Tourism as a Cultural Phenomenon Essay Example
Tourism as a Cultural Phenomenon Essay Example

Tourism as a Cultural Phenomenon Essay Example

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  • Pages: 6 (1610 words)
  • Published: April 29, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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Tourism is global phenomenon that has evolved tremendously in the past century. These transformations have depended on and benefited from the emergence of Western Capitalism and capitalist economies (Chambers 2010: 15). Initially restricted to the tourism of the “preserve of elites” (Urry 1991: 4) the “Grand Tour” has over time become an easily accessible universal experience, defining the characteristics of the modern man and consequently is the “largest industry in the world” (Urry 1991: 5).

Although the prevalence of tourism in modern society is obvious, the motivation of modern tourists from a cultural and social phenomenon is not. Apart from its accessibility, what motivates the modern mass tourist to leave its area of familiarity? The study of modern mass tourism from this cultural and social perspective has been studied and analyzed on economical, behavioural and social structuralist pers


pectives, by multiple social and anthropological actors. this essay will examine the multiple reasons and perspectives that certain actors have taken regarding the emergence of tourism as a modern phenomenon.

Using the insight of Urry, the overlapping feature of each perspective will ultimately present the “key feature” underlining the mass tourist industry. The modern ‘mass society tourist’ emerged partly from mans increased facility of travel brought by the emergence of the middle class and “increased awareness of the outer world” (Cohen 1972: 165) brought by better means of communication and air travel. This does not imply that before the emergence of mass tourism no one traveled out of his or her area of familiarity.

Travel shifted from simply expeditions of trade and exploration to tourism with the “closer association to the ideals of leisure and recreation” (Chambers 2010: 10) in th

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eighteenth century phenomena of the European Grand Tour which continued to develop until it became a popular for mass groups This historical shift from ‘individual traveler’ to the contemporary institutionalized tourist is theorized by multiple writers, one being Daniel Boorstin. In Boorstins opinion the basis of the shift is that the traveler is “active” and “working at something” where as the modern tourist is “passive
he goes sight-seeing” (MacCanell 1999: 104).

For Boorstin, the nature of the tourist experience is the pursuit of a “pseudo event” or attractions that are made suitable for mass tourism by being supplied with facilities and in the process are “isolated from the ordinary flow of life and natural texture of the host society” (Cohen 1972: 170). From his reasoning the basis of modern tourism lacks sophistication and insight and represents the tourists readiness to accept and even prefer the superficial attractions and contrived experiences to ‘authentic’ ones.

Boorstin’s attitude of tourism reflects a perceived “commonplace” tendency for intellectuals to emphasize the banality of tourist experiences as noted by MacCannell (MacCannell 1999: 104). MacCannell rejects Boorstin’s associations of “pseudo events” as being a “hopeful appellation that suggests that they are insubstantial or transitory” (MacCannell 1999: 105) and clearly defines his stance on modern tourism in the title of his book The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class.

MacCannell’s social-structuralist approach on mass tourism is directly linked to the font-back dichotomy contnuum established by Erving Goffman. In this division of social establishments each stage represents the amount of access the audience has, and for MacCannell sustaining these front back regions requires mystification. With tourism “authenticity itself moves to inhabit mystification” (MacCannell 1999: 93)

so the last stage or “back region” represents the truest form of authenticity and inherently acts as the motivation of tourists consciousness.

However, in the tourist industry this back stage is not consistent with Goffman’s defined term but rather is “a staged back region” (MacCannell 1999:99) which sufficiently inhibits the tourist with the feeling of ‘discovery’, which is necessary to fuel tourist’s consciousness. These staged back regions are physically constructed proximal to serious social activities and provide insight to the ethnological perception of “getting in with the natives” (MacCannell 1999:105).

MacCannell argues that “pseudo events” result as a responsive mechanism of natives who know that the tourist wants to see the real workings of their culture and thus build a wall or “staged back region” to “protect themselves from intrusions into their lives backstage” (Urry 1991: 9) and not from a tourists search for the inauthentic. For MacCannell the modern phenomenon of tourism is based this quest for authenticity, where “attractions are analogous to the religious symbolism of primitive peoples” (MacCannell 1999:2).

He notes as the progress of modernity moves farther away from the sense of instability and inauthenticity, and tourism provides an escape to the nostalgic feeling of “destroyed cultures and dead epochs. ” (MacCannell 1999: 3). Modernity’s influence on tourism is not only that it makes it more accessible, but that its systemizing nature indirectly inhibits the tourists with the desire to return to a simpler time which is reincarnated as a tourist destination.

Critical of both Boorstin and MacCannell assumptions that there is only one type of tourist, whatever his or her goals as a tourist may be, is Cohen who suggests instead that there is

a variety of tourist types or “modes of tourist experiences” (Urry 1991:8). For tourism to work smoothly these modes are differentiated and established through a combined degree of novelty or difference with a degree of familiarity. For modern mass tourists, familiarity is at a maximum and novelty is at a minimum. This is maintained by an “environmental bubble” surrounding the tourist, and fencing them off from integrating into their hosts society.

In Cohens terms, MacCannell’s idea of a tourist would be classified as a mono-institutionalized explorer and ‘drifter’. For these types of tourists escaping the environmental bubble and entering “back stage” are a predominant goals of travel. Cohen believes that authenticity is not static but negotiated, and may take emergent positions, varying from mass tourist to ‘drifter’, influenced by tourists’ interpretations of novelty and strangeness as well as their desires, expectations and motivations.

Cohen also takes globalization and its creation of “global cities” into account to account for the growing interaction between formally isolated social systems as “one of the most salient characteristics of the contemporary world” (Cohen 1972: 180). This interaction however, is highly mediated through the representatives of the tourist industry or ‘hospitality services’ encapsulating and enforcing the environmental bubble. Cohen predicts the detrimental aftermath that globalization and the growth of the mass tourist will have on the “unspoiled nature of the traditional ways of life” (Cohen 1972: 182).

His theorization is faulty on the basis that globalization not only accounts for increasing interconnections but also the creation of a hierarchy of spaces (Sarup ). Hierarchies are maintained through capital, which is the main motive of the tourist industry. Looking at he other side of tourism,

the producer, and their influence on the tourist brings us to the final economical approach to the cultural phenomenon of tourism, studied by Meethan and Britton.

Modern man evidently is consciously overcome by the desire to travel stemming from many sociological factors, but what helps him decide on his destination relies mainly on the external representation of the hierarchal tourist industry. Meethan suggests the hierarchy of spaces is symbolic for the commoditization of place in the tourist industry. This means that it is a highly competitive industry that used the hierarchy presented in globalization to promote products or “destinations”, which are used to represent the host country.

Britton presents the latent function of mass tourisms standardization as the “repeatable and marketable product” of space (Britton 1982: 336). The critical factors of tourist flow, Britton states, are not simply attractions but the transport linkages, accommodation provision and fare costs (1982: 338). Therefore a tourists motivation is not based entirely on their curiosity, desire to uncover the authentic, or emotional investments as Boorstin, MacCannell, and Cohen, suggest, but is largely shaped by the power of the host country.

Considering the extent to which the tourist experience is embodied, influenced and shaped is necessary when placing modern mass tourism as a social and cultural phenomenon. This experience can be embodied not solely through a “gaze” as implied by Urry but rather throughout the whole body, and both consciously and physically. The implied motivation for this experience can range from inauthentcially contrived ‘pseudo events’ as allocated by Boorstin, the modern adaptation of the “universal concern with the sacred” as noted by MacCannell (Urry 1991:9) or personal interpretations of social solidarity theorized by


However these concepts may differ, they all rely on both the strength and power of the host country, an economical approach presented by Meethan and Birtton. Each of these theories intersects at one specific concept, highlighted by Urry, being the distinction between “home” and “away”. This fundamental “binary division between the ordinary/everyday and the extraordinary” (Urry 1991: 12) is key in instilling the consciousness of the mass tourist, and is commoditized in the tourist industry as the differentiation of “work” and “leisure”, which provides reasoning for tourism as a cultural trend.

Indubitably this binary is a central feature of the recent emergence of the middle class whose interest in work constructs an ‘alienated leisure’ and both comparisons help shape the experience of tourism.


  1. Britton, S. “The political economy of Tourism in the third world” in Annals of tourism Research, Vol. 9 (1982): 331-358. Chambers, Erve Native tours in the Anthropology of travel and tourism Second Edition. 2010
  2. Cohen, Erick, “Toward a sociology of international tourism” in Social Research 39, No. 1, Spring (1972): 164-182. Cohen, Erick  “A phenomenology of tourist experiences”, in Sociology 13 (1979): 179-201.
  3. MacCannell, Dean, “Staged Authenticity. ” In The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class 1999 [original 1979].
  4. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 91-107. Meethan, Kevin “Creating Tourist Spaces: from Modernity to Globilization” (Chapter 2), in Tourism in Global Society, Place, Culture, Consumption, 2001, Palgrave, pp. 16-40 Sarup, Madan.
  5. “Home and Identity. ” Travellers’ Tales, Narratives of Home and Displacement. London: Routledge, 1994. 93-104. Urry, John. The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies. 1991 London: Sage.
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