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Positive and Negative Impacts of Ethnic Tourism

Tourism inherently includes both positive and negative impacts on a community, its economy, and environment (Byrd, 2007). The improper development of tourism may destroy economic, environmental, and social resources (Choi & Sirakaya, 2006; Inskeep, 1991) to exploit present gain while failing to sustain those features of the social and natural environment that are the attraction for tourists.

Nurse (2006) has argued that culture is the fourth dimension of sustainability which is central to the social, economic, and environmental dimensions. For Nurse (2006), the term “culture” includes cultural identities, tangible and intangible heritage, and cultural industries. Protection of culture has been overlooked by hegemonic development approaches which prioritize concepts such as growth, efficiency, and capital accumulation (Nurse, 2006).

Ethnic tourism can enhance awareness of ethnic groups, protect the cultural heritage of local minorities, promote restoration, and protect ethnic attributes that were dying out (Henderson, 2003; MacCannell, 1984). Ethnic tourism has been increasingly supported to attract tourists and to generate income and foreign exchange for ethnic communities (Jamison, 1999; Wood, 1998). Many countries utilize their cultural diversity and use ethnic tourism to stimulate local economic development (Henderson, 2003). Ethnic tourism not only helps to facilitate economic and cultural development but also assists in heritage preservation. Ethnic tourism can enhance awareness of ethnic groups, protect the cultural heritage of local minorities, promote restoration, and protect ethnic attributes that were thought to be dying out (Henderson, 2003; MacCannell, 1984). Moreover, ethnic tourism strengthens the identity of ethnic groups by presenting many opportunities (such as the ethnic culture’s arts, performances, and festivals) to display cultures and revive traditions, languages, and cultural pride (Van den Berghe, 1994; Pitchford, 1995; Jamison, 1999).

Although ethnic tourism may help to enhance the economy and bring social benefits to the local community, it also brings negative effects to cultures, their way of life, and their sense of identity (Oakes, 1998; Picard & Wood, 1997; Xie, 2001). A study of indigenous tourism business in Queensland, Australia, concluded that economic rationalism can make tourism enterprises more competitive but may lead to undesirable consequences for indigenous tourism stakeholders (Whitford, Bell & Watkins, 2001). Challenges faced in developing tourism with the indigenous Northern Canadian Cree community, included lack of cultural awareness by tourists, and lack of collaboration among local product suppliers and tourism operators (Notzke, 2004). A case study in Malaysia found that the local Mah Meri community is proud of their culture, but they worry about their natural resources (Kunasekaran, Gill, Talib & Redzuan, 2013).

Ethnicity has become commoditized, which involves selling the re-created ethnic cultural product to tourists. For the tourist market, ethnic tourism commodification can destroy the diverse traditional culture (Oakes, 1993; Smith Sc Brent, 2001). Because of the high demand for tourism, investors tend to show tourists some “fake” versions of culture, which leads to a loss of authenticity of the local culture (Getz, 1998). This creates an obstacle for sustainable development of the tourism industry. According to Xie (2001), “what the tourist actually sees is just a faint reflection of the true culture” (p. 13). Van den Berghe and Keyes (1984) indicated that tourists can make ethnic minorities less exotic and traditional by transforming an ethnic person into a performer who adjusts his behavior for financial benefit according to what is attractive to tourists.

Van den Berghe and Keyes (1984) used the term “living spectacle” to describe the life of ethnic people who are observed, photographed, and interacted with. Tourists like visiting a “human zoo.” Many locals feel that their life is disturbed. Tourists often take photos of them without their permission. Locals are shocked by their unwanted guests, and their children become “spoiled, or develop demeaning begging behavior” (Van den Berghe, 1992, p. 235). The balance between the use of ethnicity as a tourist attraction, the protection of minority cultures, and the promotion of ethnic pride has become an increasing concern (Henderson, 2003; Swain, 1989; Xi, 2001).

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