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Born to Shop? An Academic Tour Operator's Delemma . . .

Professor Arnie Greenberg

Why do we travel? Is it to see the world, absorb the culture and share the experiences…or is it to shop?

My wife, seated with a salesman in Kusadasi. He served us tea and then proceeded with his sales pitch, Turkish hats, anybody? - click to enlarge
My wife, seated with a salesman in Kusadasi. He served us tea and then proceeded with his sales pitch, Turkish hats, anybody?

Why has shopping become one of the main reasons for travel?

Should it be ? I think not.

It’s a dilemma when you travel. You must buy something for the new baby, for your neighbor and, of course for yourself. Bargains abound but for this writer, shopping in Europe or Asia is only a secondary necessity. Yes, it’s nice to bring home a souvenir. I’ve been known to do that but…

When I travel abroad I travel to learn about the culture. I’m a museum freak and can’t get enough of the historical, geographical and archeological and architectural sites. In Greece or Sicily or even in France I can visit excavations of ancient cultures. It’s something I wish I had at home in Canada. But my country is new by comparison to places like Turkey. 

Can you believe this ?

Here’s my complaint. Maybe you can tell me why I’m wrong, if you think I am.

I organize tours to historical places I’ve seen, studied and lectured about. I’ve taken groups to France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. We’ve toured Indonesia, Thailand, China, Bali, Singapore and even Russia. So why am I still disappointed when I discover that the main reason my clients go to these places IS TO SHOP?

Years ago, shopping in Europe and Asia meant bringing back hand made local souvenirs. All that is changed now. You wouldn’t believe the number of world famous shop names there is in the main center of Munich or Istanbul. Products made in Asia find themselves in shops around the world.

Leather jackets in Turkey

Florence has a street market where you can shop ‘til you drop. There are shopping centers on the main highways in Italy and Germany. But while the foreign shopping center builders have not caught up with the 40,000 shopping centers there are in the USA, there are large conglomerates working hard to capture the tourist yes, dollar, Euro or Lira. Big business is beating me to the punch. My clients want to shop and see less ‘digs’ as they call it. What’s a man to do?

Recently I took a group of thirty adults to Greece and Turkey. We sailed from Athens to Istanbul and arrived there around 5 PM on Sat. eve. Most had signed up for a shore excursion to inner Istanbul, that historical relic that once seated the Emperor of Rome and the heads of the great Ottoman Empire. The city is one of my favorites and while I hired a bus and guide for them, I tagged along for the ride. Istanbul is massive. We headed to the Grand Bazaar around 5:30 and arrived there after 6PM battling traffic all the way. When we arrived at the Grand Bazaar my clients had thoughts of scattering until they were told that the whole place would shut down at 7PM. It was too much. They ran to find a leather jacket, carpet, water pipe, and other Ottoman style items. They looked for deals on Ralph Loren shirts and Anne Klein skirts. But 7 PM arrived too soon and they found themselves back on the bus. Then they were hit by the bad news. The Bazaar would be closed on Sunday.

We almost had a riot on our hands but common sense did prevail and they all discovered that there was equally good shopping in the other cities along the way.

The shopping in Kusadasi was fine if you ignored the aggressive salesmen. They would accost us on the street trying to get us to see their shops. They offered “Good deals, like Wal-Mart”. One man asked if I wanted a carpet. When I said “No, thank you”, he retorted with “Is that you’re final answer?”

But in the end the buying won out over the historical interest. They would lose interest after thirty minutes, even on the Acropolis in Athens.

Linens anyone? - click to enlarge
Linens anyone?

Santorini is one of the most visual islands in the world. Propped on the remains of a volcanic cliff, this white city is filled with visual splendors. My clients saw very little. They were busy buying every kind of international garment.

They poured onto the ship after three hours of dizzying spending. They had collected paintings (machine reproduced) fake watches like Tag or Rolex, meerschaum pipes, carvings inlaid with mother of pearl, leather goods which were inexpensive and of high quality and of course, items for the grandchildren.

 How many T shirts can one kid wear?

Wherever we went, they sought out nooks and cranny. They followed salesmen for blocks since he promised ‘a deal’. They Returned to the ship to cries of “What’d you buy?” from other members of the group.

We returned to Athens where bargains might be available. There was always another watch to buy somewhere.

I think I’ll consider a change in theme for next year’s tour of India. We’ll shop ‘til we drop. The daily agenda will be Buffet breakfast followed by a photo op at a place like the Taj Mahal, a stop for coffee and a lunch rest. They people can sleep on the bus until we get to a shopping center. There they can shop for a while, have dinner without dallying as the stores might close early and Aunt Dora might not get that scarf or silver ring. Besides, one can never have too many watches, especially when the average price is 5 Euros. Who cares if Tommy Hillfiger is spelled without an ‘f’ ?

No. It won’t let it happen. I am fixed on changing  values and won’t be deterred. Yes, I’ll leave time for shopping but I personally believe that culture, history and art have more to offer that a baseball cap from Jaipur or a T shirt from Mumbai. How many pairs of slippers can one person wear?

While their wives shop… - click to enlarge
While their wives shop…

Am I fighting an uphill battle that is futile or should I stick to my values.

What do you think?

Write to me at

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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