Europe's Voice of Tourism

Tourism cultural exploitation

Tourism cultural exploitation has many negative consequences, both for the communities being exploited and for the overall sustainability of the tourism industry.

Tourism often involves visiting unique cultural sites and engaging with local communities. However, unchecked tourism growth leads to the erosion of local cultures and traditions. Sustainable tourism promotes the preservation of cultural heritage, encourages respectful interactions between tourists and locals, and supports local economies, helping to safeguard the authenticity and integrity of cultural destinations.

Here are some key consequences of tourism cultural exploitation:

  1. Erosion of Cultural Identity: Cultural exploitation can lead to the erosion of a community’s cultural identity. When tourism focuses solely on superficial aspects of culture for commercial purposes, it may prioritize stereotypical representations and ignore the deeper nuances and values of a community’s heritage. This can result in a loss of authenticity and dilution of cultural practices, traditions, and languages.
  2. Disrespect for Local Customs and Traditions: Cultural exploitation often involves disrespectful behaviour by tourists who do not adhere to or understand local customs, etiquette, or sacred sites. This lack of respect can lead to cultural tensions, misunderstandings, and a breakdown of the relationship between tourists and local communities. It can also contribute to a loss of pride and confidence among community members regarding their own cultural heritage.
  3. The commodification of Culture: When cultural practices and traditions are commodified solely for profit, it can undermine their intrinsic value and turn them into shallow tourist spectacles. This can create a cycle where communities feel pressured to perform for tourists, leading to a loss of meaning and authenticity in their cultural expressions. The emphasis on commercialization can also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce power imbalances between the tourism industry and local communities.
  4. Unequal Distribution of Economic Benefits: Cultural exploitation often results in an unequal distribution of economic benefits from tourism. Large tourism operators or external entities may dominate the industry, leaving local communities with limited control over their own cultural assets and receiving only a small portion of the financial gains. This can exacerbate socioeconomic disparities and hinder local development and empowerment.
  5. Loss of Traditional Knowledge and Skills: Cultural exploitation can discourage the transmission of traditional knowledge and skills from one generation to another. When cultural practices become solely performative for tourists, younger community members may lose interest in learning and preserving their heritage. This loss of traditional knowledge and skills can have long-term consequences for the sustainability and continuity of a community’s cultural practices.
  6. Social and Economic Dependence on Tourism: Cultural exploitation can lead to a situation where communities become overly dependent on tourism as their primary source of income. This can create vulnerabilities and instability, as fluctuations in tourist numbers or changes in market trends can have a significant impact on the community’s livelihoods. Over-reliance on tourism may also limit the diversification of the local economy, making communities more susceptible to economic downturns.

Addressing the consequences of cultural exploitation requires a shift towards responsible and sustainable tourism practices that prioritize the empowerment and participation of local communities. This includes fostering respectful interactions, promoting genuine cultural exchange, and ensuring that economic benefits are fairly distributed to support the preservation and revitalization of cultural heritage.

Source: Responsible Travel

This is the third article of a series focused on the more complex aspects of sustainable (or responsible) tourism.