Americans used to get a bad rap for being bad tourists. Our accusers would say we were bossy and loud, failed to appreciate real beer and real coffee (or real anything else), made too much of a fuss about drinking water and ice, never managed to tip appropriately in hotels or restaurants, expected everybody to understand our flat and casual version of English and were generally rude, obnoxious slobs.
These stereotypes, and others particular to French, German, Japanese and other travelers, took root in the previous century and are still with us to some degree. But in recent years the twin trends of multiculturalism and globalization have broadened our vision and the expectations of our hosts, much for the better. Travelers are no longer expected to stick out and be tolerated; more often than not they aspire to merge into the landscape and are being encouraged to do so.
Increasingly, the experts tell us that travelers don't want merely to "see" Ireland or India, but to "experience" them, and travel marketers have gotten the message.
Not so long ago, it was enough for travel advertisers to induce consumers to "Travel Like an American," but today's signature marketing messages are more likely to resemble Norwegian Cruise Line's exhortation to "Party Like a Brazilian" or "Dine Like a Parisian."
Iceland's tourism ministry has taken it a step further in its latest campaign, which urges travelers to "be Icelandic," which is another way of saying "Lose yourself here."
Getting lost may be the ultimate travel experience, the one we often remember most fondly, but getting lost is not an easy thing to do these days. Our cellphones know who we are and where we are, even when we don't. But maybe that should be our industry's next slogan, equivalent to the entertainment industry's "Break a leg," except that we'd really mean it when we tell travelers to get out there and "get lost."