In this project I would like to take a look at the relationship between tourism and the people living in popular tourist locations; specifically the deep impact tourism has on local culture. This topic interests me as although I have never visited the global south myself, many of my friends and acquaintances travel there frequently for vacations. Tourism is sure to have many effects on these ‘destination’ type communities. I know that many of these destinations are in poorer areas of the world. Some significant effects that tourism has on these areas manifest themselves economically, socially and culturally. Though tourism may create jobs and stimulate the local economy there are some downsides to tourism and aspects of the influx of visitors that may be harmful to local cultures. In my research paper I will analyze the benefits that tourism has on local economies in relation to the social and cultural impact on the community. I hope to evaluate just how beneficial potentially short-term economic stimulus is in the face of potential harm to the economy in the long term, local people and local culture. I will discuss this topic globally but with a focus on Southeast Asia and specifically India. My paper will emphasize the important question: is vacationing in a ‘third world’ country potentially unethical? Or does the stimulus to a developing country’s economy justify the social and cultural implications of tourism and the development that tourism brings in the area. Looking at the ethical issues surrounding this will also be an important factor in determining whether the cultural impacts of tourism is acceptable or justifiable by the economic benefits. In my opinion, although tourism does support economic growth in many communities there is deep and irreversible cultural impact.
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In ‘Tourism in Destination Communities’ Shalini Singh looks at an idea by Jafar Jafari the author of “Encyclopedia of Tourism”. Jafari created the consolidated platforms of tourism. One of Jafari’s four platforms is advocacy- that is to say that tourism is capable of economic good. Another platform, the cautionary platform, emphasizes the importance of noting the complex interactions at the local level. The other two platforms are “Adaptancy” (which is described as ‘pro community tourism’) and Knowledge based – which is a holistic treatment for community-based tourism (Jafari cited in Singh 2003). Singh and S.W. Boyd (26-30) discuss relationships between tourism and destination communities in terms of ‘win-win,’ ‘win-lose,’ ‘lose-win’ or ‘lose-lose’ paradigms (Carter and Lowman, 1944; Nepal, 2000). Examples of ‘win-win’ situations do exist and this indicates that tourism can indeed be economically beneficial to a destination community. The example given by Boyd and Singh is that of Ayers rock (Uluru) which is one of Australia’s most famous tourist attractions. Although Australia is not a country typically considered to be part of the global south I believe this example is relevant as the aboriginal communities in the area could easily be marginalized and exploited by tourism. The community however takes an active role by defining their relationship with tourism as having control and choice. (Mercer cited in S.W. Boyd and S. Singh: 1994:37). The community participates by providing educational services, which allows them to convey that the religious and cultural significance of Uluru is something to be respected. (Wells, cited in S.W. Boyd and S. Singh 1996:37). The local businesses in the area benefit and are owned by the people of the aboriginal community. This example is congruent to Jafari’s platforms of Advocacy and Adaptancy and it shows tourism in this scenario as ‘pro community’ and capable of economic good. As this situation is economically beneficial to this area, without compromising or de-valuing the local culture, it is an excellent means of development. Another example where the local community benefits is the ‘win-lose’ situation, a very salient example being Cuba. The community benefits economically, although mass tourism does not. This is achieved through policies and marketing that emphasizes quality tourism by restricting the number and type of tourists (high spenders, low numbers). The tourism is marketed for exclusivity and affluence and this is done through selective marketing and catering the services towards wealthier people. Cuba’s tourism industry’s markets strategically to target Canadian ‘snowbirds’ who also take long-term vacations in Florida (Peters 2002:4). Their vacationing for long periods of time in a US location and their ability to spend US currency indicates their affluence. Another strategy is the development of golf courses in the area. Miguel Figueras, a tourism ministry economist and advisor in Cuba, says that golf is a feature that can attract higher spending tourists (Peters 2002:5). Strategic tourism planning allows a country to tap into the wealth of the global north’s wealthiest tourists allowing maximum economic benefit without mass sharing of what they have to offer.
However there are many situations in which local economies lose. This is especially common in coastal-resort based tourism along the Mediterranean coast. These developments only offer short term economic gain and result in long term loss in terms of the community as well as the environment. Although tourism does create many jobs, including direct employment (jobs in hotels and restaurants), indirect employment (jobs not a result of direct tourist spending- such as laundries and banking), and induced employment (jobs created in the community as a result of increased income of members in the community) the majority of jobs are seasonal and part time (D. Ioannides 2003). In addition often much of the money spent by tourists leaves the country. The majority of the money spent by tourists on their vacations goes towards their travel costs and their accommodations. This means the money leaves the country and goes to airlines and transnational corporations who run hotel chains. This can result in a good portion of local people sharing their surroundings with tourists without ever actually seeing or experiencing any economic benefits themselves (Krotz 1996:215). Although tourist spending may add an influx of foreign currency to an economy, as well as create a bigger market in terms of demands for goods, which in theory can lower prices, it is important to consider that ‘while tourism receipts rise, agriculture’ output declines’ (James Mack, Tourism and the Economy). This is a result of fewer people working in the agricultural sector. In that case the net profit of tourism is actually less than it initially seems, once the loss from agriculture is taken into account.
Although some economic benefits resulting from tourism are apparent, there are definite burdens placed upon the destination community. A very prominent challenge is the resident’s view of visitors and their relationship with them, as outlined by M. Fagence (Tourism and Local Society and Culture). Residents have a negative attitude towards tourists if they do not see immediate and clear economic benefits of their presence, especially in the form of jobs and income. Contrary to James Mack’s theory that the tourists create a larger market for goods, thus lowering the prices, residents blame tourists for a rise in the price of goods. In a qualitative study by Neha Kala (2008) findings show that tourists are also seen as the cause of increased criminal activity and reduced moral standards by the host community. This is where we have to consider tourism beyond the impacts to the economy. In communities with rich traditional backgrounds some residents see the influence of visiting tourists as compromising to traditional values, as the affluent lifestyles of visitors can be appealing and seductive to the younger generations in the area. The influx of visitors brings the possibility of sometimes unwelcome social or cultural change. In Rajasthan traditional elders often scold children for speaking to tourists. (Joseph 2007:204). Locals see tourism as an exporter of Western lifestyle. (Kala: 2008) Across India, Western dress is popular amongst young males who wear jeans, shirts and baseball caps. (Joseph 2007:211). This is the result of many youth trying to emulate Western tourists (Kala: 2008). Some facets of Western lifestyle however not only replace traditional culture, but also are directly contradictory to them. A priest in Pushkar was quoted in India Today saying “The youth here find the openness in foreign girls too tempting”. (Joseph 2007:211) This problem is amplified if the host community does not recognize that the behaviour of most tourists are atypical to how they normally behave and that the behaviours displayed by tourists are reserved for times of recreation, and are not the tourist’s usual behaviour or even their usual moral standards.
Most concerning of M. Fagence’s findings are that residents blame tourists for reducing the significance of local culture by trivializing and making a commodity of it. In an article by Rosaleen Duffy this idea of culture as a commodity is expanded on. Duffy outlines how tourists are often looking for an ‘authentic cultural experience’; however what is considered authentic is nearly always defined by the tourist, resulting in the tourist not really looking for cultural understanding but to serve some other self-serving purpose. Tourists conceptualize their travel stories in a way that assists them in narrating their self-identity. Tourists travel as a means to escape, to broaden the mind, or for ‘self discovery’. An illustration of Duffy’s view that our society uses travel for self-defining and self-narrating purposes, as well as a means to ‘understand culture’ and for ‘self discovery’ is the popular movie Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts. In the movie, ‘Liz’ sets outs after her divorce to experience the culture in Italy, India and then Bali. The trailer includes many consecutive images of Liz eating ‘authentic Italian pizza’, praying in an old stony temple, touching a painted elephant, brightly coloured flowers being thrown at an Indian wedding, and biking through farmland past villagers carrying baskets on their heads. Liz in the movie is desperate to “marvel at something” and this is the very notion that Duffy presents in her research as motives that are ‘a felt need for respite from the exigencies of modern life, and/or as ‘authentic’ projects of self-discovery’. In her article, Duffy cites Urry (1994:236-238) who argues that tourism can be reduced to the consumption of signs, images and texts. Evidence that tourism is the consumption of pre-conceived images is in Hillary Brenhouse’s article (July 22nd, 2010- prior to the release of the movie) where she describes recent vacation packages marketed by luxury hotels and spas to recreate the transformative ‘Eat Pray Love’ journey. By defining an entire culture into consumable signs and images, tourists participate in the further manifestation of orientalism created by the tourism industry ‘reinforcing images that create a sense of “placelessness” and even timelessness’ (Dann, 1996b: 125, cited in Duffy).
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A demonstration of tourists being consumers of discourses of placelessness and timelessness is the popular tourist destination Rajasthan, in India. The two most marketed marquees of Rajasthan are “Royal” and “Colourful”. (Henderson 2007:72). These are the two main features the tourists are looking to ‘consume’ when they visit. These discourses are prominent in the ‘naming’ of different locations of the province by tourists and tourism industry. Jaipur is referred to as the ‘Pink City’ and Jodhpur is known as the ‘Blue City’. Royalty links Rajasthan back to the past. Medieval India is romanticized and guests will experience an encounter with a royal past. In this way the ‘ Authentic Rajasthan experience’ is reduced to a few signs and symbols. The most prominent example of a marketing of ‘placelessness and timelessness’ is the “Chokhi Dhani” Resort. Located throughout the province of Rajasthan with a few locations elsewhere in western India, this resort is chaired by a NRI (Non-Resident Indian) stationed in Dubai. The Government of India heralds the chain of “Chokhi Dhanis” as “India’s most innovative Tourism Project” (official website). The resort is described as a ‘Five-star village resort” and includes fifty-five ‘Royal cottages’ and eight ‘Haveli suites’, Havelis being the traditional residences of local royalty. This ethnic village includes conference rooms, spa, fitness, and accepts all major credit cards. What we can conclude from this is that the desire of foreign tourists to experience a sense of ‘timelessness and placelessness’ is understood and capitalized on. Although this may be trivializing of local culture and history it is important to consider here that many locals are directly participating- and in a way heritage tourism gives them a type of ownership. The foreigner’s desire to see something that they preconceive as ‘authentic’ is understood and cashed in on. Most respondents of Kala’s study agreed that tourism encourages the mass production of ‘pseudo-traditional’ arts and that many non-traditional artisans are attracted to this work. This propagates tourists’ misconceptions because these ‘traditional arts’ often bought as souvenirs allow the tourist to physically carry the discourse home with them. In some ways however this type of activity increases a community’s sense of pride. The revitalization of some traditional arts such as dance and the propagation of traditional fairs are deemed to be a positive effect of tourism. An example of this is festival of Teej; tourist’s interest in the festival ensures that every year it continues to be extravagant. Tourists also have a positive effect on the up keeping of historical and religious heritage sites as a result of tourist interest in them. (Kala: 2008) A preserved site is the Ghats in Pushkar, a Hindu pilgrimage site. An increase in popularity of eastern spirituality in the Western world brings many tourists here. Although this creates some inconvenience for Hindu devotees, ownership is taken through religious rhetoric aimed at tourists. Many signs around the Ghats include instructions about how tourists should and should not behave in this place of religious significance. The local priests, similar to the aboriginal’s at Ulurru, define the significance of this site. However concerned the priests are for the sanctity of the area they are still willing to ‘commodify’ the religious experience and often perform simplified prayer service or ‘puja’ for western tourists at four times the price of a native pilgrim. (Joseph: 2007) Although this active role is taken by the locals, religious devotees, and the government, the culture and tradition here is still made available to a consumer for a price. The government protecting the area for the economic benefit can also be seen as the ultimate commodification. This puts a sticker price on the country’s religion, culture and history. Nothing indicates ownership more than putting a price on one’s belonging. Although many of these destinations are places of escape for tourists, and tourism may introduce some economic benefits to the local area. I believe that the degradation and trivialization of the local culture that ensues is not worth the price. It is however important to remember that as residents of the global north we are poor judges of what is truly beneficial to these regions.
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