The earlier unit touched upon some of the concepts in tourism and culture. The notion of authenticity as perceived by the tourist and presented by the host for the benefit of the tourist was discussed. In this unit, we will focus on the commodification of tourism. First, the concept of commodification will be explained followed by two case studies, reflecting the commodification of culture.

Culture is the sum total of our everyday lives. It is what we do, how we act, and how we go about performing everyday tasks in our lives. But when these everyday activities are presented in a way that is sold to the tourist, it becomes commodification. It is no more the normal everyday life of the host, but a life that is glorified, made to appear exotic, to show that it is unique, for which money should be paid.


As an object of anthropological inquiry, tourism as Shepherd, 2002: 184, (cf. Graburn, 1983: 10; Nash and Smith, 1991: 22) has stated, can be defined and shaped by a series of questions that tend to revolve around three issues: ‘individual motivation (why do people travel?), economic gains and losses (who benefits from this travel?) and tourism’s cultural impact (what ‘cultural’ changes does tourism bring?)’. The commodification of culture thus involves the construction of culture wherein the cultural items and traits are being promoted as symbols of a particular culture. Such reconstruction may dilute the original cultural element many times. 

Claude Lévi-Strauss’s in Tristes Tropiques stated that: travel books and travelers [contemporary tourists] serve only to ‘preserve the illusion of something that no longer exists; genuine travel has been replaced by movement through a ‘monoculture’ in a fruitless search for a ‘vanished reality. The very concept of monoculture arises from the commodification of culture. What tourism projects as ‘real culture is in fact a part of the culture that has been recreated for the benefit of the tourist, to give the experience an appearance of being real. 

According to Shepherd (2002:184), cultural commodification is considered by many scholars as that component of cultural tourism that can help in the revival of local interest in traditional cultural forms, thus both reviving vanishing cultural traits and providing the host with material benefits (cf. McKean, 1989 [1977]). This also brings to the forefront the fact that in the commodification of culture, the host can easily distinguish between what is ‘sacred’ (and not open to tourism) from what is ‘profane’ (and hence open to commodification) (cf. Picard, 1996, 1997).

In this regard, Goldstein’s, work on Commodification of Beliefs (2007: 170-173) can be cited. She has examined the role of commodification in very different contexts that manifest in the exploration and expression of beliefs. The work looks into the practice of Ghost tours, haunted hotels, and advertisements for haunted restaurants in Scotland. 

In a modern world of rational and scientific beliefs, the concept of ghosts and haunted houses holds an aura of thrill and mystification that adds to the overall excitement of travel. Therefore, elements that have a haunt attached to it form the major attraction for tourists visiting Scotland. Such re-enactments and revivals of old myths and old wives’ tales are part of the contemporary consumer culture. The haunted elements are projected as part of the history of Scotland, the witch hunts, the wars and plagues which had ravaged the country in the past, giving it an aura of authenticity. 

Every tourist who had visited Scottish Highlands had gone on the tour of Loch Ness and been presented with the Loch Ness monster story also known as Nessie who lives in the lake's water. In the next section, we shall discuss some of the areas that have been touched by the commodification of culture in the tourism industry.

Define commodification in tourism

Commodification is the process of considering objects and activities primarily with their exchange values and turning them into goods or services (Cohen 1988). The dictionary definition of commodification is to make something into an object for commercial use. In terms of tourism, commodification refers to using a place's culture and cultural artifacts to make a large enough profit to support part of the area's economy (Faux).

Commodification: Commodification occurs when things that were earlier were not traded in the market. become commodities. For instance, labor or skills become things that can be bought and sold. According to Marx and other critics of capitalism, the process of commodification has adverse social effects.

Previous Post Next Post