Making tracks in pursuit of the wild: mobilising nature and tourism on a (com)modified African Savannah WILLIAM O’BRIEN AND WAIRIMũ NGARũ IYA NJAMBI
An Expedia.com advertisement depicts an adolescent girl who is fascinated by African wildlife. Her interest is evident in her attention to a collection of plush toy giraffes, elephants, zebras, and other animals that her father has brought as gifts from his many business trips. Sitting at his laptop, the father observes his daughter playing and then returns his attention to the computer screen where he sees a high number of accumulated Expedia rewards points. With a click of his mouse, the duo appear on an African savannah landscape, riding in an open-top Land Rover, and observing giraffes and other wildlife. The ad ends with an acacia tree in the frame as their vehicle drives towards the sunset. The landscape imagery is iconic, mobilising a desire for travel by presenting a common safari fantasy. This depiction of the apparently single father and his daughter highlights a marketing awareness of trends towards greater diversity in family structure, while in contrast with these social changes, the portrayal of the white, middleclass, suburbanite pair suggests common and durable ideas about ‘wild nature’ in Africa. In a changing world, the ad seems to suggest some places and things can be relied upon to represent the eternal and primeval. In this familiar tourist imaginary, as Igoe points out, the African wildlife park is ‘portrayed as exotic and inhabiting an unspoiled world that no longer exists in the West’ (Igoe 2004: 14).