The Influence of the Tourist Industry and Municipality on Cultural Changes

Essay, 2010

9 Pages, Grade: A


That tourism flows pollute the local culture[1] and degrade the authenticity of a location (Desforges 517-518) has almost become a truism. In fact, as Coleman and Crang observe such critiques are as old as tourism itself (qtd. in Desforges 522-524) and are linked up with a wrong understanding of places – at least from a human geographical point of view. If detractors state that a locality has become “inauthentic” under touristic influence than in reverse it must have been “authentic”, meaning genuine, unaffected and stable, before travelers visited it and brought their own culture. In contrast there is basically no place which developed without the influence of travelers. As Doreen Massey notes a place is not the way it is because of internal characteristics but because of global linkages (qtd. in Crang 45-49) and as Desforges adds “tourism and travel are merely a new form of interconnection between places” (523). For instance the Dutch city Middelburg gained some of its today's distinctive appearance and character by the slave trade and the resulting prosperity some hundred years ago (Encyclopædia Britannica). As Greenwood concludes “some of what we see as destruction is construction” (182). However, distinctive local traditions like certain ceremonies can change or even lose not only their original meaning but also the sense for residents under the influence of mass tourism (Hall and Page 122; Greenwood 181-182). One example for such a change of meaning can be seen in the development of the wine festivals in the Palatinate in Germany which will be examined later.

In academics, one of the main critiques of tourism is coined by Davydd J. Greenwood who argues that local culture gets commodified under touristic influence. As a certain amount of strangers attend an activity, like a ritual or celebration of cultural or historical signifiance for the local, “without their consent” and without “reimbursing them” their culture becomes a commodity and eventually often ends up as a tourist attraction but “meaningsless to the people who once believed in it” (173) and only gets preserved to make money. Instancing the “Alarde”, a huge annual parade commemorating the resitance of the Basque city Fuenterrabia against the sixty-nine days lasting French siege in 1638, Greenwood shows how an internal ritual was transformed into a public touristic attraction within two years with the aid of municipal promotion. In the former times the Alarde was was not only a re-enactment of a historical event but also mattered as a display of their Basque identity. Then in the course of an increased publicity for the city when a hotel was opened in the rebuild fortress in 1969 the Alarde was added to the “basic tourism package” (177). The municipality tried to change the way this ritual was performed, so that hotel guests could see it, and even wanted to show it twice a year. The initial bewilderment of the inhabitants soon changed in a renunciative stance and the municipality encountered problems finding participants for this event. The prior ritual which was seen as a “performance for the participants” (176) was transformed into a show, a tourist feature.

This example shows quite well what Greenwood means with his term “cultural commoditization.” Some people would consider this also as a prime example for a case in which tourism, or rather the “capitalist development” (Mowforth and Munt, 40), spoiled or destroyed the local culture. For the contemporary residents, this might be true because they lost an internal ritual which was once meaningful to them. However, whether a certain change of a ritual is positive or negative should only be judged from the perspective of the residents – even if they might also tend to disagree to cultural changes too quickly. Criticism by outsiders is therefore often connected with a “scarce empathy” (Thiem 28) with the locals. Furthermore, criticism sometimes originates in a “cultural pessimism” which values every variation from their imaginative, romantic picture of a certain place as a step towards cultural decay (Thiem 28). Then we also have to think about the impact that the tourism has on the economic status of the town Fuenterrabia (or any other touristic city) which might not be insignificant on the long run. When the tourist industry grows, foreign people will move to this place on their search for a job and will bring their own culture and innovations. Another point is the creation of cultural and sporting events for tourists from which residents could profit, too. All these factors would most likely be influential on the construction of the culture in the future. Already with the help of this small contemplation we can see that it is basically out of question that tourism simply destroys the local culture.


[1] For the scope of this essay it is enough to define culture according to Pestalozzi as everything which is “typical for a human community in a specific region” (qtd. in Thiem 27)

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The Influence of the Tourist Industry and Municipality on Cultural Changes
Utrecht University  (Roosevelt Academy)
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tourism, tourist industry, municipality, cultural changes
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Nora Görne (Author), 2010, The Influence of the Tourist Industry and Municipality on Cultural Changes, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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