A meaningless look at nihilistic tourism

David Loughrey spent last week at the Trenz tourism conference in Rotorua, where he learned about niche tourism marketing, and had a very good idea.

We stand on a frozen St Clair Beach, a cruel southerly beginning to kick up the sand in a pointless way, scattering grains across an empty landscape devoid of meaning.

Before us takes place a futile act of violence.

We don't even bother to try to give it meaning.

It happened, but we don't know why

We exist, but we don't know why.

Nothing matters.

We are existential nihilists.

Such could be the experience of a new niche tourism opportunity targeting existential nihilists from around the world, providing activities that expose the harsh reality of the human condition, cleverly summing up their bleak world view.

On a bitter winter's day in rapidly approaching gloom a group of actors would perform scenes from Albert Camus' The Stranger.

Near the surf club the tour group would look on as an actor playing Meursault learns of the death of his mother, but expresses none of the expected emotions of grief, declining to view the body of a woman he hardly ever spoke to and seldom went to see.

Nearby they would see Meursault shooting a man on the beach.

Later, perhaps at the former Dunedin Prison, they would watch as Meursault finds a final happiness in his indifference towards the world and the lack of meaning he sees in everyone and everything.

They would especially like that bit.

Tourism in New Zealand keeps growing, as the country tries to wring every last cent out of an industry flooding us with visitors.

Last year there were 3.9 million, and in 2025 that is expected to increase to 5.1 million.

Most of them come from Australia, but more and more are arriving from China.

India is an emerging market with strong growth.

The smart, flexible tourism business would take advantage of the remarkable volume of visitors arriving, and crunch the numbers.

They would discover, I have no doubt, that of 5.1 million people there will be at least 0.001% who are existential nihilists.

That means 51 people coming to this country every year who would take advantage of niche tourism products developed with just them in mind.

The products could be sustainable, too, not that the existential nihilists would care much, as they would most likely be concentrating on the inescapable fact that each individual is an isolated being born into a universe with no answer to the question "why?".

In Dunedin, of course, nature tourism holds sway.

Visitors love to come here to look at penguins and seals and sea lions and albatrosses basking in the freedom of the natural world and relishing the fierce beauty of nature.

They love to find peace in those scenes and a certain bond with the earth that raised them and will surely return them to the dust; they see the rhythm of life, the circular nature of the seasons and they find a rich sense of meaning as they view themselves as an essential part of God's natural plan, finally understanding that life and death exist in symbiosis and neither can occur without the other; neither is an end but both a beginning.

They find meaning.

Existential nihilists could do nature tourism.

They wouldn't find meaning though.

Existential nihilists would probably pay quite a lot to visit Dunedin's nature tourism operations and discover something quite different.

They might view nature in the way German film director Werner Herzog viewed it.

They might repeat Herzog's diatribe on the matter, which at least one person on every tour could be relied on to have learned by rote.

Herzog viewed nature as "full of obscenity".

"It's just nature here is vile and base," he said.

"I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away.

"Of course, there's a lot of misery.

"But it's the same misery that's all around us.

"The trees here are in misery, the birds are in misery.

"I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain."

Existential nihilists would see the harsh reality of nature, the brutal fight for survival, the pain of the penguin and the vast loneliness of the albatross as it circumnavigates the globe in a fruitless search for nothing more than something to kill and eat.

Existential nihilists would pay good money for that experience.

They might not be inclined to stay in the best hotels of course, but there would still be good money to make from their accommodation needs.

The nihilists would generally stay in single upstairs rooms in a boarding house situation, with a single gas lamp, a single worn blanket and faulty heating.

There would be a mysterious man or woman in an adjoining room with an endless, hacking cough, and a strict landlady called, perhaps, Mrs Grubach.

They would pay a lot for that, to reproduce the feeling of home while they were away on an overseas holiday with no intrinsic meaning or value as they deal with a lingering emotional anguish stemming from their continual confrontation with nothingness.

And later, waiting at the airport for their flight home in a small group as insignificant as the entire human species, they would question the point of being on holiday when life itself was without purpose, and that was unlikely to change in the totality of existence.

"What a trip,", one might say to another.

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