Finding Meaning through Tourism
The world as we know it today exists as testimony to, and evidence of, the fact that people travel. Early patterns of travel were fundamentally directed by basic human needs (finding food and shelter), exchange (trade), relationships with natural phenomena (developing new settlements, escaping droughts or floods etc.) and as a result of conquest and conflict (occupation, expulsion, forced migration and re-settlement). Such factors still exert considerable influence on a large proportion of the world’s population today, with contemporary pilgrimage routes relatively easy to identify, frequently building on established trading relationships and patterns of diaspora and relocation.
From the late seventeenth and well into the twentieth century, motivations such as curiosity, education and social betterment took over as ‘essential’ travel evolved into discretionary leisure travel, gradually moving from a pursuit of the social elite of the developed world, to a widespread activity of the masses of the developed world, supported by a highly complex network of support structures and services.
It is all too easy to dismiss contemporary international tourism as a leisure activity somehow separate and below more ‘worthy’ social practices. As a leisure activity, tourism is carried out in ‘leisure time’, as a temporary discretionary activity, and as a form of ‘reward’ for, or counter to, daily work (Spode 1994). However, the value of tourism cannot be solely judged in terms of the hedonistic recompense it brings to the individual. Nor can its value be solely expressed in relation to the economic benefits that it can undoubtedly generate. Tourism is centred on the fundamental principles of exchange between peoples and is both an expression and experience of culture (Appadurai 2002). Tourism is cultural, and its practices and structures are very much an extension of the normative cultural framing from which it emerges. As such it has a vital part to play in helping us to understand ourselves, and the multi-layered relationships between humanity and the material and non-material world we occupy and
journey through (Robinson and Phipps, 2004).
Tourism as a World of Paradoxes
There is no doubt that tourism is a global phenomenon. Few places on the planet have escaped the curiosity of the tourist, or the ability of the tour operator to package even the most remote or dangerous location (Lanfant 1980). Estimates from the World Tourism Organisation (2005) anticipate that by the year 2020 international arrivals are expected to reach over 1.56 billion. This will comprise 1.2 billion intraregional arrivals and 0.4 billion will be long-haul travellers. Europe is scheduled to be the top receiving region with 717 million tourists, followed by East Asia and the Pacific with 397 million, the Americas with 282 million, and Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Above average growth regions are scheduled to be East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. However, while such statistics are useful, from them it is both difficult and unwise to see tourism as some unified economic sector or as a ‘catch-all’ term for people’s behaviour while on holiday (Bruner 2004). Moreover, in saying that tourism is global in its scope and influence, this does not take account of the fact that a significant majority of the world’s population does not engage in tourism as tourists. Nor, does it reflect the reality of a substantive imbalance in the benefits of tourism to the advantage of the developed over the developing world.
Tourism operates at various levels and displays various paradoxes and tensions in the way it is organised and operates. At one level tourism is a highly structured and globally inter-connected industry. It operates in a globalised world of flows of transnational capital, multi-national organisations, and liberal movements of people, and ideas (Lanfant, Allcock, Bruner 1995). However, despite the apparent ‘de-territorialisation’ that would seem to underpin international tourism, the reality is still one of an industry built around the concept of the nation-state, each with their own institutions and political systems, economic needs and social/cultural capital, and all essentially competing with one another for the wealth and status that tourism can create.
On the one hand, tourism is heavily influenced by the public sector, particularly in the provision of basic infrastructure (energy, roads, runways, water supply etc.) and in the promotion of strong national imagery to attract both tourists and tourism developers. On the other hand, the tourism sector usually consists of a multitude of fragmented small and medium sized, privately owned and operated businesses, which can be difficult to co-ordinate and legislate for.
Arguably, the greatest paradox of tourism is centred upon its capacity to generate so many benefits and yet, at the same time, create pressures and problems. This is a constant tension across all parts of the world and communities that are touched by tourism. The issues involved are often highly complex and sensitive, particularly when dealing with aspects of ‘culture’ where meanings and values are often problematic to assess and are frequently contested (Saïd 1978; Clifford 1987; Cohen 1993). A clear starting point in addressing this tension is to better understand the changing nature and extent of tourism and the issues it raises in relation to the preservation and sustainable development of cultural diversity and cultural heritage resources.
The Centrality of Experience The business (large and small) dimension of international tourism can sometimes be seen as remote and impersonal, and almost disconnected from the actual experience of ‘being’ a tourist. For at its heart tourism is constructed around a series of very personal and intimate experiences as tourists encounter new and different cultures (Cohen 2004). Tourists can be impressed and emotionally moved by a work of art, a festival, a musical performance, or by a building or an object in a museum. These tangible and intangible expressions of culture act as triggers for interpreting the world past and present (Canestrini 2001). But tourists also encounter ‘living’ culture through a variety of other forms and media which express culture, and which embody both tradition and change.
Being amongst people who use a different language, eat different foods, and behave in different ways is at the very heart of tourism. Experiencing directly different ‘ways of life’, can have a valuable educational function that stretches beyond tourism, and despite advances in communicative and virtual reality technologies it is difficult to emulate except through basic human contact, encounter and exchange. In a world where much conflict is a product of cultural mis-understanding, mis-communication and a basic lack of knowledge of the ‘hows and whys’ cultures are different, exposure to, and experience of, a wide variety of cultures in the most ordinary of ways is essential.
It would be mistaken to suggest that the search for different cultural experiences lies at the root of all international tourism. Clearly, there are a vast number of tourists which seek escape from some aspects of their own environments (Enzensberger 1964), but not all, preferring instead to remain in the environmental ‘bubble’ that is sometimes associated with ‘mass tourism’. This is not to say that the individuals that go to make up so-called ‘mass’ tourism are somehow devoid of any interest in culture(s) (Wagner 1977). But it does remind us that tourism reflects a certain degree of polarization between the persistence of culture as somehow elevated and special in society, and the culture of the ordinary and the everyday.
For a substantial percentage of tourists, experiences of different or ‘other’ cultures in the settings of ordinary life presents its own challenges. As tourists, and as people, in a globalising world, we are increasingly in contact with ‘other’ cultures, able to experience the uniqueness of each and the commonalities of all. Tourism can be a powerful mechanism for understanding other places, peoples and pasts, not through selective, high profile cultural sites and activities that may not necessarily be representative of the societies they operate in, but through a more democratic and ubiquitous approach to cultures (Bouchenaki 2004). In these terms even mass tourism has important and forgotten cultural elements. Our first encounter with another culture is most likely to be through the food on the menu and the language of the waiter.
Changing Contexts and Emergent Challenges
The inter-relationships between tourism and culture have attracted considerable scholarly attention over recent years and, quite rightly, have become a focal point for policy at regional, national and international level. In policy and planning terms much has been done to ‘protect’ culture, heritage resources and related natural environments from the excesses of unplanned and uncoordinated tourism development (Robinson and Boniface, 1999). Focus has very much been on attempting to alleviate the unwanted consequences of tourism (de Kadt 1979).
However, as our understandings on the complexities of culture have evolved, and the pace and extent of change has increased within the context of globalisation, so new challenges have emerged and new ways of addressing problems are required.
Since the landmark UNESCO ‘Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’ (1972), we can broadly identify four key changes relating to the tourism and culture interface. First, our understanding of culture as a concept and its fundamental importance for the construction of social identity has both broadened and deepened considerably. The definition of cultural heritage now also relates not only to material expressions such as sites and objects, but also to intangible expressions such as language and oral tradition, social practices, rituals, festive and performative events. Culture is seen much more to refer to ‘ways of life’ and everyday practice as well as being manifest in buildings, sites and monuments. Moreover, the diversity of culture(s) is recognised to be fundamental to, and in line with, the principles of sustainable development and thus something which needs to be both “recognised and affirmed for future generations” (UNESCO, 2001).
Second, we better understand the close inter-relationships between culture and natural environments and in protecting each we are helping to enable both to protect and re-create their resources. Cultural diversity relates strongly to the concept of biodiversity in that it shapes the landscapes in which genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecological diversity occur and interact. Indeed, there is a link between the social, economic and health issues of indigenous peoples living in sites of significant biodiversity and the conservation and evolution of this biodiversity. This inter-relationship, what Posey (1999) has termed the “inextricable link”, is also at the centre of the sustainable development concept. Tourists, in consuming the natural environment may also be consuming culture in terms of the various local cultural values that may have been ascribed to a particular landscape or natural site. It is also important to recognise that tourists in approaching natural sites, do so armed with their own sets of values and categories which can conflict with those of the local community.
Third, in recognising the fact that international tourism continues to expand, we also need to recognise that it is continually changing the ways in which it operates. While the global tourism sector is highly complex and fragmented in its operations, it has significantly changed its attitudes to the cultural resources and communities it depends upon.
Clearly there is still substantive variation amongst the practices of the sector, but it is far more willing to engage in the sustainable development agenda and this relates to its increasing ability to segment the market reflecting growth in sectors such as cultural, heritage and ecologically based tourism. This on-going process of market segmentation and product differentiation fits well with programmes of developing cultural tourism and is especially important for lesser developed countries whose infrastructure or environmental/ cultural fragility may only support limited numbers of tourists.
Fourthly, and importantly, policy and planning goals are shifting away from solely dealing with tourism’s ‘impacts’ on various aspects of culture and the environment towards a more proactive role whereby tourism is integrated with other development aims and instruments to deliver key sustainable development outcomes (Rauschelbach, Schäfer, Steck 2002). There is a growing network of stakeholders involved in tourism development including local, national and international organisations eager to assist in monitoring and ameliorating any detrimental impacts on culture and also in mobilizing tourism as a force for sustaining and developing culture and economy.
Report Aim and Structure
Following the 2002 Johannesburg Summit which identified the need to explore the relationships between cultural diversity, inter-cultural dialogue and sustainable development, the central aim of this report is to assist policy makers and practitioners working in the field of tourism and culture by highlighting and critically examining the role of tourism in the processes surrounding these relationships.
The report is broadly divided up into three inter-related sections. The first discusses the centrality of the tourism and culture relationship and the way this is fundamental to social, cultural, economic and spiritual development. The discussion will relate to other key concepts such as heritage (tangible and intangible), sustainability and biodiversity.
Tourism is characterised as playing a number of roles in the development process as they relate to society, economy and environment.
Having articulated the various roles of tourism and culture, Section Two addresses issues of structure and governance which provide the changing contexts for action and implementation in the fields of tourism and cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue
and sustainable development.
Section Three draws upon the normative actions and instruments that UNESCO has developed over the years with Member States and partner organisations, and also the practical research and actions undertaken in the field of tourism, culture and development.
It highlights ways forward that address the problems and challenges discussed in sections one and two.
AUTHOR: RRMiller TourismROI
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