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Heritage as a Tourism Commodity: Traversing the Tourist-Local Divide

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In developing tourist attractions, government planning authorities and entrepreneurs face a challenging task trying to cater to the interests of foreign visitors while meeting the needs of the local community. This paper presents the case of tourism development as a dynamic process in which the "tourist-local divide" is negotiated and the welfare of both groups monitored. This argument is empirically developed with the aid of two case studies on heritage tourism in Singapore: the adaptive re-use of old shophouses after their conversion into boutique hotels, and the re-invention of street activities as tourist sites. The commoditisation thesis advanced by many tourism writers is critiqued. I argue that heritage development is geared towards Singaporeans as much as it is towards tourists, and the effects of commoditisation are not always negative for the host community. Rather than a static object, heritage is an ever-changing product influenced by the combined effects of economic development, tourism and socio-cultural forces at the local scale. For this reason, the notion that commoditisation leads to "inauthenticity" is re-evaluated and a more optimistic prognosis on heritage tourism is offered.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Publication date: June 1, 1997

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