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A billboard advertising a tourist trap
A "tourist trap" is an establishment, or group of establishments, that has been created with the aim of attracting tourists and their money. Tourist traps will typically provide services, entertainment, souvenirs and other products for tourists to purchase, and these will often be at inflated prices (compared to the local economy).
While the term may have negative connotations for some, such establishments may be viewed by tourists as fun and interesting diversions. The term is somewhat ambiguous; the sort of tourist trap common in the US, for example, is slightly different from that found in Europe.
Tourist traps in the US
As with elsewhere, tourist traps in the US provide an opportunity to separate a consumer from their money and are oriented primarily towards non-native or non-local consumers. But in the US, a tourist trap typically refers to a diversion from a genuine point of interest. Because the tourist is on his or her way to a particular attraction, the tourist trap will either offer a distinctly contrary experience or an allied experience. They will offer up "unique" natural or artificial features (the "World's Largest Ball of Twine" or "Silver Springs") that can only be had at the particular stop, and will then offer up conveniences or activities to entertain and capitalize upon the stopped tourist.
Typically goods available for purchase will include souvenirs and curiosities adorned with the name of the establishment and or local points of interest. Additional products may include the normal range of items found in a gift shop.
Activities at US tourist traps vary greatly based in part on the surrounding economy and infrastructure. In some areas like Ishpeming, Michigan, Flush toilets may be a sufficient draw to entice tourist to stop as they are not readily available at many tourist facilities in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Wall Drug, in South Dakota, began its tourist trade simply by offering ice water. In other locations like Anaheim, California more robust activates are required to draw a tourist to a specific activity over a competitor's activity. Other activities may include thematic restaurants, arcade games, wax museums, collections of unique artifacts, and so on.
Fremont Street Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ralph H. Cameron a former resident of Maine, traveled west with his brothers around 1880. Arriving in Flagstaff, Arizona they took up sheep herding. Ralph visited the nearby Grand Canyon and realizing its potential as a tourist trap began acquiring properties. Before the Grand Canyon became a National Monument in 1906 the Camerons and accomplices had secured over 100 claims including some of the most scenic. They improved an old Indian trail that would become Bright Angel Trail and began charging tourists a dollar toll. Tourists could rent a mule to take them to the bottom of the canyon. At the bottom of the tourist would have an opportunity to be sheared again as they were given an opportunity to hire a mule to carry them to the top. Other opportunities to separate tourists from their dollars included charging for comfort stations. In 1928 after a legal battle Coconino Country gained ownership of the profitable toll trail. It costs more than a dollar now but you can still rent a mule to take you down the canyon. The web site does not list the cost for the ride down or back up.
Tourist traps range significantly in size, from a single tree to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. There may be valid arguments to include traps that are bigger or smaller than these as well.
Stop and Shop
A few establishments take pride in the term and embody it into their names, such as "Da Yoopers Tourist Trap" in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and "The TOURIST TRAP" at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Other establishments like The "Trees of Mystery" in Klamath, California avoid the phrase. If the term is embraced or not, regardless of the price of products, the two things that most tourist stops have in common are restrooms and items for sale with the name of the establishment or other nearby points of interest.
Tourist traps in Europe
European tourist traps differ from the American variety in that they are typically based at, or very near, historical centres.
Examples of tourist traps
- Bayside Marketplace in Miami, Florida
- Upper Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana
- Breezewood, Pennsylvania on U.S. Route 30 at a short gap in Interstate 70
- Chandelier Tree in Leggett, California
- Clifton Hill at Niagara Falls, Ontario
- Corn Palace at Mitchell, South Dakota
- Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market in Boston
- Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco
- Bedrock City in Valle, Arizona
- French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana
- Harold Warp's Pioneer Village near Minden, Nebraska
- House on the Rock near Spring Green, Wisconsin
- International Drive in Orlando, FL
- Jack Rabbit Trading Post in Joseph City, Arizona
- Kemah Boardwalk in Kemah, Texas
- Marsh's Free Museum, home of Jake the Alligator Man, in Long Beach, Washington
- Magnetic Hill, New Brunswick
- Meramec Caverns near Stanton, Missouri, "Jesse James' Hideout"
- Mystery Hill and Prehistoric Forest in Brooklyn, Michigan
- Mystery Hill near Salem, New Hampshire, recently redubbed the even-more ostentatious "America's Stonehenge"
- Mystery Hole in Ansted, West Virginia
- Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, California
- Navy Pier in Chicago
- Oregon Vortex in Gold Hill, Oregon
- Roadside America in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania
- Rock City near Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga, Tennessee
- Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California
- Sonoma Traintown Railroad in Sonoma, California
- South of the Border near Dillon, South Carolina
- South Street Seaport in New York City
- Times Square in New York City
- (the) Sponge Docks, Tarpon Springs, Florida
- The Thing? in Dragoon, Arizona
- Trees of Mystery in the redwood region of Northern California
- Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota
- Waikiki in Oahu, Hawaii
- World's Wonder View Tower in Genoa, Colorado
In addition, the Tennessee cities of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg have numerous tourist traps.
Popular culture references
These kinds of attractions find their way into popular culture. A few examples, in addition to the Charles Ogden book and the horror film mentioned elsewhere on this page:
- In an episode of I Love Lucy, in which the four main players are driving to California, they see a billboard advertising a Praline Pecans shop hundreds of miles away. As they approach its location, the signs appear with greater frequency, and their interest grows, only to learn on arrival that the store is out of business.
- An episode of Kojak titled "Tourist Trap" is about a crime boss conducting an illegal immigration scheme to provide workers for businesses he owns.
- In the 1983 film National Lampoon's Vacation, Ellen Griswold ridicules her husband, Clark, for being distracted trying to find attractions such as "the world's largest ball of twine" on their way to their actual destination, the fictional amusement park called "Wally World".
- The adventure game Sam and Max Hit the Road largely takes place at a series of tourist traps across the United States.
- In the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman, tourist traps are hypothesized to be built in areas of great spiritual energy in America, much like shrines or stone monoliths might mark such spots in other parts of the world.
- Folk-music act Bright Eyes has a song called Tourist Trap on their 2007 Four Winds EP.
- In the 1996 independent movie Michael, the archangel Michael insists on stopping at several tourist traps.
- In House of 1000 Corpses the group of young victims stop at Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters and Madmen, a hybrid tourist trap and gas station.
- In the graphic novel The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning, the mutants refer to their deal with gas station employees, who trick people into going into the mutants' domain where they are cannibalized, as a "tourist trap". 
- RuneScape has a quest by this name.
- The 2006 Disney/Pixar animated movie Cars is set in the fictional community of Radiator Springs, Arizona, essentially a "tourist trap" of the old school along Route 66 as was bypassed when Interstate 40 supplanted Route 66, forcing the community into a state of decline.
- ^ Gaines, Barbara K. (May 31, 1986). Idiomatic American English: A Step-By-Step Workbook for Learning Everyday American Expressions. Kodansha International. p. 85. ISBN 0870117564. http://www.amazon.com/Idiomatic-American-English-Everyday-Expressions/dp/0870117564.
- ^ a b "Da Yoopers Tourist Trap & Museum" (Web). Ishpeming, Michigan, Business web site. http://www.dayoopers.com/thetrap.html. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- ^ "WallDrug.com" (web). The Wall Drug Store got its start during the Depression years by offering Free Ice Water to thirsty travelers. 2007. http://www.walldrug.com/. Retrieved 2008-02-04.
- ^ "Cameron, Ralph Henry, (1863 -1953); Biographical Directory of the United States Congress". http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=C000066.
- ^ Horace M. Albright and Marian Albright Schenck: “Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years, Page 265, University of Oklahoma Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8061-3155-1
- ^ Ribokas, Bob (Bob Ribokas, 1994-2001). "Cameron, Ralph on Grand Canyon Explorer" (Web). Grand Canyon Explorer. http://www.kaibab.org/misc/gc_misc.htm#c. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- ^ "Canyon Trail Rides “The Only Ride in the National Parks”" (Web). Howdy Partner Come Ride With Us. Local Matters, Inc.. 1997/98. http://www.onlinepages.net/canyonrides/. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- ^ "The Eternal Tree House in Redcrest on the Redwood Highway" (Web). TUNNELTREE and CALIFPOSTCARD Home Pages. © 2003. http://www.tunneltree.com/redwood/hum-scot/eternal/eternal.html. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- ^ "Drive thru "The Stump" at the Redwood Shop near Pepperwood, Calif" (Web). TUNNELTREE and CALIFPOSTCARD Home Pages. © 2003. http://www.tunneltree.com/tunneltree/tunneltree.html. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- ^ "The TOURIST TRAP" (Web). Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, Business web site. ©Copyright 2003 - The Tourist Trap. http://www.shoptouristtrap.com. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- ^ "Trees of Mystery" (Web). Klamath, California, Business web site. http://www.treesofmystery.net. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- ^ Dutton, Michael (January 13, 1999). Streetlife China (Cambridge Modern China Series). 0521637198: Cambridge University Press. p. 232. ISBN 0521637198. http://www.amazon.com/Streetlife-China-Cambridge-Modern/dp/0521637198.
- ^ The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning