Saturday, March 20, 2010

When the Consumer is an Individual, Travel Marketing Has More Moving Parts.

This Panama Canal cruise I’m taking, I never waited for Princess Cruises to market it to me. I reached out and selected the destination and the means of getting there.

Maybe it’s because I’m on the leading edge of the famous Baby Boomer generation. Or I’m one of the group that broadly wants to keep learning, connecting and engaging with the world. Maybe I’m an individual and not really part of a group at all (though I find this last bit hard to believe).

Nevertheless, taking the Princess cruise ship south and west to the Canal is a personal choice that’s years in the making. When I was growing up, the Panama Canal was heroic – in many ways it still is.

When President Jimmy Carter signed the 1977 treaty which agreed to return 60% of the Canal Zone to Panama two years later, I was against that action, not because Panamanians didn’t deserve to control their own territory but because the Canal was so much a part of my historical understanding of America’s manifest destiny. And after all, I wasn’t against it that much.

In the middle of that now-foggy set of events, in ’78, David McCullough published his superb study, The Path Between the Seas, about the creation of the Canal. I read it immediately and it’s been in my bookshelves ever since; I re-read it every couple of years: Such a very American story.

Traveling to the Panama Canal hasn’t been all that difficult in the past century. But mental barriers exist, or used to: Time, location, affordability. Mentally, the Canal has come more and more within my reach.

I’ve seen enough jungles. There’s a limit on the number of on-the-water adventures I want to have. But this event comes down to imagination. Pictures like those above, by Argentine photographer Edgardo Balduccio, mean far more to me than eco-tourism (a merely trendy appeal).

Look closely at the date on the Miraflores Locks Control House…1913. It’s the year President Howard Taft said the Canal would be completed, the year that the US started paying Panama for its lease of the Canal.  MV Island Princess is really a time machine. One with a lot of very moving parts.

Photographs © Edgardo Balduccio, 2008. All rights reserved.

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