Engagement with the locals part II. (Introduction to Indigenous and Ethnic tourism)
An important branch of tourism that must be noted is what Butler and Hinch (2007) call indigenous tourism. They refer to indigenous tourism as the tourism activities where the traditions and the culture of people and places are the essence of the attraction, so in this way they are directly involved; and in many cases they are the ones that control the tourism activities. Ethnic tourism involves traveling in order to experience the cultural expressions and the lifestyle of the Other (McIntosh & Goeldner, 1995), which implies that the quality of the experience is based on ideas of the “exotic otherness”.
The question is, to what extent do tourists authentically experience and engage in the traditions and way of life of the other?
The backpacker experimenting indigenous tourism in Sa Pa, Vietnam. A location known for this kind of tourism activity.
Ethnic tourists try to be involved in first hand experience with the practices of indigenous cultures (Harron & Weiler, 1992). This idea has led to negative criticism that claims that this kind of tourism consumes and commodifies the host culture (van der Berghe, 1994). What are your thoughts on this idea?
Moscardo and Pearce (1999: 418) explain that:
The link between the issue of authenticity in tourism generally and ethnic tourism in particular is an active area of debate. In particular, a distinction has been noted between ethnic tourism situations which involve a purely visual or object oriented form of communication (such as arts, crafts, and architecture) and those which involve visitors in an active performing arts context, such as dance, living history, or interactive drama presentations. In the interactive domain a number of commentators have argued that it is desirable to redefine and reshape the original conception of authenticity.
This entails that the quest for the ethnic tourist is to experience and interact with the local culture in a visual or active way; in that manner tourists are left with the satisfaction of their experience and a rich understanding of the visited culture (Moscardo & Pearce, 1999). In her work, Hughes (1995) notes two kinds of ethnic tourists; first, a post industrial group entailed to fulfil sustainable tourism practices, being aware of the impacts of their contact with the ethnic population and therefore act responsibly in contact situations. And second, the postmodern group, aware of the non-authentic situations and more active embracing diverse experience opportunities. Their eagerness to interact with the locals through touristic experience, defines tourists belonging to either post-industrial or postmodern groups. Where would you fit a backpacker that want to explore "the authentic experience"?
The ideal of authentic touristic experience, according to Moscardo and Pearce (1999), is based on qualities such as: the level of contact with the indigenous people; the information on the history of the people; to know about their traditional life styles; to consume authentic food; to watch dance performances; to be informed on how people live nowadays to learn about their arts and crafts and to have the opportunity to participate in traditional activities.
Hmong women at Ta Van community in Sa Pa, Vietnam.
The extent to which the touristic attraction is the manifestation of indigenous culture is also a primary indicator of indigenous tourism; however Butler and Hinch (2007: 10) argue that:
Indigenous people continue to become increasingly politically aware and active. Despite the substantial constraints they face, indigenous people have become more informed of their legal and political rights and they have increasingly exercised them. (…) Political differences are also a significant aspect of the internal politics of indigenous groups (…). The internal politics of the international, national, regional and local indigenous organisations are very dynamic and at times confusing. Such volatility is not attractive to the mainstream tourism trade, which prefers predictability and stability within its operating environments.
Specially when talking about polarized tourism, where the political context is the main attraction for experimental and adrenaline-seeking tourists...
Wait for the next entries to learn about this branch of tourism, won't take too long I promise.