The late colonial era in Southeast Asia saw the emergence of modern tourism. Throughout the region hotels and hill stations were built, tourist attractions identified, tourist experiences designed, and travel agencies established. The technological development of infrastructure was crucial, as railroads and trains, steamships, and asphalt and cars opened up the region not only to economic exploitation, but to “Western” (mainly European and American) visitors as well as wealthy visitors from other parts of Asia. Both local (national) and regional tourist networks brought about a distinct meeting of two worlds as new forms of interaction and exchange in the colonial world took shape. Crucially, through these tourist experiences Westerners were presented with an idyllic, often stereotypical, romanticized, and stagnant, perspective of indigenous societies. While the tourist experience often exoticized the “other,” it also resulted in a more profound appreciation for local cultures and peoples of Southeast Asia. Such exposure in turn not only influenced tourism practices in the metropole, but also were exported to other regions of empires.
This panel explores the emergence of colonial tourism in Southeast Asia by examining distinct tourist spaces such as passenger liners and mountain resorts, and the creation of discourses through which the “other” was understood. The three case studies treat different locales—colonial Vietnam and Cambodia, the Javanese mountains, and maritime Indonesia—that allow for comparison and the creation of a dynamic image of these developments. The papers will explore the organizing strategies behind tourism’s development: their marketing, infrastructural projects, and the identification of tourist sites. What was deemed worthy of becoming a tourist destination and why? And who were the aimed and actual tourists? Finally, the panel also explores the legacy of these first tourist experiences in the present. How have these early experiences and decisions about what constituted as tourism continued to influence contemporary perceptions of the region?