Essay on Lifestyle and Consumer Culture: Authenticity and Commoditization of Tourism in the Tourism Industry

Published: 2022/01/11
Number of words: 2373

In much of the literature concerning tourism, the tourist is portrayed as seeking out an elusive concept of originality in local culture. This study will re-examine these issues in order to explore concerns with authenticity and commoditization. New cultural developments over time may come to acquire some patina to authenticity. Concepts of commoditization may not necessarily harm a people’s culture but at times may be important in saving it. The paper seeks out new conclusion from common assumptions portrayed by contemporary tourism narratives. It is from analysis of these conclusions that this paper hopes will help in creating new approaches to the study of tourism and its commoditization. The study seeks to aid in disseminating current information on tourism practices and also seeks to aid in the formulation of future tourism policies.

There are some basic assumptions that lead the argument on tourism authenticity and commoditization. Greenwood (1977) argues that tourism at times leads to commoditization of various cultural practices of the host community that were previously controlled by established economic structures. Local culture will often serve to provide samples of such commoditization. For example, a local communities’ customs turn out to be commodities for the tourism industry when their only aim is to satisfy the demands of tourists and not the local population. The problem with this idea is that tourism will change how the locals view their relationship with tourists. From a humanly perspective and into a financial one providing financial gain.

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Greenwood argues that, from extensive experience, local culture often gets changed or even lost when tourist start treating it as a place worth visiting and the locals in return view it as a money making venture. The meaning of their cultures eventually erodes in the minds of the locals (Greenwood 1977). He goes on to add that because nobody can lay claim to culture and its practices, anyone can easily use them in order to gain financially at the expense of the local population who practice it.

MacCannel (1973) claims that commoditizing often erodes the originality of the cultural practices of the local population. Another kind of authenticity is portrayed to the eyes of the tourist. This ‘authenticity’ is however a staged show designed to entertain the tourist. When the local population lose the meaning of their culture and practice, they will seek even better ways to look more exotic or attractive in order to attract more tourists and therefore more money (Boorstin 1964). He argues further that contrived cultural products increasingly find their way to tourist markets disguised as authentic cultural products. MacCannell observes that even tourists who are allowed to penetrate deeper into the society to gain that original experience are often cheated. The tourists are instead presented with a false “back” that is a front that the locals use to trick the tourists (MacCannell 1973). He points out the practice that locales have of giving certain locations descriptions like being a spot not normally visited by tourist or being out of the way as a method of enticing visitors to go there in their search for untouched places. The locals of the place are then coached to act as if they are the untouched native population that the tourist seeks (Cohen 1982).

This cultured authenticity is very frustrating to the tourist who desires to experience the genuine cultural experience of the local population. MacCannell proffers the argument that in every tourist is the consciousness which gives him the desire to experience firsthand the genuine local experience. The tourist may believe that he is heading towards this goal. What happens; however is that these points of genuine cultural experience are normally set up just as entertainment for the tourist (MacCannell 1973). MacCannell argues that for the tourist, there is no salvation from these practices. He states that the establishments which themselves run the tourism industry lie to the tourist and give them staged shows passed off as authentic cultural experience. He further points out that this deception is so prevalent that entire mass tourist systems lie the tourist and give them a false experience. The tourist in the end is resigned to experience an in-authentic experience. The modern tourist is thus dammed to experience a culture that is in-authentic.

From these assumptions of commoditization, it is evident that it is encouraged by it. These practices then destroy the cultural experience both to the local population who lose their culture and to the tourist who never gets to experience their culture. It is then easy to notice that the more successful tourism becomes to a local population, the more they invent ways to keep the tourist numbers up. These arguments can easily persuade a ready to accept them as true. This view, of commoditization and capitalism at large ravaging original cultures is appealing to those who criticize the monetizing tendencies of the modern society. It becomes necessary, therefore to examine these assumptions in order to gain a more critical understanding and come up with better assumptions.


Authenticity is considered a modern value. Its emergence is as a result of the changes in social structures necessitated by the impact of modern life (Berger 1973). As social structures become less reliant on society, the modern man looks into himself to find his true identity. Whatever truth may be discovered in this search, it must contrast to the alien and Western structures of society. Berger goes on to say that the collision between the self and society has reached its epitome. Modern man is therefore seen as being in a constant quest for authenticity. Since modern man is inauthentic, they would have to seek in other parts for authenticity. The search for this authentic experience then becomes a big driver in motivating the modern tourist (MacCannell 1973). He argues that the modern tourist, themselves alienated from their roots, seeks elsewhere for the pristine and the places that are yet untouched by ways of the modern life. He seeks this experience in every place that he visits. Urry (1990), claims that tourist often travel in guided groups where they indulge in inauthentic attractions which are staged while knowingly indulge in false events without regard to the real local world that surrounds them. As a consequence of this, the local population is encouraged to create even more false displays for the eyes of the gullible tourists who are in turn alienated from the local population (Urry 1990).

The feeling of being left out and the desire to find you are related. The educated and elite of a society will more likely engage in a serious search for authenticity than more ordinary members of society. This is because the educated are more aware of their alienation and thus are driven to seek out authenticity more vigorously. The more concerned these individuals are of being original the stricter they will be in trying to measure it. Less concerned individuals including the common tourist will be comfortable with wider and much stricter criteria for judging authenticity (Cohen & Cohen 2012).

Goldberg (1983) points out that although many tourists search for original cultural experience in a local culture, they are not content with mere entertainment. He argues that tourists seek authenticity in varying degrees of how much they are separated from modern life. After this analysis, it is safe to point out that the tourist will conceive authentic experiences in varying degrees of strictness. Indeed, persons with less concern for originality will more easily accept that a cultural experience or practice is original as compared to more concerned tourists. Tourists who are really concerned with authenticity will mostly focus on the judgments of some trait of a cultural product and disdain to other people. Thus, they are willing to admit traits that to them may be considered diacritical and are judged as authentic. The traits are then seen as enough to be able to authenticate a product as a whole.

Cornet (1975) states that originality is not dictated by locals, but can be negotiated, a person must for the possibility that it will gradually emerge in the eyes of the tourist to the host culture. In other words, cultural products or customs that are considered inauthentic may in the course of time come to be admitted as original, even by experts. For example, craft products that are produced by an ethnic group purely for the purposes of selling them off for monetary gain may one day come to be considered as authentic products of a cultural group or locality. An example is the Eskimo soapstone carvings (Graburn 1976b). Greenwood (1982) remarked that all viable cultures make themselves up all the time in a process called emergent authenticity.


This is an occurrence by which activities are primarily measured by how much they can bring back to the owner. Tourists in the modern world are known for their likelihood to precipitate either indirectly or not in the commoditization of things and activities which were out of the reach of the market before the start of tourist visitations. According to Greenwood (1977), commoditized cultural practices lose their original meaning to the local population and this will eventually make them lose their desire for making them. Greenwood gives an example of the public ritual of the Alarde in Spain that became a major tourist attraction leading authorities to declare a double performance on the same day for the large numbers of tourists wishing to participate in it. This led to the local revellers losing interest in it. Consequently, the authorities were forced to start paying people to participate in the Alarde. The ritual then became a show for money and its initial meaning is lost (Greenwood 1977).

Such activities of commoditization of cultural practices are commonplace throughout low income states. Rituals, ceremonies, folk arts and costumes may all be the subject of commoditization. Moreover, many of these commoditization processes are conducted by touristic entrepreneurs and cultural brokers from outside the participant community. This opens up the community to the possibility of exploitation of their cultural values by outsiders. Further, the commoditization affects cultural activities themselves. As cultural products become designed for the external public, cultural activities may be changed to fit with the preference of the visitors (Boorstin 1964).

Greenwoods that once a cultural activity or product has been commoditized the meaning of it is lost to the locals can be proved a fallacy. Many examples to counter that claim can be found easily. For example, traditional performers performing for money to tourists may feel proud to be showcasing their art and talent to an external audience and getting money out of it. It is not logical to assume that their music is meaningless to them because they are paid for the performance. Indeed the same logic may apply to popular music that is not meaningless merely because it is commercialized.

It is important to note that commoditization often manifests in a cultural activity not when the culture coming of age but when it is already in its final stages of development. In such instances, growth of tourism will facilitate the keeping of culture and traditions that would otherwise have been lost. This is particularly common in the field of creative cultural craftsmanship which is depreciating due to the penetration of industrial goods in the local market.

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This paper seeks a different perspective to the held beliefs that are common in various literature on the subject of tourism The paper seeks to discount commoditization as a destroyer of cultural meanings and products. These products frequently acquire new meanings to the local population as they become a mark of their ethnic or cultural identity and a vehicle for self preservation before an external public. To the insiders eye, these new commoditized products do not change their cultural meanings to the locals but the old meanings remain as salient on another level to the local population. Commoditization does not change meaning of cultural products to the tourist either. Tourists are frequently prepared to scale down on their views of authenticity and will accept a product even though commoditized as long as it contains some traits perceived as authentic. The level of authenticity required to satisfy a tourist will depend on the experience to which an individual tourist aspires. Since most common tourists do not seek much depth a few authentic cultural traits will be enough to convince them of the products authenticity. Therefore, mass tourism is not successful because it is a huge lie, but because the visitors entertains concepts of originality much lower than that tolerated by the educated and the elite in society. Cohen and Cohen (2012), point out that tourism, for many tourists, is a form of play which though having roots in reality, bases its success on make-believe stories. The tourists willingly or at times unconsciously participate in the play, lying that a staged product is original even if internally, they are not convinced of the products originality.

This discussion of the commonly held views that prevail in modern literature in tourism is vital in the study of cultural and how tourism impacts on society. This study hopes to make it possible to separate cultural structures and meanings which emerge or are preserved through tourism from those that are destroyed through the impact of the same. Such an approach will then be instrumental in formulation of better policy approaches towards tourism both as a branch of economic development and cultural manifestations of the modern world.


Boorstin, 0. J. (1964) The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Harper and Row.

Berger, P (1973) “Sincerity” and “Authenticity” in Modern Society. Public Interest, 1973

Cohen, E And Cohen, S (2012) ‘Current Sociological Theories and Issues in
Tourism,’ Annals of Tourism Research.

Cornet, J (1975) African Art and Authenticity, African Art 9(1):52-55MacCannell D (1973) The Tourist: a new theory of the leisure class

Goldberg, A (1983) Identity and Experience in Haitian Voodoo Shows. Annals of Tourism Research

Graburn, N (1976b) Eskimo Art: The Eastern Canadian Arctic. In Ethnic and Tourist Arts, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Greenwood, D (1977) Culture by the Pound: An Anthropological Perspective on Tourism as Cultural Commoditization. In Hosts and Guests, V. L. Smith, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Urry, J (1990) The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies, London: Sage.

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