My topic was sex and romance tourism in Tunisia. I often heard from tourists visiting Tunisia that many felt disturbed by sexual approaches by locals or are disappointed in their relationship. From locals I heard that tourists are often 'easy targets'. I was interested in knowing how sexual or romantic relations between tourists and locals might have further consequences and how locals see this.
While reading on the internet I have understood that many female sex or romance tourists see themselves as victims of the 'fake' romance theatre pieces that some locals perform. However, my interviewees, who were locals in the tourism business, perceived a far bigger problem, which was unemployment and lack of opportunities for the young people. It was not necesarrily legitimized, but it has surely changed my perception on this issue and how two different groups perceive each other. Many participants have changed my point of view on this matter and they showed that there are quite some problems within Tunisia that are the underlying cause of what is happening and how the tourism sector could actually positively contribute to that, but isn't currently. Also did I like that I have talked to hotel managers as well as cleaning ladies, who all have their own view on society. Next to that, it was an entry point for some participants to talk about their own love life, which was also not boring at all!
Barriers during the thesis
Although I thought that this would have been a very difficult topic to approach people on, it was to my surprise openly discussed. I was afraid that some people would misunderstand my position as researcher, so I did everything to stay 'proffesional'. For example, the strangest moment for was when I once got a man to tell me all of his sexual adventures with tourists, this was not an answer to any of my research related questions. The hardest part for me was to stay focused. After each interview I found a lot of interesting stories which made me want to adjust my research. However, these distractions made it hard to the topic that I eventually stuck to, because my conversations sometimes diverted from the interview format. I would try to pay attention to this.
Advise for future students
When discussing difficult topics, show that you are a serious student. I had a statement by the university in which all my contact details were, which I would sign and give to them. This already shows more trustworthiness. Also writing along showed to some people that I am not trying to find out gossips on sex and romance tourists, but merely I was seriously interested in what the dynamics were. Don't be scared to direct the conversation from time to time also. Sometimes you can be so much into your own topic, but that doesn't mean that others will completely understand your goal or interest. I was also quite shy to approach people, because I felt like I was disturbing them. However, I would always give the option to come back later and this was in all cases accepted (or they would immediately make time for me). People are more nice and more helpful than you might imagine! In Tunisia I have had family and friends who were thinking along with me. However, this was not always useful, so just keep on trying in all possible ways and don't give up. There is always someone there who will tell you things that might change your perspective completely, which was actually my drive for keeping interest in my research!