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Ethnotourism: Opportunities and Problems

Ethnotourism: Opportunities and Problems

One of the great future tasks of mankind is the preservation of the cultural heritage from destruction. Davis (2002:281) calls it the “ethnosphere” that surrounds and protects the planet. This intellectual and spiritual web of life is the sum total of all of humanity's thoughts, beliefs, dreams, intuitions and myths. While scientists in the industrialized world are trying to stop the advance of a unified global culture, many indigenous communities are struggling to survive on a daily basis. Poor education, discrimination and spatial isolation represent the reality of these people. So far, social and economic integration into the national societies has hardly been possible for them. But they all possess an extremely valuable resource - their own culture. How could the indigenous peoples succeed in using this resource advantageously and at the same time secure their share of the cultural world heritage?

Tourism has been one of the fastest growing areas of the world economy since the mid-1960s (Vorlaufer 2003: 4). Every second he creates a new job worldwide (Friedel 2002: 68). International tourism is becoming increasingly important, especially in third world countries. In view of the continuing loss of linguistic and cultural diversity, interest in exotic, unusual ethnic groups is increasing. Despite the very attractive financial prospects, tourism is discussed more controversially than almost any other branch of the economy.

Tourism in developing countries in particular is viewed rather critically by numerous experts. In addition to the unequal distribution of the profits generated and a high outflow of foreign currency from the developing countries due to expensive luxury imported goods, the energy consumption and the high level of environmental pollution cloud the positive image of the foreigner. Likewise, negative socio-cultural effects caused by the tourist sale of religious and mythical rites and objects are objected to. In this context, ethnotourism in particular has come under criticism. Many experts associate the commercialization of tangible and intangible cultural assets with the loss of cultural identity.

What is ethnotourism?

Immerse yourself in a foreign culture - that is the primary goal of many travel enthusiasts who want to discover the big, wide world for themselves. On exciting adventure trips they get insights into foreign cultures and collect unforgettable memories. When population groups and their lifestyles become the focus of the trip, this is referred to as ethnotourism .

"Ethnotourism is any special form of leisure-related change of location over a limited period of time, the aim of which is to stay with a foreign ethnic group, especially a politically and economically marginal - often tribal - group." (Kievelitz 1989: 29). In his definition, Vorlaufer (1996a: 47) emphasizes the exotic aspect, which is a dominant factor in this form of tourism. He describes ethnotourism as “journeys to exotic peoples and cultures that seem or seem to have been untouched by civilization”. Hinch and Butler (1996: 9) again emphasize the fact that indigenous peoples are directly involved in tourism in one way or another. This can be done by controlling tourism activities and/or presenting one's own culture as a tourist attraction. Moscardo (1999) defines ethnotourism from the perspective of tourists and emphasizes their interest in direct contact with the local population. The desire to experience the practices of another culture first-hand is therefore paramount.

Ethnotourism therefore includes all trips where personal encounters with other peoples and cultures play a major role. In most cases, particularly exotic travel destinations are selected - countries in which the culture of the local population differs as much as possible from their own, familiar living environment. After all, the less you know about a foreign culture, the greater your interest in it.

The background of ethnotourism

The increasing individualization in Western society has left its mark on tourism, as it has on other sectors. In addition to a growing number of different forms of tourism, it is above all hybrid tourism 1, which can be traced back to this social trend. Friedel (2000: 40ff) points out that hybrid tourism can result in a combination of heterogeneous, sometimes contradictory forms of travel (e.g. the combination of sex and educational tourism). The tourism industry strives to create ever more diverse travel offers in order to meet the various customer requirements. Schulze (1992) explains the increasing individualization of western society with the liberation of the population from economic constraints and existential threats. As a result, the individual choices have multiplied for the majority of people in the industrialized nations. According to Friedel (2000: 40ff) in the course of the changed attitude to life today no longer just balance and relaxation and thus a counterpoint to the world of work, but also a pleasurable expansion of identity. The tourist is no longer tied down to individual aspects, he doesn't just want sport, just culture or just entertainment. Rather, he wants the holiday world in its entiretyexperience . The result of an expert survey predicts a further increasing differentiation of the market for global tourism in terms of supply and demand. A comparison between the 1980s and 1990s already showed a significant increase in travel expectations and the number of different travel motives for a vacation trip among West German Third World tourists (Vorlaufer 1996: 43).

This development has greatly increased the number of potential customers for ethnotourism. A few years ago it was still a niche product for alternative tourists interested in culture, educational travelers or customers of special tour operators. For Kievelitz (1989: 29), ethnotourism still represented a special form of tourism at the end of the 1980s. He saw his statement confirmed by the presence of specialized tour operators on the travel market, who put together an offer for very specific target groups. The hybrid tourist has long sincealso discovered ethnotourism for themselves. As a result, many tour operators also offer ethnotourism in combination with other forms of tourism in their range. A link with nature, adventure or eco-tourism is particularly popular , as these forms of travel usually take place in remote destinations.

How dangerous is the close encounter with foreign cultures?

Whether the mysterious Maya people, traditionally painted African natives or the devout Amish community: foreign cultures exert a great fascination. So it is not surprising that there are now organized trips that bring tourists into contact with different ethnic groups.

But does this close encounter with the local population entail a risk? What are the  dangers of ethnotourism?

Here are a few key features of ethnotourism:

  • The close encounter with the locals can vary in length : from just taking photos to visiting traditional festivals to spending the night with the selected ethnic group.
  • Tourist interest in the local population is generally varied . It is not only limited to the people and their respective way of life, but also refers to e.g. B. on handmade items such as traditional jewelry and clothing .
  • Ethnotourism trips are mostly organized and guided group trips that lead directly to the indigenous people. In order to bring tourists closer to the foreign culture on site, e.g. B. Arrange meetings with locals who tell about their way of life. Guided tours through long-forgotten mountain villages or visits to cultural ceremonies are also organized, among other things.

Possible dangers of ethnotourism

A big dream often comes true for those who love to travel, e.g. For example, stand face to face with a Native American in festive attire or an artistically painted Aborigine . This moment is priceless for many. After all, neither an Oscar-nominated documentary nor a worldwide bestseller can convey a culture as well as a face-to- face encounter .

But while ethnotourism makes many tourists happy, it doesn't always get the locals enthusiastic. Traveling to foreign and exotic ethnic groups can involve various dangers .

1. Kulturanpassung

Those population groups that live in retreats such as rainforests are of particular interest for ethnotourism trips. Due to their geographically isolated location, their culture is largely untouched most of the time. And that's the catch: the more tourists that flock to these remote areas, the greater the risk of cultural assimilation .

So it can happen that z. For example, dances and songs that used to have a religious or social meaning are changed to the point where they are just a tourist attraction . Even with traditional handicraft products , there is a great danger that they will increasingly lose their original appearance - just to meet the taste of travelers. In this way, the locals can earn some extra money, but valuable cultural assets are increasingly being lost as a result.

2. Change in norms and values

Not only cultural forms of expression, but also the way of thinking and perspectives of the indigenous population groups can change as a result of tourist visits. Tourism is causing a change in norms and values , especially among young people . They identify with the attitudes and behaviors of tourists and begin to yearn for change in their home country.

So it can happen that natives throw some of their moral, political and social beliefs overboard and adapt more to Western thought patterns . As a result, their original norms and values ​​are being lost more and more. The result: Due to their changed inner convictions, their ways of life are also subject to unstoppable change.

3. Ecological damage

Ethnic groups that are at the center of ethnotourism travel mostly live in almost uninhabited regions , in the midst of a species-rich flora and fauna. It is precisely these geographical areas that must be protected, because an intact environment is the basic capital for many people in the countries of the Global South.

Due to the growing tourism, however, there is often a misuse or overuse of natural resources on site. So there is a great risk that travelers will increasingly destroy the living space of the indigenous population groups - certainly one of the downsides of tourism .

Checklist for sustainable ethnotourism

Ethnotourism harbors clear dangers. However, this does not mean that contact with foreign cultures has to be completely avoided. Instead, it's all about your personal behavior - for the sake of the local population. Here is a small checklist on how to make your visit to a foreign ethnic group sustainable :

  1. Treat the people you meet with respect and reserve – learn e.g. B. the most important words in the national language.
  2. Remember that indigenous peoples are real habitats and communities  . Respect the privacy of locals and also accept a "no" when it comes to taking photos, for example.
  3. Don't leave any rubbish behind on discovery tours in nature and put all rubbish back in your backpack.
  4. Always behave in an exemplary manner and follow the instructions of the guide.
  5. Give the local people a small tip – e.g. B. when they show you around their village or cook for you.

Those who embark on an ethnotourist journey should not only be interested in beautiful experiences and impressive photographs. One should be aware of the possible dangers of ethnotourism and treat every foreign culture with respect and sensitivity. Then you can relax and immerse yourself in another world.

Rudolfus Kikkert
Rudolfus Kikkert Interest In City Tourism

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