Is what you are seeing ‘real’? Examples of staged authenticity in tourism
11th February, 2023
As I explained in my recent post on the authenticity of tourism, there are many tourism activities that are perfect examples of staged authenticity. In this post I will briefly explain what staged authenticity is. I will then provide several examples of staged authenticity in tourism.
What is staged authenticity?
Staged authenticity is essentially a cultural practice, event or activity that is ‘staged’ for the purpose of the tourists. It could be that this is an outdated practice or that it has been modified for the purpose of tourism.
Below are ten examples of staged authenticity.
#1 China Town
Most big cities have a a China town. I love a good Chinese meal, don’t you? To me, no Chinese dinner is complete without some prawn crackers to start, chicken chow main and special fried rice and a good bottle of wine to wash it down!
But did you know that there are no prawn crackers in China? These are actually an ENGLISH food! This just BLEW MY MIND when somebody told me this a few years ago!
To find out more examples like this check out my post- 10 foods you eat that are not ‘real’ | Authenticity in food.
#2 St Patricks Day celebrations
Do you think everybody in Ireland drinks (a lot of) Guiness, dresses in green and has pointy ears like an leprechaun?
There is also a popular misconception that everybody in Scotland can play the bagpipes. Reality check- they can’t!
The person that you see in the streets of Glasgow playing the bagpipes? He’s doing it for tourism, not for a hobby.
#4 Maasai Mara Tribe
You’ve probably heard of the Maasai Mara tribe in Tanzania/Kenya. All you need to do is google it and you will see hundreds of images of men wearing traditional tribal outfits holding spears.
Is this how Africans live nowadays? I don’t think so! This is entirely put on for the tourists! You can read more about this here- The truth about your tour to the Maasai Tribe.
#5 Long neck tribe
Likewise, the long neck tribe in Thailand exist solely for the purpose of tourism. These people do not want to wear rings around their necks, they do so just to make a few bucks from the tourism industry!
And did you know that they cannot remove these rings because their necks are not strong enough to support themselves? This is most certainly a negative impact of tourism!
You can read more about the long neck tribe in this post- Why you should NOT visit the famous long neck tribe in Thailand.
#6 Running of the Bulls
I visited San Fermin, otherwise known as the Running of the Bulls festival and had a brilliant time.
However, it was a far cry from its ‘authentic’ version. More about the party than the bull racing, this festival was definitely not what I expected. It wasn’t bad, like I said- I had a great time- it just wasn’t authentic!
#7 Flamenco dancing
A proper flamenco dance is well worth watching. Many tourist resorts with cheap evening entertainment, however, will put on shows are that inexplicably inauthentic. British Holiday Reps dancing badly to commercialised music does not make for an authentic Spanish dance.
#8 Dungeon tours
Have you ever been to the London Dungeons? Whilst this is a great day out, especially for kids, it is a prime example of Disneyfication. In other words, the authenticity of the dungeons has been exchanged for role-play, thrill rides and fun activities.
It’s not bad. Its just not authentic. At all.
#9 Favela tour
Slums tours in the Brazilian favelas, South African townships, Indian slums or anywhere else that allows you peek inside the lives of the poor in this way are mist certainly insightful.
Yes, you will learn a lot about what life might be like there and you will see some interesting things. However, do you think what you see is a true reflection of reality? Does your tour guide take you to the most dangerous parts? Do you see what goes on inside these homes? Do you really experience it?
I’m not saying that what you see isn’t necessarily real. I’m just saying that it likely isn’t the whole story.
#10 Traditional Thai Green Curry
Unless you have lived or extensively travelled in Thailand, you probably haven’t tasted real Thai food. Sure, you thought you did, perhaps the waiter even told you it was authentic. BUT in the vast majority of cases, the cooks will serve anybody with white skin or a non-Thai sounding name a mild version of their food.
It might not seem mild to you, but trust me when I say that real Thai food can be through the roof spicy!!!
So there we have it- 10 examples of staged authenticity. Do you have any other examples? I would love to them about them! Drop them in the comments box below.