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Our Culture is not for Sale!
September 27, 2009

Click here to download 'Our Culture is not for Sale-27 Sep 09', 102Kb. The same can be read below too.

Call for Action - Campaigns Slogan

Our Culture is not for Sale!
Statement on World Tourism Day

27 September 2009

On World Tourism Day 2009, we call upon global tourism institutions like the UNWTO, National and State Tourism Boards and the Industry to comprehend and accept the existence of the negative impacts of tourism on host cultures. We urge bodies like the UNWTO not to so quickly celebrate tourism’s role as protector of culture…tourism has some serious soul searching to do before it awards itself that accolade!

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is “Celebrating Diversity” on World Tourism Day, 27 September 2009. They proclaim, “This year’s theme focuses on the world’s cultural wealth and the important role sustainable tourism plays in revitalizing local traditions and making them flourish as they cross other cultures...”1

In contrast, we quote John Urry who writes about the complex phenomenon of the tourist gaze says “The tourist pay(s) for their freedom; the right to disregard native concerns and feelings, the right to spin their own web of meanings… The world is the tourist’s oyster… to be lived pleasurably – and thus given meaning”2

The impact of mass tourism on local communities’ ecology, economy and culture has been immense. Local communities in Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan and many other highly visited tourist destinations in India   believe the costs that local people have borne are too high and impacts on culture and society irreversible.

The UNWTO should know that the percentage of tourism projects that are ‘sustainable’ or pursue ‘sustainability’ is extremely small. Tourism that profits from the commercialization of culture rarely originates from the economic or cultural necessity of the “host” communities but is usually promoted by the profit motive of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has always involved spectacle!

Tourism has often led to cultural commodification and twisting culture out of its context, meaning and functions. The tourist sees what is promoted and not how communities see themselves through their cultural practices. A scrutiny of the attractive tourist brochures and websites of central and state tourism departments, including the “Incredible India Campaign” by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, provides ample evidence for this.

The word ‘culture’ derives from the Roman word “colere – to cultivate, to dwell, to take care, to tend and preserve” – and it relates primarily to the interaction of people with nature in the sense of cultivating and tending nature until it becomes fit for human habitation. As such, it indicates an attitude of loving care and stands in sharp contrast to all efforts to subject nature to the domination of human beings. Culture cannot be manufactured, it is part of people’s life. It evolves with the natural evolution of communities and their ways of living. Commodification of culture stops that evolution and makes it a static object that is packaged and sold for consumption of others.

Tourism has promoted the “museumisation” of culture – taking it out of living spaces into something to be viewed and consumed from a distance and not experienced and be moved or changed by. Most often the wealth of plurality of culture is not documented and also there is an effort to monopolise culture. It therefore minimises the possibility of generating genuine learning and respect of other cultures through authentic cultural interchange.

An adivasi woman from Chhattisgarh, central India, referring to statues of their deities made from traditional bell metal, spoke of her fear of entering any room in which they were kept! She said she could not face them inside a room as their Gods were meant to be kept outside the village to protect them from harm. In making a “popular product” out of their sacred deities, no one asked the adivasi what they thought and how they felt3. Private spaces of people are dragged into the public domains.

Fulmani, a young adivasi girl from Jharkhand, another central Indian State, said, “We are called by the district administration to dance before strangers, when ever people come to visit the officers. Why should we dance before these strangers? Our dance is part of our expression of happiness, way of showing our reverence to the almighty. We feel disgraced.”4 Peoples’ identities are now being shaped by what tourism promotes and not what they actually are.

The Carnival in Goa and the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland, as many other cultural celebrations in other parts of the country, is reduced to a farce or spectacle put on for tourists, far removed from its original role.

A call for some soul searching

Often the cultural hype associated with tourism, using public funds, is not reviewed, even under situations of human misery. Currently India is reeling under a severe drought with half the country officially declared as drought-affected5. The Karnataka government, a southern state, has decided to declare 84 of the state’s 176 talukas (districts) drought hit and will approach the central government for funds for relief work6. Nevertheless, the same Government is going ahead with a grand celebration of the Dasara Festival in Mysore7. Even the most ardent supporters of this traditional festival agree that today it is a government sponsored cultural event that is just another ‘show piece’ for tourist attraction.8 This year the State Government has released Rs 8 crore for the cultural extravaganza while more than half of its people face hunger and drought9

There can be sensitive ways of conducting tourism but the cases are few and far between. In some of the projects aiming at rural tourism initiatives, local communities at Chougan, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, spoke of a sense of renewed pride in their local culture and traditions when tourism was introduced. Tourism has also been a means of keeping local art, culture and handicrafts alive by assuring a market for them, However, with increasing demand there is pressure on the artisans to produce more of what will sell in the market, what the tourist will buy and what the tourist will eat. This leads to shortcuts like the use of chemical dyes and fabric colours instead of the time consuming traditional colours10. It also leads to seeing tourist destinations in Goa and Hampi, popular with backpacking Israeli tourists having no local dishes and the entire menu card in Hebrew!
We accept that the intricacies and complexities of the impacts of tourism on culture cannot be covered in one statement. However, we urge bodies like the UNWTO not to so quickly celebrate tourism’s role as protector of culture…tourism has some serious soul searching to do before it awards itself that accolade!

On World Tourism Day 2009, we call upon global tourism institutions like the UNWTO, National and State Tourism Boards and the Industry,
  • To comprehend and accept the existence of the negative impacts of tourism on host cultures.
  • To use their position and sensitise their sphere of influence to prioritise local community’s perceptions of their cultures rather than to distorts the cultural image & promote culture as commodity that is attractive and sellable. Only then will cultural authenticity and sensitivity be possible between the tourist and local communities.
  • To mitigate the negative impacts of tourism on culture by emphasising policies that prioritise local communities basic needs over that of tourist luxuries when tourism is developed.
  • To educate tourists on the cultural dynamics and values of the local communities and enhance respect for their cultural sensitivities.

Statement Endorsed By:
  1. tourism investigation & monitoring team(tim-team), Bangkok/Thailand
  2. Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism (ECOT)

For further details and to endorse this statement, contact us
campaigns@equitabletourism.org, info@equitabletourism.org
+91-80-2545-7607 / 2545-7659
EQUATIONS, # 415, 2C-Cross, 4th Main, OMBR Layout, Banaswadi, Bangalore 560043, India


  1. http://www.unwto.org/wtd/2009/en/wtd09.php - as on 11 September 2009
  2. Bauman, Z (1993), Postmodern Ethics, London: Routledge, Quote taken from John Urry, The Tourist Gaze, Second Edition (1990, reprinted in 2006).
  3. This is Our Homeland, A collection of essays on the betrayal of adivasi rights in India, EQUATIONS, July 2007.
  4. View received during  EQUATIONS interaction with the people who had gathered for the Annual convention of the Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan- a Movement to Save the Forests of Jharkhand 
  5. Drought, Recession and Relief, Business Line, Sep 18, 2009, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/09/18/stories/2009091850180900.htm
  6. Nearly Half of Karnataka is Drought Hit, says minister, Thaindian News August 22nd, 2008, http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/nearly-half-of-karnataka-is-drought-hit-says-minister_10087518.html
  7. A Hindu religious festival that has it’s roots to the rulers of the former princely state of Mysore, Karnataka, India. 
  8. People’s Festival No More, Sundar Vattan, Spectrum, Deccan Herald, 15 September 09.
  9. Mysore gets ready for historic Dasara, By Team Mangalorean Mysore, Mysore Sept 18,2009, http://mangalorean.com/news.php?newstype=local&newsid=146284 
  10. Sustainability In Tourism, A Rural Tourism Model, Review Report, September 2008, EQUATIONS