This is a response to Ellis Middelkamp’s article: Understanding the experience of ethnic tourism from the perspective of domestic and international tourists: a case study of Sade Rembitan, Indonesia.
Travel to far-away and culturally distinctive destinations becomes more and more popular, so does the search for new authentic experiences. Ethnic tourism is often recognized as a unique and authentic experience, where tourists can engage in a quest for otherness through a direct, honest and human experience with the host culture and environment. This is to enhance local wellbeing, economic development, cultural preservation as well as to strengthen local people’s cultural pride (Ishii,2012). Ethnic tourism endeavors often involve visits to exotic, peripheral destinations, performances, tours and attractions by small and often isolated ethnic groups (Lor, Kwa & Donaldson, 2019).
With her research, Ellis has successfully taken a look into the practices of ethnic tourism in the context of Lombok. Ethnic tourism has been recognized as a tool to promote and enhance the tourist experience of both international and domestic tourists. The paper addresses the question: Are international tourists sufficiently catered for – and how can we close the experiential gap between domestic and international tourists? The necessity to differentiate tourists based on their actual experience of the activities offered has been defined as a finding of the study and it concludes with the request for more human connection, interaction and involvement in local customs for international tourists. It especially addresses the need for diverse and alternative products and experiences. Guided English tours are suggested to provide interaction, human connection and involvement.
However, is it sufficient to segment ethnic tourists based on their status as either international or domestic tourists? Are international tourists all the same or can we further distinguish between them?
There is, indeed, a strong need to diversify the ethnic tourism products to address different types of needs and preferences. While acknowledging the research results and findings, I’d like to draw attention to the complex nature of needs, preferences and motives of (inter)national tourists to engage in ethnic tourism. We need to dive deeper into the multifaceted characteristics of ethnic tourists in order to find the right product-market fit.
Already a variety of scholars have addressed the challenge of precise and effective market segmentation and product positioning. Among others, Hughes (1995), Moscardo and Pearce (1999) as well as Tsung-Chiung, Chyong-Ru & Wan-chen (2012) have identified distinctive segments of ethnic tourists based on their interest, attitude and seriousness towards encounters with local ethnic groups, providing disparate perspectives on the needs and preferences for ethnic products. While Hughes (1995) draws a distinction between the so called Post-Industriali (being sensitive to their own impact and attentive to responsible behavior) and Post-Moderni (being highly active and flexible, enjoying manipulated demonstrations), Moscardo and Pearce (1999) distinguish between four types of ethnic tourists. As per Moscardo and Pearce (1999) ethnic tourists either embrace all angles of cross-cultural encounters, being merely conscientious of their own impacts but inattentive to commercial aspects, merely seeking fun activities while being averse to building a human connection or generally show low levels of interest in ethnic tourism as a whole (Hughes, 1995b; Moscardo & Pearce, 1999; Tsung-Chiung, Chyong-Ru & Wan-chen, 2012). Thus, by using psychological factors, including the extent of meaningfulness or attitudes, we have a chance to uncover underlying reasons for behaviour, activity choices and consumption patterns – offering chances to tailor new products and experiences as well as to manage ethnic tourism more successfully.
The question remains, for which types of ethnic tourists do we provide standard packages, tours and performances and to which type of tourists do we provide honest intimacy and authenticity in Sade Rembitan, Lombok? To what extent do we offer participation, interaction and involvement of tourists with the host community?
Furthermore, the question of how to deliver the right amount of authenticity – for those seeking for it – remains challenging. The shorter and more organized, packaged and guided an excursion or activity is, the lesser the chances for genuine contact and intimacy with the host community are. Indigenous and ethnic tribes confronted with tourists, tend to protect their cultural identity, while displaying only a limited amount of traditions, customs and habits openly to tourists. This inhibits true human connection (Xie, 2011). So, how can we create a tourist endeavour with true and honest involvement and human connection? How can tourists break through the inauthentic wall to experience real authenticity?