It may seem counterintuitive to some, but tourism actually has a role to play in preserving culture.
You see, tourism is closely tied to cultural promotion, increased cultural awareness, and the accumulation of resources to be used for cultural preservation.
How? We’ll outline that in more detail today as we talk about tourism’s role in keeping culture and heritage alive.
How Tourism Helps Cultural Preservation
Let's start with what tourism does.
It basically encourages outsiders to visit and possibly experience a culture or locale different from their own. This is useful in the preservation of culture and heritage because it increases their visibility past their usual borders.
When tourism is done right, the visibility it can grant a culture isn’t shallow either.
To see why, you just need to remember that understanding culture is best done from close-up or even via immersion. Holding yourself at a distance from a culture isn’t usually the best way to fully grasp it.
Immersion and intimacy give you a better picture of the culture than a remote perspective. It can enrich even your insight on cultural differences.
This experience of a culture renders your awareness of it deeper and more meaningful.
This means that the visibility tourism can give to a culture and heritage becomes less of a shallow image, more truly reflective of the society being identified and acknowledged.
And this matters for several reasons!
First, preservation of a culture doesn't happen merely through memories of those who own it.
It can happen too through acknowledgement of those outside the culture, through their appreciation and agreement that there is definitely an identity in there that’s worth recognising.
Second, this appreciation from outsiders can encourage members of the culture to actually keep it alive out of pride. The admiration of others can help you realise the importance of knowing your culture.
That can tie into schemes for cultural tourism, whereby added impetus to keep the culture alive - whether for economic gain or other reasons - would arise.
Those same schemes can be used to harvest resources for the preservation of culture and heritage too. This is often the case for entry fees to heritage sites, where a portion of the fees are used to maintain the locations.
So, as you can see, tourism can have clear benefits for cultural preservation.
The Other Side of the Coin
That being said, there's reason to be wary of tourism too if you care about cultural preservation.
Tourism can dilute culture in some ways. For example, it can bring about overdone commodification of traditions and heritage.
When people put profit-making first, that’s always a possibility. It even paves the way for cultural theft, which happens fairly often now since people recognise there’s a market for cultural commodities.
A famous example would be the inauthentic didgeridoo trade.
Didgeridoos are iconic wind instruments used by Australia’s aborigines. Even their crafting is an important piece of aboriginal heritage, as it requires the careful selection and polishing of live trees that have been hollowed by termites.
Unfortunately, demand for didgeridoos among collectors and tourists is such that the aborigines who normally craft them can barely meet supply.
This is because it takes a long time to make a didgeridoo the traditional way.
The result is that some entrepreneurs have set up “didgeridoo workshops” in other locations - like Southeast Asian countries - where foreign nationals make the instruments using modern methods.
They churn out the didgeridoos by the hundreds and then sell them while claiming them to be authentic.
Thefts like this can be a serious outcome of uncontrolled cultural tourism. It turns culture into another commodity to be mass-produced, outsourced, and thus, rendered inauthentic.
Striking a Balance
Still, tourism can have obvious benefits for cultural preservation.
This is particularly true today, when living in a vacuum is no longer feasible due to the high integration of economies and societies.
Tourism may help communities stay aware of what to look out for in terms of keeping tradition alive when managed properly.
It can keep us aware of the dangers of losing the past in the push to move forward while also offering ways to use that past for progress.
To that end, everything comes down to balance, as with most things.
What do you think, yourself? What’s your take on tourism and how it can help with cultural preservation - if at all?
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