Commodification Impacts on Tourism

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Impacts of “Commoditization” on Tourism

Tourism & Social Policy

Impacts of “Commoditization” on Tourism

Types of tourism, these days, seem to be as plentiful as ice cream flavours. Marketing teams have developed “the dream vacation” for just about everyone, whether your interests lie in adventure travel, cruising, or wine tasting, your imagination (and perhaps your budget) is pretty much your only limitation. Along side this ever increasing number of vacation destinations a large body of research on the “tourist machine” also grows. Over time, the focus of tourism research has shifted somewhat from the basic sort of anthropological or sociological questions such as “why do people choose the destinations they do” and “how do the natives of these tourist destinations feel about their “guests”” to more of an environmental and cultural impact approach. The impacts commoditization on tourism is the focus of this paper.

Commoditization, in terms of tourism, is the “packaging” and sale of an idea or story. What I mean by that is that what is being turned into a commodity is an “experience,” not a tangible product. For example, Commoditization of the past is the sale of tradition and/or history. Commoditization of culture is the sale of tradition and/or ritual. Many authors have written about the impact that tourists attention to a community’s ethnic identity has on that culture and have found that long-lost traditions are being revived and even new ‘staged traditions’ are being dreamt up in order to comply with the tourists’ growing demand for ‘authentic cultures’ (Cohen, 1988; MacCannell, 1999; MacDonald, 1997; Van den Berghe, 1994). Ooi (2002),when researching the contrasting strategies Denmark and Singapore have taken in tourism, coined three terms to describe some important issues that the commoditization of tourism has facilitated. Heteroglossia, refers to the conflict of commercial and cultural contexts in tourism; polyphony, highlights the ubiquitous voice of the authorities in managing the clashes of tourism and local culture; and the carnivalesque refers to the spheres of activities beyond the control of the authorities. These three concepts are loosely used as the foundation for this paper.

Quite often a developing country’s last resort in its quest for economic growth is to venture into the tourism industry (Lea, 1988). Even if that country’s government enters into the tourism arena with the noblest of intentions, their desires to lure in foreign exchange, attract investments, increase income and employment levels, and to achieve general progress can force governments to base their decisions “on the wishes of the dominant actors in the industry; therefore they generally tend to favour the large-scale development of (multinational) tourism enterprises” (Roessingh, 2004).

Growth of a tourism industry in a developing country is often a double edged sword. On the one hand, it is not uncommon for the growth to begin even before the government commits to supporting the venture, leaving its development up to the private sector (Dahles, 1999). This places the pressure of development initiatives upon the private sector and, while they are likely to gain income for their efforts they are no match for the large scale companies that will inevitably come knocking. This informal private sector contains small-scale, mostly self-built and unorganized, entrepreneurs. The formal sphere or large scale companies on the other hand, consists of large, capital intensive, well-structured, mostly multinational enterprises (Roessingh, 2004). On the other hand, these large enterprises often bring with them significant investments, knowledge, and technology and can therefore contribute more to the economic growth of the country it enters than their smaller competitors would.

Because of their connections in the tourist markets, knowledge of the demands and...
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