|Cohen, E. (2002) 'Authenticity,
Equity and Sustainability in Tourism', in Journal of Sustainable Tourism,
Vol 10, No. 4: 267 - 76
People tend to support both authentic tourism and sustainable tourism, but sometimes these two types can interrelate to produce undesirable consequences. Both concerts have been influential and the development of recent tourism policy, but both have changed, and both need critique.
There are socio-political issues involved in both concepts. Sustainability can become a 'promotional gimmick' (268), used by tourist entrepreneurs to market their product. As with all tourist projects, sustainable tourism cannot be separated from the broader socio-political context in which it takes place. Just as projects emphasizing development or conservation can be used by self-styled developers or conservers, so sustainable tourism empowers particular groups. Very often, these are permitted 'to take control over valuable sites or attractive cultural practices in the name of sustainability, at the exclusion of the local population... The local population is often depicted as damaging the environment and the land it occupies' (268). Political contests can be resolved in the name of sustainable tourism, such as evicting local populations. Although sustainable tourism are supposed to benefit local populations, this is often at the price of removing them first before re-employing them as tourist personnel.
The quest for authenticity can actually conflict with the need to develop sustainable tourism. That is because sustainable tourism often involves the preservation of particular areas of the country as authentic, for ecological or cultural reasons. This increases the value of those areas for a tourist industry, which can attract seekers after authenticity (but see below). As a result, demand for access to those areas often has to be regulated inorder to sustain them.
This raises the problem of equity. As tourism develops particular areas of the country, the marginal and unexplored areas become increasingly valuable. As a result, it is very tempting to view these areas as sites for high-value tourism, or elite tourism, and this tends to get merged with the notion of sustainability. These sites can restrict numbers only if those who are permitted are prepared to pay high prices. Inevitably, this excludes other visitors and very often local people as well. Cohen is sceptical about the argument that locals may be employed in these areas -- very often, elite tourists demand international cuisine or specialised professional and managerial services, which often excludes them from the regional economy. He also argues that attempts to limit access to particular areas or sites in order to sustain them can exclude '"locals - as-users"' (273): 'At a conference on sustainability in South Africa it was claimed that there are some countries in West Africa in which local children never had an opportunity to see the wild animals for which their country is famous, because these are now found only in those wildlife reserves to which they have no access... because of price discrimination -- the rate of a night's lodging in such places may be higher than their parents' yearly income' (274).
Cohen is also interesting on the development of the notion of 'authenticity'. Authentic tourists tend to avoid the most developed tourist areas, as seen above. More generally, McCannell's work has been much developed: he tended to assume that 'tourists hope to experience authenticity in an encounter with authentic sights, objects or events' (270). However, there is no need to assume a simple connection between an authentic object and the experience of authenticity. Authenticity is 'in practice often socially constructed' (270). For one thing, individuals vary in their ability to judge the authenticity of a site or object. For another, sites or objects may become authentic over time, as their social recognition and value increases. For this reason, writers such as Wang wants to refer to 'existential authenticity', a feeling that one is being authentic, while others such as Selwyn refer to the differences between 'cool' and 'hot' authenticity, the first based on knowledge, the second based on feeling.
The feeling of authenticity can be prompted by a number of tourist experiences, including an encounter with fake or staged authenticity. [Presumably, any leisure experience can also deliver this kind of existential authenticity, especially as it is defined as 'the more prosaic, popular experiences of enjoyment, well-being and having a good time' (Cohen, citing Brown, page 271)]. This can mean that tourists become increasingly satisfied by visiting specialist tourist sites, and leaving marginal places, although their tastes and confidence may be stimulated rather than diminished . A less desirable consequence is to push the notion of genuine authenticity and seek existential authenticity by visiting particularly marginal or dangerous sites, 'pristine wildernesses, "undiscovered" localities in cultures, and "genuine" primitives' (271). It is this latter tendency that has led not only to new tourist destinations, such as Antarctic, or even space travel, but which drives the push to the margins described above, and which tends to 'aggravate the problem of touristic sustainability of these attractions' (274).
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