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Engagement with the locals in the tourism experience


Going back into the whole theory we have been posting about, now we know that the “tourism experience” is a problematic concept that has been constructed through the tourism literature with a variety of dimensions. The tourists seek to escape their ordinary life traveling to other places with other people that cannot be found in their daily lives and environment (check out what the backpackers are saying about being a tourist or a traveler in our Projects). The tourism experience can be influenced by positive and negative factors and supporting experiences. However, the experience is enriched with the quality of the authenticity of the experience. Travel is motivated by the desire to experience authenticity, which often implies the quest to experience the Otherness (I will meticulously dedicate a post to this subject, its super interesting!). Authenticity can be staged and many authors challenge the concept since it is subjective.

A new theory on authenticity focuses on the appreciation of the negotiation of the meaningful. Nevertheless, tourists are often in the search for an authentic experience, especially in ethnic tourism (no worries, I'll be talking about this soon, just keep following). There is an important factor that influences the quality of the touristic experience: the level of involvement and interaction with the locals.

Malinowski (very well known anthropologist) is his fieldwork in the 20's, wrote (1922): “Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone on a tropical beach close to a native village, while the launch or dinghy which has brought you sails away out of sight… Imagine further that you are a beginner, without previous experience, with nothing to guide you and no one to help you…This exactly describes my first initiation into field work” Sounds a bit like a tourist, hey?

In cases where there is not a specific destination or a product, collaborative theories emerge as an option to explain the involvement in tourism planning and development. Nonetheless, the tourism experience is based on the level of engagement and interaction between the locals and the tourists.

What do you think? Do you agree that your traveling experiences are enriched by the level of rapport with the locals?

Picture credits: Tourism Concern.

Community involvement in the tourism industry has a variety of discussions that can be addressed. On one hand there is a trend that argues that the involvement of tourists with local populations represents an opportunity for indigenous people to gain economic independence and cultural revival; on the other hand it can present a threat to their culture because of hegemonisation, and incorporation to the globalised market (Butler & Hinch, 2007).

McIntosh and Gupta (1977) argued that in the planning of tourism there must be a framework that involves the communities, since tourism can provide an opportunity for economic benefits for local communities. They also sustained that there must be an infrastructure to provide recreational facilities for hosts and guests, and that tourism should be encouraged to be consistent with the socio cultural and economic philosophy of the destination.

Murphy (1983: 184) analyses different touristic planning strategies in developed countries and concludes:

The growing emphasis on a community’s responsibility should continue since the industry uses the community as a resource, sells it as a product, and in the process it affects the lives of everyone. A comprehensive regional approach to planning must continue if the fragmented industry and its customers, who cross so many political, geographic and administrative boundaries and are to be coordinated into a meaningful tourism product. What is needed is some framework which can pull these established trends together and permit tourism to be integrated into established planning practices and policies.

Gray (1989) defines ‘collaboration’ as a way in which all stakeholders can work together to effectively resolve a conflict and recognise the potential advantages of working together. In this line of thought, Jamal and Getz (1995) explain that there must be a collaboration effort between stakeholders, where authorities should manage the private sector’s interests with the local population’s needs, and wants to promote economic health and sustainable development of the destination. These authors emphasise the need of the community involvement in the planning of tourism development such as Community Based Tourism (CBT as known in the tourism theory and practice).

Tourism allows for the interaction and engagement with the host community (Jennings, 2006; Murphy, 2001; White & White, 2009). In many types of touristic experience the level of engagement with the locals is of vital importance. Hwang, Lee and Chen (2005: 145) hold that “Involvement is the level of perceived personal importance evoked by a stimulus (or stimuli) within a specific situation. Involvement is an important moderating variable in the decision-making processes of consumer behaviour”. Smith and Robinson (2006) also hold that tourism surveys show that the friendliness and contact with local people rates high in positive features about a destination.

Do you think that a place is even better when the local people are positive about your intrusion?

Gándara, Fraiz and Alén (2007) explain that local populations are key components in the quality of the tourist’s destination. The authors argue that involvement of the local community in the development of touristic activity, as well as its participation in the profits generated by the development of this activity, are required for achieving a quality touristic destination and therefore in its experience, since only in this way will the local community be committed. And so, the local lifestyle has to be a key element in the production of touristic experience (see our previous posts about The Tourism Experience, if you haven't read them!).

In tourism literature, most of the studies about community engagement are dedicated to those cases in which the communities are involved in the planning and development of the tourism product and destination. In such literature special emphasis is made on Community Based Tourism, ecotourism, and sustainable tourism. Yet there seems to be a lack of studies regarding the involvement and interaction of tourists with locals within the quality of the tourism experience.

Yu and Lee (2014) explain that although there have been few attempts to investigate in depth, the intercultural relations engaged in between the tourists and the locals are significantly important in the tourist satisfaction of the experience. According to these authors, for the tourism experience the interaction between tourists and locals makes the tourists more appealing and valuable.

Richardson (1996) studied the experiences of international visitors engaging with local residents and concluded that the contact between these two groups speeded the ‘discovery of the self’ for the tourist. Woosnam and Norman (2010) developed a system of identifying the measure for intercultural relations according to four scales: Shared beliefs, shared behaviour, interaction, and emotional solidarity. Woosnam (2012) argued that emotional solidarity influenced the attitudes not only of the tourists but also of the residents toward tourism development. Yu and Lee (2014) based their study on analysing attributes of the tourist-local contact such as: the discovering of the self, recognising of the economic and politic power of their own culture, a globalised way of thinking, discovering the ‘back stage’ of the local culture, and different levels of depth of conversations between the tourists and locals. The authors concluded that international tourists seek to overcome the limitations of tourism in the commercial system, this leads to a change in the tourists’ attitude toward the local residents and their culture.

Now that we have talked about it.. "The discovery of the self", let us know what you think about discovering more about yourself when traveling, you think its true? Do you feel you get to know yourself better when you travel? Have you ever thought that having contact with a cultural "Other" brings out qualities or personalities in yourself and therefore you rediscover your self through it?


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I'm passionate about sharing and connecting with adventures, stories, tourism experiences that allow us to reflect on our place in the world and the way we travel.

 

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Where Anthropology meets Tourism

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