: 2)

Why Websites?

Many contexts exist for examining the role of language and other semiotic modalities in the new capitalism (see Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999); these modalities are understood as mediators of social concerns and of social action in response to those concerns. One such context is tourism discourse — the content and modalities through which nations promote themselves or are promoted. As Gilbert (1999: 281) maintains, 'Conventional histories of tourism associate the development of the modern guidebook with the growth of mass tourism'. The role of these guidebooks should not be underestimated; for example, as Jack and Phipps (2005: 78) state, 'Travel guides are written and consumed with the intention of freeing the modern subject for travel. They have emancipatory potential and are framed as such' (emphasis added). Indeed, tourism researchers have often centered their research on the guidebooks; 'The guidebook is a crucial part of the touristic process, because it mediates the relationship between tourist and destination, as well as the relationship between host and guest' (Bhattacharya, 1997: 372). In the past, one might have said that journeys of thousands of miles do not begin with a single step. Today they begin with the guidebook; 'Reading travel guides is part of the process of preparation and anticipation. It enables the imagining of the destination. It is future-oriented travel in the present' (Jack & Phipps, 2005: 82). For Pritchard and Morgan (2005: 94), as well as many others, this 'future-oriented travel in the present' is not limited to guidebooks: 'Brochures, travel guides and websites available to tourists shape their expectations long before they arrive at their destination. Thus, the representations of local life presented in those texts become the codified and authorised versions of local culture and history' (emphasis added).

One manifestation of tourist discourse exists in travel guidebooks of the sort produced by Fodor's, Michelin and Lonely Planet, among a host of others. For some researchers, travel guidebooks show evidence of doctrinal 'truths'; e.g. Laderman (2002: 89) claims, 'Analyses in Western guidebooks reflect their construction by authors and editors who draw on original scholarship subscribing to disciplinary paradigms'. Additionally, as Baider et al. (2004: 27) note, 'The discourse of tourist guides, in its most general context, seemingly a site for the country to be visited to present itself, is in fact a place where the country of the author is also unfailingly inscribed in the glance which discursively defines this country' (original emphasis). This tourism discourse, according to Gilbert (1999: 282), 'has been seen as a key element in the development of the modern figure of the "tourist", following a prescribed route through a landscape of selected and ready-interpreted sites and monuments'.

The above claims can also be made in respect to a more recent addition to the body of tourism texts — world wide web sites produced by official government bodies to promote their respective nations and communities as appropriate locales for the tourist. As Rojek explains,

With new communication technologies the individual is clearly an active participant in indexing and dragging. Personal computers with e-mail facilities enable the individual to combine elements from fictional and factual representational files. The practice might be described as collage tourism. That is, fragments of cultural information are assembled by the network user to construct a distinctive orientation to a foreign sight. (Rojek, 1997: 62, original emphasis)

In our post-Modern world '... the post-tourist finds it less and less necessary to leave home; technologies ... allow people to "gaze" on tourist sites without leaving home' (Ritzer & Liska, 1997: 102).

Distinguishing two forms of traveling by readers, the ocular and the epistemic, Cronin (2000: 37) explains: 'Ocular travelling involves being transported to a place and being made to imagine that one is eye-witness at the countless scenes described by travel writers ... Epistemic travelling can be expressed as the readers being persuaded to leave behind the safe berth of received opinion and to explore elements of their own or other cultures that they take for granted or of which they are ignorant'. For us, official tourism websites differ from travel writing in that, with their use of linguistic texts and visual texts, they allow for concurrent ocular and epistemic travel. Our analyses of these websites then, in recognition of the existing dearth of such research, are both timely and significant.

Why English?

While we hope the question of why we are exploring websites has been sufficiently addressed, we realize another question may exist — why English-language websites exclusively? Our answer is, initially, quite simple — we are native English speakers living in the USA, and while fully appreciating and thoroughly embracing the wealth of language varieties in which text exists on various tourism websites, we do not possess the necessary linguistic or communicative competence in these varieties to adequately explore the language used on these sites. Phipps (2007: 11) explains that the ties between language and tourism parallel those between language and all cultural domains — 'languages are seen as both fashioned and as being fashioned by tourist users and by those they encounter'. Therefore, this dynamic relationship both requires and deserves to be analyzed by those who can bring an emic approach to the undertaking. In sum, as Phipps (2007: 24) notes, 'no languages come with innocent histories but they are carriers of cultural legacies and tourists, as language carriers and language makers, are themselves embedded in an ongoing process of telling and writing of other cultures and other experiences, in and through languages'. We trust our analyses of English-language websites (some of which exist as one or two or more alternative language sites for a given locale) will inform the research of the language(s) of tourism. At the same time, we necessarily and enthusiastically encourage others to pursue analyses of these sites in order to add to the understanding of the role of language in the construction and promotion of identity, as well as in the growth of economic strength, collective pride and (inter)national awareness of a given nation or community. What may be 'lost in the translation' when attempting to analyze and understand a community's identity through an analysis of a language into which it has been translated, deserves to be noted. The ties between language and identity are as relevant in the investigation of websites as in any other pursuit in the context of a relativistic perspective. Concentration on English-language texts to the exclusion of others may, perhaps inadvertently, create a hegemonic structure whereby, as Cronin (2000: 86) explains, 'Not only do the guide books deliver the travellers to the same places the world over but the language of guide books creates a sensation of linguistic homogeneity'. Both comforting and troubling, such homogeneity may serve to unite yet simultaneously disregard linguistic and cultural diversity.

Outline of the Text

This book provides analyses of various tourism websites using the above theories. Drawing data from tourism websites for the countries of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Myanmar (Burma); the state of Louisiana (USA); the cities of Santiago de Compostela (Spain), New Orleans (USA), Gary (USA); US Sports Halls of Fame; and the fictitious nations of Molvania, Phaic Tan and San Sombrero, this text variously examines the following:

(1) Official governmental tourism websites that promote independent identities for nations and often construct historical narratives for their nations.

(2) Communities that utilize their official tourism websites to serve as calls for action, such as by encouraging a pilgrimage to or participation in the rebirth of a particular place.

(3) Official tourism websites that strike a balance between promoting tourism while shielding potential travelers from danger.

(4) Official tourism websites that construct and promote identity through the use of metaphor, leading viewers to assign values associated with the metaphor to the locale itself.

(5) Parodic versions of tourism websites that capitalize on both the official tourism website genre and Western perceptions of the Other; though their content is fictitious, they (re)present the notion of Self and Other by reinforcing stereotypes of what it means to be hegemonic and central (as opposed to exotic and peripheral).

The discourse of tourism is a discourse of identity construction, promotion, recognition and acceptance. It is a discourse created through the creation and manipulation of linguistic and visual texts. Although these texts are specific to their locale and to those responsible for the respective websites on which they appear, they share common goals that become transparent through the work of discourse analysis. Those goals involve both producer and audience, both Self and Other, for no one is exempt from the affect of discourse. We are all impressionable; we are all malleable; we are all able, and most of us willing, to be touched by a text or an image. That a given text exists is evidence of both a given identity and a process of identity construction. That a range of like texts exist with the same goals in mind and the same outcomes as a result is no surprise, but rather is the observable evidence of the cultural norms for participation in and interpretation of interaction — norms dependent on cultural schema. van Leeuwen explains,

Evidence of the existence of a given discourse comes from texts, from what has been said or written — and/or expressed by means of other semiotic modes. More specifically it comes from the similarity between things that are said and written in different texts about the same aspect of reality. It is on the basis of such similar statements, repeated or paraphrased in different texts and dispersed among these texts in different ways, that we can reconstruct the knowledge which they represent. (2005: 95, original emphasis)


Identity and the World Wide Web: Methods of Analysis

The theoretical and methodological basis for this analysis is a mixture of theoretical perspectives, including social constructionism (Carbaugh, 1996), critical discourse analysis (CDA) (Wodak et al., 1999), mediated discourse analysis (Scollon, 2001) and multimodal discourse analysis (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001). These perspectives share a concern for studying language as social action and viewing social problems as 'inextricably linked to texts' (Schiffrin, 2004: 96). The world wide web, with its invitation to explore both within and outside the site through various links, encourages interaction between text and tourist. It serves, therefore, as a setting for the initiation and incitement of social action.

Johnstone (2002: 223) states, 'Discourse analysts have found the idea of performance useful in understanding how aspects of personal identity such as gender, ethnicity, and regional identification are connected to discourse'. Just as an individual performs a self, so can places. According to Wodak et al., the practice of constructing national identity relies on a variety of methods for analyzing the 'narration of national culture' (Hall, 1996), including what they identify as strategies of using 'lexical units and syntactic devices which serve to construct unification, unity, sameness, difference, uniqueness, origin, continuity, gradual or abrupt change, autonomy, heteronomy and so on' (Wodak et al., 1999: 35). Previously, we have shown how official governmental websites capitalize on this process of identity construction to promote their communities to potential tourists (Hallett & Kaplan-Weinger, 2004a, 2004b, 2006). In support, Jaworski and Thurlow (2004: 297) write, 'tourism can be viewed as an identity resource for members of post-industrial, late-modern societies'.

Identity construction most typically revolves around a nation or an individual characterizing a self by associating certain features with that self, and by disassociating that self from other features from which it wants to be viewed as distinct (cf. Mead, 1934; Morley & Robbins, 1995; Harré & van Langehove, 1999). Due to the role of language and, by extension, other semiotic modes in constructing and displaying a self, an analysis of national identity construction must incorporate a multimodal analysis of the ways in which national identities are mediated (Scollon, 2001) through text — both linguistic and visual.

Because, as Scollon (2001: 11) explains, 'our social world is in fact a discursive social world', we can look at linguistic and visual texts as mediators in the process of 'solving the problem' of constructing a national identity. Specifically, for this text, we can look to tourism websites — their words and images — for how they mediate the social construction of independent communities. As a social action, the social construction of an independent identity is undertaken and, therefore, analyzed using a multimodal approach. As such, these websites make 'meaning in multiple articulations' (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996: 4).

Critical Discourse Analysis

The field originating in linguistics that considers language as a social phenomenon and thus analyses texts and places these texts in their context in order to determine the function of the discourse they represent in society is called Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). More than just linguistics, CDA is an interdisciplinary approach with a linguistic basis. Indeed, CDA aims to investigate social inequalities as they are constituted, expressed and transmitted by language; and the three most important concepts in CDA are power, history and ideology. (Le, 2006: 13)

In the context of CDA, the functions of tourism are social actions, i.e. attempts to (1) socially construct and promote communities as significant to the individual's, the city's and the world's well-being; and (2) (re)construct nations and other communities by variably fostering reimagining, rebirth, renaissance, promotion and caution, and patriotism (Wodak et al., 1999). According to Locke (2004: 2), CDA 'views reality as textually and intertextually mediated via verbal and non-verbal language systems, and texts as sites for both the inculcation and contestation of discourses'. Such systems, especially as they compose world wide web sites, are one set of channels through which the identity work of tourism texts is accomplished. Social actions are manifested and mediated (Scollon, 2001) in tourism through official world wide web sites created by governmental bodies to promote tourism. As these sites encourage tourism, through multimodal texts (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001), they also construct and promote for their communities an identity as a welcoming, soothing, (divinely) poignant setting for spiritual, intellectual and cultural fulfillment. Echoed by Robinson and Smith,

Each nation, no matter what their [sic] position in any notional global political league table, promotes tourism as an actual and potential source of external revenue, a marker of political status that draws upon cultural capital, and as a means to legitimise itself as a territorial entity. Thus, national governments have offices for tourism that quite willingly promote the idea of a national "brand". (Robinson & Smith, 2006: 2)


Excerpted from Official Tourism Websites by Richard W. Hallett, Judith Kaplan-Weinger. Copyright © 2010 Richard W. Hallett and Judith Kaplan-Weinger. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Richard W. Hallett is a Professor of linguistics at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, IL. He received his PhD in linguistics from the University of South Carolina. In addition to the discourse of tourism, his research interests include second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and World Englishes.

Judith Kaplan-Weinger is Professor of linguistics at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, IL. She earned her PhD in linguistics from Georgetown University. Her teaching and research interests lie in, aside from language and tourism, the multi-modal discourse analysis of grief and mourning.

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