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Cultural tourism entails the movement of persons to a specific location or region with the aim of experiencing other cultures or cultural events different from home one’s cultural practices. It also involves exploring the lifestyles of indigenous communities, heritage sites and aspects that influence people’s lifestyles such as art and drama.
Cultural heritage including the historical and archaeological sites of a place or a country also contributes to tourist attraction. Cultural tourism can also involve visitation to cultural precincts that offer diverse cultural experiences to the visitor. Religious tourism involves religious pilgrimage to religious sites for religious reasons. Cultural tourism brings important socio-economic benefits to the local community and helps to preserve cultural heritage.
However, most cultures are undergoing transformations to offer ideal tourism experience to visitors and this might involve introducing new cultural elements or inventing ceremonies that never existed before. However, sustainable cultural tourism should promote better understanding of the cultures of the native people and preserve the natural and social environments of the cultural sites.
Benefits of Cultural Tourism
Cultural tourism brings immense economic and socio-cultural benefits to the local community even though this form of tourism might have some disadvantages to the preservation of the indigenous traditions and culture.
Economically, cultural tourism generates employment opportunities to the local communities as people are employed in tourism-related industry as tour and travel guides and administrators in the tourist centers and resorts. Other people are employed in the tourist hotels and as chefs in restaurants and the increased employment opportunities lead to rise in the economic status of the natives.
Cultural tourism contributes to the preservation and transmission of cultural practices from generation to generation (Gimblet, 1998, p.67). In addition, cultural heritage tourism contributes to the conservation and protection of cultural heritage sites and regeneration of disappearing cultural arts and crafts, in the process encouraging appreciation of the natural and cultural sites by the natives. This element is important in the conservation of biodiversity as the natives become aware of the value of their natural and historical heritage.
However, unsustainable tourism development deters the conservation efforts as the biodiversity declines due to overuse. In some cases, cultural tourism supports the establishment of community facilities and services that benefit the natives. This includes physical infrastructural facilities such as roads, electricity and water supply. Other benefits include establishment of health and recreational facilities, restaurants that serve both the natives and the tourists.
Cultural tourism is an important element for promoting peace among communities by bringing people with different cultural practices together. It fosters understanding between people and facilitates cultural exchange between the natives and the visitors which helps to dissipate ingrained prejudices by creating better understanding between people. Cultural tourism involving cultural events such as community festivals promotes reinvention of cultures that suit the tourist’s interests by the local communities.
In addition, the improved status of living of the natives because of the employment opportunities generated and the improvement in infrastructural facilities reduces emigration of the locals to other regions. Sustainable cultural tourism is also beneficial to the tourist as they can be able to enjoy natural and cultural sites in a quality environment. It also enhances development of authentic local culture and traditions.
Disadvantages of Cultural Tourism
Cultural tourism contributes to destruction of local cultures and traditions. The introduction of modern facilities and foreign practices to the native communities contributes to loss of language and change of lifestyle. Cultural tourism leads to the introduction of foreign concepts regarding faith, work and social life, thus contributing to destruction of traditions (Karp, 1996, p.56).
Religion and ethnic rituals can also be lost due to modernization brought about by cultural tourism. Furthermore, cultural tourism promotes cultural ingenuity whereby the local culture is staged to create an impression of authenticity in order to meet the tourists’ expectations. This reduces cultural practices to a mere performance.
Cultural tourism causes negative economic impacts to the local community. The employment opportunities generated because of tourism, are of low wages and have low benefits including lack of job security, health insurance cover and lack of work safety rules or environmental standards. Little foreign income generated from the tourist activities is retained in the country, as foreign investors usually own vehicles, tourist hotels and airplanes.
Cultural tourism can also encourage the development of social problems like drug trafficking, illegal poaching of endangered species that has a negative economic impact. The establishment of many tourist restaurants, bars, and entertainment spots within a cultural site encourages increase in crime, prostitution usually involving the youth from the local communities leading to social conflicts between the locals and the visitors.
Finally, cultural tourism involves the converging of many tourists from different parts of the world on a historic site or monument contributing to environmental damage. In addition, most tourist facilities such as hotels are located near the cultural heritage sites, which contribute to environmental pollution and damage to the monuments and historical artifacts affecting their aesthetic value over time. This negative effect is worsened by the common tendency of tourists collecting souvenirs and other items from archeological and cultural sites.
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Pokhara-Ghandruk Cultural Tourism Site
Gandruk is a village located in the Northwestern region of Nepal near Annapurna and Machhapuchre mountains. The village is popular for “trekking and the rich cultural practices of the natives, the Gurungs” (Grieve, 2006, p. 41). Tourists visit this village for trekking beginning at Annapuma military camp up to the mountains while enjoying the scenic beauty of the snow capped mountains coupled with the variety of cultural practices of the natives.
The benefits of cultural tourism in this village to the inhabitants are many. The growing tourism activities have generated employment opportunities for young boys employed as guides for the trekkers. Other locals are employed as porters in lodges and resorts to carry luggage for the visitors. The tourist lodge and resort owners have benefitted from the trekking activities.
The owners of the resorts obtain huge profits, which they use to educate their children and invest in towns such as Pokhara and Kathmandu. Additionally, the trekking allows host-guest interaction, which promotes familiarity of the visitors with the native cultures. However, the rest of the inhabitants of the village do not benefit from the cultural tourism; they rather rely on cultivation of food crops such as potatoes to sustain them economically, which creates economic disparity among the inhabitants.
The cultural tourism in this village has led to changes in traditional norms, values and lifestyles. The tourists influence on the behavior and lifestyles of young Gurungs is quite evident which is offensive to the older generation. The young generation imitation of foreign fashions introduced by the tourists has led to disappearance of cultural values including traditional dressing.
The norms and traditional values of the Gurung people have been abandoned by the younger generation leading to loss of cultural identity and this has created social conflict between the older generation and the younger generation in this village.
The social and economic negative effects of tourism to the village are enormous. For instance, in Ghandruk village, arranged marriages were highly regarded but with the introduction of new concepts of romantic love and movies by the visitors, the young generation prefers cross-cultural marriages to arranged ones.
The robust growth of tourist activities in this village has also encouraged the increase in cases of prostitution and unwanted pregnancy. The trekking tourists exchange money for sex with the natives of this village; a huge social thorn in this community.
Sydney as a Cultural Centre
In Sydney, much like in many world cities, the district cultural precincts have been established to offer a diverse cultural experience to the visitors and promote economic development. Cultural districts refer to “popular sites that offer a diverse range of cultures and traditions for the tourists” (Brooks & Kushner, 2001, p.14).
Cultural precincts serve as entertainment spots with cultural dances and festivals, food and dressing displayed for the tourists. The cultural districts have led to emergence of cultural ‘commodification’ that involves the “marketing of city cultural products and unique experiences to tourists” (Hall & Hubbard, 1998, p.20), which is important for urban economic transformation through the promotion of tourism.
In Sydney, the Local authorities with the help from the government do intensive marketing of cultural sites that offer unique cultural products and experiences.
The economic gains from cultural tourism in this city are significant as they “exceed all other tourist destinations in the country with over half of international tourists to Australia visiting Sydney” (Foo &Rossetto, 1998, p.6). The important cultural tourist destinations in Sydney include the Harbor, the Harbor Bridge, and the Opera House, all designed with unique cultural products and attractions so as to offer an ‘authentic’ Sydney experience.
The Rocks is an important urban heritage site that is economically significant to the Sydney economy full with commodified cultural products and experiences (Gibson & Freestone, 2002, p.138) and it serves as cultural and entertainment site for the tourists. Moreover, The Rocks is a very significant site to the white settlers as European settlement tracks its genesis from this historical site.
Cultural tourism has played an important role to the economic development of Sydney and The Rocks particularly has contributed to this success. However, according to Bennett (1993), “the preservation efforts of this historical site mainly focus on the colonial aspects while ignoring the contribution of the indigenous people in the past (p.241). The preservation efforts are geared towards conservation of the historical settlement while neglecting the aboriginal cultures and traditions.
Another problem with cultural sites set up within this city setting is the conflict regarding authenticity. In Sydney, most of the 19th century buildings are preserved for economic purposes rather than the expression of historical value and this distorted objective may cause conflicts between local communities, the authorities and the tourists.
Conflict may also arise due to biased image represented to attract tourists. The local community and other stakeholders may disapprove of the ‘authenticity’ of the images used in cultural tourism marketing. The marketing of cultural products and experiences often results to decline in cultural diversity as a unified image has to be sold to the cultural tourists (Hall &Hubbard, 1998, p.23).
Additionally, cultural precincts within a city offer cultural products and experiences making them different from the other buildings; they focus on the cultural tourist’s needs and thus do not appear to fit in the city’s setting. Moreover, the expansion and renovation of tourist sites within city settings affects the surrounding environment; a very negative impact of cultural tourism on Sydney.
Cultural tourism in Venice
Venice is a popular tourist destination in northern Italy with a mix of natural beauty and rich cultures. Its beautiful cultural heritage attracts many tourists. In addition, the city has a beautiful scenery and rich traditional music making it an important destination for cultural tourists (Davis, & Marvin, 2004, p.137). Prestigious festivals such as the Venice Film Festivals attract visitors from all over the world who want to experience the unique cultural and artistic experience.
The cultural commodification by the authorities of this city has promoted numerous attraction sites such as the Grand Canal and the famous Piazza San Marco. This move has increased the number of visitors including famous actors, celebrities and investors into the city contributing to economic development in the city (Crouzet, 2002, p.252).
However, the mass visits by the cultural tourists have caused many problems to the natives. Overcrowding is a major phenomenon in the city with majority of the people being tourists coupled with competition by investors to establish tourist resorts and residential homes, which has increased prices of properties forcing residents out of the city.
Sustainable cultural tourism has both negative and positive benefits to the natives and the visitors alike. The natives benefit economically from the proceeds of cultural tourism and they learn to appreciate and preserve their cultural practices. The cultural tourists in turn get unique cultural experience by cultural tourist destinations.
Commodification of cultural products and experiences are major efforts of urban governments to promote tourism and spur economic growth in urban centers. Cultural district precincts like museums are centers for the exposure of the cultural products with authorities striving hard to create attractive images of the cultures provided in these centers. However, unsustainable cultural tourism in cities causes substantial changes to the nature and appearance of the environment and affects the lifestyles of the native people.
Bennett, T. (1993). History of the Rocks: Australian Cultural Studies. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Brooks, A., & Kushner, R. (2001). Cultural Districts and Urban Development. International Journal of Arts Management, 3(2), 10-15.
Crouzet, E. (2002). Venice Triumphant. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University press.
Davis, R., & Marvin, G. (2004). Venice The Tourist Maze. London: University of California Press.
Foo, L., & Rossetto, A. (1998). BTR Occasional Paper Number 27: Cultural Tourism in Australia-Characteristics and Motivations. Bureau of Tourism Research, 6, 1-80.
Gibson, C., & Freestone, R. (2002). The Cultural Economic Spaces of Sydney: in Culture, Economy and Place: Asia-Pacific Perspectives. London: University of New South Wales Press.
Gimblet, B. (1998). Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. London: University of California Press. P. 67
Grieve, G. (2006). Retheorizing Religion in Nepal (Religion/Culture/Critique). New York: Palgrave McMillan.
Hall, T., & Hubbard, P. (1998). The Entrepreneurial City: Geographies of Politics, Regime and Representation. Colchester: John Wiley and Sons.
Karp, I. (1996). Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.