Bridging the North-South Divide through Sustainable Tourism
IIPT European Conference edition:1 location:Leewarden, The Netherlands date:21-24 October 2008
As a complex socio-cultural phenomenon and one of the most significant global service sectors, tourism influences the lives of many people on this planet. International tourism encourages tourists to think that the very act of travel and encounter with cultural “Others” guarantees both a broadened cosmopolitan horizon and greater intercultural understanding. This paper, based on long-term ethnographic research on tourism conducted in Indonesia and Tanzania between 2002 and 2008, sheds new light on the question whether tourism leads to cosmopolitanism. Empirical findings shift the attention from tourists to tourism service providers. Local tour guides, for instance, are able to use their privileged contact with foreign visitors to nourish their dreams of escape from the harsh local life and to enhance their cosmopolitan status. Many tour guides have developed an amazing personal repertoire of multi-cultural competence and experience. They substantiate the idea that cosmopolitanism is by no means a privilege of the rich and well-connected (although, it may be true that guides in developing countries might be richer and more connected than many other people around them). Furthermore, the guides prove that physical or spatial mobility is not a necessary condition to become cosmopolitan. Their experiences confirm that travel signifies not only a physical movement across lands and cultures, but also an imaginative journey in which wonderment about those who live differently makes it possible to see the world differently. Attention to political economy and power relations, however, reveals that their exposure to foreign people does not necessarily imply an easy blending of cultures. Occasionally, though, tourism does create interpersonal relationships that involve genuine intercultural exchanges. These cross-cultural connections may provide an important path into a global cosmopolis, turning distant “Others” into close friends.