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Could “authentic” tourism be more predatory than mass tourism?

The chronicle of Christian Orofino, Co-President of OBGET


Christian Orofino, Co-President of OBGET explains on TourMaG.com the limitations of authentic and sustainable tourism through the example of a staged situation invented by a guide in Vietnam, amongst a tribe of Chinese origin: the Hmongs, to satisfy tourists looking for authenticity.



Tourists want authentic tourism and if possible with visits that don’t include other tourists, the must being a traditional wedding. A perfect recipe for a guide full of imagination… © pholidito - Fotolia.com
Tourists want authentic tourism and if possible with visits that don’t include other tourists, the must being a traditional wedding. A perfect recipe for a guide full of imagination… © pholidito - Fotolia.com
A show on France 5 called “Souriez vous allez disparaître” [“Smile, you’ll soon disappear” - translator’s note] portrayed the limitations of sustainable and authentic tourism.

This type of tourism that has its supporters but also its detractors can, when it is practiced exclusively for commercial ends, become even more predatory than mass-scale tourism.

In the North of Vietnam lives a tribe of Chinese origin: the Hmong. These peoples were considered like traitors by Vietnamese authorities because during the Indochina war they made themselves available to the French army to be carriers.

This act viewed as unpardonable by the communists in power has led to continual conflicts and an abandonment condemning this tribe to extreme poverty.

This crossing of the desert that has forced the Hmong to live in poverty and in isolation, has also enabled them to maintain untouched ancestral customs, at least until this territory became touristic.

Authentic tourism at what price

There are remnants from the French colonization, particularly in the capital, Sapa, of residences and hotels that are still full of their exotic flavors, as if time had stopped.

These structures that were rediscovered by tourism are never vacated.

Hence, the young Hmong girls have become guides by practicing the exploitation of the tourist with malice and greed.

Even when tourists already have a guide, the harassment of the young 12 year old girls holding on to their bags often ends with a dollar bill to get rid of them.

Right at 9 am, when hotels guests leave for their day, dollars are flying and this ethnic minority, that was previously banished, has become a true gold mine.

In this context, tourists demand authentic tourism and, if possible, with visits that don’t include other tourists, the highlight being a traditional wedding.

Nothing better for a guide with a wild imagination: A Hmong legend states that a boy wanting to marry the young girl of his dreams must abduct and kidnap her for two days at his parents’ house.

If, beyond this time, the young girl starts to develop feelings for the young boy then the family is informed, and dealings on the endowment of the future bride and on the engagement preparations begin.

Staging

The problem is that the Hmongs, now converted to the modern world through tourism, have stopped practicing these types of customs decades ago, and young people get married like everywhere else in the world.

This guide promises tourists thirsty for authenticity to experience this saga by making them believe that the custom is still practiced, but to do so they must empty their wallets of thousands of dollars.

Something that tourists accept by adding that “Authenticity has a price.”

So our guide leaves on the quest for a native peasant in the mountains. He first complains at the idea of playing the role of a kidnapper but is tempted in the end by the 200 dollars offered to him, since that accounts for months of work in the fields.

Through the video and photos cameras of tourists, a true violent abduction of a young girl takes place in the market, without her knowing what’s happening.

After a few minutes, and taken away from the crowd, the young man explains the staging to her and offers to share the €200 with her, as promised by the guide, if she accepts to play along.

The girl accepts, and both of them, just as it was said in the tradition, stay for 2 days in the young boy’s family.

Rich and jaded tourists who demand authenticity

The family, surprised to see a girl arrive in their home, naively believe their son’s explanation who says that he has known the girl for a long time and wishes to marry her.

The parents of the young girl, finally informed after two days, are also surprised by this situation and, without other options, start negotiating with the boy’s family.

A lot richer than the boy’s family, they ask for an endowment for their daughter of 60 kg of pork, 50 liters of alcohol, and 1,300 dollars.

The boy’s father, a very poor peasant, only has his collection of fifty birds in a cage as a worthy asset, that are his dear and passionate propriety.

Convinced by his son’s good intentions and wishing him happiness, he goes down to the city to sell his beloved birds, with a heavy heart.

The sale bears lots of fruits: a part is dedicated to the wedding meal, and it is at that moment that the girl finally declares not wanting to marry the boy and reveals to everybody the incredible scam of this staging.

For all of these different events, tourists and cameras were invited, also convinced about the authenticity of what they were witnessing.

This clever guide has, in the end, gotten two thousand euros from four tourists, destroyed the dream of a man, and degraded the dignity of a young boy for 200 dollars that he had to share.

This type of masquerade that is renewed with other tricks of the same type is provoked by a category of tourists who are rich and jaded by overly traditional explorations and who demand “authentic” sensations.

Christian OROFINO
President of TOURCONSEIL
Co-President of OBGET
Ex CEO and General Director of TO VISIT FRANCE
President of the commission on Responsible Tourism of the SNAV
Co-President of the Geopolitical and Environmental Observatory of Tourism (OBGET)

Facebook page of OBGET

Written by Christian Orofino translated by Joséphine Foucher the 30/04/2015
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