Visitor Perceptions of Authenticity and Commodification in Easter Island Cultural Heritage Tourism : Pride and Empowerment of the Rapanui
Abstract: This study sought to analyze tourist perceptions of cultural heritage tourism on Easter Island, more specifically, how they perceived and valued the concept of ‘authenticity’ in representations of local Rapanui culture. By analyzing and categorizing trends found in Trip Advisor reviews left for 6 tourism businesses on the island (3 traditional performance venues and 3 guided tour companies), this primary research question was further broken down to assess 1) what factors in particular render an experience valuable and authentic to the tourist, 2) how tourists perceive indigenous Rapanui’s relationship to their own culture in the context of cultural tourism, and 3) if they perceive the industry as exploiting or empowering the Rapanui people. Ultimately the study uncovered the tendency for tourists to look to the transmitters of culture themselves (i.e. local performers, guides, company owners) when assessing the value and authenticity of their cultural experience, taking into account the transmitter’s indigenous heritage, cultural pride, knowledgeability, and openness and eagerness to share their culture with visitors (evident by the perceived passion with which they performed, or the personal storytelling and friendship evident in the guide-guest relationship). In addition to constructing value and authenticity, these qualities left visitors with the impression that local Rapanui are empowered by the industry and have agency over the manner in which their culture is showcased. The tourist’s search for meaning was also an important finding, as the majority either appreciated direct explanations about island culture and history, or created their own meaning when none was provided. While the scope of this study was limited to Easter Island, it has implications that may be applied to other destinations with indigenous, cultural tourism, as it very much speaks to the value that tourists place on cultural pride and preservation, community-based grassroots tourism, a desire for meaning and explanation, and consideration for the tourist’s own impact on the destination.
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