17 March 2014

The World Tourist Trap Tournament

It's that time of year when the brackets bloom, the season of March Madness Mimickry. (For non-Americans and non-sports fans, March Madness is a big ol' tournament in which college basketball teams compete to see who's the best at decreasing office-worker productivity.)

Does the world need another goofy bracket of Sixty-Four Things Competing Against Each Other? Sure does. 

Way back in 2011, this blog hosted the European Tourist Trap Finals, pitting sixteen of the continent's biggest travel destinations against each other in a friendly competition.

Now it's back, but with an expanded field spanning the whole dang world, and a full slate of 64 entrants, divided into four regions, featuring head-to-head match-ups between the finest-slash-tawdriest destinations the planet has to offer. Some of them you know. Some of them you probably don't--like any good tournament, there are heavy favorites and obscure-but-plucky underdogs. (Thanks to the many travelers who offered suggestions on Facebook and Twitter.)

Travel fans, I hereby present to you the 2014 WORLD TOURIST TRAP TOURNAMENT. 

Or, even better, here's a PDF form version all ready to be filled out. If you email a filled-out bracket to doug@douglasmack.net, I'll post it here. If you include your mailing address, I'll also send you a postcard.

Or! Travel by map: 

View the full-size map here.

Will the heavily-favored Eiffel Tower win it all? Will the much-anticipated Red Square vs. Times Square match-up come to fruition? Will we see any big upsets from a quiet-but powerful upstart like the Kimchi Museum, or even the Spring Temple Buddha, an oft-overlooked giant in the field? 

We'll soon find out. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll watch the exciting action and recap it with full commentary right here on this very blog. 

So. What determines the results of each match-up? Well, as with an actual athletic contest, fan support plays a huge role. In other words: 

By popular demand, your votes will help specific places advance. 

Pick a match-up and cheer for your favorite place. Extra points for giving reasons why it should defeat its opponent, and providing commentary on the competition as it unfolds. What does that match-up look like? What's the back-and-forth? Points also awarded for heartfelt and/or creative cheers or fight songs, etc., like at actual sports events. 

Of course, the role of the officials cannot be underestimated, either. The referee, while susceptible to the opinions of the crowd (not to mention bribes), is ultimately kinda biased and likely to push some of the outcomes a certain way, based on his own whims, preferences, and general amusement. (Spoiler: No matter how hard you lobby, it's highly unlikely the Mall of America will advance very far, although by all means, try to convince me otherwise.)


Hey, you forgot [­That One Place I Really Like]! What's the deal?!

Just like the real-life tournament that inspired this bracket, there are some surprises, and not all the usual suspects make the cut. I decided not to have more than one tourist trap per city (so, for example, Times Square is the only representative of NYC), and I wanted to have a broad range of tourist-trap types: museums, statues, entire cities, famous landmarks, obscure icons, etc.

Dude, [My Favorite Place] is awesome and amazing. IT’S NOT A TOURIST TRAP, YOU SNARKY JERK.

I’m using the term “tourist trap” lovingly. I promise. And, actually, “tourist cliché” would be a much more accurate word for these places, "trap" being somewhat more pejorative and implying innate tackiness, which is just not something I'd pin on many of these esteemed destinations. 

So if it helps, think of these as clichés--places that happen to be very popular, for better or for worse. But, well, I'm a sucker for alliteration. Ergo, Tourist Trap Tournament. 

As discussed in my book, Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day, and in many posts on this blog, I happen to think the beaten path gets a bad rap and that tourist hotspots are generally popular for a very good reason--and that more often than not, the essential coolness and intrigue transcends the crowds and souvenir shops and so on. This goofy little exercise is intended as an absurdist salute to these places. 

Of course, the distinction between magnificent and tawdry is always in the eye of the beholder, and there are certainly some places I happen to find pretty damn appalling. (Hello, Mall of America.)

Okay, so how do the match-ups work? Are we supposed to vote for the tackiest one? The one that’s actually pretty cool? The one that's most famous? 

How do you judge a cooling breeze versus a lovely shade of green? A majestic rainbow versus the beguiling scent of spring? The sound of a baby laughing versus the majesty of the night sky in the desert?


Exactly. Just vote already.


  1. The Fjords are my sleeper to go all the way! So fun to say! Has a J in it! Features in one of my favorite Monty Python sketches of all time (the dead parrot)!

    1. The fjords do have an impressive history, breathtaking natural flow, and notably long arms. Hard to beat that.


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