Question 1: Power and the Study of Tourism
In the epilogue to Tourism, Power and Culture, C. Michael Hall writes: “The issue of power is one that has become increasingly significant in the study of tourism […] However, even though there is now belated recognition of power as an issue in tourism studies, it remains a relatively peripheral concern in most research” (2010, 199).
Why do you think the issue of power is neglected or marginalized in tourism studies? Why should it be a crucial concern in the study of tourism?
Hall, C. Michael. 2010. “Power in Tourism: Tourism in Power.” In Tourism, Power and Culture: Anthropological Insights, edited by Donald V. L.
Macleod and James G. Carrier, 199-213. Bristol: Channel View Publications.
I believe the issue of power is neglected or marginalized in tourism studies because often times those who are analyzing the tourist-host relationship are those perpetuating the unequal distribution of power. If you consider a marginalized host community that is in Papa New Guinea for example, discussed in week 8 via the Cannibal Tours film, these village members have to work hard on a daily basis for their sustenance to make a living, they are not wealthy enough to be building a relationship with tourists where they demand power, when they can hardly demand that tourists purchase their artwork. This causes resentment and inequality that is not only unacknowledged, but perpetuated by western tourists which further marginalizes this community.
Authors of anthropological tourism refrain from studying power as a variable in tourism because just like privilege, power is a difficult force to identify when it takes so many faces, through inappropriate action and ignorant interaction in host communities. Although the lack of study on power may not be deliberate, it is difficult to say whether or not it could be subliminally intentional on behalf individuals in power. By identifying the negative impacts of power dynamics, it might dismantle the power placed in the hands of the wealthy, and re-empower those hosts who are subjected to exploitation and forced authenticity – thereby levelling the unequal power dynamic in tourism. If we increasingly talk about the harmful impacts of power presented in the tourism industry, I believe even more powerful change can occur, gradually breaking down rigid institutional barriers over time, creating a healthier and more respectful tourism industry to occur as a result.
I think that power is neglected and marginalized in tourism studies because it can often be difficult to pinpoint where the power is coming from and when it is being exercised in a harmful way. I believe that many of these authors sense a source of power throughout the cases we have read as they study relationships of hosts and guests, but they seem to put the blame on other aspects of the relationship. Even in the case about the Mursi women, the author was able to outline power that the tourists had, yet also showcase that the Mursi women had their own possession of power in the relationship. Because it is evident within both sides, I think it can be hard to confront the misuse and issue that power has in these types of circumstances. I also believe it is hard to put the blame of power misuse on one group of people as there are so many different types of guests, hosts, and places that contribute to this. No tourism experience is identical to another. The 4 key factors that account for the diverse kinds of consequences we are likely to observe are the tourist, place, mediators, and hosts and they all have a varying degree of power (Chambers, 2010, pg. 122). They all help to redefine our relationships with other people (Chambers, 2010, pg. 124), and this is why it needs to be a crucial concern in the study of tourism. We need to have a critical eye when examining the practice of tourism to establish and highlight the issues of these interactions in order to adjust the perspectives of those with the power to create a more equal and respectful relationship upon their travels. This will help to advance tourism and continue to re-create the many places we live in for the better. “We are just beginning to realize how great a role tourism has come to play in shaping the way we understand and interpret our world” (Chambers, 2010, pg. 124). I believe that putting an emphasis on the power struggles and exploitation in tourism studies will help to further shape our understanding and create a positive experience for everyone.
I think that the issue of power continues to be neglected or marginalized in tourism studies because as previously mentioned it is too difficult to critique and analyze, as different power structures exist across the world. Though it has been made evidently clear in this course that power imbalances exits between host nations and suffering locals, individual contextual analysis is required in order to grasp how much of an imbalance exists, and is it in a completely exploitative nature or have the locals adapted and are also benefitting. To outsiders, it might seem like the locals are being taken advantage of, but also could be utilizing the industry to their benefit. We saw this last week when the Orlando article detailed how the local Andean villagers maintained their cultural traditions by not drastically altering their weaving, but still partook in selling their pieces to tourists to earn profit from their traditions (Orland, 2015). Overall, power is often neglected in tourism studies when in-depth contextual analysis is not readily available thus any critiques or possible changes to power structures would be difficult without substantial evidentiary support that they are unequal.
Studying this issue of power should be a crucial concern in tourism studies because it challenges the deeply embedded profit driven motivations of the tourism industry across the world, which caters to the wants and needs of the tourists over the locals, in other words the parties with the power. In essence the people who benefit from the tourism industry, whether it is the host country’s government through economic stimulation or the tourism companies, their primary focus is on optimizing the experience for the tourists. Therefore, one can conclude that the true power lies with these tourists as those in control shape the surrounding environment and the experience to suit the tourist’s needs. We have seen this throughout the course on many occasions including the entire premise in which local traditions and authentic cultural practices are altered in order to appease the ideals of tourist’s expectations. Thus, I believe that this power imbalance present within the global tourism industry should be of concern to tourism studies in order to shift the focus away from this cycle of only pleasing the paying customers and ignoring the needs of all parties within the tourism industry, including the locals that provide the authentic cultural experience, and subsequently allow for an expansion of public awareness of such inequalities across the world.
Orlando, Angela. “Andean Weavers Craft a New Aesthetic for a Changing Tourist Market.” Anthropology Now7, no. 2 (2015): 62-68
Question 2: A Questioning Gaze – on Ourselves as Tourists
Provide a critical reflection on yourself as a tourist. Has this course changed (and challenged) how you view yourself and other tourists? If so, in which ways? Think about encounters you have had with local people at the tourist destinations (hosts). If you travelled to “non-Western” countries – or if you are from a “non-Western” country and have travelled to other “non-Western” countries – what were your expectations in regards to the “cultural Other” (hosts)?* Were these expectations fulfilled? Critically reflect on your own expectations, behavior and power (as a tourist) as well as on the possible effects your trip had.
* If you have not travelled to non-Western countries, think about what your expectations would have been before taking this course. Critically reflect on your expectations and power (as a tourist). In which ways could your trip affect hosts and the environment?
I think that overall this course has highlighted and brought attention to many important topics when it comes to tourism. As someone who lived in many vacation destinations, I often found myself swaying away from touristy attractions and trying to immerse myself in local cultures. I think after this course, however, I have really understood different views of tourists and even of people who are hosts. In many of my posts I brought up personal experiences such as living in the Bahamas and how locals used tourism to their advantage. I never truly understood this but this course has allowed me to understand the commodification of tourism, and how this truly benefits local families in terms of the economy. From another perspective, I also now understand ways in which tourists act, and understand that they may not even understand that what they are doing can be a problem at hand. Examples from the course include the reading about the Maasai or even when it comes to ecotourism and tourists not understanding that this land is valuable. I think that in order for the greater public to really understand the consequences or issues that arise with different types of tourism, they need to take a course like this or look at it from a lens other than just the average vacationer. As someone who tends to travel a lot, this course has taught me to go in with a different view and understand that my actions and the actions and habits of those around me are all part of a greater bubble.
As someone who has travelled to non-Western countries, I think my expectations in regards to the “cultural Other” is to be authentic and show that through my travels. This course brought up the notion of authenticity a lot which I probably would have never questioned prior to taking this class. Expectations seemed to have been fulfilled because hosts put on acts in order to make money to sustain themselves, while also keeping tourism active within their countries. Through this we are often taught “to respect traditions simply for their longevity, without much consideration for why and how they might be maintained” (Chambers 2010 5). I think behaviours, actions, and expectations of us all will now change after learning about different facets of tourism.
Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Long Grove, Il: Waveland Press.
This course has definitely changed the way I view myself, and others, as a tourist for a multitude of reasons. My belief that tourism can be a positive force has remained, but my interpretation of what classifies a “positive interaction” is much more intricate than I once understood. For example, I have visited Mexico many times throughout my life, and purchased artwork, jewelry, and handmade crafts from the local peoples. In Mexico, it is common for tourists to negotiate prices with Mexican sellers for their work; however, after last week’s discussion regarding photography and crafts, I now realize that this is actually a very exploitative interaction. I do believe it is important that naive western tourists do not pay more than a souvenir is worth, but I also think that low-balling members of developing nations for the sake of a bargain is completely disrespectful, and exploitative.
My expectations of host communities has also changed, as I now critically analyze what is staged authenticity, and what is truly authentic. I do not however, forcefully demand that I experience “authentic culture”, instead I plan to take a passive role as a tourist, positioned outside of my own realm to allow my experiences to speak for themselves. Even the way I view tipping when travelling internationally has changed, previously, I believed that tipping was a means of impressing the host, in aims of reciprocation, special treatment, or better service. Now, I will treat others the way I believe is the most respectful, and honest with regards to money, as I would treat a fellow Canadian citizen.
I understand that it is harmful to treat host individuals as the “outsider” or “other”, as these individuals are much more similar to us than is portrayed in the media or perpetuated throughout western society. By alienating host communities, it creates barriers between “us” and “them” that readily isolate both sides, and ultimately leads to a lack of understanding of culture, and perspectives. If the goal of tourism is to learn and appreciate differing ways of life, then we must actively question our actions and presence in host communities to ensure we are fostering positive, healthy, and respective interactions during travel.
Throughout this course, I have been truly enlightened and have changed the way I view tourism overall, and especially towards myself as a tourist. I believed that tourism was simply a luxury experience that the wealthy were able to partake in, and that it brought a great deal of economic inflow to the countries that were frequently traveled to. Throughout the cases and readings in this course, I have discovered that the relationship between tourists and hosts is not black and white, and that the relationship can have many pros and cons depending on the facet you are looking at. This can include exploitation, environmental, and social impacts that alter the natural way of life in regions around the world.
The view I now have on tourists is that most are uneducated and unaware of the impact they are expelling on the host citizens. Obviously, I do not think this is intentional, but I believe there needs to be a widespread awareness and focus on how tourism can have adverse impacts on the hosts. Many of the readings connected authenticity, or the lack of, that people like me expect to see when travelling abroad. I was surprised to see that what we may consider and perceive as authentic may actually be far from it and adjusted to cater the tourists needs. Cultural and historical experiences are constantly being altered and changed in order to gain the most economic benefit for the hosts. The buying power of North Americans encourages these citizens to change their ways in order to please the demands of visitors because they are in need of money. This was prominently seen in week 13 as I discovered the many trinkets you buy across the globe are not cultural symbols, but merely a source of profit.
I did not expect hosts to be so negatively impacted as I presumed that all tourism was positive due to the economic inflow. I was naïve to not consider the many other factors that go into tourism and how it can affect a country. Previous tourism that I have partaken on has made me realize that I have acted in a manner rooted out of high expectations from the hosts. Because my family and I were paying so much I expected a lot in return. I regret this as I should have seen travel as a mutually respectful relationship, and not just about the experience I receive. Chambers believes that “tourism is the most culturally intimate of modern industries between the supplier and user, giving clue that there is a mutually positive relationship between the two interactions” (Chambers, 2010, 8). I challenge myself from now on to be more conscientious and appreciative towards the relationship between myself and the supplier in order to maintain a positive experience for everyone I encounter.