The representation of London in tourist guidebooks

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002
19 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. German tourist guide

3. Tourist guides in German magazines

4. German Picture atlases

5. London - Time Out

6. Eccentric Britain

7. A Literary Guide to London

8. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The principal function of mass-market tourist guidebooks is to promote and sell a city to tourists. The cities become products consisting of utopian and idealised images in order to attract mass audiences[1]. These carefully selected images create fantasies and the difference between reality and idealism vanishes. They manipulate the tourist and produce a uniform and mainstream representation of a city. By using pure clichés, “predigested meanings”[2], ready made tourist images and symbols[3], the tourists become the victims of “standardisation and massification”[4]. As the media, tourist guidebooks “help shape our view of the world, public opinion, values and behaviour”[5], they “seduce, fascinate, move, position and influence their audiences”[6] and at the same time, they standardise tourist experiences[7]. The tourist is cheated by the tourist industry because the metaphors and stereotypes[8] used try to create a “better world”[9] for the visitor, which is illusionary[10]. Nearly all tourist guidebooks are “one-dimensional”[11], they are an “agent of blindness”[12] presenting “a limited range of features”[13] in an idealised way[14] where “the part stands for the whole”[15]. Cities are sold by telling the tourists where to go, what to do and what to avoid. The tourist is “passive and guided by established rules”[16]. He “moves towards the security of pure cliché journeying in a world which has been discovered by entrepreneurship and prepared for him by the arts of mass publicity”[17]. Tourist guidebooks use an “authoritative and self-confident tone of instruction and direction”[18] telling the inexperienced visitor how to behave, they are described as “scripts for the chorus, showing how the tourist should perform in the spectacle”[19] telling him to use “a prescribed route through the landscape of selected and ready-interpreted sites and monuments”[20]. There is nearly no place for individuality in the tourist industry. Because of the standardisation of tourist experiences, a tourist is only tolerated if his “complete identification with the generality is unquestioned”[21], he has to make the same experiences as all the other tourists. Tourist guidebooks do not only influence tourist experiences, they also create a desire in the tourist to belong to the city, the tourist wants to be a part of the idealised city presented in the tourist guidebooks.

This essay will deal with the representation of London in tourist guidebooks and with the “guidebooks’ influence on the […] practice of millions of tourists”[22].

2. German tourist guide

A German tourist guide called “London” describes itself as “compact, complete and competent” which shall convince the reader that everything he wants to know about London is in this tourist guidebook.[23]

The cover picture presents the parade of the guards, one of the most typical pictures a tourist has in mind when thinking of London. They represent London as a city full of traditions, the guards are symbols of imperial culture and the monarchy[24]. Everybody associates them with the Royal family and London, the guards represent London. This cover picture reinforces one of the stereotyped pictures tourists have of the city. In this case, it is the image of “the Magic London”[25], the London of queens, kings, the Empire and power.

In the first chapter of this tourist guidebook called “Welcome to London”[26], the city is described as generally very modern and eventful. It changes a lot and very quickly, everything is short-lived and does not stay long. In contrast to the cover picture, London is represented as a very modern city. The reader is told that this city unites traditions and modernity and therefore, there exist three different types of London, all united in this metropolis: “Today’s London”, “The Old London” and “Future London”.

“Today’s London” is presented in a very positive way. It is a “site of newness, vibrancy and movement”[27]. It is full of parks and nature and offers a huge range of cultural events but many events are only “pseudo-events”[28] made for tourists. Its multiculturalism is only an enrichment for the city and its multicultural society offers a special pleasure of travel: “to be simultaneously everywhere”[29]. Problems are not mentioned. The modern London is perfect, many illusions are presented by leaving out negative aspects of life in this metropolis. The book reduces the city “to an uninhabited world of monuments, suppressing at one stroke the reality of the land and that of its people”[30], the tourist is more and more removed from the local people by placing him in a strictly circumscribed world[31].


[1] Cf. Douglas Kellner, Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 16.

[2] Morag Shiach, Discourse on Popular Culture (Oxford: Polity, 1989), p. 33.

[3] Jib Fowles, Advertising and Popular Culture (London: Sage Publications, 1996), p. 10.

[4] Michel de Certeau, “The Practice of Everyday Life”, in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. A Reader, ed. John Storey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 29.

[5] John Storey (ed.), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), p. 35.

[6] Morag, Popular Culture, p. 43.

[7] Cf. David Gilbert, “London in All Its Glory, or How to Enjoy London: Representations of Imperial London in its Guidebooks”, Journal of Historical Geography 25 (199), p. 283.

[8] Cf. Sean Brierley, The Advertising Handbook (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 146.

[9] de Certeau, “The Practice of Everyday Life”, p. 19.

[10] ibid, p. 139.

[11] Gilbert, “London in All Its Glory”, p. 279.

[12] Trevor J. Barnes (ed.) and James S. Duncan, Writing Worlds. Discourse, Text & Metaphor in the Representation of Landscape (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 20.

[13] ibid.

[14] cf. ibid., p. 21.

[15] ibid.

[16] cult theory, p. 474.

[17] Gilbert, “London in All Its Glory”, p. 282.

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid., p. 294.

[20] Ibid., p. 282.

[21] Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (London: Verso, 1999), p. 139.

[22] Gilbert, “London in All Its Glory”, p. 283.

[23] Susan Grossman, London. Kompakt, Komplett, Kompetent (München: Humboldt-Taschenbuchverlag Jacobi KG, 1994).

[24] Gilbert, “London in All Its Glory”, p. 284.

[25] ibid., p. 280.

[26] Grossmann, London, pp. 4-12.

[27] Gilbert, “London in All Its Glory”, p. 281.

[28] John Urry, The Tourist Gaze (London: Sage Publications Ltd, 2002), p. 7.

[29] Iain Chambers, Border Dialogues: Journeys in Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 57/58.

[30] Gilbert, “London in All Its Glory”, p. 282.

[31] Cf. Urry, The Tourist Gaze, p. 7.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


The representation of London in tourist guidebooks
University of London  (English Department)
Representing the Capital in Contemporary Literature and Popular Culture
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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London, Representing, Capital, Contemporary, Literature, Popular, Culture
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Sylvia Hadjetian (Author), 2002, The representation of London in tourist guidebooks, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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