Clara Sofie Kramer, MSc., is a research associate and PhD student on project P1: “Experiencing Places and Moments of Otium in Contemporary European City Tourism.”
“MußeOrte – weltweit” (Places of Otium – Worldwide): The human geography project investigates if and under which circumstances otium is possible in contemporary urban tourism. Which cities do you examine for this and why?
Clara Sofie Kramer: I examine the phenomenon of touristic-urban otium based upon the examples of Barcelona, Paris and Florence. All three cities have a long tradition in European urban tourism and are still of the highest relevance for contemporary tourism in urban areas. Florence and Paris for example, were already occupied and labeled as cities of tourism in the 18. century as a part of the so-called Grand Tour – an educational trip for young members of the upper class. Both cities continue to accumulate immense and even increasing numbers of visitors from all over the world. The same is true in Barcelona: since the Olympic Games in 1992, the city has been visited by thousands of tourists every day.
„MußeOrte – weltweit“: Which challenges do these cities face in times of such an influx of visitors?
Clara Sofie Kramer: On the one hand, all three cities profit from the booming urban tourism: it is an important economic sector, which, among other things, brings jobs and money. On the other hand, however, there are the negative effects of the constantly growing urban tourism industry: cities are struggling with the increasing numbers of visitors and are trying to regulate them through visitor management. In addition, due to the congestion of infrastructure and buildings, rising costs must be compensated. In extreme cases, residents of heavily visited districts are even displaced, for example by “Airbnb.”
I see this as one reason for the fact that tourists in such highly demanded cities are often no longer welcomed by a growing number of citizens. In this context, I believe that there is a need for a conscious, respectful and appropriate travel behaviour. Travelers need to reflect about themselves and their behaviour and perhaps more frequently ask themselves: would I like to have, see or experience this at my place of residence?
„MußeOrte – weltweit“: Do you approach the urban places of otium through the analysis of travel guides and travel blogs? What questions do you address to your research material?
Clara Sofie Kramer: It is a whole set of questions, of which I would like to outline only the most important ones. First of all, it is important to know that in my work I start from a constructivist concept of place – that means: place does not exist on its own, but is rather constructed by activity, movement and language. In the analysis of travel literature, I am interested in the linguistic constructions of places of otium: to identify and describe them, to analyse and to typify them in order to be able to recognize and show potential similarities and overarching structures – this is, in short, the first large part of my work. The relation between linguistic constructions and the ‘reality’ on-site, so the empirically perceptible construction of these places, is another question that I will follow up on during on-site field research.
„MußeOrte – weltweit“: What are the touristic-urban places of otium without the people operating within them? Which role, for example, do activities or movements in such places play?
Clara Sofie Kramer: Of course, apart from places, I am also interested in practices of touristic-urban otium. In this context, firstly, I concentrated on descriptions in travel guides and blogs, so on their linguistic construction. How and where can tourists experience otium during their vacation? How do travel guides conceptualize touristic-urban practices? Beyond these, there are many more questions to the text material: for example, questions about the marketing and commercialization of touristic-urban otium – according to the term of touristification designated by me as otiumification, about the role of authenticity in otium experiences, about the importance of contact with residents, about the fragility of places of otium, about the temporal changes of places of otium, and more. Actually, from every answer I receive comes a new and exciting question.
„MußeOrte – weltweit“: How do you identify places of otium that are off the beaten track of typical otium relevant places, for example parks, museums or churches? And which are they?
Clara Sofie Kramer: For me it is very important to not only concentrate on the ‘classic’ or ‘expected’ places of otium and therefore not be distracted from other, unexpected places of otium. Therefore, at the beginning of the travel literature analysis, I tried to put the knowledge of such ‘typical’ places of otium in the background in order to approach the text material as openly and nonbiased as possible. Some of the carved out places are those examples you mentioned, whereas others – such as streets, entire neighbourhoods, riverbanks or shopping centres – expand and enrich the field of potential places of otium. They open the view for the unforeseen, which, in my opinion, is indispensable for an innovative research.
„MußeOrte – weltweit“: The authors of “Places of otium – worldwide” set many places of otium in a touristic context. Is talking or specifically writing about touristic otium something ‘harmless’ or can it also have a critical potential?
Clara Sofie Kramer: I think that writing about personal places of otium and the reflection of individual experiences of otium can itself be an otiose moment. But also here applies the following: language constructs and changes places. If a place is described as a place of otium, by travel guides for instance designated as an ‘insider tip’, the following can happen: more and more people visit this place because of its otiose properties, but thus may take away exactly these characteristics from it. Here the frequently cited dilemma of tourism takes effect: we, as travellers, destroy what we seek, the moment we find it. This vicious circle recalls the previously mentioned fragility of places of otium. That means that writing about touristic otium is a powerful and impactful act in the construction of places, for example within cities. Of course, this effect is more powerful when a larger readership is reached: a successful, commercially operated travel blog, which gives supposedly authentic insider tips, reaches more people and thus has a greater scope in the process of construction and touristification of places than an entry in a small private blog. I am curious to see to what extent the authors of “Places of otium – worldwide” will reflect these aspects.
„MußeOrte – weltweit“: Dear Ms. Kramer, thank you very much for this conversation.