Academic journal article Human Organization

Who Are the "Hosts"?: Village Tours in Fenghuang County, China

Academic journal article Human Organization

Who Are the "Hosts"?: Village Tours in Fenghuang County, China

Article excerpt

In this article, from an anthropological power and scale perspective, I critically apply aspects of the McDonaldization thesis to the analysis of ethnographic cases of three village tours in Fenghuang County of rural China. I examine the role of tour operators as an emerging dominant power in shaping local tourism and society, through which both the toured and tourists are being objectified and consumed for profit at the hands of the global market. I explore resistance and acceptance from the toured and tourists in their response to global forces of commodification, dehumanization, and alienation. This article reveals the dynamics of the global process of "scaling up" in a local context of mass tourism. During this process, the private tourism operators and developers, connected with the local political authorities, were reaping most of the material rewards through their control of the tempo-spatial distribution of tourists and, therefore, were the actual "hosts" of the local tourism economy.

Key words: hosts, tour operators, McDonaldization, power and scale, rural China


Nash (1981) states that the encounter between hosts and tourists constitutes the core of a touristic system. In the advent of mass tourism, this encounter is inevitably intervened by tourism mediators, and tourists are increasingly becoming the guests of tour operators rather than of the local communities in tourist destinations. As Chambers (1997:4-5) points out, the local communities "are often distanced from participating in any meaningful respect in the relationship," and "where indigenous representation is desired, it is often presented in only the most superficial ways."

Meethan (200 1:15) believes that "tourism is best conceptualized as a global process of commodification and consumption involving flows of people, capital, images and cultures," and "tourists must travel to consume, and what they consume is their destination." I argue that, at the same time, tourists are being "consumed" as objects for profits by tour operators through the "McDonaldization" of tourism - the highly controlled and standardized mass production of tour experiences (Ritzer 1993; Ritzer and Liska 1997), and what tourists "consume" may not exactly be "their destination," but the tour experiences fabricated by their actual "hosts" - the tour operators. In this process, the toured and the tourists alike become objectified and consumed for the purposes of the global market.

The anthropological study of tourism mediators is still relatively undeveloped compared to the study of the tourists/ guests and the toured/hosts (Werner 2003; Zom and Farthing 2007). The widely cited volume by Smith ( 1 977), Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism, pioneered anthropological research on tourism and introduced a hosts/guests dichotomy to understand touristic process, which continues to be a key rubric for tourism analysis (Smith 1 989; Stronza 200 1 ). The analysis based on this dichotomy alone tended to result in tourists often being portrayed as the primary agents of social change. Critiques have led to the consideration of a third category of actors: those who serve as mediators between hosts and guests (Chambers 1997; Cheong and Miller 2000; Cohen 1985).

Cohen (1985) describes tour operators as "culture brokers," which Smith (2001 :276-277) later defined as "the mediator between hosts and guests," situated between "the demand and the supply sides of tourism." Werner (2003: 145) defines mediators as "those whose actions further the development of the tourist industry and/or shape the tourist experience" including government officials, tourism planners, travel agents, tour guides, and travel writers and recognizes their significant roles in shaping touristic processes which have been largely neglected in the analysis based on the host/guest dichotomy. Applying a Foucauldian framework, Cheong and Miller (2000) conceptualize power in tourism as omnipresent in a tripartite system of tourists, locals, and tourism mediators and call for increased analytical attention to the prominent role of tourism mediators. …

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