Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Cultural Tourism: Does it Help or Exploit Local Communities?

Cultural Tourism: Does it Help or Exploit Local Communities?

By JoAnna Haugen

On our towns and traditions tour, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy about the fact that catering to tourists required additional buildings to be built and modern plumbing to be installed even though the locals themselves did not appear to take advantage of either. Their homesteads felt like living history museums more than homes, with their spotless kitchens, bench seating and tables of goods spread out for purchase. Though we were experiencing traditional cooking, crafts and gardening, I felt like we were doing so in the context of tourism, not culture.

And yet, as we bounced along the road, passing small houses made of adobe where children and chickens ran freely, I began weighing the merits of cultural tourism in the context of sustainability. Satisfying tourists’ interests in order to provide economic stability is not the answer to responsible cultural tourism. Every van that drives down the dirt road and traveler who visits the homesteads leaves behind waste, traces of their own cultures and a carbon footprint. This kind of travel requires delicate planning so that sustainability and authenticity are maintained and local traditions, cultures and ways of life are protected.

But if cultural tourism helps a particular tribe or indigenous group maintain its traditions, isn’t that a form of sustainability? Without cultural tourism in the hills outside of Huatulco, would the local communities have been able to afford to build a dispensary and playground? Would they have running water and electricity?

If the vans of cruise passengers weren’t passed from homestead to homestead by van, would the farmers who grew cacti and coffee be able to afford to grow their crops without a captive audience interested in buying? If the women weaving hats and fans weren’t able to sell their products to out-of-town patrons several times a week, would they continue to make fiber dyes and weave, and would they find any reason to teach their children how to do the same?

Pushing that idea even further, if the people living in yurts in Mongolia, mud huts in the Kenyan desert and adobe homes in Oaxaca weren’t able to make a living off their land, would they give it all up and move to the closest big city, where they would be more likely to find mainstream jobs? A changing indigenous culture starts with one generation and slowly seeps through time until tribal languages are lost and traditional recipes are commercialized and turned into quick-eat microwave meals.

So were the stops of the towns and traditions tour really people’s homes? Yes, but with modifications to please the wayward traveler. Did we learn about authentic traditions? Yes, but with mass market appeal. With that in mind, is there a way to balance authentic cultural practices with outsiders’ interests in exploring them in a manner that is mutually—and equally—beneficial? That’s the question I don’t know how to answer.


* Cultural Tourism is the subset of tourism concerned with culture, especially its arts, heritage and cultural events. It generally focuses on traditional communities who have diverse customs, unique form of art and distinct social practices, which basically distinguishes it from other types/forms of culture.

Culture and creative industries are increasingly being used to promote destinations and enhance their competitiveness and attractiveness. Many locations are now actively developing their tangible and intangible cultural assets as a means of developing comparative advantages in an increasingly competitive tourism marketplace, and to create local distinctiveness in the face of globalisation.


At 15 February 2012 at 18:33 , Blogger Sierramay said...

I think the tour operators should communicate with the locals about this. The locals may be willing to share their dwellings as they are to the tourists for added livelihood, but if they have any ill-feelings or they need some improvements like plumbing, it would not be acceptable to deny them of these necessities.

Villas in pattaya


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