Negotiating your expectations of authenticity

Think through your past travels, the places you’ve visited and the impressions you came away with. And then contrast this with the way your views on how your own hometown have changed over the years. Do you apply the same criteria? Did you encounter authenticity? Can you locate authenticity?

Pico Ayer, in his New York Times piece, argues…

Today, we crave ‘‘realness’’ as never before, and in response, the travel industry is trying even harder to provide it…  This increasingly fevered quest for the authentic can in truth be a mug’s game.

As visitors, and particularly as expectant holidaymakers, perhaps it helps to bear in mind that…

Our notion of places — which is to say the romances and images we project onto them — are always less current and subtle than the places themselves.

That link again – Can a Trip Ever Be ‘Authentic’?

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When tourism parodies places

McCarthy's Bar, by Pete McCarthy

McCarthy’s Bar, by Pete McCarthy

McCarthy’s Bar keeps revealing on-the-trail observations that chime with my own concerns about how some places seem to be losing the fight to maintain their character and distinctiveness in the face of tourism and “inward investment”.  His book was a “Number One Bestseller” so I may be among many others with similar concerns:

“Now the Irish economy is so driven by tourism, will every special little place end up like this, as they see what’s to be earned by marketing their idiosyncrasies, leaping aboard the Celtic Tiger, and getting the builders in? A successful tourism industry can quickly turn itself into a parody of itself.”

Clearly this is pre-“crisis” (the book is copyrighted 2000), but the same sentiments can be applied to other times and places.  Just think about the comments you have perhaps heard in relation to the charm of Havana, Cuban people, other places in Cuba, and what lies in store for them once the country “opens up”.

So why is it that when the money blows through some places–investment (chicken or egg?) or tourist cash (egg or chicken?) that it seems to get spent on making them poorer in terms of charm and interesting detail?  Is there some kind of underlying mechanism (“globalisation”?) that makes this inevitable?  How can a place–i.e. the people of that place–conserve its charm and distinctiveness without “selling out” to moneyed “others” and the tourism entourage?  How should destination managers and promoters best communicate the said  idiosyncracies of the place their livelihoods are set to be based on, if at all? Perhaps, in fact, these little sources of charm and distinctiveness should be left to personal discovery and real-world encounters, with communication being equally diffuse thereafter, via post-trip musings via the digital ether and maybe even…  in books.