Academic journal article Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends

Revisiting Hosts and Guests: Ethnographic Insights on Touristic Encounters from Cuba

Academic journal article Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends

Revisiting Hosts and Guests: Ethnographic Insights on Touristic Encounters from Cuba

Article excerpt

Introduction

Carrying out a review of the literature on the nature and implications of encounters between tourists and members of the visited population, as a theoretical grounding for my research in Cuba, I could not help getting the impression that scholars and commentators dealing with the issue tended to reach contrasting conclusions. on the one hand, touristic encounters and relationships appeared to be fraught by striking inequalities, highly deceptive, and a constant source of misunderstanding and reciprocal exploitation. on the other hand, they seemed to hold the promise of mutual understanding, and the establishment of positive connections between people from around the globe, notably across the North-South divide. Touristic encounters were thus said to constitute a realm of 'mere illusion' and 'make believe association', a 'parody of human relationships' (Krippendorf, 1999 [1984], p. 58; van den Berghe, 1980, p.378) where deception and exploitation prevail. Alternatively, they were portrayed as the 'building block for global peace and cultural understanding ... bringing ordinary men and women from around the world into contact with one another', and thus helping 'dispel the myths, stereotypes and caricatures that often hold sway from a distance' (Ki-Moon, 2007). A black and white pendulum, these meta-narratives seemed to mirror and relationally constitute each other by way of contrast and opposition. Today, they have become ubiquitous tropes proliferating hand in hand with the development of international tourism, highlighting its brighter and darker side, its positive and negative potential. As my research shows, however, these divergent assessments, which find echoes in touristic Cuba, are often predicated on aprioristic conceptions of agency and subjectivity, and tend to rely on implicit assumptions about what (good) touristic encounters should be about. As such, they call for a scrutiny of their moral underpinnings and epistemological foundations.

In this article, I would like to explore the formation and confrontation of different views on touristic encounters in the light of an ethnography of relationships between 'tourists' and 'locals' in Cuba. My findings suggests that the polarizing perspectives reiterated in tourism promotion material and academic research parallel to a large extent the initial expectations and predispositions of the protagonists interacting in tourism destination. In other words, these perspectives do not appear to enhance our understanding of how these encounters and relationships emerge and develop in situ. Instead, they run the risk of reiterating in a rather un-reflexive manner taken for granted idealizations (when a naive stance predominates) and critiques (once cynicism prevails). The main problem is that such generalizations too often rely on deductive assumptions and clear-cut aprioristic judgments, without paying enough attention the understandings of research participants and their competing claims. In trying to counter simplistic assessments of touristic encounters, my work builds on Malcolm Crick's observation that '[t]he question of what sort of social relationships grow up in tourism encounters can only be answered by detailed and descriptive studies' (1989, p.30).

In touristic encounters in Cuba, contrasts and oppositions between sentiment and interest lead the different actors involved to blur and redraw boundaries between the intrinsic ('social') and the instrumental ('economic') value of these relationships. To explain how these different assessments take shape, are discriminated and hierarchized, I consider in this chapter how contrasting moral imperatives and pragmatic considerations lead people to outline conflicting approaches to relationships and the inequalities that traverse them. The view advocated here thus draws attention to the competing agendas, aspirations, and moral demands that inform the way different judgments on touristic encounters are made. …

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