In 2015, the WTTC forecasted the travel and tourism industry to grow faster than the entire global economy, reporting “strong economic growth” 19 out of the last 20 years. In 2016, spending in this sector continued to rise: UK residents managed to spend a gargantuan £43.8 billion on holidaying overseas, up a further 12% on the previous year.
There is no denying that the universal travel bug is still alive and well, with our need to explore more prominent than ever. However, with the millennial trend of seeking out the authentic travel experience, it is no longer enough to just visit — we want to live like locals.
In the interest of cultural authenticity and going off the beaten track, there are many curious hospitality customs that tourists may encounter on their travels.
Here are 5 of the most unusual:
When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.’ -Saint Ambrose
1. Polterabend in Germany
It is customary in Germany for wedding guests to participate in a tradition known as “Polterabend” the night before a wedding. This involves close friends and family of the bride and groom breaking things such as vases, crockery and other items of porcelain which the couple must then endeavour to clear away as a sign of unity and hard work.
This has led many hotels, spas and casinos to offer “Polta-packages” or specials incorporating this tradition into tourism. Some now open their doors to stag and hen parties. Travelers venturing to Germany should be prepared for quite the noisy stay if they see a wedding party checking in!
2. Funeral Tourism in Indonesia
Considered Indonesia’s second favorite tourist spot after Bali, the southern province of Sulawesi Toraja is known for its elaborate funeral proceedings. These grand ceremonies are not only held sometimes months or years after the passing of one of their tribe, but are also entirely open to the public for a small charge.
When visiting between the months of June and August — considered Indonesian “funeral season” — travelers may be privy to the ritualistic sacrifice of anywhere between 3 and 100 water buffalos over the course of a few days. Sulawesian funerals are in fact now so in demand with tourists that Torajans have begun providing VIP guest pavilions for observers.
3. Boshintang in South Korea
Seasoned travelers will be familiar with unusual street foods, but many restaurants in Seoul and indeed much of South Korea may offer you a true taste of Eastern culture with Boshintang: a meaty broth made from man’s best friend, the dog.
Although outlawed in Taiwan earlier this year after a lengthy battle from animal rights activists, it remains quite common practice elsewhere in Asia and has been considered a staple of Korean cuisine since the 4th century AD.
4. Guest Etiquette in Russia
Etiquette — something paramount in the field of hospitality — is far more regimented in Russia than in many other Western cultures. So much so that the Russian government even released a code of conduct for cultural sensitivity earlier this year.
Travelers wanting to integrate with the Russian way of life should certainly do their homework beforehand, as even the act of giving flowers can be construed as an insult if not given in odd numbers. Guests may also be invited to indulge in a game of “Man Down,” a drinking game where men must drink vodka until one remains standing in triumph. Beware — your host may see refusing to participate as a monumental insult. Travelers should note this custom when deciding on how early in the morning to book their return flights…
5. Numerology in China
Travelers might notice a certain unease surrounding the number 4 in many East Asian cultures. In fact, it isn’t unusual for hoteliers and other customer-facing businesses to omit the use of this number altogether.
This is because in Chinese culture, the number 4 is believed to be inauspicious due to the pronunciation being nearly identical to that of the Chinese word “death” (死 pinyin sǐ). This may mean that buttons in an elevator jump from floor 3 straight to 5, or a corridor of hotel rooms from 39 to 50 — even hospital beds have been known to forgo the number 4 entirely. In the interest of being hospitable, in 2015 14 Spanish hotels also adopted this custom to meet the needs of a tourist spike in Eastern travelers.
A 2016 Hipmunk study revealed that a whopping three quarters of all millennials had valid passports at the time of asking, compared to just 49% of Generation Xers and 40% of Baby Boomers.
With 75% of those itchy-footed millennials seeking travel experiences where they can learn something new, out-of-the-ordinary experiences are now among the biggest incentives to travel. Meanwhile, marketers are doing all they can to capture this lucrative market by merging tourism with tradition.
We can expect to see much more of this into 2018 as travelers become more accustomed to the most adventurous of alternative customs, learning and engaging with what once felt innately foreign. After all, as travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson said, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”