Tourism offers experiences and local cultures
can provide great experiences. However, depending on how tourism activities are
carried out, these experiences can be better or worse.
The most obvious social benefit of tourism is
that it promotes the exchange between people from different countries and
cultures. Many travelers want to learn about the local communities, get to know
their traditions and lifestyles. For the host communities, this interaction can
help strengthen their self esteem and their sense of belonging by feeling
valued by others. Furthermore, tourism can contribute to keep alive local
customs and handicrafts in a destination.
But at the same time, there is a chance that
this exchange can have negative effects. Several authors warn against the
danger of the “tourist gaze”. What are they talking about? Sometimes people
from the local community may feel they are being seen as objects; something
weird or amazing that must be observed. This has a lot to do with how the
tourism industry presents a destination and its inhabitants and with the level
of interaction achieved with travelers.
Another risk is the loss of authenticity. In a
world that becomes more global each day, a globalization of culture is taking
place and many local communities are changing the designs and way they produce
their handicrafts to resemble what they believe “sells” in a market economy, or
they try to imitate attractions that have no connection to their roots.
Communities should focus on what they do best, instead of trying to achieve
preconceived tourism ideals.
The lack of mutual knowledge and interaction
between tourists and the host communities can result in complex situations,
such as rejection to tourists by the local peoples or disappointment of
tourists who find more of the same they can already see in their own countries
without traveling thousands of miles.
Achieving a balance is not easy. That’s why the
first principle of the Code of Ethics for the responsible tourist and traveler
prepared by the UNWTO says: “Open your mind to other cultures and traditions –
it will transform your experience, you will earn respect and be more readily
welcomed by local people. Be tolerant and respect diversity – observe social
and cultural traditions and practices.”
This entry was originally posted by the author on July 11, 2011.