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Ethnic Precincts as Ethnic Tourism Destinations in Urban Australia

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Australia has received one of the relatively largest and most diverse intakes of immigrants of any of the Western nations, with more than half of the population of Australia's largest cities first- or second-generation immigrants. The tourism literature places great importance on the cultural industries and the growth of cultural tourism in countries like Australia. But the link between immigration, ethnic diversity, and tourism, which we call ethnic tourism, in Australia and elsewhere has received little attention by scholars. By ethnic tourism we mean not only the tourism by ethnic minorities to countries like Australia but also the way that nonminority tourists—in Australia, this means British, New Zealand, and North American tourists—are attracted to ethnic tourist sites such as ethnic precincts. The cosmopolitan character of Australia's largest cities, a result of the great ethnic diversity of Australia's immigration intake over the past 60 years, has lead to the development of ethnic tourism, a subset of cultural tourism. Ethnic tourism thus includes tourism to destinations that are labeled, marketed, and identified with the cultural diversity of a particular minority ethnic group. Ethnic precincts such as Chinatown, Little Italy, Thaitown, and Koreatown attract customers who are locals, national tourists, or international tourists to experience the "ethnic neighborhoods" of the city. These customers are often attracted by the presence of ethnic businesses—restaurants, shops, services—set up by ethnic entrepreneurs. Some tourists may be seeking an "authentic" ethnic experience in the precinct. This may involve the quality and style of food, the smells and sounds arising from restaurants, the presence of locals and "co-ethnic" customers and staff, and the d├ęcor and iconography of the streetscape, buildings, and landmarks. Ethnic communities and local governments may also hold ethnic festivals and events which attract both tourists and locals. Focusing on the links between immigration, ethnic diversity, and tourism, this article concentrates on the supply side of one site of the ethnic tourism industry in Australia: that of ethnic precincts in Australian cities. Drawing on recent fieldwork with tourists, entrepreneurs, ethnic community leaders, and local and state government officials in two metropolitan ethnic precincts (Sydney's Chinatown and Perth's Northbridge), this article explores some critical dimensions of the interface between immigration, ethnic diversity, and tourism. The positioning of ethnic precincts as tourism products includes contradictory and complex issues of authenticity, employment, the representation of ethnicity, consultation with migrant communities, negotiations with local government authorities, and marketing and promotion activities. The article concludes that while historical patterns of immigration and immigrant settlement have changed over time, ethnic precincts are important, though changing, sites of urban ethnic tourism in Australia and thus fertile sites to begin to understand the complex and changing links between immigration, ethnic diversity, and tourism in contemporary cosmopolitan cities.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-02-01

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  • Tourism, Culture & Communication is international in its scope and will place no restrictions upon the range of cultural identities covered, other than the need to relate to tourism and hospitality. The Journal seeks to provide interdisciplinary perspectives in areas of interest that may branch away from traditionally recognized national and indigenous cultures, for example, cultural attitudes toward the management of tourists with disabilities, gender aspects of tourism, sport tourism, or age-specific tourism.
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