Much of what we experience as travelers is mired in the imaginary
“What [tourists] bring to New Guinea, reinforced by the travel brochures, is clearly imaginary, that is, it is not based on any real assessment of the New Guineans, but is rather a projection from Western consciousness, with the reminder that the only way to explore the real is through one’s symbolic system. The tourists say that the indigenous people do not think about tomorrow, that they are “primitive,” that their lifeway is “so opposite to that of Europe,” all of which suggests the image of the happy savage and the natural man, close to nature, not yet burdened by the oppressions of European civilization. The New Guineans, in turn, in their sing-sings and performances put on for the tourists, do not display their real, but rather the New Guinean performance mirrors for the Europeans what the tourists desire. This mirroring is not a condition conducive to learning. According to Lacan, it does not work well in psychoanalysis and cannot lead to understanding of other cultures in tourism, because one never penetrates from the imaginary to the symbolic. The Europeans cannot progress to a more realistic appreciation of the New Guineans, because the Other reflected back to them is their own imaginary projection. They are trapped in a loop, in never-ending reflections from multiple mirrors.
–Edward M. Bruner, “Transformation of Self in Tourism,” Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1991)