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Book Review

Urry, John (1995) Consuming Places Routledge, London & New York. ISBN 0-415-11311-3 (pbk)

Beware! The Tourists Are Coming!

Have you ever been to Zakopane on New Year's Eve? Have you ever tried to set foot on a crowded beach in Łeba in July? If your answer is yes, you probably also remember what a nightmare it was to walk down Krupówki Street in a huge crowd of people who come to Zakopane for their annual skiing holidays in the Polish Tatras. If you enjoy going to the Polish seaside in summer you probably still have vivid memories of long hours spent in queues at small seaside towns, such as Jastarnia or Łeba, which in summer usually grow to a monstrous and unnatural size. Your holidays have probably been ruined by all those hordes of tourists who invade popular mountain or seaside resorts not only to consume gargantuan amounts of fast food and ice cream but also to take in beautiful views and seaside or mountain sunsets. Naturally, you wish you were there alone so that you could relax and admire the beauty of the surroundings in peace and quiet undisturbed by intruders.

Unfortunately, it seems that this is going to be more and more difficult due to the unprecedented growth of global tourism that is changing the face of our planet. Therefore, John Urry's book Consuming Places is an important voice in an ongoing discussion on the global changes brought on by the growing tourist industry. In his book, John Urry, Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, presents a comprehensive collection of sociological essays written on three main themes: the understanding of place, the sociological treatment of time and space and the consumption of place.

Although Consuming Places may not be easy reading for an average reader not acquainted with sociology or ethnography, nevertheless Chapter 12 of the book entitled The Tourist Gaze and the Environment should be obligatory reading for any holiday maker who has ever experienced disappointment and anger at the discovery that his/her favourite remote lovely village so vividly remembered from childhood holidays has been turned into a tourist attraction and is infested with swarms of holiday makers.

What is more, Professor Urry's sociological essays have that undeniable visionary quality that can only be compared to such well known works of fiction as George Orwell's 1984 or Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams. They provide a deep insight into the revolutionary changes that have taken place in almost all spheres of our life at the end of the 20th century. As going on holiday is an activity experienced by most of us, the transformation of the environment caused by mass tourism affects us all. There is no escape from it.

It cannot be denied that tourism is a terrific force for change. It accounts for prosperity in many countries. The hundreds of visitors who come do not only bring money but they also transform the lives of the locals for better or worse. John Urry writes:

By the year 2000 this will be the largest industry in the world, in terms of employment and trade, and it is already having profound environmental consequences. These stem, first, from the fact that much tourism is concerned with, in a sense, visually consuming that very environment; second, from the enormous flow of people carried on many forms of transport which enable tourists to gaze upon often geographically distant environments; and third, from the various transformations of the environment which follow from the widespread construction of tourist attractions and from the incredible concentrations of people into particular places. (Urry: 173)

We consume, devour and digest places so finally there is nothing left it seems. Beauty spots are nothing more than a commodity. And indeed the commodification of landscape is the phenomenon that has brought the most significant changes to our lifestyles.

So what about the future of our planet if all places of natural beauty, all those lovely beaches and tropical forests are to be 'consumed' or spoilt by crowds of tourists? Is it inevitable that while they escape from the monotony and drudgery of their lives in crowded and polluted cities they will change forever the tropical island paradises or quaint villages in remote parts of the world?

Professor Urry's answers to these questions make Consuming Places fascinating reading. That is why I would like to recommend this book to all holiday makers who have a heartfelt interest in environmental issues.


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