Volume: 32, No: 3, Year: 2007  

Towards a Global Culture of Heritage Interpretation? Evidence from Indonesia and Tanzania


Natural and cultural heritage destinations worldwide are adapting themselves to the homogenizing culture of tourism and at the same time trying to maintain, or even increase, their local distinctiveness. While local and national tourism authorities and travel agencies package and sell so-called ‘authentic’ natural landscapes or ‘traditional’ cultures, what counts as heritage and the way in which it is interpreted are increasingly defined on a global scale (e.g., UNESCO’s World Heritage policies). By way of a comparative case study, this paper examines how local tour guides in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (cultural heritage tourism destination), and Arusha, Tanzania (natural heritage tourism destination), learn to tell their foreign guests seducing tourism tales. Combining an in-depth ethnography of the local tourism industry with a discourse-centred analysis of guiding narratives, the author explores the relationship between global tourism discourses and local tour guiding in both destinations. The focus is on how guides, through their interpretations of local heritage, act as key actors in mediating the tension between ongoing processes of globalization and local differentiation. Paradoxically, guides seem to rely on fashionable global tourism tales to interpret and sell their culture and heritage as authentically ‘local’. This is partly because tourists appear to appreciate interpretations that combine narratives about the particularities of a destination with well-known tourism imaginaries that are circulating globally. However, this does not mean that guides merely reproduce normative templates. In the interaction with tourists, they become themselves creative producers of tourism rhetoric.

Keywords: tour guides; heritage interpretation; discourse; anthropology; ethnography; Indonesia; Tanzania.

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