How do destinations approach authenticity in developing travel and tourism experiences?

How do different tourism and travel experiences impact a destination's culture and promotes it?

What do you think of when you hear the word Authenticity?

The term is commonly affiliated with the quality of being genuine. Many destinations approach authenticity in travel and tourism by developing novel experiences and products that showcase their richness. Often this is through developing brand new and unconventional experiences, other times, it could be by developing existing experiences in new directions. From a destination management point of view, the value of authenticity becomes prominent in offering world-class and exclusive travel experiences. However, authenticity can be interpreted differently, depending on who and what contexts perceive it. The question is how authentic tourism and travel experiences are? In other words, how do different tourism and travel experiences impact a destination's culture and promotes it?

How are Destinations using their unique values in developing authentic experiences?

Travel Oregon is an example that highly leverages a destination's potential to offer authentic experiences. Oregon is a state in the northwest of the US. It is situated along the coast of the North Pacific Ocean. Travel Oregon employs a destination-first approach and continuously invests in developing experiences that leverage and showcase statewide gems, through a wide range of tourism and travel activities. Scott Bricker, interim Vice President of Destination Development at Travel Oregon, joined us at X. Festival 2021 to discuss how they leverage different destination offerings in developing tourism and travel experiences. In Oregon, statewide natural landscapes, diverse culture, history and product growth are at the heart of developing tourism and travel experiences. As a result, the destination’s potential is well integrated into the tourism and travel experiences. You can watch Scott’s talk here.

Oregon also leverages its’ land and ocean grown food through a series of culinary tourism and travel experience. It showcases its diverse seafront and land nature through outdoor recreation experiences from windsurfing to golfing and mountain climbing. The ‘Ride Oregon’ initiative, for example, offers a variety of opportunities for cyclists to explore the state on two wheels. They have developed a series of authentic outdoor recreation experiences by creating designated cycling routes on the roads, mountains, gravel and coast. By doing so, Travel Oregon not only had broadened its experience offerings but also showcases the natural beauties of the state.

How can tourism encourage reviving authentic rituals and customs?

The pandemic time was a chance for the Hawaiians to get a sense of their island without any tourism activities running. It encouraged rethinking the image of Hawaii and shifting from a colonial concept to a more sustainable experience for travellers. For the first time, Hawaii Tourism Authority is run by a majority of natives. Hawaii is working towards sustainable destination management set out for 2025. Many destinations in Hawaii are showing the authentic image of Hawaii by moving away from what marketing executives fed the tourism industry. For example, Luau that many of us know as girls dancing in grass skirts has now regained its authentic cultural value and once again narrates Polynesian migration to Hawaii.

Do orchid leis remind you of Hawaii? Well, it is important to acknowledge that orchids are not grown in Hawaii. They used to be imported from South East Asia because white mainlanders found them pleasing despite not being economical or sustainable. As a result of the shift in Hawaii's Tourism Strategy, leis are now made from locally grown flowers. Hawaii is increasingly presenting its authentic rituals and culture through everyday tourism and travel experiences. At the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea, a local florist teaches visitors how to make garlands with locally grown plants. Lauren, the founder of Flora & Fauna is on a mission to create awareness about the natural environment around us wherever we go. In doing so, travellers engage in authentic activities having a direct connection with the destination. Travellers and the host community become more integrated and, therefore, the barrier between the traveller and the host community is broken. Also, travellers become more involved in the experience and would no longer be spectators of what the destination offers.

Hawaii’s approach to authenticity encourages thinking about how real or fake tourism and travel experiences are. Data shows that travellers seek authentic experiences. They look for a true taste of the destination.

Authentic or Staged, that is the question.

The question is whether destinations present the authenticity of their culture and heritage as naturally practised or stage it for tourism purposes? Staged authenticity in tourism is often criticised because it could present cultural activities that are unnatural to the host community or have been altered to serve the desires of the travellers. Let’s discuss a few examples from around the world and see how authentic they are.

Papua New Guinea hosts an annual National Mask Festival. The festival promotes the unique mask culture of the area through a cultural extravaganza of cultural dances, rituals and storytellings along with displays of arts and crafts. The National Mask Festival showcases the cultural practices of the people of Papua New Guinea. However, is the festival presenting the culture naturally or is it staged? You would think that local tribes gather together naturally and travellers are invited to watch the rituals and cultural practices as the locals perform them. However, the National Mask Festival is more of an organised fair. In that sense, the National Mask Festival is, to some extent, staged to attract visitors. But why is that? Papua New Guinea is in the south-western Pacific with a population of under 10 million. It is known for its expansive culture and biodiversity. It does not often make it to top destinations, especially for western travellers, and so they leverage their unique culture and practices to organise events that could inspire foreign travellers to visit.

Nachi Fire Festival is another example of authentic cultural practices. It takes place annually in July at the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine in Japan. The Nachi Fire Festival is part of the Shinto tradition, an ancient religion mainly practised in Japan but also around the world. Shinto, the way of gods, originates from two words Shen and Tao which respectively mean gods and way. Shinto followers participate in Nachi Fire Festival to honour spirits and the features of the landscape. It is a purification ritual and also includes religious performing arts, so-called ‘Nachi no Dengaku’, which were inscribed as an intangible UNESCO World Heritage in 2012. One criterion for inscription on the World Heritage List is authenticity. As such, the rituals and how they are performed maintain authentic cultural roots. The festival is open to spectators but does not stage cultural practices for the purposes of visitors. Instead, it leverages the opportunity to showcase part of the Japanese culture to travellers.

How much does Tourism and travel showcase the authentic identities of host communities?

On the other side of the world, we are seeing exponential growth in tourism demand in Africa. Travellers seek to experience authentic African cultural diversity. But, as travellers increasingly seek African travel experiences, and while the continent progressively modernises, authenticity can be questioned. The issue is in exposing travellers to authentic Africa without contriving it. It could be the case that tourism experiences are not in line with travellers' vision of authentic Africa, as marketed in the media, but they are not staged or modified to please tourists. However, maintaining authenticity does not mean that the host community and the locals freeze in time. Their way of life will evolve as time passes. It is important that travel and tourism presents a true image of the destination, life and practices of the host community and by doing so engage the tourist in authentic activities.

In Canada, increased awareness about the indigenous people over the past decades has directed tourism and travel towards the historical and authentic roots of Canada. Airbnb and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) have partnered to offer authentic travel experiences through the indigenous lands of Canada. The partnership leverages the unique identities of indigenous communities in Canada. Airbnb Canada now offers travel experiences and stays offered by the indigenous people. Across Canada, indigenous people are now involved in presenting their authentic culture from the Shuswaps and Secwepemcs in British Columbia to Human-Wendats in Québec. For example, in Vancouver, Candice and her husband from the Shishalh and Squamish Indigenous Community host Airbnb experiences. Candice is an indigenous woman and anthropologist. They position themselves as cultural ambassadors of their community and works toward raising awareness about their community's traditions and stories.

The Indigenous Tourism Association (ITAC) focuses on empowering indigenous people and improving their socio-economic situations. In X. Festival 2021, Kevin Eshkawkagon, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario, joined us in a panel discussion and shared his views on partnerships and how involving indigenous people in the tourism and travel eco-system can lead to sustainability. You can watch the panel discussion here.

What do you think of when you hear the word Authenticity?

The term is commonly affiliated with the quality of being genuine. Many destinations approach authenticity in travel and tourism by developing novel experiences and products that showcase their richness. Often this is through developing brand new and unconventional experiences, other times, it could be by developing existing experiences in new directions. From a destination management point of view, the value of authenticity becomes prominent in offering world-class and exclusive travel experiences. However, authenticity can be interpreted differently, depending on who and what contexts perceive it. The question is how authentic tourism and travel experiences are? In other words, how do different tourism and travel experiences impact a destination's culture and promotes it?

How are Destinations using their unique values in developing authentic experiences?

Travel Oregon is an example that highly leverages a destination's potential to offer authentic experiences. Oregon is a state in the northwest of the US. It is situated along the coast of the North Pacific Ocean. Travel Oregon employs a destination-first approach and continuously invests in developing experiences that leverage and showcase statewide gems, through a wide range of tourism and travel activities. Scott Bricker, interim Vice President of Destination Development at Travel Oregon, joined us at X. Festival 2021 to discuss how they leverage different destination offerings in developing tourism and travel experiences. In Oregon, statewide natural landscapes, diverse culture, history and product growth are at the heart of developing tourism and travel experiences. As a result, the destination’s potential is well integrated into the tourism and travel experiences. You can watch Scott’s talk here.

Oregon also leverages its’ land and ocean grown food through a series of culinary tourism and travel experience. It showcases its diverse seafront and land nature through outdoor recreation experiences from windsurfing to golfing and mountain climbing. The ‘Ride Oregon’ initiative, for example, offers a variety of opportunities for cyclists to explore the state on two wheels. They have developed a series of authentic outdoor recreation experiences by creating designated cycling routes on the roads, mountains, gravel and coast. By doing so, Travel Oregon not only had broadened its experience offerings but also showcases the natural beauties of the state.

How can tourism encourage reviving authentic rituals and customs?

The pandemic time was a chance for the Hawaiians to get a sense of their island without any tourism activities running. It encouraged rethinking the image of Hawaii and shifting from a colonial concept to a more sustainable experience for travellers. For the first time, Hawaii Tourism Authority is run by a majority of natives. Hawaii is working towards sustainable destination management set out for 2025. Many destinations in Hawaii are showing the authentic image of Hawaii by moving away from what marketing executives fed the tourism industry. For example, Luau that many of us know as girls dancing in grass skirts has now regained its authentic cultural value and once again narrates Polynesian migration to Hawaii.

Do orchid leis remind you of Hawaii? Well, it is important to acknowledge that orchids are not grown in Hawaii. They used to be imported from South East Asia because white mainlanders found them pleasing despite not being economical or sustainable. As a result of the shift in Hawaii's Tourism Strategy, leis are now made from locally grown flowers. Hawaii is increasingly presenting its authentic rituals and culture through everyday tourism and travel experiences. At the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea, a local florist teaches visitors how to make garlands with locally grown plants. Lauren, the founder of Flora & Fauna is on a mission to create awareness about the natural environment around us wherever we go. In doing so, travellers engage in authentic activities having a direct connection with the destination. Travellers and the host community become more integrated and, therefore, the barrier between the traveller and the host community is broken. Also, travellers become more involved in the experience and would no longer be spectators of what the destination offers.

Hawaii’s approach to authenticity encourages thinking about how real or fake tourism and travel experiences are. Data shows that travellers seek authentic experiences. They look for a true taste of the destination.

Authentic or Staged, that is the question.

The question is whether destinations present the authenticity of their culture and heritage as naturally practised or stage it for tourism purposes? Staged authenticity in tourism is often criticised because it could present cultural activities that are unnatural to the host community or have been altered to serve the desires of the travellers. Let’s discuss a few examples from around the world and see how authentic they are.

Papua New Guinea hosts an annual National Mask Festival. The festival promotes the unique mask culture of the area through a cultural extravaganza of cultural dances, rituals and storytellings along with displays of arts and crafts. The National Mask Festival showcases the cultural practices of the people of Papua New Guinea. However, is the festival presenting the culture naturally or is it staged? You would think that local tribes gather together naturally and travellers are invited to watch the rituals and cultural practices as the locals perform them. However, the National Mask Festival is more of an organised fair. In that sense, the National Mask Festival is, to some extent, staged to attract visitors. But why is that? Papua New Guinea is in the south-western Pacific with a population of under 10 million. It is known for its expansive culture and biodiversity. It does not often make it to top destinations, especially for western travellers, and so they leverage their unique culture and practices to organise events that could inspire foreign travellers to visit.

Nachi Fire Festival is another example of authentic cultural practices. It takes place annually in July at the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine in Japan. The Nachi Fire Festival is part of the Shinto tradition, an ancient religion mainly practised in Japan but also around the world. Shinto, the way of gods, originates from two words Shen and Tao which respectively mean gods and way. Shinto followers participate in Nachi Fire Festival to honour spirits and the features of the landscape. It is a purification ritual and also includes religious performing arts, so-called ‘Nachi no Dengaku’, which were inscribed as an intangible UNESCO World Heritage in 2012. One criterion for inscription on the World Heritage List is authenticity. As such, the rituals and how they are performed maintain authentic cultural roots. The festival is open to spectators but does not stage cultural practices for the purposes of visitors. Instead, it leverages the opportunity to showcase part of the Japanese culture to travellers.

How much does Tourism and travel showcase the authentic identities of host communities?

On the other side of the world, we are seeing exponential growth in tourism demand in Africa. Travellers seek to experience authentic African cultural diversity. But, as travellers increasingly seek African travel experiences, and while the continent progressively modernises, authenticity can be questioned. The issue is in exposing travellers to authentic Africa without contriving it. It could be the case that tourism experiences are not in line with travellers' vision of authentic Africa, as marketed in the media, but they are not staged or modified to please tourists. However, maintaining authenticity does not mean that the host community and the locals freeze in time. Their way of life will evolve as time passes. It is important that travel and tourism presents a true image of the destination, life and practices of the host community and by doing so engage the tourist in authentic activities.

In Canada, increased awareness about the indigenous people over the past decades has directed tourism and travel towards the historical and authentic roots of Canada. Airbnb and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) have partnered to offer authentic travel experiences through the indigenous lands of Canada. The partnership leverages the unique identities of indigenous communities in Canada. Airbnb Canada now offers travel experiences and stays offered by the indigenous people. Across Canada, indigenous people are now involved in presenting their authentic culture from the Shuswaps and Secwepemcs in British Columbia to Human-Wendats in Québec. For example, in Vancouver, Candice and her husband from the Shishalh and Squamish Indigenous Community host Airbnb experiences. Candice is an indigenous woman and anthropologist. They position themselves as cultural ambassadors of their community and works toward raising awareness about their community's traditions and stories.

The Indigenous Tourism Association (ITAC) focuses on empowering indigenous people and improving their socio-economic situations. In X. Festival 2021, Kevin Eshkawkagon, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario, joined us in a panel discussion and shared his views on partnerships and how involving indigenous people in the tourism and travel eco-system can lead to sustainability. You can watch the panel discussion here.

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