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Muse Hotels and Tourist Ambassadors

Painting: 'Tourism'Will you help us create a new model for travel and hospitality?

In 1950 only 25 million 'international arrivals' were recorded. Today the number is 922 million. But the tourist industry has not changed its basic goals.When workers were suddenly given paid holidays away from their daily grind in grim factories and offices, tourism came to mean escape. In the late nineteenth century, César Ritz said that the purpose of his hotel was to "teach you how to live". But in those days people imagined that the ideal life was that of the idle aristocracy. His hotel therefore offered luxury, a chance to live like royalty, with servants ministering to your every whim. And today still hotels continue this tradition, becoming increasingly expensive, focused on comfort, constantly changing the carpets and furniture. But where can they go next, after they have fitted every kind of gold tap, electronic gadget and leisure facility?

They could become important cultural institutions, proactively playing a significant part in the dialogue of civilisations, giving tourists a chance to do what conventional ambassadors cannot.

Theodore Zeldin and a team of four Muse researchers spent a year investigating the human side of a hotel chain, in a project on The Future of Work, funded by the European Commission. We discovered that roughly half of hotel guests are content with hotels as they are, and want to be left alone, but half would like them to be less boring. It is no longer enough for hotels to provide beds in which tourists can recover from the exhaustion of staring silently at the historical monuments. Why cannot hotels be more imaginative? Why do they not take the initiative and become intermediaries between the foreigner who knows nobody in the city and the locals who seldom have a chance to meet interesting visitors? Why in Oxford, for example, have the hotels never dreamed of introducing guests to what is most valuable in the University, its famous mind-stretching private tutorial? And why do they not give each unique guest an opportuntiy to contribute their special knowledge or experience to the university or the city?

Most hotels are dependent on low wages, long hours and foreign workers, who usually stay in their jobs for less than a year. Many of these employees want to learn a new language, but no hotel takes this desire seriously enough to organise efficient language teaching for them. That is because they are stuck with an idea of what a hotel should do, instead of thinking what they could do to meet the aspirations of all who pass through them. They could be a school of languages and of much else. They are frequently situated next to educational institutions, but never imagine they could exchange knowledge with them. That is partly because the hotel industry has five times fewer college graduates than the average for industry as a whole, and most of these are graduates in hotel management. There are many highly gifted people working in hotels, but only a fraction of their talents are used.

So we want to create Muse Hotels which could meet more of the needs of both guests and staff. A keynote address that Theodore Zeldin was invited to give to an annual international congress of hoteliers, in which he put forward these ideas, was received with great interest and several hotels offered to collaborate in such an experiment. The head of tourism in the Paris-Ile de France Regional Council has expressed a desire to support it. We now need funds to go ahead and recruit half a dozen imaginative individuals to start the process.

The Muse Hotels will try to provide many more personal points of entry into foreign civilisations for its guests, enabling them to become a new sort of unofficial ambassador of their country, profession, or particular interest, making small links which, when multiplied, could become significant in the diminution of international incomprehension.


Tourist Ambassadors

An American student once came to Oxford and asked that I should teach him. I sent him to Tunisia, to study Clubmed. I invited him to speak to the foreign tourists and the locals who served them, and to create written portraits of them, which he did with admirable skill. Virtually all the tourists were so busy recovering from the busy lives they led at home, and so exhausted, that they took no interest in the local inhabitants: they might have been on any beach in any other country. They learned nothing about the lives of the locals. The locals who served them had much more to say, they were sometimes educated people earning a little extra money, but disgusted by the incomprehension and passivity of the tourists.

Tourism of this kind a by-product of an overstressed society. Lying on the beach will doubtless continue so long as the boredom or tensions of work inspire only a desire to rest or escape.But now that more and more people want to get to know the people in the countries they visit, and experience a different kind of life, we need to make it less difficult.

So we invite those setting out on foreign travels to contact us. We will show them how they can create Muse passports, written and video portraits of themselves, and of the people they visit, so that they can return with information they can share with future travellers about individuals who would welcome conversations with tourists.  We want to create a directory of such people.

We have already a collection of 40 written portraits of people in the Czech Republic, made by a member of the Muse, Tanweer Ali. It reveals this nation in all its diversity, suggesting an original way of getting to know it.

If you are planning to travel and would like to become a Muse Ambassador, please contact us.