Destinations: Cultural Landscapes of Tourism

By Greg Ringer | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Tourism’s exponential rate of growth in the 1990s—one that has proponents now proclaiming it the world’s largest service industry—has been stimulated by the booming interest in travel as a viable economic alternative for communities and the trend toward more serious environmental conservation in countries around the world (WTO 1997). It equally reflects the increasing desire among people to engage in meaningful, interactive experiences with local people in other communities and cultures. Certainly, there can be no denying tourism’s potency—cultural, economic and environmental—thus presenting possibilities that could not otherwise exist. Yet careful consideration must be given to its development as well, for the social consequences of improper tourism may result in denigration of the very landscape which attracts visitors and, more importantly, sustains the local populace.

While recent critiques correctly focus on the tourist and the industry as agents of social change, several critical themes remain marginalized in the literature of tourism geography and leisure studies, including the commercialization and privatization of local places, and the commodification of the “host community” through the production of tourist landscapes and services (Rojek 1993; Urry 1990, 1994). Certainly, tourism is sufficiently credited with the preservation of cultural heritage and the revival of ethnic identity in select studies, but its effect on the social construction of the tourist destination—though few authors deny the cultural proclivity of tourism—is more likely to be considered tangential or characteristic of the “billiard ball model” Wood describes (1980:565; cited in Hitchcock et al. 1993:8; Cosgrove and Daniels 1988; Shaw and Williams 1994; Wild 1994).

The reality, however, is that tourism is a cultural process as much as it is a form of economic development, and the destination of the tourist and the inhabited landscape of local culture are now inseparable to a greater degree (Ingold 1994). By continuing, instead, to treat tourism as exogenous rather than place-centered and constructed, geographers and other social scholars risk ignoring the extent and manner by which tourism both establishes and falsifies local reality.

The development and management of tourism play a significant role in the

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