In this section and the sections thereafter, we grapple with concerns that are specific to tourism studies in anthropology. Ethnography, which is a much sought-after and important method of research employed by social scientists including anthropologists to study tourism, is faced with difficulties while investigating tourism.

This is because the tourist space, the tourist (guests), and the natives (hosts), all have interesting yet complicated positioning, making tourism investigation rather complex. Ethnography is an intrinsic part of anthropological investigation. It is a methodology that has the credibility of establishing itself first as a method and then as a product. It involves direct engagement with people for a long period of time and preferably with the use of local language to gather “authentic” information about cultures. This methodology put to use in the case of tourism studies raises concerns that need attention. 

The Field Site/The Tourist Spot

Let us first consider the place. The majority of the tourist spots have been historically significant and people visit them to recreate the romantic or ideal imagery they have in their mind’s eye about the space. The image of such a spot gives the tourists the opportunity to see the space as it has been etched in their imagination from the accounts they have read and the pictures they have seen of the same from elsewhere. This creates an exotic imprint in them which when they actually encounter, they would like to be exactly as they had visualized. It is the past of that particular place that they would like to see rather than it's present. 

The people commercially responsible for the promotion of such spots equally are responsible for keeping such ideals alive as they too offer the tourist the assurance that the spot will possess the fantasy, glamour, and sentimentality that it owned once upon a time. So, for example, in the case of India, Westerners would love to see an exotic land with snake charmers, naked hermits, and elephants or the famous Taj Mahal as a symbol of true love. The locals in such tourist spots, to keep this imagined reality intact, behave in a way that is pleasing to the tourists, allowing them to take with them a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. The very actions undertaken to achieve these ends provide interesting anthropological fields of study.

The Tourist/The Guest

Secondly, a tourist spot is identified not only by the attractions it possesses but also equally by the people who visit the space and make it economically and culturally viable. They comprise of the visitor, the guest who goes to experience what a place has to offer, and most importantly for leisure and pleasure. The presence of the tourist allows for an interesting take for an ethnographer to study the perspective the tourists hold for the place, the gaze the tourists emanate, how the tourists view the locals, etc.

As mentioned above the tourists would like to be positioned in a way that caters to their imagined reality, it is, therefore, more interesting to understand and see how an ethnographer tackles such scenarios where the past, the present, the imagined, and the real are all entangled. Comparing an ethnographer and a tourist is a highly controversial area, debated by many scholars as to what role each has to play, how similar or different they are, and how they can co-exist the validity of a travelogue penned by a tourist as compared to an ethnographic monograph created by an ethnographer. Their similarities in the ways of representing society and its culture overlap so much that they have also been addressed as ”distant relatives” (Crick 1995).

As in the past anthropology was dependent on the accounts of missionaries, voyagers, and migrants to develop the subject, similarly who is to say that work created by tourists cannot be helpful in a world where the discourse produced by the ethnographer on society debates with the question of what the “other” sees that the “self” might want to do away with. Urry (1990) exclaims that it is now hard to identify any difference between the processes of tourism and processes of society and culture. This is as in this postmodern world meaning of perception and representation may vary for different observers. As early as 1955 Lévi Strauss brought out Tristes Tropiques (1955) which is a classic example of an anthropologist’s travels and can be safely placed as a work of anthropological importance where ironically Strauss talks about his hatred for travel and people who travel.

The Native/The Host

One important aspect that anthropologists look into is to what extent and in what way the host communities are affected by the entry and presence of guests, the tourists. The impact of the culture of the tourist on that of the hosts can be interesting to note.

The hosts copy the mannerisms of the guests which after some time can considerably affect the cultural and social structure of the host community. This can result in either a simple cultural drift or more complex acculturation. This however can only happen if the tourist is seen as coming from a superior culture. Mathieson and Wall (1992) have pointed out that when hosts change their behavior akin to the guests when they are present but become their normal selves again, once the tourists leave can be seen as cultural drift. It is more phenotypic.

However, if changes in behavior become a more permanent happening where the cultural change which occurs due to coming in contact with tourists is handed down from one generation to the next, then this can be a part of acculturation. This may be seen as genotypic behavior. For example, the hill stations of India that were the favorite tourist spots of the British imbibed much of British culture which still persists. Nash has discussed the “adaptations host communities make when they become tourist destinations” (1996: 121). With the building of hotels, resorts, and recreation centers. hosts have to cater to all the needs that the tourists look for to make the guests feel at home.

For this, it is obvious that the hosts have to make significant changes in their own lives to create another environment that is not part of their everyday life. The tourist-host contact is often “misinterpreted”. Each has unreal expectations of each other’s reality and allows anthropologists to notice the kind of adaptations they make to their behavior to meet these expectations. Salazar and Graburn in their book, Tourism Imaginaries: Anthropological Approaches (2014) deal with these very concerns.

Cultural Drift: It is a slow change that results from either a cultural loss or a gain in any cultural element or any practice in culture. For example Fashion and style change.

Acculturation: This is a process that occurs when a culture assimilates itself into another culture, characteristically into the dominant one.

Phenotype: It is a physical trait that can be observed.

Genotype: It is the genetic composition of any living being.

Discuss This Question

What does an ethnographic investigation entail?
Ethnography is a qualitative method for collecting data often used in the social and behavioral sciences. Data are collected through observations and interviews, which are then used to draw conclusions about how societies and individuals function.

What does the tourist generally expect from a tourist spot?
Tourists' expectations when visiting a particular place are related to several features of the chosen destination: culture, architecture, gastronomy, infrastructure, landscape, events, shopping, etc. These features attract people to the destination and contribute to the overall experience of the trip.

What is the name of Lévi Strauss’ famous work based on his travels?
Mr. Lévi-Strauss shot to prominence early, but with his 1955 book, “Tristes Tropiques,” a sort of anthropological meditation based on his travels in Brazil and elsewhere in the 1930s, he became a national treasure of a specially French kind.

When do hosts encounter a cultural drift?
Fads and styles are examples of cultural drift. For example, the change from the requirement to wear a tie in order to go into a formal business meeting to the acceptability of going to the meeting dressed informally without a tie. Drift is usually a generational phenomenon.
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