The Authenticity in the tourism experience
Touristic consciousness over the experience “is motivated by the desire for authentic experience” (MacCannel, 1973: 597). Tourists demand authenticity. According to Cohen (1979) and MacCannel (1973) the experimental tourist is the one that strives on the authentic experience of people and places. This kind of tourist seeks to discover him or herself through the experimentation of the ‘Other’. Other authors claim that the role of authenticity has been perceived as a key driver for satisfaction, since authenticity shapes the consumers’ interpretation of the tourism experience (Ritchie, Tung & Ritchie, 2011).
According to MacCannel (1973; 1989) tourism experiences can never be authentic since they have been set up for tourism. Cohen (1988: 372) explains “tourists, who are apparently permitted to penetrate beyond the ‘front’ areas of the visited society into its ‘back’, are in fact cheated. Such back regions are frequently nonauthentic ‘false backs’, insidiously staged for tourism consumption”. Other authors challenge this idea by arguing that the tourist experiences’ authenticity, however staged, is what s/he believes to see (Wang,1999). For the tourist the experimentation of the other culture is authentic because s/he sees it as genuine as it can be, but for the performers the authenticity can be staged and they can ‘play native’ in order to appear authentic.
What do you think? Are you experiencing authenticity in your travels? Or are you just having a staged cultural engagement?
This pic here: a tourist wearing a "local vietnamese" hat. When I was taking this photo he actually asked the merchants to move a bit more to his right so he would be able to take a typical vietnamese experience picture... from his smartphone. Check out more of our gallery of #TouristBeingTourist and #TouristicBehaviour and tag us if you want to share yours @bitacora_travel on Instagram!
Wang (1999) states, that in tourism, the use of authenticity is mainly in a museum-linked situation:
For example, products of tourism such as works of art, festivals, rituals, cuisine, dress, housing and so on, are usually described as ‘authentic’ or ‘nonauthentic’ in terms of the criterion of whether they are made or enacted by local people according to custom or tradition. And in this sense, authenticity refers to traditional culture and origin, a sense of the genuine, the real or the unique.
The same author reviews the theories of authenticity and finds three important distinctions. First: “the authentic experience is caused by the recognition of the toured objects as authentic” (Wang, 1999: 351). In this kind of authenticity the tourist believes he or she has gained an authentic experience. Nevertheless, this authenticity can also be valued by what MacCannel (1973) called ‘staged authenticity’. Second: constructed authenticity is a result of social construction in which things are not authentic because of their inherent authenticity, but because they are constructed as such by perspectives, beliefs and powers (Wang, 1999). The third kind of authenticity is named existential authenticity, in which the toured objects have little meaning in the authenticity experienced. It is mostly based on the activities carried out by the tourist.
MacCannel (1989) and Cohen (1988) agreed that the modern tourist is in a quest of authenticity in other places and people different from his own world through the ideas of ‘the pristine’, ‘the primitive’, ‘the natural’, the ‘Other’ that has been left out of the development of modernity. Chambers (2009) disagrees with this notion and argues that the modern tourist seeks to experience the diversity and significance when travelling, which has led to a more critical change in the way the objects of tourism are presented. He explains that the theory MacCannel exposes can no longer explain modern tourism. According to Chambers (2009: 355), MacCannel claimed “the tourist portrays the modern tourist as an alienated individual forced by the vagaries of industrial capitalism to live an inauthentic existence, hopelessly in search of some kind of primordial and thereby authentic experience”. However, this author (Chambers, 2009: 355) states:
In many subsequent theories and observations, the tourist is often portrayed as a gullible and non-indiscriminating individual who can easily be led to believe that the superficial and stereotypical is representative of the real thing. Here, I think that the presentation of culture and heritage in tourism development has begun to shift from concerns with authenticity to an appreciation of significance.
The article by Chambers suggests that the importance of interpretation lies in identifying the appreciation of the processes of the cultures in their way of interaction and negotiation of the meaningful; this will give quality to the tourism experience, and therefore success in the future of the tourism industry.
Did you red the previous post about the brief introduction of the Tourism Experience? well, talking about that... inevitably, the satisfaction of the tourism experience is linked with the level of authenticity.
Authenticity involves a search of the authentic and traditional life and surroundings, which in experimental tourism implies a contact and interaction with the host community, as intimate as it can be. Cohen (1988) states “tourism typically involves some encounter with the ‘Other’. The deeper the experience sought by the tourist, the more strongly will she or he tend to embrace this ‘Other’”. The author claims that the more experienced the tourists the more selective they become in their judgement of authenticity. But in order to be experienced the tourist must get close with the natives. Nevertheless, this author also comments that there is also a contradiction of subjectivity in the quest for authenticity where the tourist gets very close with the locals, since he or she loses critical capacity to determinate authenticity (Cohen, 1988).
So, this makes us reflect a bit more doesn't it? What do you think about your travels and how you experience them now? Are you living the authentic experience when visiting a foreign country?
Keep reading, I will get into theories of the 'Other' soon enough! Let me know what you think about this theoretical posts and share your thoughts!