Consider: The Asian Educational Tourist

Summertime in Boston is unique.  Students are away, leaving a relatively empty city for the rest of us to enjoy.  It gets hot, but it’s also a touch cooler than New York, allowing frugal homeowners to kill the a/c and enjoy the fresh air for nights at a time.  The eleven feet of snow we shoveled last winter now seems worth it as a story to tell the grandkids.  Almost.

But the summer does bring tourists.  Boston’s not the tourist mecca that Paris or New York is, but we do get our fair share.  And those of us who live in Cambridge experience a particular brand of tourist: the Asian Educational Institution Tourist.

Over just the last few years, the number of tour buses that bring thousands of families from China and Korea to tour MIT and Harvard are growing, to the point where Cantabrigians are complaining about buses hogging parking spots in Harvard Square and violating “no trucks” rules on narrow residential streets.  But in my experience, the tourists are polite, curious, and (most importantly) great for the local economy.

But there’s a dark cloud to these visits from the Far East: for every ten tour buses of Asian tourists I see parked at MIT, I don’t see a single one delivering American tourists.  Sure, there are Americans on the campus tours, but our numbers are dwarfed by our foreign counterparts. Cambridge is a global mecca of educational excellence, and this idea is clearly something that the Asian tourists understand and seek to experience.  With every double parked tour bus, the value that a rising continent places on education is on vivid display. 

With a global economy that increasingly values creativity and devalues muscle, these values are probably in the right place.  Perhaps the Duck Boats should make a quick stop at 77 Massachusetts Avenue every now and then.