Exploring the Attributes That Influence the Purchase of Indigenous Art and Souvenirs


What attributes influence a consumer’s intention to purchase Indigenous art and souvenirs? Research has suggested ‘perception of authenticity’ motivates some consumers to seek out and purchase such products. However, authenticity may relate to the marker/artist, aesthetics of the design, or material use. These attributes are identified through the extant literature in indigenous art and souvenirs. The purpose of this research project is to determine what influences perceptions of authenticity, leading to purchase intention.

1: Subject area under investigation

In the 2018-19 financial year, travel and tourism directly contributed over AU$2 trillion to the global economy, and over AU$60 billion to the Australian economy, or just over three per cent of the national GDP (Tourism Australia, 2020). “Material things have a particular value in the leisure and tourism markets as they are absolutely necessary for human agency and performativity in them” (Muecke and Wergin, 2014); as evidenced by the fact that shopping is the number one leisure activity performed by tourists (Wang et al. 2018), with 30 per cent to 33 per cent of overall travel expenses going to souvenirs (Swanson & Horridge, 2002).

Indigenous cultural tourism has had an important place in global and domestic tourism product offering and marketing activities for many decades (Ruhanen & Holder, 2019), and while demand for Indigenous souvenir and art products has been decreasing in Australia in the past 20 years (Tourism Australia, 2016), modern holiday travel offers tourists the appealing opportunity for self-definition and enhancement of social prestige through the collection and display of Indigenous souvenirs and art (Kuhn, 2020).

Today’s relative ease of travel, multitude of travel options, efficient production techniques and digital information exchange have brought consumers and the tourism goods and experiences they seek closer than ever before, but the collection of Indigenous souvenirs and cultural objects is not a recent phenomenon in Western culture. Despite Twain (1897) declaring, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”, many industrially- and technologically-advanced, colonialist nations believed that their successes in industry accorded their colonial ambition a natural authority, and it was therefore “their duty to spread their version of civilisation [and] in return, they would capture the wealth of the colonised lands” (Pascoe, 2014).

While global colonial powers were indulging in mass cultural appropriation as they expanded their empires, on the Grand Tours of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, decorative arts were gathered across continental Europe and transformed for commercial purposes far from their founding cultures. In 1874, glass designer Harry Powell sketched glass vessels from Italian, German, Dutch and French Renaissance art to produce copied designs to be sold in England (Franklin, 2018). Eighteenth-century English potter and glass-maker Josiah Wedgewood was similarly inspired by art souvenirs collected by tourists; copying the design of Roman glass cameos to be recreated and sold en masse (Franklin, 2018). Museums in Western cultures also have large collections of Indigenous objects: a Sámi ceremonial drum in the British Museum probably came to the British Isles already in the late 17th or early 18th century. The mere size indicates it might have been made for display and as a souvenir rather than as a sacred ritual artefact (Nordin & Ojala, 2017).

Today, with a greater complexity of consumer options comes a greater complexity of decision-making and evaluation, as goods and services are seen as commodities that offer “potential for conspicuous consumption and a leverage point for self-definition and self-consolidation in the social hierarchy (Boley et al., 2018). It is within this realm that the concept of consumer perceptions of authenticity and purchase intention should be explored.

Authenticity is an important dimension that consumers employ to evaluate goods and experiences. Since MacCannell (1973) first applied the concept of authenticity to tourism, the relationship has been explored to the extent that is now known that even children are aware of authenticity and value originals more than duplicates (Newman, 2019). The search for authenticity drives consumer preferences across a range of areas, including souvenirs, art, clothing, luxury goods, collectables, food, and everyday household items (Newman, 2019).

While it can be argued that authenticity is a social construct, and consumer perceptions of authenticity are shaped by the “social and cultural conditions under which the product was produced” (Littrell et al., 1993), or “projected onto toured objects by tourists or tourism producers in terms of their imagery, expectations, preference, beliefs, powers, etc.” (Newman, 2019), the creation of authenticity is vital to tourism as a device that prompts desire and the production of value.

In its simplest form, the souvenir is a reminder of a tourist’s experience of a place (Wilkins, 2011) or can be part of an authentic experience that also comes through such activities as eating food prepared in traditional ways or experiencing local people’s lifestyles (Yi et al., 2017). However; the intentions behind souvenir purchase can be much more complex and varied. To achieve success in tourism retailing, retailers must understand tourists and meet their needs in terms of the attributes consumers attach to objects to be convinced enough to purchase them as physical reminders of the place or places they have visited. Studies have explored these attached attributes and the way in which items are marketed to meet expectations, finding that the most important attributes of souvenirs are often appealing colours and design, workmanship or techniques of high quality, being able to display the item in the home, cost, making a good gift, the inclusion of a name, design, or representation of the place visited (Amaro et al, 2020), workmanship, sensuous appreciation, cultural linkage and ease of handling (Plant et al, 2019, Hu and Hong, 2007).

Why all of this matters is that the outcomes of these motivations, behaviours and choices – good or bad, intentional or unintentional – have wide-reaching and long-lasting consequences for entire cultures and peoples. Despite the fact that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples declares that Indigenous peoples have the “right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage”, “to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage”; and the “right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures”; to further advance their economic and social conditions including employment (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2012), consumers’ search for perceived authenticity in the tourism souvenir and art markets has meant that many Indigenous cultures have been exploited and undermined, with negative outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Australia and worldwide. In some cases, legal action has had to be taken to address this exploitation, although it has similarly been the case that cultural and ethical issues or concerns around the production and marketing of Indigenous objects have been overlooked compared to factors related to legislative compliance (Plant et al, 2019).

A recent Federal Government Inquiry ended up with legal proceedings being brought against a well-known souvenir distributor who was found to have been mislabelling products to deceive consumers attempting to make ethical purchases (Plant et al, 2019). The products at the centre of the case were represented to be ‘associated with Australian Aboriginal Art’ and using words in the labels including ‘Aboriginal Art, ‘genuine’, and ‘Australia’ (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, 2018) . Several products were featured in the case including loose boomerangs, boxed boomerangs, bull-roarers, didgeridoos and message stones.

Choices made at the individual consumer level have macro-level ramifications.

2: What do we currently know. What is the latest research from leading academic journals telling us about this area?

Indigenous souvenirs and art are emotional and affective objects that often embody knowledge, meanings, skills and identity (Kuhn, 2020). In Australia and many other places, Indigenous art is centred on storytelling; Australian Aboriginal people use art to chronicle and convey knowledge of their land, events and beliefs, and to pass on information to preserve their culture (Williams & Biggemann, 2020). Indigenous souvenirs and artworks are items which can symbolise and materialise the consumer’s experience; they have “the ability to ‘absorb’ tourists’ narratives and express individual travel experience to social others [and] induce conversations about travel experience in a social setting” (Kuhn, 2020).

Historically, the collection of Indigenous materials has been a mechanism of colonial power; with objectives ranging from posthumous retribution for the purported wrongs of a person or group to the collection of souvenirs, curios and trophies (Prictor et al, 2020). This collection of knowledge about cultures and environments regarded as “other” (Whittle, 2016) – knowledge which Said (1978) described as being “reinforced by colonial encounter as well as by the widespread interest in the alien and unusual” – is a legacy presenting many complex challenges today. Many Indigenous peoples’ cultures, stories and traditions have become “spaces of competing values, requiring stakeholders to engage in a complex weighing up of priorities” (Prictor et al., 2020).

In today’s consumer markets, questions of authenticity, identity and Indigenous heritage weave through everything that we know about this subject, as consumers’ desire to see, experience, know and own Indigenous souvenirs and art can be driven by the need for perceived ‘authentic’ interactions with places and cultures (Franklin, 2018).

The most important product attributes for consumers of Indigenous souvenirs and art are authenticity and a tie between product and the local areas (Trivedi et al., 2020). Various definitions of authenticity linked to this subject matter include terms like uniqueness, genuineness, cultural and history integrity, artistry, as well as aesthetics and use of souvenir. Authentic souvenirs should have a distinct characteristic difficult to find in tourists’ everyday lives (Trivedi et al., 2020).

Authenticity can be “projected onto toured objects by tourists or tourism producers in terms of their imagery, expectations, preference, beliefs, powers, etc.” (Newman, 2019) in three main ways: historical authenticity, categorical authenticity and values authenticity (Newman, 2019. Historical authenticity relates to the perception of the object embodying the physical essence of some valued source, categorical authenticity relates to whether the object or experience conforms to the required qualities of a particular category or type, and values authenticity relates to whether the object or experience reflects a deep, essential value.

At the micro level, such objects, as self-representative symbols, “must be noticed by others, they must characteristically evoke certain specifiable reactions from others, and they must be in control of the individual in order to be effective vehicles for self-expression” (Kuhn, 2020), as “souvenirs and commodified arts or handicrafts are directly and indirectly tied to notions of ethnicity, gender, authenticity, and cultural heritage” (King, 2016).

While it is perhaps the multifaceted capabilities that consumers associate with Indigenous objects that enable them to animate them with “affects and emotions, feelings of remembrance, affection, appreciation and loss” (Haldrup, 2017), it can also be argued that, for an individual consumer, the acquisition of Indigenous souvenirs or art has become a simplified affair. Consumers’ perception of an Indigenous object is specifically grounded in the visuality of it with less concern associated with authenticity in design. Many consumers perceive “contemporary design combined with Indigenous markers to be more authentic than traditional design” (Xie et al., 2012) as the “apparent traditionalism of Aboriginal souvenirs does not determine the degree of authenticity” (Xie et al., 2012). While an anthropologist will tend to explore what an Indigenous object, for example, a totem pole, means, to most tourists totem poles are “usually perceived as exotic undifferentiated structures; they serve to mark out spaces to which tourists are guided in order to spend money” (King, 2016), as well as providing something to photograph, as a record of their engagement with ‘otherness’ (King, 2016).

Similarly, it has been found that a consumer’s nationality and level of familiarity with the culture from which they are purchasing a souvenir or art piece can heavily affect perceptions of authenticity based on simply on an object’s appearance (Elomba & Yun, 2017). Using pictorial analysis, a study applied six attributes of souvenir authenticity: material, presentation, features, image, feelings, and spirit or interpretation to tourists in South Korea, finding that the most effective marketing methods should involve souvenir suppliers focussing on “the overall appearance and image of souvenirs … considering these six characteristics of souvenirs’ authenticity” (Elomba & Yun, 2017).

The subcategory of existential authenticity, focussing on individuals’ emotions actions, has been explored, with a heavy focus on hosts’ and guests’ interpretations of place and space (Yi et al., 2016). Wang (1999) argued that existential authenticity is a state of mind that enables an individual to feel free, within certain environments, to engage in activities they would normally avoid because of their social roles. Some tourists may encounter local artisans or craftspeople and local craftwork and folk art, and become consumers of these experiences, objects or activities, which are not experienced by tourists in their daily lives but are associated with tourist excursions. Experiencing these things away from their natural environment and social rules allows them to be “true to themselves and not to be rigidly constrained by their social roles” (Yi et al. 2017)

Consumers’ perceptions of authenticity have a major role to play in how Indigenous souvenirs and art produced for, and interact with, the demands of the tourism industry and the compulsion to transform them into local, national and international commodities. The consumption of Indigenous souvenirs and art should be explored from two perspectives: the tourist’s or consumer’s perspective, which is that souvenirs are “tangible objects or intangible experiences that are symbolic reminders of an event or experience” (Sthapit, 2018) and the supplier’s perspective, which is that souvenirs are “tourism commodities that can be found in souvenir shops and handicraft markets” (Sthapit, 2018). Retailers can “establish product authenticity by simply making tourists recognize that a souvenir is hand-made locally which has an impact on souvenir buying intentions and sales representatives should not pressure tourists to buy, but spend time explaining the item’s history and truthfully describe the item’s value” (Trivedi et al., 2020).

It is “apparent that such items provide evidence of the conspicuous side of tourism consumption” (Kuhn, 2020) as attitudes toward and willingness to sell mass-produced souvenirs are more typical of souvenir vendors because of limited business resources (Soukhathammavong & Park, 2018). Challenges exist, in particular, due to a fierce competition between local souvenir producers and international traders in many local markets (King, 2016), bringing about the potential of unethical practices in souvenir and art production, as well as consumption. Consumers can consciously indulge in ethical and unethical purchasing behaviour, and that they “often compensate for unethical choices by making ethical choices later on (and vice versa)” (Gregory-Smith, 2013). Indeed, there is a bulk of evidence that sustainable travelling is not an “all or nothing” matter (Passafaro, 2019), but some consumers can display a greater or lesser commitment to the green cause. The definition of customer-perceived value describes as “an exchange between total perceived benefits the consumer receives and sacrifices in quality and the price the customer makes to obtain a good or service” (Wang et al., 2018).

This “deception and decoupling from social sustainability relating to human rights and the cultural paradigm from a production perspective” (Plant et. al, 2019) and unethical choices made by individual consumers can have many negative outcomes for Indigenous businesses and individuals seeking to enter the souvenir or art industry as a means of economic inclusion (Plant et al., 2019). The development of nomenclature for deception relating to ethical production and consumption within supply chain literature “demonstrates its prevalence in contemporary business” (Dadush, 2018). Green-washing and blue-washing (Dadush, 2018) describes “the practice of misleading consumers by misrepresenting the degree to which a product or service is environmentally (green) or socially (blue) sustainable” (Dadush, 2018).

Tourists’ behaviour depends on the intensity of the experiences sought or gained Yankholmes and McKercher (2015) and there is a distinct relationship between souvenir shopping and travel experience (Kong & Chang, 2016). Consumer perception and knowledge of the authenticity of Indigenous objects tends to correlate with figures showing numbers of tourists who wished to experience an Indigenous tourism experience (Pabel et al., 2017). A study showed that “a majority (77.5%) of Indigenous artefacts were purchased by visitors who did not participate in an Indigenous tourism activity” (Pabel et al., 2017). These findings have important and potentially wide-reaching implications for the development of future Indigenous tourism and shopping experiences as the context in which a product was purchased increases its perceived value (Weaver, 2013).

3: What don’t we know (gaps). At the end of such journals, academics will speak of current limitations or future research direction. What are these?

While research into the meanings and values behind souvenirs and consumer purchase intention has increased in recent years, the specifics of self-expression through souvenirs have not been extensively investigated (Kuhn, 2020). The research findings of “touristic self-presentation through souvenirs in this study is limited to interpretations of young, Western students and cannot be unequivocally applied to the larger population of tourists” (Kuhn, 2020). The reflective process or the “active construction of self-messages by the tourist” have not been analysed in great detail (Kuhn, 2020).

Many studies focus on tourists’ personal reflections on what their purchases tell other people about themselves, but only involving souvenirs or artwork willing to be displayed in the home or in another place where it is visually noticed. It is important that all souvenir purchase is actively reflected upon, not just the objects that reflect how a consumer’s behaviour is “noticed and valuated by social others” (Kuhn, 2020).

Tourism literature, in exploring the individual marketing aspects that affect consumer buying intention, including product attributes, store attributes and souvenir attributes, have done little to investigate the impact of how the relationships between multiple attributes at once affect consumer perceptions (Wang et al., 2018). Passafaro (2019) points out that there is no universally accepted method of conceptualizing and investigating attitudes, noting that social psychologists “have been working hard to disentangle the many possible determinants of individual and group behaviour … [including] … values, world views, norms, identity, traits and others, all of which researchers should learn to distinguish”. One of the most challenging issues in attitude research is the controversial relationship with behaviour (Passafaro, 2019).

A majority of domestic and international tourists want relatively inexpensive, urban activities; this particularly applies to mainstream, tour group-operated package holidays and similar types of travel. Other types of tourism, such as adventure, art, cultural and environmental tourism “attract far smaller numbers of visitors; but these are the types of tourist attractions run by Indigenous operators” (Langton, 2018). There is a need to better understand the factors preventing greater numbers of people participating in Indigenous tourism activities. As the “majority (77.5%) of Indigenous artefacts [are] purchased by visitors who did not participate in an Indigenous tourism activity” (Pabel et al., 2017), and thus driving the “deception and decoupling from social sustainability relating to human rights and the cultural paradigm from a production perspective” (Plant et. al, 2019), we need to better understand just what is preventing them from participating in Indigenous tourism. It would not be surprising if “embodied cognition” proved a fruitful line of investigation for understanding the attitude–behaviour gap in ethical tourism as well (Oleksy & Wnuk 2016, Passafaro, 2019).

Existing studies “have yet to fully uncover the reasons for the low market appeal of Indigenous tourism” (Ruhanen & Holder, 2019). In recent years, criticism has been levelled at government agencies from a range of sources for “over-promising” (Ruhanen et al., 2015) in terms of the benefits of tourism and creating expectations which have not lived up to consumer demand. The results of this has damaged Indigenous peoples’ abilities to develop and maintain tourism businesses (Ruhanen et al., 2015). At the same time, a study found that between 60% and 80% of international visitors “who were either interested in experiencing or had experienced an Indigenous tourism product believed they had been exposed to very little advertising” (Ruhanen et al., 2015). Understanding non-visitors image and perceptions of Indigenous people and Indigenous tourism is an important first step and data collection methods such as psycho-physiological techniques may be the best way to move forward in this space (Ruhanen & Holder, 2019). There may be a case for “focusing on image recovery and reputation management of Indigenous tourism” (Ruhanen & Holder, 2019).

A way of looking at how cultural stories are represented in marketing realms could be through the lens of story marketing. Story marketing is an area that has not been widely explored in relation to this area and may contribute to attitude–behaviour incongruence caused by conflict among the various attitude components (cognitive, affective, and behavioural) (Passafaro, 2019). Story marketing is a marketing strategy that requires the creation of a brand experience through a variety of methods, including audio, visual and immersive storytelling “whereby the customer becomes the centre of the story to drive profitable engagement” (The Business of Story, 2020). Aspects of story marketing, including informativeness, credibility and entertainment positively influence the perception of authenticity of the place of origin of a souvenir or artwork, and thus the marketability of a product (Trivedi et al., 2020). Story marketing positively influences the purchase intentions of products such as wine, however; as an independent variable, it has not been examined in the context of buying cultural products (Trivedi et al., 2020). Hence, if a marketer wishes to create a positioning strategy for cultural products, they should frame it by using the medium of story marketing (Trivedi et al, 2020). This is an avenue for further research that could be useful. There is a need to “develop the scale of story marketing since the existing scale of story marketing is very ambiguous in nature” (Li, 2014).

As with many decisions made for and about Indigenous peoples, stories and cultures, in Australia in particular, conclusions are often drawn without the involvement, input and expertise of Indigenous peoples. This needs to change. Many studies in this subject area have been quite severely limited due to the nature of their research design and data collection (Wang et al., 2018, Amaro et al., 2020, Deng et al., 2020), with the lack of cross-validation of structural relationships in other cultures and other settings. Convenience sampling is often undertaken, with respondents being a “young and homogeneous group”, and therefore with opinions not necessarily representative of the overall population (Wang et al., 2018), or conclusions drawn from samples that are geographically limited to one location (Amaro et al., 2020).

Similarly, the role played by Indigenous peoples in the development of culturally appropriate manufacturing, marketing and sustainability practices is generally minor. Plant et al. (2019) explored this to a certain extent, highlighting “where Indigenous people should be involved in the development chain for other non-Indigenous firms selling like-for-like products so as to avoid infringing on human rights as it relates to commodification of culture”, but knowledge of this area could benefit from more research and exploration. A good example is the case of the inuksuk; an Inuit stone cairn “appropriated as a signifier of ‘Canadianness’ for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and repeatedly commodified for souvenirs and tourism campaigns, which features in the ‘An Amazing Gift’ commercial, along with the ecstatic, smiling face of an Inuit woman, as a kind of Indigenous ‘stamp of approval’” (Dean & Failler, 2019). The advert would suggest that Indigenous people appreciate token gestures of inclusion within the colonial nation, despite historic and ongoing dispossession and social degradation they have faced. Is this true or a total façade?

4: How will the research fill these gaps?

The protection of Indigenous people’s heritages and cultures is a human right and the realm of the protection and strengthening of Indigenous cultural rights is an area “still ripe for meaningful exploration and achievement” (Roy, 2015). Therefore, this work will be focussed on this idea, covering three main areas of exploration:

(a) To explore consumers’ perceptions of the authenticity of Indigenous objects as a reflection or projection of self and the categorisation or grouping of consumers by retailers and manufacturers as a result

Buying souvenirs is important to tourists as tangible evidence of their travel experience (Cho & Lee, 2012), with global sales annually in the billions of dollars. Purchasing behaviour differs depending on whether consumers buy an item for themselves or for another person (Kim & Littrell, 2001) and tourists’ personal characteristics are significant factors in their intentions to buy souvenirs.

There is a growing literature in psychology which suggests that consumers are highly attuned to whether their choices and behaviours are aligned to their true self (Newman, 2019, Wood et al., 2008). The relationship between perceptions of authenticity, purchase intention and self-perception has not been studied in any detail; the suggestion exists that “a person seeking self-authenticity may be less concerned about the historical accuracy of an object or experience and may instead attend to the way in which the object or experience makes them feel” (Newman, 2019). This study will explore this, as a more detailed consideration of the cultural background of respondents in data collection techniques is required (Cho & Lee, 2012).

Cultural identities are “created from, and shaped by, values that are defined by a sense of self” (Prictor et al., 2020), and it is important to explore whether decisions being made about the purchase of Indigenous souvenirs and art reflect sincere choices true to one’s self, or are they simply socially-scripted responses influenced by a number of values rooted in a person’s cultural identity, background or social norms (Newman, 2019). Indeed, the “characteristics of individuals who are prototypical of a social group or category is of crucial relevance for understanding other people’s willingness to act like them” (Passafaro, 2019). How these characteristics could be related to self-expression and their relevance to consumption of Indigenous objects is worthy of examination.

To build on previous studies in this area and add to the knowledge, data needs to be collected and analysed from several international sources, providing a wide-reaching dataset to avoid the implications that come with convenience sampling and conclusions being drawn based on sampling from homogeneous group[s] (Wang et al., 2018) or samples that are geographically limited (Amaro et al., 2020). This study will address this issue using contemporary communication and data collection techniques covering a number of territories, and, to explore the way Indigenous objects are marketed and retailed based on perceived audience characteristics, the “six characteristics of souvenirs’ authenticity”, as described by Elomba & Yun (2017).

(b) To explore the barriers that prevent tourists within and to Australia from undertaking an Indigenous experience, including how, and the extent to which, Indigenous tourism experiences are marketed to audiences domestically and abroad and the effect(s), and how these barriers affect consumer perceptions of authenticity

Australia is home to world-class Indigenous tourism experiences and has the unique ability for visitors to experience Indigenous culture and authentic products made by Indigenous communities. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism is an important and iconic part of the Australian tourism offering. It is essential to attracting new and return visitors to Queensland and ensuring participation of Indigenous Australians in the tourism industry (Department of Innovation and Tourism Development, 2020).

Indigenous people involved in tourism and related markets generally have a positive view of the industry and confidence in their products to exceed consumer expectations (Ruhanen et al., 2015), but there have been conflicting reports regarding this (Buultjens & Gale, 2013, Ruhanen et al., 2015). Reported demand has not translated into visitor and income flows for Indigenous people involved in these markets, so where is the money going? For Indigenous people operating tourism businesses around Australia, or aspiring to, there is a clear need for a better understanding of visitor perceptions (Ruhanen & Holder, 2019).

Academic studies have shown that, for the awareness of Indigenous experiences, there is “little difference between international and domestic respondents: domestic respondents had slightly higher awareness levels (21%), citing Indigenous tourism as an experience option available in Australia only marginally more often than international visitors (18%)” (Ruhanen et al., 2015), but not a great deal has been researched at government level. A lack of focused research has resulted in public sector strategies that have been “developed for growing Indigenous tourism in Australia, are not underpinned and developed with explicit empirical evidence but rather with assumptions” (Yugambeh Museum, 2003).

Tourists have a desire for authentic experiences and tourism “has the potential to foster existential authenticity and that existential authenticity is experience-oriented” (Newman, 2019), and those who seek authentic experiences in authentic settings and meaningful interactions with residents are encouraged – when these desires are fulfilled – “to travel more, stay longer in the places they visit, and take part in more activities compared to other tourists” (Tussyadiah & Pesonen, 2015).

The year of Indigenous Tourism – now extended to 2021 because of the COVID pandemic – is part of the Department of Innovation and Tourism Development’s “commitment to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to take charge of their economic futures” (Department of Innovation and Tourism Development, 2020). Despite this, there exists an urgent requirement to further investigate whether “low levels of awareness and demand for Indigenous tourism in Australia is a result of general indifference to the product or if they are a result of inadequate and/ or ineffective marketing and promotion strategies” (Ruhanen et al., 2015). This research will fill that gap and explore how barriers to participation affect consumer perceptions of authenticity in Indigenous objects as a result.

(c) To explore the extent to which Indigenous peoples are involved in decision-making roles in the Australian souvenir and art markets, and the likely effects on increased Indigenous representation on consumers’ perceptions of authenticity

“Opportunities abound to make a difference, but they may need to evolve from changes in generational attitudes and approaches” (Roy, 2015). The correct approach to research of this kind would involve “seeking information from primary sources by Indigenous peoples first, followed by reviewing both primary and secondary sources by non-Indigenous peoples” (Roy, 2015, Martin, 2003). This would ensure that it recognizes Indigenous people’s world views, honours their social values, emphasizes the contexts in which they live, and privileges the Indigenous voice and experience (Roy, 2015).

Professor Marcia Langton (2018) writes that the benefits of tourism to Indigenous people are many, especially in rural and remote areas of Australia where there are fewer economic opportunities. Tourism businesses are a “pathway for local families to enjoy the benefits of their unparalleled ancestral heritage” (Langton, 2018); thus Indigenous people have “established cultural and natural tourism businesses and opened up their country for tourists with a great energy, determination and a love of sharing the beauty of their culture” (Langton, 2018). Local tourism projects offer Indigenous people opportunities to work on their own country with their own family, while education their young family members about their country, stories and traditions; ensuring their cultures are sustained into the future.

However, existing studies “have yet to fully uncover the reasons for the low market appeal of Indigenous tourism” (Ruhanen & Holder, 2019). Ruhanen and Holder (2019) call for “an alternative lens and approach [that] could shed better insights into the issues of low market appeal for Indigenous tourism in Australia” and including Indigenous viewpoints from primary sources can be a rarity in academic studies.

With this in mind, it is important to explore how and where Indigenous people should be involved in the development chain to avoid infringing on human and cultural rights as it relates to commodification of culture and the potential effects this will have on consumers’ perceptions of authenticity. This work will seek and analyse data from primary sources as First Nations voices must be heard and included in this study if it is to be considered a useful contribution to public knowledge.

5: What is the research question/s under investigation?

There will be three research questions:

1: To what extent do consumers’ reflections or perceptions of self affect their perceptions of authenticity of Indigenous souvenirs and art, and how does this affect the categorisation or grouping of consumers by suppliers and retailers as a result?

2: What are the barriers preventing consumers from undertaking authentic Indigenous tourism and cultural experiences, and to what extent do they have an effect on perceptions of authenticity of Indigenous souvenirs and art?

3: To what extent would a greater level of Indigenous decision-making in the Australian souvenir and art markets affect consumer perceptions of authenticity and purchase intention?

6: What are the managerial problems?

The managerial problems include working out how to persuade consumers to seek a more authentic Indigenous souvenir or art purchase, how do we ensure a greater percentage of consumers are exposed to the possibilities of experiencing Indigenous tourism, and how can we involve a greater number of Indigenous people in decision-making in the mainstream Indigenous souvenir and art industries.

Previous studies have proved adept at predicting and explaining human behaviour (Ma et al., 2018, Giampetri et al., 2018), but others show that purchase intention has no effect whatsoever on consumer behaviour (Deng, 2015, Meitiana et al., 2019). There is no universally accepted “standard way of conceptualizing and investigating attitudes” (Passafaro, 2019), and attitudes alone cannot explain all human behaviour, nor individual or partial behaviour in all circumstances. Behaviour and attitudes can be influenced by a combination of values, world views, social norms, identity, personal traits and others: all of which researchers need to learn to distinguish (Passafaro, 2019). Future studies of this kind require a “more detailed consideration of the cultural background of respondents” (Cho & Lee, 2012), with more attention paid to the cultural background of consumers, especially in global markets.

Other problems can affect data collection, including the lack of control of researchers in respondents’ entering data into a questionnaire or similar device can cause misinterpretation or a lack of understanding, resulting in data validity problems and a weakening of the data. We do not reflect upon how we present ourselves in each and every moment of our lives (Kuhn, 2020) and often are not comfortable in doing so as a result. Researchers must work closely with respondents to surveys, questionnaires and other forms of data collection so that attitudes and behaviour can be measured accurately (Meitiana et al., 2019).

Studies have also described (Sthapit, 2017, Ruhanen & Holder, 2020) that the collection of data in the post-holiday stage, relying on consumers’ memories many weeks or months after their interaction with the Indigenous souvenir and art markets, results in “a complex process in which correlated information from what consumers knew before an actual experience and what they learned afterwards becomes integrated to create an alternate memory of product experience” (Bartlett, 1932, Sthapit, 2017). Data must be collected much closer to the point of interaction, if not at the point of interaction.

Similarly – and this issue could apply to several areas of this research – Ruhanen & Holder (2020) found that respondents to questionnaires “may have been hesitant to articulate broader barriers pertaining to otherwise culturally sensitivity issues relating to Indigenous peoples and/or communities.” Respondents may have felt compelled to appear to be more ‘politically correct’ and therefore not entirely honest about their true feelings or perceptions of Indigenous peoples, cultures and objects, and this can skew the results in this area. Offering the option of anonymity when supplying data could help counteract this potential problem. Additionally, many current studies have used data from small, homogeneous group of young tourists (Kuhn, 2020), and further research into other cohorts could expose additional data useful to this research.

Self-expression through souvenirs is “deeply entangled with subjective meanings and values attached to the travel experience” (Kuhn, 2020). In tourism, people “interact routinely with a wide range of objects and material environments; they bring their gendered, racialized and aged bodies into play when performing leisure and tourism” (Haldrup & Larsen, 2006). People actively represent what is of personal value to them and, if a trip is not considered special or noteworthy, souvenirs are rarely displayed or discussed (Kuhn, 2020). Research should go beyond current studies by investigating consumers’ perception of their social environment and to what extent self-messages reach their intended audiences. This would be a good starting point for the examination of prestige effects of tourist experiences and how they affect the Indigenous souvenir and art markets.

A surface-level investigation on the categorisation or grouping of consumers by suppliers and retailers shows that “souvenir stores offer a unique and large assortment of souvenirs to visitors” (Sthapit, 2017) to cover all potential markets and maximise profit. While one of the preferred attributes when choosing Indigenous souvenirs or artwork is uniqueness, it is likely that more choice is “always good” (Sthapit, 2017) and the idea that a greater amount choice can be harmful is incorrect. Industry managers should focus on distribution channels and accessibility to meet the needs of mass consumers, while also offering souvenirs that are “authentic to represent the local heritage and unique culture of the community” (Wang et. al, 2018). This area is open to further investigation.

Research in social sciences has been conventionally defined as discovering a generalisable truth based on systematic data interpretation (Snow et al., 2016, Smith, 2012) and many existing studies aim for the replication of results via experimentation and often undervalue participant contributions to studies. Indigenous research should reflect a “value-based convergence of researcher, participant, socio-political, and environmental values on research process and outcome” (Kovach, 2009). It should thus be a process of coming together to “contribute to the welfare of a community, a moral and political activity” (Snow et al., 2016). Many Indigenous communities develop shared ways of knowing guided by how they view the world, themselves, and the connection between the two (Snow et al., 2016), and, in acknowledging the limits of existing literature in reflecting Indigenous culture and of the presence of libraries and similar institutions as colonising structures (Roy, 2015), it will be important to conduct primary research by collecting data directly from Indigenous sources. There is an important requirement to “prioritise First Peoples’ governance and decision making, while recognizing that systemic and institutional bias still exists to limit First Peoples’ ability to exercise these rights” (Prictor et al., 2020).

7: What theory/theories do you plan to use to guide your study and explain such behaviours? There are plenty of cross overs between psych theory and consumer behaviour.

A large amount of research has been conducted on souvenir and art types purchased, but much more is needed in the area of purchasing Indigenous souvenirs and art in the tourism realm (Meitiana et al., 2019). The Theory of Planned Behaviour has shaped psychological theorising and can be applied in relation to predicting an individual’s intention to engage in a particular behaviour at a specific time and place. It proposes that “volitional human behaviour is a function of the intention to perform the behaviour and perceived behavioural control” (Sniehotta et al., 2014). Intention is proposed to be a function of attitudes towards the behaviour, subjective norm and perceived behavioural control. The key component to this model is behavioural intent; “behavioural intentions are influenced by the attitude about the likelihood that the behaviour will have the expected outcome and the subjective evaluation of the risks and benefits of that outcome” (Boston University, online).

Consumers decide whether they intend to continue with a purchase based on information available to them (Pappas, 2016). Positive consumer activities in tourism markets are influenced by the attitudes of consumers about the authenticity of souvenir and art products (Yu & Littrell, 2003), and attitudes towards authenticity have a notable effect on purchase intention (Cho & Lee, 2013). Recent research has found that the attitude toward authenticity and attitude toward aesthetics “had a significant effect on the purchasing intention which then will be realized in a real buying behaviour” (Meitiana et al., 2019). Indeed, attitudes to entire cultures can help to predict purchase intention.

The Fogg Behaviour Model asserts that for a person to perform a behaviour, they must be “sufficiently motivated, have the ability to perform the behaviour, and be triggered to perform the behaviour” (Fogg, 2009). The model states that the consumer only takes action when particular criteria are met, suggesting that consumers are motivated by behaviours that may increase or sustain their social acceptance among peers, among other factors. This aligns with the idea that objects such as Indigenous souvenirs and art “must be noticed by others; they must characteristically evoke certain specifiable reactions from others, and they must be in control of the individual in order to be effective vehicles for self-expression” (Kuhn, 2020),

It may be necessary to use several other theories to guide the research, including Self-Perception Theory, Action Identification Theory and Reasoned Action Theory. Self-Perception Theory suggests that individuals “come to know their own attitudes, emotions, and other internal states partially by inferring them from observations of their own overt behaviour and/or the circumstances in which this behaviour occurs” (Bem, 1972). Action Identification Theory is a “system of principles explaining how people’s thoughts of what they are doing relate to what they do” (Vallacher & Wegner, 2011) and Reasoned Action Theory a model for behaviour prediction stating that the best predictor of people’s behaviour in any situation is behaviour intention (Hennessy et al., 2012). These theories could be used, when individuals have no previously established attitudes to Indigenous souvenirs and art, to guide conclusions related to what cause current attitudes or perceptions to come about.

8: What do you see as the theoretical and managerial contributions?

The reflective process or the “active construction of self-messages by the tourist” have not been analysed in great detail (Kuhn, 2020) and a “more detailed consideration of the cultural background of respondents” (Cho & Lee, 2012) is required in future research relating to this subject matter, which this study will include, while building on knowledge of how the relationships between multiple attributes at once affect consumer perceptions (Wang et al., 2018) of Indigenous souvenirs and art.

Existing studies “have yet to fully uncover the reasons for the low market appeal of Indigenous tourism” (Ruhanen & Holder, 2019) and there is a need to better understand the factors preventing greater numbers of people participating in Indigenous tourism activities and the effects participation or lack thereof has on perceptions of authenticity of Indigenous souvenirs and art. This study will add to this knowledge, while fulfilling the need to “develop the scale of story marketing since the existing scale of story marketing is very ambiguous in nature” (Li, 2014).

As an extension to this, the research will examine the relatively minor role played by Indigenous peoples in culturally appropriate manufacturing, marketing and sustainability practices in the Indigenous souvenir and art industries and the resulting impacts on perceptions of authenticity and consumer purchase intention – most especially in Australia. Plant et al. (2019) have explored this to a certain extent, highlighting “where Indigenous people should be involved in the development chain for other non-Indigenous firms selling like-for-like products so as to avoid infringing on human rights as it relates to commodification of culture” (Plant et al, 2019). There is an important requirement to “prioritise First Peoples’ governance and decision making, while recognizing that systemic and institutional bias still exists to limit First Peoples’ ability to exercise these rights” (Prictor et al., 2020); and the role played by Indigenous peoples in the development of culturally appropriate souvenirs and art, and the likely effects on consumer perceptions of authenticity as a result, could benefit from further research and exploration.

There are several limitations of the Theory of Planned Behaviour, including assumptions that the person has the opportunities to perform the desired behaviour and that behaviours will not change over time (Meitiana et al., 2019). It does not account for other influencing factors including fear, mood or past experience, nor does take into account environmental or economic factors (Meitiana et al., 2019). The timeframe between intent and action is also not addressed. This research will address each of these limitations with a wide-reaching, exhaustive data set and analysis.

9: How many studies are you planning? For PhD, generally two or three.

Three studies will be undertaken, with one study aligned to each of the three research questions under investigation.

The first will take a primary, quantitative research approach to explore the extent that consumers’ reflections or perceptions of self affect their perceptions of authenticity of Indigenous souvenirs and art, and how this may affect the categorisation or grouping of consumers by suppliers and retailers as a result.

For the second study, relating to the second research question, a combination of primary, quantitative research and user-generated content analysis will be undertaken to explore the relationship between consumption of Indigenous souvenirs and art and willingness to partake in an Indigenous tourism experience. As a research tool, UGC has been found to be a “highly suitable data source for tourism studies with academic, industry and market researchers increasingly adopting the approach to study travel-related decision-making purchases (Ruhanen & Holder, 2019). A distinction will be made between tourists who took part in an Indigenous tourism experience and those who did not.

A similar combined-method approach will be taken to the third study, relating to the third research question, in order to examine to what extent a greater level of Indigenous decision-making in the Australian souvenir and art markets could affect consumer perceptions of authenticity and purchase intention. Data collection will involve working with Indigenous people in Australia, through focus groups, discussions and interviews, using a proven community research and user-testing methodology. All interviews and discussions will be informal and semi-structured, allowing participants to generate ideas, concepts and feedback, as well as expressing opinions openly and freely. It is important that participants are able to pursue their own priorities in their terms and using their words (Kitzinger & Barbour, 1999). By allowing these interactions to be flexible and fluid in nature, participants are encouraged to express a wide range of attitudes (Waterton & Wynne, 1999).

10: What methodology do you propose? Experimental, qualitative, quantitative, etc.

The research methods will include quantitative methods, user-generated content analysis, and small focus groups, discussions and interviews, as described above; all designed to maximise data collection.

The first and second studies will include questionnaires designed to measure all relevant variables using a Likert scale and allow for a wide range of input from the sample audience, whose personal characteristics will also be recorded, including sex, age, nationality, geographical location, education level, income level, and others. The relationship or relationships between the variables proposed will be measured and tested using Partial Least Square (PLS) (Meitiana et al., 2019), with data drawn from consumers of Indigenous souvenirs and art who have purchased an object or objects in the three months prior to data collection occurring. A sample size of 100 people in PLS is considered appropriate (Hair et al., 2014), but this study will seek to double this figure.


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The Banana Pancake Trail as a Cultural Tourism Route

the beach movie film

Recorded travel is as old as the earliest pilgrimages, and Buddhist routes existed in Asia before the establishment of Christianity. Much like for those who ventured on early pilgrimages and the wealthy young European men who popularised the Grand Tour in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, travel is still a vehicle for self-understanding and self-transforming. A prominent travel destination for many young backpackers and tourists of the past few decades is the so-called Banana Pancake Trail in South-East Asia, named for the cheap breakfast food to be found at many locations in the area. Existing roughly within the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Singapore, and often including Nepal, India, Indonesia and The Philippines, the trail is used heavily by backpackers and other travellers and tourists. It can broadly be defined as a circuit “linking backpacker urban enclaves, coastal and inland resorts, and the main attractions within a region” (Hampton & Hamzah 2016, p.556). Academic interest in backpackers’ motivations and experiences has grown in recent years (Wilson & Richards 2004, p.4), as the cultural and economic importance of South-East Asia is increasingly recognised. This essay will examine the Banana Pancake Trail as a cultural tourism destination, including its evolution from its early appearance as a destination in Western literature to its contemporary position as somewhat of a rite of passage for many young Western backpackers, the motivations for backpackers visiting the area, and the outcomes for both visitors and the region as a result.

In the 1950s, young Westerners began travelling through South-East Asia, following the route set out by Marco Polo 700 years earlier. The route became known in popular Western culture as the Hippie Trail, similar to its North American counterpart the Gringo Trail, and was closely linked to the transnational counter-culture movement of the time (Sobocinska 2014, p.1). As a result, ‘oriental’ lifestyles moved from being denigrated to romanticised in literature (Neville 1970, p.205), and the modes of travel developed on the Hippie Trail heavily influenced backpacking culture in the region from the 1980s onwards (Sobocinska 2014, p.1). Backpacking offers an “unlimited level of flexibility” (Smith et. al 2010, p.18) compared to types of travel used by the conventional tourist, but the mythification of backpackers as ‘anti-tourists’ is a concept both questionable and complex. Backpackers carry not only the physical baggage which gives them their name, but cultural baggage which helps form backpacker culture wherever they go (Wilson & Richards 2004, p.3), and ultimately change the places they visit as well as themselves. The concept of the Banana Pancake Trail evolved from the Hippie Trail as tens of thousands of young Westerners began to travel it, some “bent on experiencing the ‘real’ Asia, others pursuing their notion of an Eastern spiritual quest” (Rea 2006, p.50), and others “reacting to the alienation of modern society” (Wilson & Richards 2004, p.3). While an abundance of literature and technological options have placed a wealth of information on the trail at the fingertips of millions worldwide, research shows that many backpackers still view the countries on the trail as “exotic” (Hampton & Hamzah 2016, p.556). This is despite the fact that infrastructure for backpackers that began to grow in South East Asia from the 1970s is now firmly established (Noy 2006, p.39) and visitors to the region can find the same tourist amenities available as just about anywhere else on the planet, providing they can pay for them.

A useful way to examine the Banana Pancake Trail’s position as a cultural tourism destination is to consider backpackers’ motivations for going there. One such motivation is adventure tourism, or tourism involving activities that are physically challenging or unexpected. The culture of the early Hippie Trail was promoted as being the “final grasp of authentic adventure” in the face of the ensuing influx of mass tourism (Sobocinska 2014, p.1), but the Banana Pancake Trail has since become a much more commoditised version of the original trail. It has been argued that risk and adventure are constructs in South-East Asia, facilitated by backpacker-targeting tour companies which market themselves as alternative or adventure tourism (Wilson & Richards 2004, p.49). Many backpackers are willing to adopt the fantasy exploited by certain sections of the industry, as a way of constructing a new, temporary identity while visiting the Banana Pancake Trail, with the aim of becoming more independent and adventurous, and to revolt against the regulations of society (Maoz 2007, p.122).

The increase in numbers of young backpackers seeking adventurous or risky activities on the Banana Pancake Trail has resulted in significant changes to certain areas and the communities who live in them. A prominent example is the small Laotian town of Vang Vieng on the Mekong River. Laos has only officially welcomed international tourists since 1989 (Hitchcock 2009, p.168), and Vang Vieng quickly underwent a “sudden metamorphosis from hippy hangout to water-propelled club strip” (Little 2016, p.13), fuelled by a party industry centred on the many tourist bars and river ‘inner-tubing’ businesses which attract young thrill-seekers. A sleepy village was turned into a partying hotspot, but tourist deaths from drug overdoses and drowning led to government intervention and a clampdown on the number of bars and nightclubs in 2010-2012, although the town has since been partially returned to the state of its “good old days” in order to “convince hedonistic Western tourists to make the trip” (Little 2016, p.13). Incomes for much of the town’s poor have been increased as a result of the transformation (Hitchcock 2009, p.179), but the area has arguably been changed irreversibly for the worse, losing much of its original culture.

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos

Another motivation for backpackers visiting the Banana Pancake Trail is for the purposes of dark tourism: tourism which provides “potential spiritual journeys for [those] who wish to gaze upon real and recreated death” (Stone 2006, p.54). Travel to sites of dark tourism “links representations of reality with deliberately cultivated forms of subjectivity” (Adler 1989, p.1384) and has long inspired debates about morality. It has been argued that motivations for visiting dark tourism sites currently exist alongside other motivations (Seaton 1996, p.243) or that dark tourism should be classified not as one homogeneous category, but as “an array of tourisms, each entailing different histories, geographies, tourist subjectivities and specific, embodied performances that continually (re)produce both ‘dark’ places and their visitors” (Hughes 2008, p.318). Since the numbers of backpackers visiting the trail increased rapidly from the 1990s, many dark tourism sites in South-East Asia went through a “process of commercialisation from that initial demand to becoming a formal destination” (Hiebert 2014, online). The commoditisation of death has “long been a theme of the morbid gaze” (Stone 2012, p.1565) and with consumption so inherent in post-modern culture, it is almost inevitable that dark tourism sites create opportunities to develop a tourism product (Smith et. al 2010, p.36). As a result of increased interest, sites in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia now appear often in registers of dangerous destinations. A major problem with the concept of dark tourism is the fact the framing of instances of death and suffering by victims and aggressors often clash (Gezgin 2009, p.49). Vietnam, for example, has numerous dark tourism sites and is still feeling the affects of both the French and American occupations and conflicts from 1945 to 1975, but, paradoxically, Americans contribute to the tourist economy of the country more than visitors from any other nation (Gezgin 2009, p.49). Masanti (2016, p.113) suggests that the exploitation of death as a tourist experience is much less acceptable to local communities than to visitors to the destination, with suffering seen as being turned into a leisure activity for contemporary tourists (Smith et. al 2010, p.38). Dissonance or discord is often evident at dark tourism sites in South-East Asia as a result, especially where the views of victims and perpetrators are “not given equal prominence” (Tunbridge & Ashworth 1996, p.120).

Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Killing Fields, Cambodia

Further motivation for backpackers visiting the area is for the purposes of screen tourism: tourism that provides a link with locations where film or television productions were shot. Alex Garland’s best-selling book, The Beach, is about a very particular form of tourism, relating a story of a group of self-styled travellers who seek to distance themselves from more conventional tourists in Thailand’s isolated islands. The book and its subsequent film adaptation “provide a cultural critique of attempts to uncover the ‘authentic’, ‘real’ and ‘different’” (Law et. al 2007, p.142), and have likely shaped cultures of travel on the Banana Pancake Trail more than any other. It has been estimated the film has injected US$13 million into Thailand’s economy (Law et. al 2007, p.143), but increased film spectatorship as a form of tourism has also increased pollution and environmental destruction in the area of the island of Ko Phi Phi, where much of the film was shot. Additionally, the set was dramatically altered to appear more ‘tropical’, providing an unrealistic impression of the location. Film locations turned into tourism destinations can be problematic, as what visitors are seeing is the “front stage chosen and presented by the director of the film, and are using in effect a film goer’s gaze” (Butler 2011, p.93).

The effects of increased numbers of visitors to the trail over the last three decades have been remarkable in many ways. The growth of mass-produced travel literature from the early 1970s promoted South-East Asia as “one of the great travel adventures” (Wheeler 1979, p.27), although the continued success of Lonely Planet arguably has had negative effects on the region as a place for ‘off-the-track’ travel. While it has been said that early travellers to a region widen lifespaces by “exploring not only unknown geographic areas but also unknown/strange social situations” (Loker-Murphy & Pearce 1995, p.827), and as routes change due to constant seeking-out of new places, the seeds for later mass tourism are sewn (Hampton & Hamzah 2016, p.1). It has been argued that since a large number of backpackers have visited the Banana Pancake Trail since the 1970s, and despite increases in “heritage protection and management, conscientization and participatory planning, grassroots development and pro-poor tourism, co-management, and corporate social responsibility” (Hitchcock 2009, p.313), large swathes of the trail have succumbed to the inevitable commercialisation that follows tourism. The recent proliferation of institutionalised backpacker enclaves in cityscapes is a strong indicator of this. A prominent example is Bangkok’s Khao San Road, a small stretch of the inner city made up of cheap guesthouses, backpacker lodges, bars, budget restaurants and internet cafés (Muzaini 2005, p.144). From two guesthouses in the early 80s, there are now several hundred in the area (Cummings & Martin 2001, p.231).

khao san road, bangkok

Khao San Road, Bangkok

It is useful to examine the extent of any economic benefit to communities on the Banana Pancake Trail, as a measure of the cultural significance of backpackers in the region. Backpackers on the trail have been condemned for a number of reasons – their appearance, attitudes to drugs and sex, cultural insensitivity, stinginess and seclusion (Wilson & Richards, 2004, p.43) – but it has also been argued they contribute greatly to the economy of marginal communities (Scheyvens 2002, p.144). The manner in which backpackers travel on the Banana Pancake Trail – longer stays mean less economic leakage – benefits the economically weak members of the travel industry (Connell 2005, p.538). Looking at the national economy of Laos, as an example, evidence points to tourism benefiting the poor (Hitchcock 2009, p.179), although it has also been argued that members of communities through which backpackers pass “have frequently represented little more than pawns in a much larger game controlled by outsiders” (Westerhausen & Macbeth 2010, p.71). Interactions between communities and backpackers over small transactions can be viewed as a microcosm of the wider relationship and attitudes between backpackers and communities. Scheyvens (2002, p.147) explains that some backpackers “regard haggling as a game, to the extent that they may [so] exploit [traders] for a sale that they accept unreasonably low prices for their products”. So, while the practice of bartering or haggling over prices of goods can ingratiate a tourist to locals, it also has the potential to burn bridges. Sobocinska (2014, p.1) explains that power dynamics in such circumstances tend to replicate colonial practices, and can bring about mistrust or stronger feelings between the two parties. Studies have also concluded that many backpackers choose to travel on a budget as a lifestyle choice or philosophy rather than necessity, which can further evoke unfavourable reactions from members of communities who have no such choices (Wilson 1997, p.52; Murphy 2001, p.50).

The question of whether backpackers on the Banana Pancake Trail should be regarded as travellers or tourists has been studied in increasing detail over the past two to three decades. Culler (1990, p.2) explains that the traveller is someone who seeks authenticity off the ‘beaten track’, or is “working at something”, while the tourist is solely “a pleasure seeker”, although tourism as a leisure activity becomes “ever more complex as it shades into such other activities as ‘lifestyle migration’ and longer-term sojourns” (Hitchcock 2009, p.312). Historically, the characteristics of travel began to change in the mid-nineteenth century, with the success of Thomas Cook and Sons and mass transportations systems brought about the “the decline of the traveller and the rise of the tourist” (Boorstin 1992, p.146). As travel methods evolved, tourist attractions became more numerous, offering “an elaborately contrived indirect experience” (Culler 1990, p.1), and the discrepancy between the “intentions of tourists and their practice [became] endemic to tourism itself” (Scheuch 1981, p.1089). While it can be argued backpackers are the “antithesis of the modern-day tourists”, who avoid conventional elements of the tourism industry (Kontogeorgopoulos 2003, p.177), it can also be said that wanting to be less touristy than other tourists is, in itself, part of being a tourist (Culler 1990, p.4). A connecting element among backpackers on the Banana Pancake Trail is the “self-established and maintained contrast to mass tourism, which becomes apparent” (Spreitzhofer 1998, p.980), although it can be problematic to group all backpackers together into a group seen to be having the same motivations, goals and methods of immersion in the cultures in which they travel. Many strategies can be used to set backpackers apart from tourists or other, more inexperienced, backpackers, concerning how they construct their identity in relation to both locals and other travellers.

halong bay vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

In theory, backpackers’ use of budget guest houses and bungalows is a way in which “encounters with the ‘other’ are made possible” (Muzaini 2005, p.148). The ‘other’, in this case, is a closer or more prolonged exposure to locals’ families, manners, and daily lives in general; the theory being that locals are more likely to own and run small establishments than they are big hotel chains, and domestic tourists are more likely to also stay at cheaper establishments, facilitating backpackers’ contact with them. The same philosophy often also applies to shops and restaurants, with the idea that roadside stalls offer a more authentic experience than a restaurant franchise with Europeanised or “visitor food” (Suvantola 2002, p.149), although it is not always easy to dispense with other factors, including safety and cleanliness (Muzaini 2005, p.149). Backpackers generally consume what is produced locally as a method of identifying and maintaining familiarity with locals (Hampton 1998, p.639). However, with some exceptions, backpackers on the Banana Pancake Trail have largely been criticised for not seeking the authentic in their destination, and the extent to which backpackers choose to be with each other, instead of locals, has been described as similar to that of the “’tourist bubble’, in that very few travellers encounter local people in non-commercial settings” (Fitzgerald 2000, online). Although friendly local staff are appreciated (Murphy 2001, p.50), relationships with other backpackers are often more important (Wilson & Richards 2004, p.47), and some studies suggest many backpackers have little or no interest in meeting, and learning from, local communities; rather they often show blatant disregard for social norms (Maoz 2007, p.122). Additionally, the greater role played by the Internet in tourism since the early 2000s has “allowed the individual backpacker to invoke a personal virtual community to supplement face-to-face interaction”, easing access to consumption of backpacker tourism (Sorenson 2003, p.847).

To measure its importance as a cultural tourism destination, it is useful to examine the history and evolution of the Banana Pancake Trail in terms of its commercialisation, from its position as “one of the great travel adventures” (Wheeler 1979, p.27), to a region where guest houses, restaurants and bars “proudly display signboards stating ‘as recommended in Lonely Planet‘” (Hampton & Hamzah 2016, p.556). Backpacker routes have undergone significant changes since the 1970s, due to the increased proliferation of budget travel options and the “interaction between the increasing commercialization and institutionalization of backpacker tourism” (Hampton & Hamzah 2016, p.556). Backpacker choices can be viewed as being heavily guided by growing commercialisation operating in conjunction with other variables such as low-cost air and rail networks and external factors such as terrorism and political instability (Hampton & Hamzah 2016, p.556). Indeed, the rise of corporate selection of backpacker routes since the 1990s and the advent of the Internet has meant less backpackers on the trail are making and following their own routes, meaning a greater supplier-driven system is in place in the region. This has contributed to the growth of the theory that, despite frequently describing themselves as independent travellers rather than institutionalised mass tourists (Hampton & Hamzah 2016, p.556), backpackers on the Banana Pancake Trail have ultimately largely become the “major affirmation of the modernity of tourism” (Wilson & Richards 2004, p.253) through their attempts, and failure, to avoid the modernisation of backpacker consumption.

In conclusion, it can be said that backpackers of the 1950s and 1960s blazed trails for those who followed, but the rapid commercialisation of the Banana Pancake Trail has meant fewer options for travelling in an ‘un-tourist-like’ fashion in the area. In recent years backpackers, and the culture which follows and manifests itself where they travel in numbers, often have negative effects on local communities and landscapes on the trail, including the destruction of natural features, creation of enclaves and inauthentic communities, and discord between locals and visitors. Backpackers’ motivations for visiting the trail are varied and complex, but have been described as misguided and fantastical, and it has been argued that they often avoid interacting with local communities, despite intending or professing to do the opposite. Countries through which the Banana Pancake Trail runs benefit financially from the presence of backpackers, but often at significant cost to their traditional cultures.


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