The design of digital tourist technologies is traditionally situated in an understanding of tourism as an information consumption practice. In contrast, this article takes a ‘performative’ view of tourism as its starting point. The research presented is part of a larger goal, which is to propose a shift in the socio-technical environment in which the design of engaging technologies for tourists takes place. By drawing on recent approaches for understanding the lived social and material conditions of tourist places, we first show how contemporary tourism can be usefully understood as a form of networking. The article then draws on early research about the roles of locals and tourists in the making of place during the course of their networking activities, and suggests how an understanding of the social environment of tourists might be used as a grounded resource for design. Our analysis of a staged encounter between a single tourist and four locals generates insights used to shape a design space, a first step in the development of appropriate, engaging design interventions in the domain of tourism.