Invited Talk: Overflowing Vessel: Finding Meaning through Tourism in the Middle East

Invited Talk: Overflowing Vessel: Finding Meaning through Tourism in the Middle East. Global Studies Center, University of PIttsburgh. April 2017.

Tourism, much like globalization, has become a bloated term. What makes up parts of a “tourism economy?” What do we mean when we refer to someone as a tourist? In this talk, from larger research across the Middle East, I will unpack different dimensions that the singular word often conceals to demonstrate the layered social/political issues that go into the term “tourism.”

In Lebanon I examine how Beirut is imagined as a “gay friendly” destination in the region – for whom? In what spaces? What type of history and circulation of media allows for such a narrative? Next, I pivot to address the changing context of Syrian workers in Lebanon in this moment that raises how terms of mobility move from that of migrant workers to refugee. Finally, I jump from Lebanon to the regional scale to speak of branding in the GCC. How might we disaggregate the massive developments of “tourism” across the Arabian Gulf nations, specifically Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Emirates?  Tens of billions of dollars are spent in order to “diversify” the economies resulting in huge infrastructures developments - as well as a threading of heritage and state-making through the development of the destination.

Overall, I illustrate how these contexts of tourism in the Middle East allow us to better understand larger issues of mobility across the globe - but also the layering of meanings that fill the category “tourism.”