Appealing to Travellers’ Better Nature Doesn’t Work? Try Changing the Meaning of the Words. We Did!

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 1 April 2011

There’s a lot of niche labels in the ‘alternative’ tourism space: ecotourism, responsible travel, sustainable tourism, local travel, slow travel, geotourism, pro-poor tourism, mindful travel, ethical travel, good travel, community-based tourism, etc. It’s a glossarial minefield, a curatorial briar that some people see as just a whole lot of split hairs.

More importantly, despite the profusion of enticing labels, this kind of nature- and people-conscious travel still represents only a fraction of the overall tourism industry receipts, even when assessed in the aggregate.

Today, however, in a travel-and-tourism first expected literally to turn the industry on its head and mainline the marginal, the WHL Group announced a sweeping shift in paradigm.

open dictionary

Photo courtesy of Flickr/greeblie

Getting in the Good Word

The WHL Group is the largest local-travel company in the world, a key travel-planning and travel-booking tool for ‘alternative’ and independent travellers. After more than a year of backchannel negotiations, a select WHL Group team has been working in secret for the past three months with representatives of none other than the Oxford English Dictionary to rejigger terms that define tourism.

While some of the changes are as small as minor tweaks to industry-specific adjectives, others have resulted in alterations to canonical common nouns.

“It’s been an incredible and enriching challenge to spar with the OED’s gurus of logodaedaly,” said the leading representative of the WHL Group, who asked not to use her name for fear of industry retaliation. “It’s been like fiddling with the foundations of the Westminster Palace without damaging any part of the structure above… until it’s too late.”

“They’re no sesquipedalians,” acknowledged her equally secretive OED counterpart, “but we have been impressed with the WHL Group’s determination to help bring about real and lasting positive change to the world by doing more than just appealing to the traveller’s conscience. These days that sadly apparently no longer suffices.”

Casting a Wider Word Net

The guiding impulse behind the adjustments is to abruptly expunge any stigma or misunderstanding of any form of ‘alternative’ travel by expanding the meanings of the words themselves to be more inclusive and shift the balance of power to the fringe by declaring it the new point of focus.

“The idea is to jury-rig words so that the responsible and ethical qualities of ‘alternative’ travel englobe mainstream travellers who haven’t heard of, or perhaps willfully ignore, the importance of being responsible when they travel,” commented the WHL Group representative. “Now they can travel just as they always have – with a blind eye to the world around them – but still fit under the ‘alternative’ umbrella. It’s a face-saver for unconscientious travellers and a huge boon to the responsible travel industry.”

magnifying glass on dictionary

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Booksworm

Although the full details of the changes have not been released – the authors of the adaptations prefer to leave the discovery to chance over the course of time – an initial but cursory analysis of a few words has revealed the following:

  • local – the distinction between small districts and whole states or countries has been eliminated; being a local now simply means living on the planet earth
  • nature – already defined as the external world in its entirety, the sense of ‘external’ has been expanded to include anything that touches air, including manmade constructions
  • fair – in examples like paying a ‘fair price’ or buying ‘Fair Trade’, the emphasis had been on honesty and adequacy; it now hinges on the notion of vulnerability to attack or ridicule (as in fair game)
  • sustainable – the key notion of a resource not being depleted or damaged has now been supplanted by the broad catch-pot of mainstream methods by which depletion and damage can be avoided

At a Loss for Words

When asked about the breaking news, a mass-tourism representative, who, in light of the image-tarnishing spittle on his lapel, felt that he should remain anonymous, frothily sputtered, “This is completely absurd. You can’t just one day decide that ‘up’ is ‘down’ or that ‘mainstream’ is ‘peripheral.’ These are tectonic disruptions. We’ve budgeted the kind of money – millions of dollars – that only we can afford as way to stake out the centre. One renegade group can’t then press a mere pushpin into different ground and high-handedly say ‘Hey guys, you dropped your stake in the wrong middle. We’ve moved it over here.’ That’s just unethical.”

Chuckling contentedly at this reaction to the carefully orchestrated etymological volte-face, both the WHL Group and OED parties beamed. “It’s good to be the underdog,” mused the WHL Group representative, who noted with pride that one new meaning of the word ‘underdog’ is ‘overlord.’

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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language, opinion, responsible travel, responsible travel news, WHL Group news,

3 Responses to “Appealing to Travellers’ Better Nature Doesn’t Work? Try Changing the Meaning of the Words. We Did!”

  1. Kamran says:

    Hahahah! Finally!! Those big mass-tourism behemoths that deteriorate, loot and rape the earth are starting to feel insecure… An opponent is now fighting back with a sincere message!!! I love it! Keep at it guys!!

  2. Cynthia Ord says:

    ha! One question. Is this alternative travel 100% certified organic? Grass-fed? How about gluten free?

  3. Like it!
    Did you hear also that Prince Will and Princess Kate are planning on honeymooning in Malawi! With The Responsible Safari Company. Super exciting!ce

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