Authenticity in tourism.

Essay by sultanUniversity, Bachelor'sC-, April 2003

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According to Theobald (1998:411) authenticity means genuine, unadulterated or the real thing. In modern times tourism is frequently accused of destroying authenticity ((a notion which is problematic in its own term), through commoditization of cultures, such as festivals, dance rituals and food which is produced for monetary gain. The definition of authenticity is debatable by many academics; I will try to explore their views on this subject in this essay.

MacCannell, in The Tourist (1999), portrayed the tourist as being on a pilgrimage, a search for authenticity. To define "authentic," MacCannell drew upon the distinction made by the sociologist Erving Goffman between the "front" and "back" regions of social establishments. The front is the place where hosts and guests, performers and audience, or service persons and customers, meet one another; the back is where members of the home team retire between performances to relax and prepare. The back region, as we all know, allows concealment of props and activities that might discredit the performance out front.

In a literal sense it creates a staged performance situation, the terms "front" and "back" describe actual ways in which the social roles are enacted. This search for authenticity by the tourist is seen as a compensatory process as tourists seek to recreate structures, authentic lifestyles that modernity has smashed.

What MacCannell called "staged authenticity", a way of fooling the observers can, and usually does, take place within the tourism industry: the people being toured understand the tourists desire to see real life, and obligingly manufacture false "back regions" to satisfy it. In contrast to MacCannell, who believes that tourists desire authenticity, Feifer (Urry, 1990) argues that tourists understand that it is impossible to have an authentic tourist experience and in fact enjoy inauthentic activities.

Urry discusses Feifer's theory on "playfulness". Play, she argues...