What is a tourist trap? In the tourism business vernacular, they are tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal in Agra, India or the Champs-Elysees in Paris that feature prominently on every tourist’s itinerary as a must-see place but that is so completely overrun with crass and vapid commercialization – unscrupulous touts, hawkers, sellers of overpriced souvenirs, commission agents for seedy businesses – that once you’re there, amid the sheer onslaught of it all, you barely remember why you came in the first place. The Champs-Elysees never was anything in its own right other than a beautiful symbol of Parisian elegance. When all the crass commercialization along the Boulevard came along over the past quarter-century, it just lost its symbolism and has ever since been nothing more than a former symbol. That’s a tourist trap that isn’t worth going to. When it comes to the Taj Mahal though, the breathtaking beauty of the monument and the sheer power of its significance make it worthwhile coping with all the tourist trappery that has a stranglehold over the place. Let’s look at a few of the greatest tourist traps around the world that you should brave every hurdle that crass commercialization puts in your way for. Because they are that great.
Let’s start with the Great Wall of China; the 5000 mile-long wall passes through practically every important part of the country; close to Beijing, the town of Badaling is where you’ll need to go to see the Wall. As you approach the Wall, you know you’re in for a tourist trap experience. The sea of tourist humanity that’s all over the place is practically nothing compared to the sea of people who try to take their pictures to sell them a little key ring, a snow globe and other trash souvenirs. Take the little monorail on top of the wall, and you’re transported to a proper trash souvenir market where everywhere you look, there are nothing but T-shirt sellers. Even so, no amount of crass commercialization can really subdue the grandeur and majesty of a Wall so massive, it had to be built over centuries. As pushy as the vendors are, they haven’t been able to cover the entire 5000 miles of the wall with their T-shirt stalls. All you need to do is to walk past them to get to where restored portion ends and the wall goes on in its natural state. This is where you get to really take in the significance of this monument. As tourist attractions go, this one stands apart in a class of its own.
If ever there was a place on this earth that deserved to be called a tourist trap, it would have to be Venice – a place where at the top of the season, there are 350 tourists to every local Venetian. If you’ve read about how Venetians happen to be a terribly rude (if small) crowd, at least you know now why that might be so. To really experience the transcendental beauty of this Renaissance city, you need to actually be here when it isn’t a snake pit of tourists, pollution, heat, mugginess and impossible commercial agents. In short, you need to come here as far away from the high season as possible, which they define as July and August. Come in November or December though, and you’ll see the tourist attractions of Venice like they were meant to be; the ancient Italian architecture all around you glows in the afternoon light and you see how delicate and transforming it can all be. You’ll see the romance of it. You’ll be able to attend choir practice or the street theater, you can have a glass of wine and a dish of pasta somewhere and talk to the locals.