A practitioner’s guide to “been there, done that”: Understanding the sofa as quasi-object in vacation and museum settings

In 2016, the City of Vienna has registered almost 7 million people visiting the city [1]. This might not be a surprise if you look at the Mercer’s Quality of Living Ranking in which Vienna has been occupying the first place for 8 years in a row [2]. We might thus ask, what happened during these 8 years, because visitor numbers have not always been that high. Actually, since 2007 in total 2.7 million more people have been visiting the city. That’s a growth of almost 24%. One answer to that development can surely be seen in an increased marketing effort. However, the marketing budget only did grow around 3 million Euros between 2007 and 2016 [3].

What might explain this development more profoundly can be observed in 2004. In 2004, the Vienna Tourist Board hoped for more visitors from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia [4]. And then, out of no respectively somewhere, they all came. Between 2007 and 2016 the number of people from Asia visiting the city has increased by 44%. That’s almost twice as much as the number of people from any other regions visiting the city has increased.

Going deeper, and assuming that the Vienna Tourist Board has been successful at reaching their desired audience, we can describe these people coming over as on average above 25 years of age visitors that have a high level of education and mid to high income. As visitors that come to Vienna because of its arts and cultural offerings as well as the traditions and cityscape. While mostly being first time visitors, they do not come alone, stay between 4 to 7 days in a 4 to 5 stars hotel and preferred in the months between July and October [5].

We might thus confront ourselves with the question: What can we learn from these people that appeared as needed the most? How can we become more like them to supply the obvious global need of more Asian tourists?

It’s obvious that the only real answer to this question will be provided in my forthcoming book: How to Become an Asian Tourist. A Practitioner’s Guide. However, to do for the moment, I will try to present in this piece the first drafting step of this endeavour. Resting on extensive (as well as intensive) fieldwork conducted at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, we are able to outline four ways of being an Asian tourist at an art museum.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien appears to not only be a relevant case to study because it has one of the highest, even if slightly declining, visitor numbers in Vienna [6]. But more importantly, because it has the both quantitively as well as qualitatively best offering of sofas in and outside of the exhibition spaces. Various colours, various materials, various styles, various sizes – you name it, they got it. Besides that, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien also has a fairly high proportion of languages from Asian regions used for their audio guides.

Rollin fast. The first way being an Asian tourist can mostly be observed in groups and couples of visitors, while not being confused with Rolling with the squad. Rollin fast means getting an overview, not hanging around, trying to see everything and then waiting for your friends at the finish line respectively the lobby. The crucial trade-off to make in this mode is the one of being efficient and being part of the group. Avoiding any verbal interaction during this is crucial while still being connected to your peers. Sitting down is thus only an option if you need to stay connected. Traveling with children is no problem. You can give them a name tag at the entrance so the museum personnel know how to pronounce their names and you will be able to easily find them afterwards as they get lost on your run.

It is crucial that you gather enough information and experiences (so to say pictures on your mobile phone [7]) that you afterwards can effectively communicate ‘been there, done that’. Maintaining an interest in the matter is, however, crucial to be efficient. You still are visiting this country because of its arts, culture and traditions, but also the city, so don’t waste too much time inside an old building. Rolling fast means being pragmatic while being on vacation. Audio guides would be a helpful tool for you, but not using them is your preferred option: saves both time and money. Dressing accordingly can be useful, however, this is a very common mode, so being commonly distinct is not necessary. But, as guideline, to roll fast, most of the young people tend to wear sweatpants or jeans and sneakers. Slightly older people tend to dress in a casual business style or go very touristy, meaning beige cargo pants.

Rollin slow. The second way of being an Asian tourist can mostly be observed in formations of couples or singles. Rollin slow means going deep, taking time, sitting down, listening and reading close. Even if you travel with a group, you will lose them eventually since you spend most of the time staring up and pressing the audio guide into your ear. You do not need to worry about making any trade-offs because this is what you’re here for. It appears that most of the distractions that could happen (children, running out of time, missing a sofa to sit down and falling on the ground because you’re so deeply focussed) have been taken care of beforehand. So, making sure everything has been taken care of beforehand is crucial.

However, more crucial is having an audio guide. The audio guide is both your shield and source of information. It shields you from your peers who think they know one or two things they need to tell you about this or that painting. More importantly, it is your source of information about these paintings, because again that is what you really came to this country for, right? You need the guide because otherwise you do not get the information and experiences to be able to afterwards communicate ‘been there, done that’.

But don’t get too excited. You are very serious about this – you have a contentual interest in these things, or at least you appear to do so. Dressing accordingly is very crucial. Moreover, dressing commonly distinct is even more crucial respectively this is not to say that you have to dress differently than normal. Just dress modern and slightly cosmopolitan to serve some global aesthetic codes. Dress distinct, but so distinct that you are still common for distinct people. Unless you are slightly older, than it really doesn’t matter what you wear, even if it is beige cargo pants.

Rollin with the squad. The third way of being an Asian tourist can in most cases be observed in formations of larger groups and in some cases of couples. Rollin with the squad means moving fast while going slow. You only move as a group – because you have no audio guide, so you have to guide each other. Pointing and shouting at things is a thoroughly accepted means of interaction. Sharing is caring and you care very much about your peers. Whatever you might think is interesting is also of interest for them. Thus is why you have to move fast while going slow – you don’t have much time, because finding a schedule that fits everyone is hard. Some people might be more interested in the paintings than you are, so help them. Spread out, read everything and provide a short summary. However, as David Ehrlich reminds us in his The LEGO Batman Movie Review [8], “laughing at the things we love is sometimes the best way to remember why we love them.” So do not hesitate to make a joke, you’re still here to have fun and sure, again, for the arts, culture, and traditions as well as the cityscapes.

Being a master at making trade-offs is thus a very crucial part of your vacation. However, at this point of your journey you probably already have seen the traditions and culture of the city through a wonderful Vienna Big Bus Tour, which also includes enjoying the cityscapes and visiting the Schönbrunn Palace. Managing things that foster the stability of the group are already taken care of beforehand. As this, again, is a very common mode, you do not need to dress specifically. However, to foster the integration of all the group members, you might wear matching jackets. Oh, and don’t worry about being able to communicate that you have ‘been there, done that’. All the people that care are already with you.

Not rollin at all. The last way of being an Asian tourist can only be observed in formations of singles – maybe in very few cases in couples. However, as in the other modes, they are in most cases also part of a larger or smaller group. Not rollin at all is a very simple, twofold, but powerful mode. Not rollin at all either means not wanting to be there or simply just being there. If you do not want to be there, sit down, take out your smartphone and do whatever you want to do. Maybe walk around so you don’t lose connection to your peers. However, you might also go through the exhibition and wait at the finish line respectively the lobby. If you are, on the other side, just being there, just be there.

At the end of the day, you are not missing out, if you just sit around (or sleep) – because at the end of the day, if you are on vacation, it can just be satisfying to not pursue to be somewhere or someone else – it can be satisfying not having to roll fast, to hold some kind of identity, to roll slow, to gain some kind of identity, or to roll with the squad, to help create an identity. A sofa is a very good place to do so. And maybe finding that rest is exactly what we can learn from Asian tourists visiting Vienna.

[1] All data regarding the City of Vienna: https://www.wien.gv.at/statistik/wirtschaft/tabellen/ankuenfte-laender-zr.html
[2] https://www.mercer.com/newsroom/2017-quality-of-living-survey.html
[3] https://b2b.wien.info/de/wientourismus/tourismus-bilanzen
[4] https://b2b.wien.info/media/files-b2b/bilanz2004.pdf
[5] https://b2b.wien.info/de/statistik/daten/quellmaerkte-fokus
[6] http://www.khm.at/fileadmin/user_upload/GB-2015-web.pdf
[7] However, leave your selfie stick at home, it’s 2017.
[8] http://www.indiewire.com/2017/02/lego-batman-movie-review-will-arnett-dc-joker-voldemort-king-kong-sauron-1201778050/

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