According to Geertz, “Culture is a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (as qtd. in Shweder 1984). As far as tourism is concerned, culture plays a major role in its functioning as a commodity that is promoted on an international level. If described in the simplest manner, tourists are attracted to cultures and such sort of tourism is gaining popularity with the passage of time. In 1999, it was concluded by the WTO that more or less ten million people have been attracted to those cities where cultures are exhibited and this is the main reason why cultural heritage is widely included in programs that are organized by current tourist regions.
The demands of the post-modern era and commercialization are the two main reasons why the culture and cultural tourism are provided increasingly in the recent years. The trend to return to the past and the traditional ways has increased the number of tourists who seek to enjoy life in a different and non-contemporary manner. The commodification of culture has enabled people to enjoy their tours in a more genuine manner not offered by mass tourism (Nuryanti 1996). The two types of culture i.e. high culture and low culture can inspire the tourists who seek to learn or like to be the participants in cultural events. Both the cultures may also motivate tourists to visit chronological and arty locations. Cultural tourism, in a majority of cases, is an attraction for tourists whose ultimate motive of travelling is the acquirement of knowledge. However, those whose prime objective may not be erudition can also be attracted towards cultural sites. The culture as a commodity has resulted in the increase of the number of tourists who are interested in experiencing a lifestyle that makes them enjoy past and the unknown traditional lifestyle. The best example is that of Italy where regional gastronomic traditions have attracted thousands of tourists for the reason that food is considered an emblem of culture in the country. It can be said that culture plays a crucial role, both in a direct and indirect manner, to generate considerable economic benefits for the local people and communities as those who come to visit spend a lot of money. At the same time, culture also is a symbol of social difference (Maccarrone-Eaglen 2009).
On the other hand, those who oppose cultural commodification believe it to be a senseless step towards acquiring money. Here, commodification refers to “the process whereby ways of life, traditions and their complex symbolism are imaged and transformed into saleable products” (as qtd. in Chasse & Bourdeau 2011). If taken in a broader sense, commodification helps in the generation of incomes and communal sustenance as it preserves traditional ways used for revenues’ generation. Mesitzos in Mesoamerica is a good example of such community where commodification has brought socio-economical effects because the Mayan culture there has been continued with the handicrafts production by the local people, with the assistance of tourism industry and archaeologists (Maccarrone-Eaglen 2009).
However, many see commercialization of culture as a destructive force to the local community as it robs them of the true meanings with which their lives are organized. Most of the people believe that tourism uses culture as a commodity and thus deprives the local people of their cultural rights. It also makes communities economically dependent on the money that tourists spend when they visit their areas. Similarly, it is believed that cultural commercialization also makes culture lose its meaning and role by which it provides identification and a sense of belonging to the individuals. However, high culture is not weakened by commodification as historical characteristics and artistic features possess the same value whether or not tourists are attracted towards them or not. On the other hand, low cultures are devalued with the strong forms of commodification for the reason that the contemporary rituals, ways of life etc. lose their worth as their transformation into marketable products take place. The reconstruction of cultural values for the sake of tourists also devalues the culture of any area (Maccarrone-Eaglen 2009).
Thus, if seen with the mentioned perspectives, commodification of culture does have negative implications for the local people and region. In simple words, if culture is made a commodity that is saleable, such a practice cannot help in the invention of anything. Therefore, it is really important for the marketers to market for the product culture in an entirely different way as compared to other products/services because when culture becomes a commodity for tourism, its structure and concept becomes rather complex. Culture is always unique and flexible and these characteristics enable it to satisfy human needs for the development, comprehension and understanding of the world in which interaction takes place. Thus, commodified culture can fulfill its social functions in a sustainable manner as it helps in the revitalization of the communal sense in addition to the benefits it brings for the economy (Maccarrone-Eaglen 2009).
As far as the benefits of commercialization of culture are concerned, tourism opportunities and economic development are being promoted by it with the unification of local and governmental forces. One of the examples is that of Sydney where cultural landscapes are put on the market as places of relaxation/vacation. Those places are constructed as consumption hubs. In order to offer tourism with new markets, places that have immense significance culturally have been refurbished so that the tourists can enjoy their time and experiences in those places. In some cases, it is the tourists that modify and revolutionize the places’ nature so that they become more attractive. On the other hand, the place itself possesses the unique characteristics to satisfy the expectations and needs of the visitors (Wirth & Freestone, 2001).
There are three primary types of cities that are exclusively planned for tourists i.e. Resort cities, Converted cities and Tourist-historic cities. Resort cities are the ones are mainly planned to be used for utilization by the travelers. The best examples of such cities are Venice, Las Vegas etc. Converted cities are the ones where infrastructure is built with the intention of catching the attention of tourists (Fainstein 2007). Glasgow is a good example of a converted city. As far as the tourist-historic cities are concerned, they may be “defined as the area of overlap between the historic and tourist cities, this being the part of the city where historical artefacts and associations are being actively used for tourism, whether as primary attractions, secondary supporting services or merely as a background environment for the enjoyment of visitors engaged in non-historic activities” (Ashworth & Tunbridge 2000).
Thus, culture is being creatively exploited as a commodity for the enhancement of cultural diplomacy on an international level. The importance of the authenticity and historical character of a site also helps visitors to make a decision about which sites to visit (Confer & Kerstetter 2000). Not only this, the commodification of culture has enabled the continuity of culture all over the world. Cultural tourism is impacting the societies all over the world. It has turned out to be the most up-to-date mantra for the domestic authorities regulating recreational facilities as it facilitates the development of economies. Thus, culture is being increasingly used as a product as people are acquiring more education and have become more learned, as travel is not a difficult undertaking anymore and as different places are sought by the people. Thus, to be very specific, cultural tourism has the powerful tendency to encourage a restoration and revitalization of local concern in conventional and long-established forms of culture whereby making the cultural bonds stronger and making material benefits available and accessible to the local actors. It is the need of the time to realize that modifications must be done in attitudes and viewpoints as far as cultural tourism is concerned.
The sole responsibility of this realization process lies on the shoulders of government authorities and private sectors. It should be their duty to support and expand tourism on a domestic level and promote sustainable tourism worldwide. The dynamic issues related to heritage and cultural tourism includes a sense of identification and belonging, reverence, humanity and manners. These issues are wrapped up by the systems of values and principles and are very crucial in planning experiences that are authentic. They are all significant in making the new tourist feel at home. Therefore, it is exceedingly important for the local population of an area to act as the escort vendors, advocates and conveyor of the messages if they want heritage tourisms’ development for the reflection of the way of life, customs and traditions, norms and values of their society (Francis-Lindsay 2009). However, the strategy pertaining tourism must not only revolve around selling but management and other benefits that tourism brings ro the society, economy and environment must also be optimized (Robinson 2003).
A majority of developed countries are providing jobs, encouraging small-scale etc for the attainment of their national goals as they have recognized the potential benefits of cultural tourism (Conrad & Barreto 2005). In short, cultural tourism must be aimed at benefitting the host communities in every sense and the local people must be involved in the tourism development so that the culture of the region does not get affected (Staiff 2003).
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