This David Foster Wallace quote came across a social stream:

“[Tourism] is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.”

This immediately brought to mind a strain of thought in Conserving Mount Nittany—part of a larger conversation on how to conserve something special while still allowing it to be accessible:

Ben Novak: One of the things that crushed me during my eight years in Europe was that… many of the historic palaces, castles, and villages had become completely oriented to tourists. The paths and steps and signs that are set up for tourists end up having the effect of becoming a central part of what you’re experiencing. It becomes very difficult to feel as if you’re really walking on the same steps that a Medieval knight walked on, for instance. It’s as though they put a wall of glass or transparent plastic between you and all the things you came to see and touch. Imagine that you lived in a world where the only way you could ever see people fall in love is in the movies.

Too much marketing and tourism-minded positioning and too many “improvements” can seriously take away from the thing you’re trying to promote. Too many changes can remove the naturalness of the experience.

We’re marketing (and buying into marketing) that promises authenticity. When those campaigns succeed—in land conservation, in tourism of a “newly discovered” destination, in realtors promoting a new neighborhood—it becomes really difficult to sustain the authenticity that stoked our interest in the first place.

To maintain the sort of authenticity that leads to a place being considered special, think about the characteristics that contribute to that specialness of place. Foster more of those if you want to conserve the essence.