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Appealing To Masses

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Written by Matt   
Monday, 26 July 2010 12:14

In the world of developmental psychology, treatment there is something called the moderate novelty principle, which suggests that the best conditions for acceptance – granted, a very broad term – occur when there is a moderate degree of novelty. This is to say, conditions new enough to spark interest but not so foreign as to be confusing or overwhelming. This principle fundamentally explains the trends, tastes, and preferences of human beings both in the past and the present. Not ironically, it’s also my primary evidence for why Panama will continue to grow exponentially.

When I say sustainable tourism in Panama, I’m not referring to socially conscious visitors that stay in villages powered by the sun eating Muesli all day, but rather the raw staying power Panama has in the spectrum of global travel destinations.

The moderate novelty principle was developed in the early 1900’s by a Swiss psychologist named Jean Piaget who focused his research on children and what factors most held their attention. In its simplest version, Piaget’s experiment contained three scenarios.

The first offered toddlers a toy they were familiar with, a plastic building block, lets say. The second offered them that same toy with some small variant innovation, for instance, a building block with knobs and holes that could be attached to other building blocks (think old school Legos). The third offered the toddlers the same Lego toy but with the addition of some technology: something like a building block that could change shape by the way it was twisted or turned.

To us, no one of these toys would set itself apart. But in a giant majority of the cases, that’s exactly what one was: children preferred, by enormous odds, the second toy. From this (and further experimentation), Piaget concluded that children were scientifically wired to prefer things that are both a) new but b) still have an element the children understood and were familiar with.

This notion, to me, is incredible. It explains so many things! Like why I loved the first seasons of Saved By The Bell but never watched The College Years. It justifies my obsession with Nintendo that ended promptly with the release of Nintendo64 (and that retarded three-pronged controller – what were they thinking?). And it makes me realize exactly why every traveling American under thirty nowadays is automatically labeled a douche bag: it’s because we’re not a moderate novelty anymore. We’re overkill.

This is all to say, that since a disturbingly large percentage of today’s adults make decisions not unlike infants, it makes total sense to apply his theory to a buffet of life’s ambiguities I’ve been trying to understand. Principally, whether or not Panama tourism is sustainable. (Note: When I say sustainable tourism in Panama, I’m not referring to socially conscious visitors that stay in villages powered by the sun eating Muesli all day, but rather the raw staying power Panama has in the spectrum of global travel destinations.) Will Panama make a run at becoming a legitimate world travel power?

The answer, which I believe to be yes, is founded mostly in Panama’s aspiration to cater to all types of tourists: to have its proverbial cake and eat it too.

Let’s assume (and forgive me, specialty entrepreneurs) that Panama continues on the track that it has demonstrated in the past and proclaims to envision for the future: an expansive and multifaceted tourism hub made up of shopping, gambling, eco-tourism, beaches, mountains, history, modernity, culture, cheap things, expensive things, things that your wife shouldn’t know about…etc.

These charms don’t just appeal to a wide array of personality types. When pooled together, they form an identity: a versatile, all-pleasing identity with just enough degree of the exotic: Hong Kong mashed with Costa Rica: developed city meets banana republic. It would not be unfair to say that in their own individual ways, all these characteristics combined would make Panama sort of unique.

But if, as Piaget’s theory would lend us to believe, a destination that’s too similar to home becomes boring, and a destination too foreign becomes intimidating, we eventually deduce that the tastes and preferences are based balancing two things: novelty and familiarity. To try and strike this balance (in the way that, say, Costa Rica has with rainforest/luxurious hotels or in the way that South Africa has with safaris/biologist guides) would be valiant for Panama. However, in doing so, Panama would be diluting its desire to please everyone. This is why a watered down approach to everything just might work.

The masses of global tourism – and don’t be fooled, that’s exactly who Panama is going after – aren’t drawn to cultural immersion sessions in the Darien for the same reason Piaget’s children didn’t choose the third toy. It’s too unusual, too extreme, too new. Similarly, no one wants to visit a sterile Panama made up of American chain restaurants and hotels.

Creating a Panama that is neither too lame nor too intense is one responsibility of the government; determining what level of nicheness they’re willing to embark investing upon is another. Most travelers will seek out new and exciting destinations, but if they’re exposed to too many unknown (or unwarranted) stimuli, they’re likely to become anxious.

Because tourism thrives most (ie. makes the most cash) in situations of moderate novelty, Panama’s tourism master plan should simply mimic popular demand. It’s not the most authentic road to take, but according to Piaget, it would theoretically make the largest splash.


Comments (1)Add Comment
You hit the nail on the head boy!
written by Kurt , August 15, 2010

You hit the nail right on!
All these years I've been trying to find a way to explain why I don't love Panama, specially Panamanians. They try to hard to be cool and I cant's stand that... talking about psychology I think they feel inferior and they overcompensate with everything they have going their way.
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