You are on page 1of 4

RESEARCH NOTES AND REPORTS

This Department publishes research notes, conference reports, reports on the work of public agencies and associations, field (industry) reports, and other relevant topics and timely issues. Contributions to this department are submitted to its three Associate Editors: Research Notes should be submitted directly via the Elsevier Editorial System web site for this journal at http://ees.elsevier.com/atr; and Conference Reports to Russell Smith <arasmith@ntu.edu.sg>. Unsolicited conference and agency reports will not be accepted.

RESEARCH NOTES

Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 480483, 2012 0160-7383/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Printed in Great Britain

www.elsevier.com/locate/atoures

AUTHENTICITY DOES MATTER


Muchazondida Mkono Southern Cross University, Australia
Some academics have argued that authenticity is a spent issue in tourism; indeed that authenticity is no longer relevant to tourists. In particular, postmodernists argue that authenticity is a redundant concept which tourists no longer concern themselves with (Beer, 2008; Belhassen, Caton, & Stewart, 2008; Feifer, 1985; Kim & Jamal, 2007; Lau, 2010; Reisinger & Steiner, 2006; Wang, 1999). However this paper argues, echoing Belhassen and Caton (2006), and drawing from tourist reviews posted online, that authenticity is still very important at least to some tourists. As such, calls to dismiss the notion and discourage future research on the phenomenon are premature. The reviews in question are provided voluntarily, therefore tourists comments therein are not prompted, and their content is not contingent on the direction of a researcher. The implication is that the reviews can be viewed as representing tourists self-interpretive meanings about cultural entertainment. Granted, denitions of authenticity are highly convoluted and have been widely contested (Beer, 2008; Conran, 2006; Graham, 2001; Selwyn, 1996; Silver, 1993; Taylor, 2001; Wall & Xie, 2005). Indeed the ambiguity of the concept has left the door wide open for academics to construct their own denitions and criteria for what passes as authentic (Conran, 2006). In Belhassen & Catons terms, authenticity is a slippery concept, and the extreme heterogeneity of usage of the term authenticity can be a source of confusion and counter-productivity, especially when it is tossed about in research texts, rather than carefully considered and situationally dened with a degree of precision sufcient to ensure successful communication between writer and reader (2006, p. 854). The meaning of authenticity, as observed by Steiner and Reisinger (2006) is a muddled amalgam

480

Research notes and reports / Annals of Tourism Research 39 (2012) 480502

481

of philosophical, psychological, and spiritual concepts and theories, reecting its multifaceted history. However, the fact that authenticity lacks a universal denition does not prove its redundancy. It simply shows that the concept has not reached basic concept status, but then, it does not have to. As long as tourists continue to concern themselves with evaluating authenticity of cultural objects and experiences by whatever criteria they apply, then authenticity should remain rmly embedded in the development of tourism theory. Social science is increasingly turning to the Internet as a (virtual) eld work site (Williams, 2007). There is also a concurrent growth in literature on the use of the worldwide web as a primary research tool (James & Busher, 2006). For this paper, netnography (online ethnography), a relatively novel research technique originally developed for online marketing research by Robert Kozinet in the 1990s (Beaven & Laws, 2007; Dwivedi, 2009; Janta & Ladkin, 2009; Kozinets, 2006; Morgan, 2008) is adopted. Reviews of two Victoria Falls restaurants, namely, The Boma-Place of Eating and Mama Africa Eating House, which offer cultural experiences for tourists, were downloaded and analysed manually. These restaurants are two of the most popular among tourists in the resort town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Although locals occasionally dine in these restaurants, the target market is upmarket regional and international tourists. As at 17 March 2011, the date of download, 29 and 11 reviews were available in English on the Boma and Mama Africa respectively. The reviews were read and reread a few times to get a general sense of the themes in the data. This was followed by a process of manual coding (identifying, marking out, and making notes on interesting and recurrent themes). Illustrative quotes were then highlighted for reference and evidence in the discussion ndings. Note: In the presentation of ndings, quotations are provided as they appear on the tourist review site, and are not edited for typographical and/or grammatical errors. This was done to obviate the possibility of misrepresenting the tourists postings. The reviews may be accessed from the http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_ Review-g293761-d780177-Reviews-Boma_Place_of_Eating-Victoria_Falls.html and http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293761-d1142139-Reviews-Mama_ Africa_Eating_House-Victoria_Falls.html. Tourists made frequent reference to authenticity/Africanness/Zimbabweanness of the experience, in many cases very explicitly. While space limitations will not allow for a nuanced discussion of each quote, the quotes themselves are sufciently self-explanatory in demonstrating tourists interest in authenticity in this sense:
At your table you order appetizers immediately as well as drinks, and are given a traditional (and authentic) beer-type beverage. They give you a real African experience. A little touristy, but well worth the trip. The Boma is Darkest Africa with a touch of Disney. Its unabashedly touristy, but if you want a taste of Africa, this is the place to come. Which was why I was here. The Boma is a Swahili word meaning armed enclosure; an opening gathering place where there is a burning re; meals are prepared and guests are seated in a circle, under open skies. The Boma in Victoria Falls ts this description perfectly. The restaurant literature translates Boma as a place of eating, though Ive also heard it translated as the gathering place or simply an enclosure. This particular gathering place is meant to look and feel like a Ndebele village with its forest setting, thatched roofs, and hypnotic African drums. From being draped in an African dress to face painting, hair braiding, learning to play drums, watching the native performers. On entrance, your adorned in an African robe and face painted with some sort of African symbol which seemed to look all the same, but all had a different meaning as I overheard the painters describe their work to the guests...This is followed by

482

Research notes and reports / Annals of Tourism Research 39 (2012) 480502


African tribal chanting, dancing, then a drumming session where everyone gets a drum . . .

The food itself is reviewed as a cultural signier, as much more than a meal. Thus tourists focused not only on what the meal contained in a menu sense, but also on its cultural symbolism. As Wang (1999) argues in her thesis on constructive authenticity, tourists evaluate cultural objects based on their individual frames of references:
The theme is African food and culture, and besides the food there are a number of things going on each night, starting with being draped in an African dress, a face painter and a sangoma throwing bones going round, dancers, singers and of course the drummers who will have everybody participate. Much more than a meal, it is a cultural experience. Your offered the chance to eat an African worm during the festivities, and if you so partake, a certicate is awarded After the ritual pre-dinner hand-washing and a sip of the local beer, which was a little rough, we moved on to . . .

It is clear from the above reviews that the suggestion that tourists are no longer concerned with authenticity is, at best, an oversimplication, and at worst, false. Further, the frustration with failing to reach consensus over how authenticity can be operationalised is understandable. However, this is not sufcient ground to dismiss authenticity outright. What might be kept in mind for future research is the need for more situated, that is, context specic research, so that authenticity develops from being a Eurocentric grand narrative to one which entails local, culture mediated discourse. As such, research in the form of standpoint and cultural studies formats (fth moment) is recommended (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998; Humberstone, 2004). Such studies would highlight the interplay between power, culture, and tourism, and advance understanding of the contestation of authenticity in different contexts, thus providing more multivocal, plural perspectives. Future researchers might also consider giving a voice to subaltern groups, (such as Africans, who have so far been researched mostly as objects but not subjects of the tourist gaze, for example), in developing more situated theory on authenticity.

REFERENCES
Beaven, Z., & Laws, C. (2007). Never Let Me Down Again: Loyal customer attitudes towards ticket distribution channels for live music events: A netnographic exploration of the US leg of the Depeche Mode 20052006 World Tour. Managing Leisure, 12(2/3), 120142. Beer, S. (2008). Authenticity and food experience-commercial and academic perspectives. Journal of Foodservice, 19(3), 153163. Belhassen, Y., & Caton, K. (2006). Authenticity matters. Annals of Tourism Research, 33(3), 853856. Belhassen, Y., Caton, K., & Stewart, W. (2008). The search for authenticity in the Pilgrim experience. Annals of Tourism Research, 35(3), 668689. Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (1998). The landscape of qualitative research: Theories and issues. California: SAGE. Conran, M. (2006). Commentary: Beyond authenticity: Exploring intimacy in the touristic encounter in Thailand. Tourism Geographies, 8(3), 274285. Dwivedi, M. (2009). Online destination image of India: A consumer based perspective. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 21(2), 226232. Feifer, M. (1985). Going places. London: Macmillan. Graham, C. (2001). Blame it on Maureen OHara: Ireland and the trope of authenticity. Cultural Studies, 15(1), 5875.

Research notes and reports / Annals of Tourism Research 39 (2012) 480502

483

Humberstone, B. (2004). Standpoint research: Multiple versions of reality in tourism theorising and research. In J. Phillimore & L. Goodson (Eds.), Qualitative research in tourism: Ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies (pp. 119136). New York: Routledge. James, N., & Busher, H. (2006). Credibility, authenticity and voice: Dilemmas in online interviewing. Qualitative Research, 6(3), 403420. Janta, H., & Ladkin, A. (2009). Polish Migrant labor in the hospitality workforce: Implications for recruitment and retention. Tourism Culture and Communication, 9(1/2), 515. Kim, H., & Jamal, T. (2007). Touristic quest for existential authenticity. Annals of Tourism Research, 34(1), 181201. Kozinets, R. V. (2006). Netnography. In R. W. Belk (Ed.), Handbook of qualitative research methods in marketing B2Handbook of qualitative research methods in marketing (pp. 129142). Cheltenham and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing. Lau, R. W. K. (2010). Revisiting authenticity: A social realist approach [Article]. Annals of Tourism Research, 37(2), 478498. Morgan, M. (2008). What makes a good festival? Understanding the event experience. Event Management, 12(2), 8193. Reisinger, Y., & Steiner, C. J. (2006). Reconceptualizing object authenticity. Annals of Tourism Research, 33(1), 6586. Selwyn, T. (1996). Introduction. In T. Selwyn (Ed.), The tourist image: Myths and myth making in tourism B2The tourist image: Myths and myth making in tourism (pp. 132). Chichester: Wiley. Silver, I. (1993). Marketing authenticity in third world countries. Annals of Tourism Research, 20(2), 302318. Steiner, C., & Reisinger, Y. (2006). Understanding existential authenticity. Annals of Tourism Research, 33(2), 299318. Taylor, J. P. (2001). Authenticity and sincerity in tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 28(1), 726. Wall, G., & Xie, P. (2005). Authenticating ethnic tourism: Li Dancers perspectives. Asia Pacic Journal of Tourism Research, 10(1), 121. Wang, N. (1999). Rethinking authenticity in tourism experience. Annals of Tourism Research, 26(2), 349370. Williams, M. (2007). Avatar watching: Participant observation in graphical online environments. Qualitative Research, 7(1), 524.

Received 25 April 2011. Revised 09 June 2011. Accepted 24 June 2011.

doi:10.1016/j.annals.2011.06.004