Monday, November 12, 2012

Dialogic Tourism

Grand Papua Hotel in Port Moresby

In recent times a British newspaper had scandalized Papua New Guinea as a land of cannibals with insatiable appetites for European tourists.

In PNG, it seems, the kind of tourism promoted is about quality tourism, which promotes its diverse cultures and heritage. At the same time such an approach safe guards the identities of its unique cultural heritage.

Tourism in Papua New Guinea has developed around the quality tourists rather than the mass tourists because of the need to give people a greater opportunity to develop effective communication and dialogue between tourists and the local community (Cashman 1987: 28-29).

It has been observed that so often “when tourists travel together as a group they can be insulated that they never develop an understanding of the hopes and aspirations, the fears and problems of the local people in whose midst they are.” An example of this observation is captured in the film Cannibal Tours featuring a group of European tourists visiting the Sepik River of Papua New Guinea. By making the trip to the Sepik River the tourists come the realization is that they are as strange as the people of the Sepik.

Papua New Guineans expect respect from tourists in order to welcome them into their communities: “The tourists we want, the tourists we will respect and should go out of our way to welcome are the tourists who come to us on equal terms, and who are interested in us as a people.” (Cashman 1987: 28).  In many Papua New Guinean communities the type of tourists welcomed by the communities are those who are willing to live and learn the cultures of the host communities. Such tourists are ones who appreciate and value other people and their cultures.

In an interesting article published in the Paradise Inflight With Air Niugini magazine, Steven Mago (2006: 56) recounts one particular trip made by a Japanese tour group to Aibom village in the Sepik River: “The programme at Aibom include a visit to a village where visitors mingled with locals to learn about their traditional lifestyle, a visit to the local school where the visitors spent an hour teaching Aibom children “origami”, a pottery demonstration and pottery making by the group. Despite the bad road experience, the trip to Aibom was a memorable one for our visitors. Not only did they come to visit the site of the famous art of Sepik pottery; there was also an exchange of values and cultures through the teaching sessions at the local school and a tea ceremony held in the village to mark the formal end of the tour.”

Exchange of cultures and values are important end results of quality tourism. It also highlights the respect tourists and host communities have of each other. The story of these Japanese tourists to the Sepik River community of Aibom village is a fine example in Papua New Guinea. There are other examples of Japanese tourists visiting places like Rabaul and the Sepik to see War Memorial sites to honour their relatives and brethrens who fought in the Second World and died in Papua New Guinea.

One of the largest campaigns in recent years that is attracting a lot of Australians to Papua New Guinea is the Kokoda Trail in the Owen Stanley Range, between Oro and Central Province. For the Australians the Kokoda Trail symbolises their part in the Second World War. Massive publicity in the Australian media, television, newspapers, magazines, and in sports, education, and political circles has influenced more Australians to visit the Kokoda Trail.

Yet for the Papua New Guineans, the Kokoda Trail or other war memorial remains only a symbol of another era transposed into a new opportunity or a nightmare. The economic returns to local communities and the emergence of greater understanding between Papua New Guineans and Australians or Japanese is therefore the opportunity.

Tourism is an industry that has both positive and negative side effects. Professor H. Peter Gray (1987: 17) provides the following observations: “Before considering the costs and benefits of tourism as an important sector in any developmental plan, three things need to be made explicit. First, I treat tourism as I would treat any other export-oriented industry: it should be considered as an alternative to copper mining, textile manufacture or any other export-oriented activity. The approach assumes that the developing economy faces a serious shortage of foreign exchange and that this shortage represents a drag on the development process.”

Grey goes on to explain that the tourism industry depends on the existences of some attraction for visitors. Papua New Guinea has many such attractions in natural beauty, diverse cultures, languages, and historical sites: “The key to tourism is the quality, the location and the perception by foreigners of that natural asset…the basic appeal of a touristic location is the fundamental characteristics of its natural attribute” (Gray 1987: 17). The two kinds of tourism, according to Gray are “resort (sunlust)” and “wanderlust tourism”, where “resort “sunlust” tourism…relies upon the climate, beaches, mountains and doing at touristic site what can be done less well at home; wanderlust tourism involves doing something abroad which cannot be done at home” (1987: 17). Distinguishing sharply between these two kinds of tourism is difficult. No tourism centre is wholly and exclusively resort tourism or caters uniquely to wanderlust. Centres of wanderlust make every effort to provide visitors with those features, which resorts emphasize: comfortable accommodation, idylic location, good food, local diversions and opportunities for sport and relaxation.

In Papua New Guinea tourism has helped to revive cultural reawakening of cultural heritage as part of tourism development, which increases the demand for historical cultural exhibits, which provides opportunities to support preservation of historical artefacts and architecture. The positive result of this is that greater understanding and awareness is created.

By learning more about others, their differences become less threatening and more interesting. At the same time, tourism often promotes higher levels of psychological satisfaction from opportunities created by tourism development and through interaction with travellers. 


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