The Tourism Encounter in Community-Based Tourism in Northern Thailand: Empty Meeting Ground or Space for Change?
This article offers a contribution to the anthropology of tourism by investigating the tourism encounter in community-based tourism (CBT) in Northern Thailand. It does so by discussing MacCannell’s (1992) idea of the Empty Meeting Grounds and Said’s Orientalism (1978), two works that contributed to research on power inequalities between tourists and residents in the developing world. By establishing a relationship between the two and embedding these in the wider literature on the tourism encounter, this article suggests moving away from binaries towards understanding the space of the tourism encounter and its potential for change. Building on empirical research conducted in Ban Mae Kampong, a CBT village in Northern Thailand, findings suggest that CBT shows signs of resident-host interactions that are based on understanding and learning rather than exploitation. While also in CBT friendships and meaning take time to emerge and the ‘Other’ is used as attraction, villagers’ agency and control over tourism are acknowledged. This paper therefore calls for a revisiting of the theoretical grounding that influences our understanding of the tourism encounter and argues for an investigation of community power relations in connection to the tourism encounter and its potential for residents’ empowerment in CBT.
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