Connecting Paradise, Culture and Tourism in Tunisia

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  • This article was downloaded by: [McMaster University]On: 17 December 2014, At: 10:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Intercultural StudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:

    Connecting Paradise, Culture andTourism in TunisiaSue BleasdalePublished online: 23 Nov 2006.

    To cite this article: Sue Bleasdale (2006) Connecting Paradise, Culture and Tourism in Tunisia,Journal of Intercultural Studies, 27:4, 447-460, DOI: 10.1080/07256860600936945

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  • Connecting Paradise, Culture andTourism in TunisiaSue Bleasdale

    This paper will focus on the impact of tourism on the culture of Tunisia. Impressionistic

    evidence collected over the past 30 years will be used to explore the appropriateness of

    some of the more widely held views of tourisms impact on culture. The findings highlight

    the need to recognise the uniqueness of Tunisias situation whilst at the same time

    appreciating the value of general concepts for furthering understanding of the interaction

    between tourism and culture. The concept of paradise in the context of Tunisias

    tourism industry will be shown to have limited influence in the relationship between

    tourism and culture. For the purposes of this discussion culture is limited to the social

    aspects of culture, though it is recognised that it is difficult to separate the social from the

    political, economic and even the environmental aspects of culture.

    Keywords: Tourism; Tunisian Culture; Paradise

    Paradise and Tourism

    Tourism promotional literature, especially that produced by Tour Operators, relies

    heavily on the use of visual images to sell tourism products. The images selected

    reflect tourist preferences and aspirations and play on tourist ideas of paradise.

    Danns analysis of brochure images and text led him to create a four-fold typology of


    1. Paradise contrived natives as scenery and cultural markers.2. Paradise confined tourists only.3. Paradise controlled locals as servants and entertainers.4. Paradise confused locals as tourists, tourists as locals.(qtd. in Burns 109).

    Dr Sue Bleasdale is Principal Lecturer in Environment, Development and Tourism in the School of Health and

    Social Sciences, Middlesex University. She is currently working on aspects of volunteer tourism where this is

    integrated into development intervention. Correspondence to: Sue Bleasdale, School of Health and Social

    Sciences, Middlesex University, Queensway, Enfield, UK, EN3 4SA. Tel: /44 (0)20 8411 5451; Fax: /44(0)208411 6404. Email:

    ISSN 0725-6868 print/ISSN 1469-9540 online/06/04447-14

    # 2006 Centre for Migrant and Intercultural StudiesDOI: 10.1080/07256860600936945

    Journal of Intercultural Studies

    Vol. 27, No. 4, November 2006, pp. 447460




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  • It is implied that paradise is constructed for tourists in order to satisfy the preferences

    and wishes of the tourist as consumer. Images and concepts of paradise are used in

    tourism marketing to tap in to tourist desires to escape from the everyday into a

    world beyond time and beyond the real where the tourist can experience, or at least

    encounter, the exotic other (Richards ch. 1). These images are an important aspect

    of tourist motivation and need to be explored if the nature of the interaction between

    tourist and culture is to be better understood.

    Tourism, Tourists and Culture

    Culture has become an important component of the tourist experience (Richards

    311). According to Wall and Mathieson the tourist can interact with one or more of

    three different kinds of cultural attribute: the physical (e.g. built heritage), the general

    (the daily life of the host community) and the specific cultural activities of the host

    community (e.g. rituals and festivals) (262).

    The nature and intensity of the tourist encounter will depend on the wider context

    of the encounter, the attitude and motivations of the host community and of the

    tourist. Some tourists have little or no interest in culture and experience it almost

    incidentally whilst others have culture as the main focus of their tourist activities.

    Richards characterises these respectively as general and specific cultural tourists


    Interaction between hosts and tourists will produce changes in culture over time

    and whether these are seen as positive or negative is a matter of opinion and

    perspective. The extent and nature of the changes will be influenced by a wide range

    of factors amongst which the degree of power and control of the host community

    over those changes is likely to be critical (Hashimoto 21230).Analysis of the interaction between tourism and culture has been much influenced

    by the work of MacCannell and Urry. MacCannell perceived tourism as an act of

    consumption related to the concept of modernity. Within this framework cultural

    attributes become products experienced (or consumed) by tourists during the tourist

    encounter and the whole process of tourism development takes place within a world

    where modernisation, characterised broadly as Westernisation, is the dominant

    paradigm driving the process of economic development, of which tourism is a key

    part. This view of tourism has major implications for the analysis of the tourist

    encounter (Mowforth and Munt ch. 3; Scheyvens ch. 2; Sharpley ch.1).

    With the growth of cultural tourism and the greater importance of culture in all

    tourism encounters, culture has come to be seen as commoditised with the effect that

    cultural attributes are increasingly viewed as tourist products; Tourism turns culture

    into displayable objects and visitable places (Dicks 41). Commoditisation is often

    portrayed as a negative consequence of tourism as a consumptive activity (Selwyn

    qtd. in Burns 64). Hashimoto, however, argues that commoditisation has positive as

    well as negative consequences (212).

    448 S. Bleasdale




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  • Urry introduced the idea of the tourist gaze. He argued that the tourist industry

    is constantly searching for ways to satisfy the tourist gaze by locating, and creating,

    new tourism products for the tourist to experience (3). Paradise contrived for the

    tourist is an example of how this process unfolds in reality. The idea of the tourist

    gaze fits neatly with the idea of culture as object of tourism as consumption and also

    reinforces the notion of the tourist as the major determinant of tourism products

    leaving the host community in the position of responding to the tourist demand.

    This supports the view that tourism often involves situations of unequal power

    (Scheyvens 42).

    Tourism may lead to acculturation: where the host community takes on some of

    the characteristics of the culture of the visitors. In tourism literature this is referred to

    more specifically as the demonstration effect (Fisher 42930).This may be interpreted as negative effect of tourism; the host community is

    understood to suffer a cultural loss. However, modernisers would see acculturation as

    a positive outcome of development arising from tourism. Other studies conclude that

    tourism is a benign force that can even bring benefits to host cultures such as the

    revitalisation of moribund activities, an enhanced value of local artefacts as souvenirs

    or the re-evaluation of cultural traits and heritage. These different perspectives on

    tourism and cultural change have been characterised by Jafari as the cautionary

    perspective and the advocacy perspective (qtd. in Nash). In Tunisia it is possible to

    provide evidence of both perspectives.

    Unlike many other forms of economic development, tourism is an activity that

    involves a great deal of interpersonal contact. It is this feature of tourism that gives it

    a potentially significant impact on local and national culture. Tourism may exploit

    culture directly; for example using aspects of culture in marketing and promotion or

    by encouraging the exploitation of culture to enhance the tourist experience.

    International tourism involves direct contact between people of different cultures

    although the extent of this contact varies considerably from place to place. Language,

    among other factors, may limit the extent and quality of tourist contact with local

    communities. Some cultures seem to be more resilient or more resistant to the

    cultural modification that can arise from tourism. Government policy and education

    can also affect the degree and type of cultural influence but of greater significance is

    tourist behaviour and this is linked to the nationality and motivation of the tourists

    as well as the characteristics of the individual tourist (education, income,


    Cultural Change the Wider ContextOf course tourism is only one of several factors influencing cultural change. Culture is

    never static. Contemporary cultural change in Tunisia is affected by government

    policies of modernisation and the neo-liberalisation of the economy (World Bank).

    Education is a top priority in Tunisia where there are very high literacy rates

    especially among the young (CIA). In addition to these internal factors there are

    Journal of Intercultural Studies 449




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  • external factors that could perhaps be seen to derive from globalisation. Among these

    is the influence of television, films, music, mobile phones and football. These bring

    information, ideas and behaviour into Tunisian communities. It is difficult to isolate

    the influence of tourism from these wider influences since they, like tourism, tend to

    reinforce the extension of modernisation and Westernisation.

    This paper is essentially impressionistic and does not pretend to be objective or

    scientifically based. The evidence has been collected over a period of some 30 years of

    regular visits to Tunisia. During that time, the visits, both as a tourist and as a study

    tour leader, have taken place most years; usually during the winter and to a similar

    range of locations. The majority of the evidence used here is based on personal

    observation and informal conversations with local people. When visits have been in

    the nature of a study tour it has sometimes been possible to collect material more


    The evidence will be used to explore the following four questions:

    1. Is there evidence of acculturation arising from tourism in Tunisia?2. How is commoditisation impacting on Tunisias culture?3. Is new tourism product being developed in Tunisia to satisfy the tourist

    gaze and how is Tunisian culture affected by these developments?4. How is the tourist-defined image of paradise being used in Tunisias tourism

    development and what is the impact of this on Tunisian culture?


    Tunisia is located at a modern day cultural crossroads. It occupies a strategic position

    where African, Arabic and European culture meet and interact. Historically this has

    had profound implications for Tunisia and its culture and this location continues to

    offer challenges and opportunities for modern Tunisia. The development of tourism

    on a large-scale is one of these opportunities.

    Cultural Landscapes of Tunisia Historical EvolutionTunisia has historically been profoundly influenced by a number of significant world

    cultures. The idea of the landscape as palimpsest is very appropriate in the context of

    Tunisia. The original indigenous Berber culture was marginalised and substantially

    replaced by Roman culture for several centuries before this was replaced by a wave of

    colonisation by the Arabs; an incursion that provides the basis of contemporary

    Tunisian culture. Language, religion and many other aspects of Tunisias culture are

    essentially Arabic in origin. Later cultural influences came from Turkey and elements

    of this can be seen in some aspects of traditional dress. More significant for modern-

    day Tunisia was the annexation of Tunisia as a French colony. This period was brief in

    historical terms and added a veneer of French culture through the establishment of

    French-style administration and education systems. French architecture and urban

    design have modified urban form in the main towns and French is, to some extent,

    still the second language. Tourism interacts with, and may modify, these cultural

    450 S. Bleasdale




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  • landscapes. It is important to recognise that culturally Tunisia has had a dynamic

    history and that that the culture of newly independent Tunisia in 1956 was not

    homogenous but a mix of several major cultural influences. This has had

    consequences for the development of tourism and for the impact of tourism on


    Tourism Development in Tunisia

    Tourism in Tunisia has progressed through several stages and the different types of

    tourism developed at each stage have differing implications for Tunisian culture.

    Early tourism involved small numbers of European artists and intellectuals and

    centred on Hammamet. This has had a long-term impact on Hammamet, which still

    has a large cultural centre. Since the 1960s however Government Tourism Policy has

    been more influential and as a result mass tourism has come to dominate Hammamet

    bringing large...


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