Authenticity and commodification in changing tourism trends

By |November 25th, 2011|International Tourism Context, literature review, Master in Tourism Destination Management|2 Comments

This literature review is written by Claire Bougot as part of her NHTV Master in Tourism Destination Management.
The issues ofauthenticity in relation to the commodification of culture are present in many sectors of the tourism industry (e.g. heritage tourism, ethnic tourism) and are relevant to most destinations worldwide, in the developing as well as the Western world (Chhabra et al., 2003; Gjerald, 2005; McIntosh and Prentice, 1999; Silver, 1993; Van den Berghe, 1995). This review will however focus on developing world destinations in order to highlight the power imbalance created by western defined criteria of authenticity in tourism and its subsequent staging. Since cross-cultural encounters have been designated as one of the drivers of the commodification of culture in host societies (Shepherd, 2002),the global context in which such encounters take place highlights the relevance of the debate on authenticity for tourism studies. Indeed, many host-guest encounters occur as a result of the tourists’ quest for authenticity as described by MacCannell (1973). Many authors have contributed to the debate on authenticity and the commodification of culture in the academic literature since MacCannell’s (1973) work. The debate starts around the definition of authenticity, a wide and complex concept used by academic writers with different meanings. This review will start by clarifying some of the uses of the term in the academic literature with regard to object, staged and emergent authenticity, but will be centredon the concept of the quest for authenticity. Once the concepts of authenticity used in this context have been clarified, the review will move on to consider the positive and negative impacts of culture commodification and staging authenticity, as well as the use of staged authenticity as a resistance tool by host communities. It will attempt to highlight the shortcomings of the literature in considering the impacts of culture commodification on locals existing outside the tourism industry and the need to update the debate on authenticity and culture commodification in the light of new tourism trends such as poverty tourism. The review will focus mainly on the perspective of the host (including both locals existing within and outside the tourism industry) to consider these impacts.