Experimental tourism catches on
PARIS, France (Reuters) -- Sick of sightseeing? Tired of tour guides? Then why not try experimental tourism, a novel approach to travel that starts with a quirky concept and can lead anywhere from Bora Bora to a bus stop.
Take monopolytourism. Participants armed with the local version of a Monopoly game board explore a city at the whim of a dice roll, shuttling between elegant shopping areas and the local water plant -- with the occasional visit to jail.
Or countertourism, which requires you to take snapshots with your back turned to landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.
Joel Henry, the French founder of the Laboratory of Experimental Tourism (Latourex), has developed dozens of similar ideas since coming up with the concept in 1990.
"You increase your receptiveness," the 48-year-old writer said by telephone from his home in Strasbourg in eastern France.
"You work out a set of constraints and you stick to it, and that is your sole purpose for the period you decide to devote to the experience. You are open to all the surprises that will pop up along the way," he explained.
Despite its name, there is nothing scientific about Latourex.
Photographs and souvenirs collected along the way are usually "analyzed" over a glass of wine. It functions along the lines of the Oulipo, short for Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle or Workshop of Potential Literature, a group founded by authors and mathematicians in 1960 which places arbitrary constraints on the writing process.
In the same spirit as Georges Perec wrote a novel without ever using the letter "e," the hardy experimental traveller might walk in a straight line from a city's first street in alphabetical order to the last, a concept known as alphatourism.
In London, that makes for a 19-km (12-mile) trek from Abbess Close south of the Thames to Zoffany Street in the north. Alternatively, you could restrict yourself to destinations with double names, like Bora Bora or Walla Walla.
Devotees make it a point of honor to stick to the parameters of the game.
"Some people are tempted to try it precisely because it's a challenge to fulfill all the requirements. I would even say there is a certain amount of rivalry between participants over who sticks to the rules closest," said Francois Burgard, a regular.
Henry said his most unusual invention was erotourism, where a couple heads to the same town but travels there separately. The challenge is to find one another abroad.
He and his wife of 30 years have engaged in the erotic pursuit in five cities and have managed to hook up every time.
"Each time we were convinced that this time, we wouldn't find each other, and each time we did," he said.
Some of his ideas are legally dubious, like kleptotourism, the theft of fragments of monuments like Rome's Colosseum or the Great Wall of China. Others sound plain boring, although Henry maintains there is no such thing as an inferior destination.
"A fundamental condition for taking part in Latourex is to refute the idea of banality itself, because we consider that nothing is mundane," he explained.
The father-of-three is equally happy roaming the bridges of Venice searching for his wife as he is playing croquet on a busy traffic roundabout.
"There are some very entertaining and beautiful roundabouts. They can be quite interesting," he said earnestly.
Burgard takes a similar view. He said his most exotic outing with Latourex was a weekend in the suburbs of Strasbourg, best known for their grimy council estates, during which participants were barred from setting foot in the city center.
"It's slightly destabilizing, maybe more so than elsewhere where you are in an abnormal setting anyway, whereas here we were a stone's throw away from home," he said.
If roundabouts and parking lots do not sound like a promising sales pitch for a holiday, it is because Henry has nothing to sell.
He does not make a penny from Latourex, which functions as a gathering point rather than a travel agency, with participants paying their own costs. The group now has some 200 informal members, more than half of whom live outside Strasbourg.
Henry does admit to taking the odd "normal" holiday. Just don't expect to run into him at Club Med, the chain of French holiday resorts famed for its eat-all-you-can buffets and round-the-clock activities.
"Although having said that, I would almost consider that going away with Club Med is on the verge of experimental tourism," he said with a mischievous chuckle.
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