This article examines "encounters', or interactions between tourists. The focus is on how social life is established and maintained, specifically the meaning of inter-tourist social interactions in the remote regions of Australia. The ways in which perceptions of the landscape frame these interactions are also considered. The meaning and significance of these interactions was found to be filtered through the prism of the tourists' occupation of a physically demanding, sometimes threatening and culturally unfamiliar landscape. Because of the rigours of the travel environment, tourists were keen to be in the company of others, but in encounters or relationships free of the obligation of ongoing attachment, without specific function, content or outcome. Their interactions with other tourists and the local populations enriched their understanding of the social and physical environment. Those interactions offered comfort and companionship in what they perceived to be a hostile and alien environment.
Keywords: tourist interactions, sociability, anxiety, Australian Outback
I wouldn't have said before (that I travel because of the chance it gives me to meet people), but I would say that now. (Female, travelling with husband)
Touring is conventionally understood to be motivated by a desire to escape 'normal' life (Rojek, 1993). However research has shown that this desire to escape is often coupled with the retention of selected routines and elements of everyday life while away (McCabe, 2002). These routines encompass work, domesticity, leisure, and maintaining social relations. For tourists, maintaining relations with friends or family back home constitutes one aspect of the preservation of the familiar and everyday while away (White & White, 2007). There are also the relationships forged with people encountered while touring: those who are part of the tourism industry, the host population and most significantly for the present paper, other tourists (Wearing & Wearing 1996). The impulse to sociability or association has been shown to be integral to the experience of travel and a motivating reason for touring (Sutton, 1967). Research on backpackers has shown that anticipated opportunities for social interaction with other travellers are an important factor in choosing to backpack (Murphy, 2001; McCabe, 2002; Richards and Wilson, 2004). Interactions with others serve a range of functions. Tourists are exposed to the unfamiliar. Social encounters provide the opportunity to gain information about and to affirm congruent understandings of shared occupation of distant social and cultural landscapes (Harrison, 2003; Wang, 1999; Stokowski, 1992). Association is therefore integral to the process of giving meaning to the travel experience.