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Perceptions of post-war tourism; Authenticity

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    How do tourists perceive post-war tourism and how authentic are their perceptions and experiences?

    Despite what Boyd and Timothy (2006, p.3) call “social/collective amnesia”, today´s society is changing and demands to learn about what really happened. In the past it was common for nations to erase the parts from their history, which were cruel and thus ´unpleasant` for the nation. Examples for this are the history of Africans in South Africa or Aboriginals in Australia (Boyd & Timothy, 2006). Heritage can serve as a mean to preserve and memorise these events and parts of nations´ history. It can help to heal (Boyd & Timothy, 2006) but it should also be seen as a memorial of what happened to prevent it from happening again. Examples for this are the Nazi concentration camps in Germany or the town of Srebenica in Bosnia. However, cultural heritage sites can also be misused for patriotic propaganda, for example from politic parties to show what they achieved for a country (Boyd & Timothy, 2006).

     

    One difficulty in preserving this kind of heritage is to be objective, as there are always different perspectives to what happened, for example different parties involved in wars (Boyd & Timothy, 2006). There are also different perspectives of the demand site of the heritage products. Hartmann (2014, p.167) divides the parties involved in three groups “the victims, the perpetrators, and the […] bystanders”, but it can be argued that even these differ depending on the perspective, as for example probably all parties involved in a war see themselves as victims. Differences in perspectives also dependent on tourist perceptions, based for example on former historical knowledge or individual heritage (Airey, Butler & Poria, 2006) and sense of feelings such as humanity and empathy (Causevic & Lynch, 2011). Causevic and Lynch (2011) mention another important role of how tourist perceive place, namely the tour guides, who can highly influence a tourists experience of a place, for example depending on their own heritage.

     

    Furthermore, authenticity plays an important part in the provision of cultural heritage sites that represent a cruel part of a nation´s history. Boyd and Timothy (2006) state the tourists tend to seek for authentic experiences but meanwhile want to experience something positive during their holidays. Thus they tend to focus on those parts of a country´s / a destination´s history that is pleasant for them (Boyd & Timothy, 2006). So what happens if the truth is not appealing for the general tourist? Thanatourism and dark tourism are a trend, related to tourism that is concerned with death and catastrophes (Hartmann, 2014); but an explanation would go beyond the scope of this essay.

     

    An example for the difficulties of tourism to places that have been the setting of a war in the past is the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). Slovenia, Croatia and B&H (former Yugoslavia) all claimed their independence in 1992, which was followed by a war until 1995 (Causevic & Lynch, 2011). B&H was attacked by several forces claiming to be the actual proprietor of the country. Before that, the country was multicultural; Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs lived together, had mixed marriages (Causevic & Lynch, 2011). Today, after the war, the country is still divided. Areas are inhabited by mainly one ethnic group, just like the City of Mostar, inhabiting a World Heritage Site, the Stari Most (Old Bridge of Mostar). The city is divided into two parts, which is highly recognisable (Zager, 2014). A city tour by a Bosniak-Muslim tour guide, witness of the war, gave great insights into the Bosniak-Muslim perspective of the history as well as of the present situation in the country. The main part of the touristic resources, including the Stari Most, is also situated in the Bosniak-Muslim part of the city. It is surrounded by Mosques, which are open for tourists, souvenir shops and a small visitor centre. Even the visitor centre shows mainly one side of the war, with a focus on the destruction of the bridge by the Croats in 1993. During this visit it became clear that an objective view on heritage sites, which serve as memorials of a war, is almost impossible and highly depends on the individual and the mean of experiencing the site. Tourism authorities should however effort to provide neutral / objective experiences in relation to heritage sites that are connected to ´unpleasant` parts of a nation´s history. They should rather serve educational and memorising needs then propagandise one of the parties involved. (Zager, 2014)

     

    To conclude, several factors influence the tourists´ perceptions of post-war tourism. One of the most important factors are tour guides. Dependent on their objectivity, the tourists are able to gain an authentic experience. Moreover, perceptions and experiences differ regarding the initial intention of the tourist. The heritage sites can be either part of for example a normal city trip or it could have been the main intention to visit the site itself, which would then be part of the so called dark tourism.

     

    References:

     

    Airey, D., Butler, R. & Poria, Y. (2006) Tourist Perceptions of Heritage Exhibits: A Comparative Study from Israel. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 1:1, pp. 51-72.

     

    Boyd, S. W. & Timothy, D. J. (2006) Heritage Tourism in the 21st Century: Valued Traditions and New Perspectives. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 1:1, pp. 1-16.

     

    Causevic, S. & Lynch, P. (2011) Phoenix Tourism – Post-conflict tourism role. Annals of Tourism Research, 38:3, pp. 780-800.

     

    Hartmann, R. (2014) Dark tourism, thanatourism, and dissonance in heritage tourism management: new directions in contemporary tourism research. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 9:2, pp. 166-182.

     

    Zager, M. (2014) Personal experiences during three day visit of Mostar. Contact info: h14merza@du.se.

     

     

    Written by Merle Zager

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