Constructing the touristic flair

Tourism is a business that works to attract people with the extraordinary, sold as authentic cultural attributes. This commodification is termed “staged authenticity.”[1]  A typical critique complains that conventional tourism is inauthentic, artificial, exploitative, commercialized.[2] Seeking authenticity, some attempt to escape mass tourism. Others enjoy the created authenticity of the tourism business nonetheless. A postmodern critical perspective undermines the relevance of authenticity, for, many prefer inauthentic representation as a more comfortable and reliable experience. Furthermore, in refusing the notion of uniqueness and universal truths, postmodernity denies authenticity to appear in a one-and-only form.[3]

The Bedouin locals in Petra became exposed to tourism when the site opened for the public. They entered tourism business, offering carriage, donkey and camel rides and selling souvenirs. Many dress up in remarkable clothing with accessories. This is their way to attract tourists – and it works!
So, is this the quintessence of inauthenticity? On the contrary, I call it an authentic and effective tourist attraction. It is authentic in the sense that this is exactly the kind of tourist attraction that fits to real authentic tourist experiences.  

Obviously this 'Jack Sparrow dress-style' is an imitation, contrary to the definition of the authentic being of undisputed origin and genuine.[4] Yet, in combination with the Bedouin-camel, it becomes an original style for the Bedouin.  In the sense that “authenticity is constantly created and reinvented,”[5] the authentic Petra-Bedouin clothing is influenced by tourism. It is the Bedouin’s daily ‘work clothes’ so to speak, which makes it in the present day – authentic.

One may argue we were fed the commodified version of Jordanian culture. However, this commodification does not make our cultural experience less authentic. It depends what we expect from authenticitiy. There is no single, authentic form of experience – but a multitude of authentic experiences.[6]

Upshot: Authenticity is relative.

[1] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography (London: Routledge, 2009), 135-137.
[2] Luis-Manuel Garcia, 'Techno-Tourism And Postindustrial Neo-Romanticism In Berlin's Electronic Dance Music Scenes (Draft)', University of Groningen (2015).
[3] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography (London: Routledge, 2009), 135-137.
[4], 'The Definition Of Authentic', last modified 2015, accessed September 5, 2015,
[5]  Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography (London: Routledge, 2009), 135-137.
[6] Ibid.

The Bedouin people of Petra…

… attracting the tourist 'Jack-Sparrow-style'

More than visual consumption

Urry’s notion of the tourist gaze privileges the vision as the outstanding form of tourist experience, and thereby neglects other senses that are equally part of the touristic adventures. The embodiment approach emphasizes bodily sensations as an important part of perception within our touristic activities.[1] Sometimes the physical feeling is the most important component itself. For example in “muscular” tourism such as mountain-biking.

In my recent experience, feeling played the dominant component as the beautiful view at the Dead Sea ranks far below the physical experiences I enjoyed when floating on the salty lake. I remember very well other physical sensations such as the daily heat; the relief of the air-conditioning; the touch of warm sand or cold water; the warm carpet and the calmness inside the King Abdullah I Mosque; the delight of Jordanian food, especially the warmth and taste of Tabun, Bedouin bread or “Jordanian Pizza” as Omar calls it.

“Tourism is an emotional affair”[2] Our tourist experiences are lived through emotions such as fun, fear, excitement, joy, etc. Indeed, I have the most vivid memories that are the strongest connected to emotions and affects.

More than the visual and the pure physical, certain tourist objects – passports, cameras, vehicles, tour guides, dictionaries, – are part of shaping the tourist experience as their presence or their form influences the quality of the tourist experience. The objects bear qualities that facilitate our movement, interaction and comfort.[3] Moreover, souvenirs play an important role. They can have the meaning of a ‘piece of culture to take home’.

I realized that for me, souvenirs and photographs are a way of holding on to the experience, to preserve the memories visually rather than only in my head. Hence, the visual is undeniable important, and it is supportive for our memories of sensations, feelings and emotions.

[1] Edensor, T. “Tourism.” Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK. (2009): 308-309.
[2] Dorina Maria Buda, Anne-Marie d’Hauteserre and Lynda Johnston, 'Feeling And Tourism Studies', Annals of Tourism Research 46 (2014): 103.
[3] Edensor, T. “Tourism.” Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK. (2009): 309.

Floating sensations on the Dead Sea

Jordanian souvenirs…-

-… a piece of culture to take home

The frame I am looking through

I caught myself gazing upon the magnificent Treasury of Petra, suddenly realizing this gazing is exactly what tourists do. Urry’s theory of the tourist gaze states that tourists have the desire to gaze upon that which is different or unusual, and can be distinguished and contrasted from the ordinary and familiarity.[1]
True: I “gazed” more intensely inside the mosque than the (more familiar) churches.

When tourists perceive, interpret and reproduce what they see, they create meanings to the objects gazed upon:
Urry considers that with our visual perception, its (photographic) reproduction, and our background knowledge and interpretation, we construct meanings or social characteristics to the tourist objects: Baguette is equated with Frenchness.[2] The ruins of Petra and Jerasch belong to the Seven World Wonders. Knowing the story of the sight, I associate pure amazement over the impressive constructional skills that the Nabataeans mastered in the 1st century BC and amazement over the preservation of this ancient archeological discovery. I see a ‘world wonder’.

Our frames:
We do not look objectively at tourist sights – we can’t. Our eyes are socio-culturally framed by our entire background (class, gender, nationality, age, education), our prior understandings, knowledge and expectations.[3] How I interpret and assess the things I see depends on this (constantly developing) frame. For the gaze, this means also: what is ordinary for some, is extraordinary for others.
A simple example: Pilgrimage sights are agreed to be “holy places.” Yet, the Baptism side is gazed upon with Moslem, Christian or archeologist eyes, accordingly its meaning as a holy place carries different implications.

The gaze is not a self-exploring endeavor; It is a seeing with one’s own eyes, however, in a pre-determined frame. On our trip, our gazes were additionally ‘steered’ by our guide who directed our attention and fed us with information.

[1] Tim Edensor, Tourism (Manchester: Elsevier Ltd., 2009), p. 307.
[2] John Urry and Jonas Larsen, The Tourist Gaze 3.0 (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2011)
& Tim Edensor, Tourism (Manchester: Elsevier Ltd., 2009).
[3] John Urry and Jonas Larsen, The Tourist Gaze 3.0 (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2011). 

My fellow tourists gazing upon the "extraordinary "

The visual and images are an important part of tourism

What does holy water mean to each one of us? – a spiritual experience or mere refreshment?

The Bedouin wife

Uneasy encounters between tourists and locals arise when the power differential is not only apparent but outright disturbing, namely when human beings become the object of tourist attraction and nothing more. Turton has analyzed the power of the photographer vis-à-vis the local Mursi woman whose cultural attribute of lip-plates is object to much tourist curiosity. In this relationship, the power differential immensely reinforced to the detriment of the Mursi woman. While she is being gazed upon and as a picture “possessed”, the tourist is “invisible behind his camera”. Turton claims this “predatory nature of the photographic act” is basically exempted from “any form of ‘normal’ social intercourse.’”[1] 

I imitated this experience.
In the dessert, we visited Bedouin tents and Omar decided to fool our group. He secretly had me dressed up fully-covered and introduced me as a Bedouin wife. Omar then encouraged everyone to take pictures of me. Rather taking aback, only a few students approached me with their cameras. Becoming an object of tourist attraction was quite funny. However, in this scenario, the woman I represented became the object of attention without being asked and the situation discouraged to engage in social interaction before pictures were being taken.

We should seek for sustainable tourist encounters with local cultures and societies.[2] Through real engagement in social interaction, the power differential that is created by the gaze of the absorbing camera can be avoided. This means to begin an encounter not through the lens of a camera but face-to-face, and to respectfully take the norms and customs of locals into account. My experience reinforced my principle to ask before taking a photograph – or leaving the camera aside and creating memories of ‘natural’ social encounters. With some Jordanians we experienced their eagerness to have pictures taken together – with our and their cameras.

[1] David Turton, 'Lip-Plates And 'The People Who Take Photographs': Uneasy Encounters Between Mursi And Tourists In Southern Ethiopia', Anthropology Today 20, no. 3 (2004): 3-8.
[2] My reflections follow our discussion in class on sustainable tourist encounters with local cultures and societies.

"the predatory nature of the photographic act"
(source:, 'Free Stock Photo Of Man, Person, Camera', last modified 2015, accessed September 14, 2015,

Who knows the way?

Money is not everything.

Another power differential between actors in tourism appears to the advantage of the local population. They have the home game advantage – ‘cultural power’. Locals are experts on matters of language, infrastructure, customs; they are indispensable help for tourists.[1] We as foreign students certainly were inferior in the cultural-power-relation, not least in our complete reliance and therefore dependency on our tour guide, Omar. Cohen rightly defines the tour guide as “‘the pathfinder.’”[2] While we were all busy taking pictures, applying sun-cream and gazing upon touristic sights, Omar led the way through Jordanian traffic, gave us an immense amount of historic, archeological and cultural insights, and organized our meeting points. He told us where to get the best price-quality bargain – Frankly, from my ‘inferior’ position I simply trusted him on that. Side note: the market of souvenirs may foster a revitalization of traditional crafts – beneficial to the local economy and the sustainability of local culture.[3]

[1] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography (London: Routledge, 2009), p. 139-240.
[2] Erik Cohen, 'The Tourist Guide', Annals of Tourism Research 12, no. 1 (1985): 5-29.
[3] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography (London: Routledge, 2009), 146.

Our competent tour guide Omar

Gathered around Omar, we are busy with our cameras, our gazing or with listening to our tour guides' stories
Omar, the pathfinder, leads the way

Who’s got the money?

Power relations is a recurring topic in social studies, famously analyzed by Foucault. In tourism studies, power relations are often allocated as to arise from social inequalities between local communities and the visitors. Typically, the power differential is viewed to the disadvantage of the local community.

As economic power lies with the ‘rich’ tourists, locals having specialized their work towards the tourist business appear depended on the spending-power of the tourist. The material wealth of the tourists positions these members of the local community in an inferior position.[1] The extent to which this rather subjunctive relation to the power of capital holds true in Jordan’s tourism environment, I could not assess. However, we did learn how badly local communities involved in the business are impacted by the decline of tourism, following the unwrapping crisis in the Middle East. This affects also the state’s monetary status as Jordan’s tourist industry has the largest inflow of private foreign exchange.[2]

Talking about global capital power, I at least need to mention the U.S. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)[3] focuses among others on boosting tourism to generate economic growth in Jordan. As a branch of the US government, financial power is on their side. The USAID’s power position vis-à-vis the local community becomes apparent when considering that tourist projects are often funded and monitored by USAID. To what extent this power differential may be exploited by the USAID to press forward their way of arranging tourist sites is debatable. In any case, it is foreign-government allocated money that is flowing into Jordan’s economic development – identifying patterns of global power is hardly to miss.

The commercial side of tourism becomes also nicely apparent when I hear the USAID’s mission trains over 2.000 USAID travel agents whose job it is to sell Jordan.

[1] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography (London: Routledge, 2009), p. 139-240.
[2] Ibrahim Osta, 'USAID – The Economic Growth Through Sustainable Toursim Project Sites Development and Presentation“', 2015.
[3], 'U.S. Agency For International Development', last modified 2015, accessed September 8, 2015,

Jordan's tourist industry hopes for more tourists to come to Jordan - locals in the business rely on the tourists' spending power

Meeting of the cultures

Is Jordanian hospitality purely a deeply manifested Jordanian attribute or the result of a development towards a deeply embedded tourist industry? This must not be mutually exclusive, yet, designated research could assess to what extent the tourist business influences local culture.

An intriguing research approach to tourism study is the investigation of impacts that tourists and locals have on one another. I mentioned the demonstration effect that describes the phenomenon of disclosing an unfamiliar lifestyle, culture or value system and attempting to adapt to it. Besides my previous example,[1] this effect may also describe locals in the tourist business adapting to Western (or other) customs.[2] While this is a one-way phenomenon, the acculturation effect marks a reciprocal effect:
a demonstration from the local on the tourist and from the tourist on the local. This means that a tourist-local encounter is rich of cultural exchange and adaption.[3]  The resulting acculturation impacts are part of a greater range of forces that foster socio-cultural changes more generally. Tourism thus is one of many independent variables that generate socio-cultural change.[4]

Reflecting upon this, I wonder if Jordan’s reputation as a modern-western country is related to its tourist experience. As one independent variable, the significance of (‘Western’) tourism for the country probably influences its attitude and relation to ‘the West.’ At the same time, (‘western-’ and ‘non-western’) tourists visiting Jordan – like myself – may increase their understanding of and may alter their attitude towards the Middle Eastern (Islamic) culture. This indicates a positive impact for the country’s reputation in the world community, and it fosters cultural understanding.[5]

I believe a longer stay abroad and more intercultural conversations generate positive acculturation effects. Despite our tourist bubble, I had memorable encounters with local Jordanians. My cultural horizon was broadened even more through my fellow international tourists company. 

[1] See my previous account on the demonstration effect in the entry “Don’t worry, be happy.”
[2] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography (London: Routledge, 2009). See: Chapter 6, p. 138-139.
[3] Ibid., p. 139.
[4] Ibid., p. 145.
[5] Ibid., p. 146.

'Westerners' enter the Islamic museum

Barbie doll meets Arabic culture

Meeting of the cultures: Beibei was trying on souvenir clothing when a Jordanian entered and said: "Look, we are wearing the same dress"

Jordanian culture in a bubble

An important attribute to my feeling of safeness is definitely related to our mode of touring the country. I appreciated the conveniences of our pre-organized trip, comfortable (American!) hostel, air-conditioned bus, and above all our competent and caring tour guide. Yet, we were deprived of spontaneity and any form of indispensable interaction with Jordanians. Never mind (?) After all, we gained insights of Jordanian habits and lives from our guide, Omar. These were stories about Jordanians told by a Jordanian, however, they remained stories nonetheless. In our short period of time, we forfeit the opportunity to genuinely become acquainted with Jordanian life and cultural habits. In short: We were in a tourist bubble,[1] being cart from one tourist must-see to the next.

We represented classic mass tourism.[2] The term describes a considerable volume of tourists visiting in pre-arranged tours top-tourist-sights. Contrary to this, scholars designate the term “resort cycle” to people’s desire to go ‘off the beaten track’.[3] They escape the overcrowded tourist places or simply avoid peak hours, take public transportation, and seek to blend in society to gain ‘authentic’ experiences; or they seek to discover ‘untouched’ nature.

On our tight schedule, we had no time to step ‘off the track’.
Nested in our tourist bubble, we predominantly met people in the tourist business. Thus, apart from stories we heard, can we say we experienced real Jordanian culture? Well, yes: We got to know Jordanian tourist culture! This is after all part of life in Jordan, since a significant number of people are (to variant extent) involved in the tourist business. The private tourist sector is the largest employing industry.[4]

In our bubble, we were on a trip into the tourist world of Jordan and became in touch with an important part of Jordan’s economy and culture of hospitality.

[1] Also termed the ‘environmental (tourist) bubble’:a protective cocoon of Western-style hotels, international cuisine, satellite television, guidebooks and helpful, multilingual couriers – ‘surrogate parents’ that cushion and, as necessary, protect the tourist from harsher realities and unnecessary contacts. Quoted from: Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography (London: Routledge, 2009). – Chapter 8, p. 197.
[2] Interestingly, no academic definition of mass tourism appears to exist. (See: Roger Carter (Managing Editor), 'Destination World E-Newsletter', Destinationworld.Info, last modified 2009, accessed September 1, 2015,
For more background information on mass tourism, see: Tim Edensor, Tourism (Manchester: Elsevier Ltd., 2009), p. 301-302.
[3] Tim Edensor, Tourism (Manchester: Elsevier Ltd., 2009), p. 306-307.
[4] Ibrahim Osta, 'USAID – The Economic Growth Through Sustainable Toursim Project', 2015.

Our tour bus represents our tourist bubble