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Call of Duty-Free

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Some tourists opt for hands-on experiences—such as learning to cook Thai food in Chiang Mai, walking the streets of Xi’an in Tang-dynasty outfits, honing their shuriken-throwing at a “Ninja Village” near Kyoto, and shopping at the supermarket just about anywhere. Scholars at the Seoul Global Round can visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace while in a traditional Hanbok. Discuss with your team: should your own country or region begin marketing such experiences? What do you think you could persuade visitors to do?

Thailand is a country known for its natural scenery and tourism. Izzie the curious sparrow travelled to Thailand with her boyfriend and decided to try a Thai cooking class. "We chose Baan Farm Thai Cooking School because their menu appealed to us the most, it had glowing reviews and we liked that it was a family-run business." Unlike a generic classroom setting, students were driven to the local market to pick their ingredients and also to a farm to handpick fresh vegetation. They ended up making a selection of dishes in a span of 3 hours. 

A list of popular Thai dishes, here is what was offered. (Yummy!) 

  • Salads like Larb (Spicy chicken salad) or Som Tam (Papaya salad)

  • Spicy sour soups like Tom Yum Kung (Soup with shrimp), Tom Kha Kai (Soup with chicken and coconut cream) or Khao Soi (Chiang Mai noodle soup)

  • Curries like Green curry, Panang curry and Massaman curry

  • Stir-fried cashew nuts with chicken

  • Pad Thai (Stir-fried small rice noodles with shrimp)

  • Desserts like mango sticky rice, deep-fried bananas and black sticky rice with coconut milk

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Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, is the ancient capital of Tang Dynasty. The city's famous tourist spot, Great Tang All Day Mall, which is a landmark pedestrian street with historic blocks for sightseeing, as well as trade and cultural facilities. The most popular trend is for women, of all age groups getting dressed up in exquisite and elegant Tang-style dresses and Tang Dynasty-inspired makeup: Peach-colored cheeks, well-drawn eyebrows, golden bird pins and a jade hairpin waving in the wind, known as buyao in Chinese. Walking around the modern malls, men and women took photos with their phones, it all seemed like time-traveling but very natural.

The city is witnessing an increase in tourists, after the online historical drama became a hit among Chinese viewers.The Longest Day in Chang'an. The TV series, shot in Xi'an, depicted the story of a former detective turned convicted criminal becoming Tang's last hope to thwart mysterious invaders who threaten the empire's capital city on the day before the Lantern Festival. Another popular fashion trend is historic Chinese clothing known as a mamianqun, or horse face skirt. The city counts a total of 159 museums, attracting over 30 million people each year, with 95% of its museums offering free entry for visitors to enjoy. So now, Xi'an's has diversified its cultural attractions beyond terracotta warriors. 


While Shiga Prefecture has some gorgeous attractions, like Lake Biwa (the largest in Japan) and Hikone with its 400-year-old castle, the mountains and valleys south of the prefecture hide the jewel of Japanese culture – the mysterious and often misunderstood ninjas. Together with neighbouring Iga in Mie Prefecture, Koka (or Koga) is considered the homeland of the ninja. Ninjas once flourished in Koka because of its proximity to Kyoto. The rugged terrain made it perfect for stealth, and it attracted other characters like bandits or soldiers defeated in war. Ninjas spent most of the Sengoku Period (15th and 16th centuries) as soldiers or mercenaries, and since then were used for espionage and spying.

Visitors can live up their ninja fantasies in authentic ninja dojos and mansions. The rural village features authentic homes with trapdoors and hidden compartments for stashing people away during attacks. Visitors can rent ninja costumes and throw ninja stars called shuriken, dashing through obstacle courses, ending in an initiation ceremony.

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Additionally, visitors can make another short trip to the Ninjutsu Yashiki (Ninja House), a seemingly ordinary dwelling that is about 300 years old and used to house actual ninjas. If you are hungry, the surrounding area feature ninja BBQ and the meal ends with  hyorougan – a natural ‘energy pill’ made of a crushed blend of rice, vegetables, herbs and seeds, and some sugar. It is said that ninjas used to eat 30 of these marble-sized balls a day for their nutrition. Shiga’s most famous delicacies are Matsutake mushrooms and the delectable Omi Beef, one of Japan’s top three beef varieties. Of all the types of wagyu (Japanese beef), Omi beef has the longest history; the cows were originally cultivated along the pristine waters of the Lake Biwa over 400 years ago, and presented as gifts to the shogun during the Edo period.


Travel blogger Madeline Diamond shares, “It's an unexpected — and delicious — way to fully immerse yourself in the culture of any destination.”

Here are the reasons: 

1) You'll discover delicious foods that might become your best souvenirs. She stumbled upon a local flavored chips by Lay's called  Poulet Rôti flavor in Paris.  Each city has its own unique snacks.

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Shopping at the grocery stores also provided an exclusive view into how local cooks at home, something you  can't experience just by walking the streets or visiting museums.

2) You'll have a reason to return (and a mission when you get home). Some specialty services such as SnackCrate do offer foreign treats for travelers looking to relive their favorite trips. 

In international tourism, countries are the companies and their cities among the products they sell. Government agencies often engage in place branding to help attract visitors. Critics caution that these brands might obscure local challenges and alienate residents. Learn more about the tourism slogans of different countries, then discuss with your team: has your city or country engaged in place branding? If so, is it accurate—or misleading?

According to Tom Buncle, former Chief Executive of Visit Scotland and current Managing Director of an international tourism consultancy, “Destination branding is about identifying the destination’s strongest and most competitively appealing assets in the eyes of its prospective visitors, building a story from these that makes the destination stand out above its competitors, and running this narrative consistently through all marketing communications.” In other words, a destination brand cannot be created. It is up to tourist boards and destination marketing organisations to identify their destination’s best assets in order to invoke certain feelings, values, cultures, and the overall mindset that people experience when visiting a place. It also means that people in the destination play a part in contributing to the tourism brand values, experience, reputation, and mindset. 

In the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) annual report on the economic and employment impact of Travel & Tourism for 2019, the sector experienced 3.5% growth, higher than the global economy growth (which reported 2.5% growth) for the ninth consecutive year. Other topline results include:

  • US$8.9 trillion contribution to the world’s GDP 

  • 10.3% of global GDP (9.1% in Europe)

  • 330 million jobs, 1 in 10 jobs around the world

  • 1 in 4 jobs created by the sector over the past five years

  • US$1.7 trillion visitors exports (6.8% of total exports, 28.3% of global services exports)

  • US$948 billion capital investment (4.3% of total investment)

Case study 1: Inspired by Iceland

After the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökul volcano in 2010, Iceland’s reputation as a tourism destination plummeted. Unfortunately, the news of this devastating event was so widespread that the economy was not expected to recover without intervention. To encourage visitors to consider Iceland as a viable tourism destination, the Icelandic government, along with partners and stakeholders in the travel industry, launched the “Inspired by Iceland” brand.

Case study 2: I Love Great Britain

This campaign focused on culture, heritage, sport, music, nature, food, and shopping. It even partnered with the James Bond movie Skyfall for cross-promotion calling it ‘“Bond is Great Britain",  leveraging the legacy of the London Olympics in 2012. When it comes to tourism branding, team up with something or someone iconic and globally renowned, even if it is a certain fictional, dashing secret agent or a cute cartoon bear.

Case study 3: Super, Natural British Columbia. 

For the past 30 years, British Columbia has used the same slogan to promote tourism. The slogan has proven the test of time and continues to resonate strongly with the brand’s core image as a popular destination for nature lovers.

Cast study 4:  Paris Je T’aime (I Love You)

The best practices in tourism branding must go to the city of romance that is Paris. The “City Brand Barometer 2020” conducted by branding consultancy Saffron, showed that even with the global pandemic, Paris still ranks at the top of the list of desired destinations to visit.

Cast study 5: Essential Costa Rica

The success of the country’s branding has revolutionised the world’s perception of Costa Rica, thanks to their brand strategy that focused on growing awareness and harnessing the talents of the Costa Rican people. The slogan maintains that the people of Costa Rica are “the essence” and focuses on small businesses and eco-tourism.

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Such campaigns are developed as part of a branding process used to whip up feelings about a place. These so-called “place branding” efforts can gather communities around whichever ideas matter most to these people, whether they are social, economic, or even environmental. Inspired by Iceland is a good example of this. The country launched a “premium tap water” brand in 2019 to encourage residents and visitors to go plastic-free while in Iceland by drinking its tap water.

Palau, a Micronesian island in the western Pacific, In 2017 started to require all visitors to sign a pledge to be “ecologically and culturally responsible” before they could set foot in the country.

The Faroe Islands in the north Atlantic, took a slightly different approach in 2019 by declaring itself “closed for maintenance, open for voluntourism”. This initiative was used by islanders and local businesses to promote community cohesion.


of them. India’s IT magnet of Bangalore is attracting new tech talent faster than Silicon Valley is. The second challenge is: A place is a truly immersive experience, and its reputation depends on its natural and cultural attractions. It has to be a holistic experience. ​

Consider Austin. Overshadowed by bigger cities like Dallas and Houston, the Texas state capital was something of a backwater college town. But then local leadership decided to nurture the burgeoning music scene and started a grassroots campaign for the city to promote itself as the Live Music Capital of the World and to play up the “Keep Austin Weird” sentiment. SXSW (South by Southwest) has grown from the small indie music festival it was when it started in 1987 into a massive, must-attend multimedia confab. It’s the fastest-growing city in the United States, and in 2014 its total of leisure and business travelers exceeded $45 million. Local marketers have found ways to play up the idea of keeping Austin weird without alienating the locals who truly want it that way.  

The next step in the evolution of place branding and place doing, which is coming soon, is the rise of localism. Locavorism is on the rise for dining and shopping, and with the emerging importance of local businesses and local news. 

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A catchphrase may not say a lot about a country, but some nations know a snappy soundbite when they see one. A holiday website has mapped every slogan in the world – which will tempt you to visit?


Some countries go for the plain and simple, such as “Travel in Slovakia – good idea” or “Visit Armenia, it is beautiful”. Others plump for something a bit more poetic, like “Colombia is magic realism” (a nod to Gabriel García Márquez, one of the country’s famous sons) or Bhutan’s “Happiness is a place”. Then there are the jokers –Djibouti’s “Djibeauty”, the not-entirely-grammatical “Think Hungary more than expected” and the downright obscure “El Salvador – The 45 Minute Country”.

Alliteration is a favourite ploy to whet your wanderlust – think “Beautiful Bangladesh” and “Brilliant Barbados” – while some hope their sheer enthusiasm (plus liberal use of exclamation marks and we’re-so-now hashtags) will win you over: take a bow Lithuania’s “See it! Feel it! Love it!” and Britain’s over-excited “#OMGB – home of amazing moments”.

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Scholars traveling to the Auckland Global Round would be forgiven for mixing up the flags of New Zealand and Australia; it’s less forgivable when immigration officers think the former is part of the latter. In 2015, the Kiwi government decided it was time to end the confusion with a new flag, but only if voters wanted one. Ten months, 10,000 submissions, and 20 million dollars later, over 55% voted for the status quo. Read about the process that led to this outcome, then discuss with your team: did the government go about it in the right way, and which of the designs would you have voted for? Were New Zealand’s concerns about its current flag valid? Are there other countries that have successfully changed their flags recently—and, if so, how?

Chloe Phillips-Harris, 28, was detained in Kazakhstan after immigration officials refused to believe New Zealand was a country, insisting it was actually a state of Australia. She was detained and eventually, with the help of contacts in Kazakhstan, Ms Phillips was able to secure a new visa, a US passport and an exchange of cash that allowed her to escape detention and enter the country, where she ended up staying for six months. Despite this, she plans to return to Kazakhstan in the future where even though there is corruption,  strengthening economy and breathtaking mountains — not to mention a brand-new McDonalds restaurant — were attracting more and more adventurous tourists.


The results are in, New Zealanders have spoken - and they do not want a new flag. The outcome was close, with just 56.61% of people voting against change, but it is a personal blow for pro-change Prime Minister John Key.

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This is New Zealand's flag, which has fluttered from flagpoles across the nation since the 1800s and was officially adopted in 1902.  The royal blue is meant to represent the sea and the sky, while the four stars are the Southern Cross, representing New Zealand's place in the Southern Ocean. In the top left corner is the Union Flag, a legacy of New Zealand's identity as a British protectorate.

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That was problem number one: New Zealand has been fully independent since 1947 and for many people, including the prime minister, the Union Flag is a constant unwelcome reminder of the colonial era. Problem number two:  It is almost identical to the Australian flag, except for the Commonwealth or Federation Star in the bottom left and an additional star in the, now white, Southern Cross. 

It began in May 2015, when the official Flag Consideration Project panel invited absolutely anyone to suggest a design for a new flag. A total of 10,292 had a go, and it's fair to say not all took the task entirely seriously, to the delight of commentators around the world. There were some really wacky but popular ones, including the Laser Kiwi by Lucy Gray.

This informational video goes through all the recent flag changes up to 2021. 

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Instead of renting billboards or purchasing YouTube ads, some countries aim their promotion squarely at the stomach. Sample the realm of gastrodiplomacy, in which countries promote their cuisines to foreign audiences to attract tourists and even achieve diplomatic goals. Be sure to learn about Thailand’s Global Thai program, considered the most successful to date, then research the following campaigns launched by other countries:


There is a Chinese saying, "to get through to a man, you must go through his stomach."  Gastrodiplomacy, food diplomacy, has gone mainstream. Fabio Parasecoli, a professor of food studies at New York University, shares his experience at a foodie cultural event "Eat Spain Up!" hosted by the Spanish embassy where they discuss jamon (air-dried ham). These foodie events featuring local produce from different Spanish region were created to help Spain recover during economic recession. The term gastrodiplomacy was first used in 2002 by the Economist to describe the Global Thai initiative. The Thai government launched it in 2002 with the goal of increasing the number of Thai restaurants around the world from 5,500 to 8,000.  The Thai government was intent on offering a positive image, possibly to counterbalance the negative perception caused by the country’s reputation as a destination for sex tourism. 

Many countries have embraced similar strategies. In 2009, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture launched the Korean Cuisine to the World campaign. They believed that Korean food (or hansik) could ride the wave of interest in Korean culture that followed the success of its TV dramas, films, and—above all—K-pop. Besides soju (Korean rice wine), they focused on royal cuisine of the Joseon dynasty, which ruled from the 14th through the 19th century. Embracing a certain cultural conservativism, the promoters deemed this historical approach to cuisine especially dignified, lofty, and refined—perfect to counterbalance the relatively recent culinary changes brought about by the Japanese occupation and Korean War. Of course,  South Korea zeroed in on kimchi, touting its health benefits as a natural product, the genuineness of its ingredients, and the centrality of traditional skills in its making. In 2010, the World Institute of Kimchi was born.

Gastrodiplomacy has been variously described as a “government’s practice of exporting its national culinary heritage as part of a public diplomacy effort,” “the practice of sharing a country’s cultural heritage through food,” or more simply as “winning hearts and minds through stomachs.” And, it's historically significant. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill considered “tabletop diplomacy” a central tool in showing off power and influence in discussions with international decision-makers. U.S. President Richard Nixon’s 1972 dinner with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, during which the U.S. president famously ate with chopsticks—an exceedingly rare skill among Westerners at the time

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Of course, it can backfire too! Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II visited Belize in 1985, after it gained independence from Britain in 1981. The meal included roasted gibnut, a nocturnal rodent considered a delicacy by locals. While the queen diplomatically praised the chef, the British tabloids ranted the sovereign had been fed “rat,” causing Belizeans to accuse the British press of racism and insensitivity.  Then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s dislike for vegetables created awkward moments during his trip to India. Indian chefs adapted Indian menus to fit his needs (why?), but sadly he didn't even try them. 

Why many see its economic, cultural values, some find that for many midsize countries, such as Thailand, South Korea, and Peru, gastrodiplomacy tends, then, to remain an elite phenomenon—effective, at best, with a small stratum of foodies and professionals.  Nevertheless, for places such as Taiwan and Peru, food tourism is a nonconfrontational and beneficial way to support local produce on a global platform. 

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expanded an already existing list—that of intangible cultural heritage—to include agricultural practices, food production, and gastronomic traditions. The first three food-related traditions were inscribed in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010: the French meal, the Mediterranean diet (proposed by Italy, Spain, Morocco, and Greece, later joined by Cyprus, Portugal, and Croatia), and traditional Mexican cuisine. Later when Korea wanted to add kimchi, it sparked conflict once more. Is fermented cabbage from South Korea only? What about its roots in China and North Korea? There is only so much that gastrodiplomacy can smooth over.

Thai restaurants are everywhere in America, thanks to the country's active gastrodiplomacy program. Mexican and Chinese restaurants might be more plentiful, but there are demographic reasons that explain the proliferation of these cuisines. With over 36 million Mexican-Americans and around five million Chinese-Americans. Comparatively, there are just 300,000 Thai-Americans—less than 1% the size of the Mexican-American population. Yet there are an estimated 5,342 Thai restaurants in the United States, compared to around 54,000 Mexican restaurants.


In 2001, the Thai government established the Global Thai Restaurant Company, Ltd., in an effort to establish at least 3,000 Thai restaurants worldwide. The Ministry of Commerce’s Department of Export Promotion, set up training schools, hoping to achieve the McDonald's of Thai food, by shipping Thai chefs overseas. It even created a three-level prefabricated model for restaurants to replicate/invest. 

1) Elephant Jump: fast casual option, at $5 to $15 per person

2) Cool Basil:  mid-priced option at $15 to $25 per person

3) Golden Leaf: mid to high-end diners $25 to $30 per person, with décor featuring “authentic Thai fabrics and objets d’art.

They didn't stop there. Export-Import Bank of Thailand offered loans to Thai nationals hoping to open restaurants abroad. The Public Health Ministry published a book in 2002 called A Manual for Thai Chefs Going Abroad, which provided information about recruitment, training, and even the tastes of foreigners. They also set up an award system with “Thai Select” certificates to maintain the quality. As taste tester, Thai diplomats in the US have been charged with supporting Thai restaurants in both logistics and strategy and bringing authentic products from Thailand.

Inspired by Thailand’s success, South Korea, for example, has earmarked tens of millions of dollars beginning in 2009 for its Korean Cuisine to the World campaign. Taiwan has followed suit, as has Peru with its "Cocina Peruana Para el Mundo" (“Peruvian Cuisine for the World;” quite creative) initiative, as well as Malaysia (“Malaysia Kitchen for the World 2010”—clearly there’s a pattern here). Even North Korea is opening 100 restaurants called Pyongyang featuring musical performances by North Korean performers. 

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The idea of promoting a national cuisine seems to be an underexplored avenue in other regions of the world, particularly in Latin America. Peru, however, represents one notable exception. An official Peruvian culinary diplomacy program started in 2011, with Peru's application for its cuisine to be included in UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage, the first year food heritage was recognized. Peruvian cuisine was denied the status of food heritage in its initial application.  The realization of this objective would signify that those outside of Peru have recognized the national cuisine not solely on its gastronomic merits but also for its historical and symbolic importance to the identity of the Peruvian nation.


The Cocina Peruana Para El Mundo campaign has also been promoted by Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, the owner of multiple restaurants worldwide as well as a co-creator of the documentary Perú Sabe, along with Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. Peruvian gastronomy is promoted by its proponents as a byproduct of Peru's multicultural national identity and “three values embedded in Latin American neoliberal societies": cultural diversity promotion, entrepreneurship and competitiveness.” Through the strategic use of media and culinary champions, Peru has attained greater prestige for its cuisine among international food communities, which is evidenced by the country winning the World's Leading Culinary Destination award every year from 2012 to 2019. 


Malaysia Kitchen for the World is a global initiative launched in 2010 by the Malaysian government that aims to educate and inform consumers about Malaysian cuisine and Malaysian restaurants throughout the world. The main focus is four countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, China, and New Zealand by sending Malaysian gastro diplomats to events and food festivals such as night markets in influential cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and London as well as investing in

international Malaysian restaurants to achieve the multi-cultural and vibrant country image. For example, the internnational campaigns seeks to boost interest among American food lovers to try Malaysian cuisine and visit Malaysian restaurants in the New York metropolitan area as well as in other locations in the United States. The program also seeks to facilitate local chefs and restaurateurs to introduce Malaysian cuisine at their establishments. 

One of the causes of flavorful Malaysian cuisine since multicultural interaction happened within the time frame (Mohd Nazri Abdul Raji, 2017). Hence, the many cultures and ethnicities that illustrate Malaysia as a country are due to its influence by the arrival of traders from Persia, India, Arab, Indonesia, and China that were later based in Malacca as the centre of Inter- Asian trade - thus, "Kitchen for the World" is very appropriate. 

Food is big for the small island of Taiwan and its tourists. 60.7% of international respondents (the majority of whom hailed from Asian countries) cited Taiwan’s specialty foods as a main reason for wanting to go to Taiwan. In 2010, Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs launched a £20-million culinary diplomacy campaign called "All in Good Taste: Savor the Flavors of Taiwan". It promoted Taiwanese venues internationally, sponsored chefs, hosted food festivals and competitions, and emphasized elements such as bubble teaoyster omelette, and Taiwan's famous traditional night markets. Taiwan has used its culinary programs to bolster its tourism sector and to conduct diplomacy in countries with which it has limited official ties.


A growing trends is efforts to reflect Taiwan’s changing identity—and there is increasing awareness that Taiwanese food is more diverse than beef noodles and xiao long bao, reflecting its 

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unique culture and diversity. In addition to formal government campaigns, there are many grassroots efforts to spread the word about Taiwanese cuisine through social media, video streaming platforms (check out this video), English-language cookbooks, and specialized retail should also be utilized to reach foreign audiences in ways that feel more organic. 


Pyongyang is a restaurant chain named after the capital of North Korea, with around 130 locations worldwide. The restaurants are owned and operated by the Haedanghwa Group, an organization of the government of North Korea. The restaurants serve Korean food, including kimchi dishes, Pyongyang cold noodles, barbecued cuttlefish and dog meat soup. Patrons may also buy North Korean products such as ginseng wine. The prices are relatively high and in US dollars. Most Pyongyang restaurants are found near the North Korean border in China, as well as in Beijing and Shanghai. Since the 2000s, it

has expanded to Asian countries, including Russia. The restaurants initially catered to the many South Korean businessmen in Southeast Asia and have now become popular with curious tourists.

The staff consists of young Korean women in traditional Chosŏn-ot dress, who also perform karaoke as well as song and dance routines in the style of the North Korean Mass Games for the customers. Staff from North Korea typically work on three-year contracts and are often highly trained graduates of arts colleges. Photography is generally not permitted inside. Unfortunately, it has also become a source of defection for young North Korean women. 

Places trying to attract tourists and their spending often present a simplified, idealized, or even fictionalized version of themselves—what some critics call heritage commodification. Explore the related theory of the tourist gaze—the idea that, in looking for the exotic and the different, tourists may dehumanize and diminish who and what they encounter along the way. Discuss with your team: are there times when we would want to simplify a place’s history for visitors, or when the tourist gaze might be good thing?

Inspired by "The Spectacle of Culture", a student art-house film with a message for business in education and training, tourism and hospitality, or, indeed, in any other sector that offers and promotes culture and cultural experiences for young people. Produced within the context of their second-year intercultural skills course at ESCP, The Spectacle of Culture by Madrid BSc students Leo Casares (Director), Ludovica Marocchesi Marzi, Nicolas Moingeon, and Alessandro Monte is a docudrama that questions and challenges the assignment itself, the programme, ESCP (Europe's top business school), and contemporary capitalism. Commodification literally means turning cultural items into commodities for sale. Culture-washing can lead to a loss of trust, credibility, and authenticity among your audience. 


Three ways to avoid the commodification of culture:

1. Facilitate meaningful cultural exchange - For example, Eatwith, operating in many countries, invites locals to host (for a fee) visitors for food experiences, generally in their own homes. And Workaway is all about working alongside locals in exchange for accommodation

2. Leverage authenticity in branding and marketing strategies - Showcase real stories, genuine experiences, and transparent messaging that aligns with your organisation’s values and resonates with your target audience. Example: Pepsi Refresh Project. Pepsi spent a significant chunk of their marketing budget to fund community projects proposed and chosen by consumers through an online voting platform.

3. Embrace personalisation and customisation - Allow them to have a sense of ownership and control over their interactions with your brand, empowering them to co-create or customize their experiences, by leveraging technology. For example,, a young California-based tech startup. Emerging from the very diverse higher education sector, is able to offer individualised, real-time translation of (lecture) videos among other features. 

Authentic travel seems to be the buzzword in travel these days. Blogger Sam Woolfe reflects about how authentic travel can be negatively ego-driven and importantly reinforce the concept of "tourist gaze". It is a feeling of separateness, whereby local people – and their homes, customs, and culture – become things to be gawked at, as if on display for the tourist. This is connected to the concepts of the commodification of heritage. The ‘tourist gaze’ is a concept developed by the sociologist John Urry, explored in detail in his seminal 1990 book on tourism, The Tourist Gaze.  

Urry begins by drawing a comparison between the ‘medical gaze’ explained by the French philosopher Michel Foucault and the gaze adopted by tourists. In The Birth of a Clinic  (1963), Foucault used the term ‘medical gaze’ (which he also coined) to signify the dehumanising way

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in which doctors viewed their patients, separating their body from their personal identity. Urry in fact as 9 common points of tourism. To summarize three more relevant points, we can conclude that many people are motivated to travel because it involves the expectation of non-ordinary pleasure and unusual scenes to gaze upon. Urry, nonetheless, asserts that tourism is organised around offering people experiences that are different, which contrast with everyday life. The desire for authenticity is not at the core of tourism, according to Urry.

One critical idea is exoticism.  When we travel, we search for something truly different and foreign. But our desire for the exotic,

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for the exoticisation of people, in particular, can lead to disrespectful attitudes and behaviour on the part of the tourist, such as disrespecting people’s privacy and taking photos of them without their permission.

Different experts have different opinions about the value of searching for authentic travel. Dean MacCannell – Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Davis ­– begs to differ. "All tourists…embody a quest for authenticity, and this quest is a modern version of the universal human concern with the sacred. The tourist is a kind of contemporary pilgrim, seeking authenticity in other ‘times’ and other ‘places’ away from that person’s everyday life. Particular fascination is shown by tourists in the ‘real lives’ of others which somehow possess a reality which is hard to discover in people’s own experiences."  Andrew Johnson, an anthropologist at Yale-NUS College, underlines that ‘authenticity’ is nothing to do with a country’s culture – it is all part of “the game of the tourist”. As the writer David Sze puts it, "authenticity is: a shiny label that the traveler pins on her experiences–a marker of Bourdieuian distinction, to prove that she is more knowledgeable, more adventurous, and more off-the-beaten track."  

Maybe ninjas were mostly invisible because they didn’t matter that much? Yet ninjas have become so iconic to Japan’s image abroad that they even feature in official tourism campaigns. Meanwhile, you can’t land at an airport in Tanzania without taxi drivers and other touts greeting you with a hearty “Hakuna matata!”—even though they don’t use the phrase in their native language. Discuss with your team: is it a problem when a place reimagines their culture and history to meet the expectations of tourists?

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Our fascination of the stealthy Japanese warriors is based largely on nuggets of historical truth buried under mountains of myth. Decoding ninjas will be one of the tasks of a Mie University's international ninja research center. Located about 40 miles southwest of Kyoto, it is where the first and most famous ninja "school" may have existed in the 16th century. The new research center will house historical documents related to the ninja, hundreds of novels, movies and cartoons that have helped to forge the modern image of the black-clad assassin. 

Stephen Turnbull, a historian of Japanese military history, parts of ninja legends are based on historical truths.  300 years ago, Japanese people in the Iga region took elements of traditional warfare that exist in all cultures — spying, subterfuge and assassination — and assigning them to a secretive brotherhood of Japanese warriors called shinobi (aka ninjas). Historical records first appeared in 1541, when a local monk wrote up a brief crime report describing an attack on a castle by a band of mercenaries: "This morning, the Iga-shū entered Kasagi castle in secret (shinobi itte) and set fire to a few of the priests' quarters and so on." Back then, shinobi was considered an adverb, but by early 17th century, Turnbull says, in exaggerated stories about Iga warriors, shinobi became a noun.

So, how did 5 different accounts of nighttime crime turn into a global phenomenon?  That's the mission of the new research center to track the development of  the concept of ninjas.  In the 18th century,  military manuals were printed about spying techniques, which mentioned the importance of operating in disguise. Then, Japanese artists created some famous woodblock prints of people dressed in black carrying out assassinations. That's where Turnbull believes the idea of the black ninja robe took hold, even though the prints weren't specifically about ninja at all, just secretive attacks.

The myth of ninjas didn't stop there. In the mid-20th century, a Japanese martial arts historian and military adviser named Seiko Fujita teamed with the mayor of Iga to promote the region as the "heartland of the ninja." One of their ingenious moves, was to find old illustrations of throwing stars in 19th-century martial arts manuals and revive them as ninja weapons. The modern ninja legend was sealed by the 1962 film "Shinobi no Mono," which depicted everything we associate with the ninja myth: the black robes and specialized weapons, a strict code of secrecy, almost "superhuman" martial arts skills and selfless sacrifice. Therefore, there was s historical elements, and two creative guys just blended it all together!

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“Hakuna matata” is a Swahili phrase; translated, it roughly means “No worries”. It is formed by the words hakuna (there is not here) and matata (plural form of problem). The phrase has been popularized by its use in The Lion King (in which it is translated as “no worries” in a song named after the phrase), so that it is heard often at resorts, hotels, and other places appealing to the tourist trade. The phrase is in more common use in Zanzibar and Kenya. The phrase is uncommon among native speakers of Swahili in Tanzania, who prefer the phrase “hamna shida” in the north and “hamna tabu” in the south.This just shows what the tourist think is local is not authentic at all. 


Sometimes communities embrace a reimagined version of their culture not for tourism or commercial gain, but out of necessity, in response to external threats. Learn about the origins of San Francisco’s famous Chinatown (and other neighborhoods like it), then discuss with your team: once the threat is past, should these communities revert to more standardized local architecture? Do such communities prevent their inhabitants from fitting in with society at large?

San Francisco Chinatown is essentially a Potemkin village (fake village designed to fool the Russian Empress Catherine the Great) . Its architecture is a stage set, created by white architects in collaboration with Chinatown leaders after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Their goal was to create a magical, exotic destination that would placate the city’s hostile establishment, rid the neighborhood of its unsavory old associations and entice tourists. As a neighborhood, Chinatown is almost as old as San Francisco itself. The first Chinese arrived in 1848, at the start of the Gold Rush, and settled around Sacramento Street and DuPont Street (now Grant Avenue).

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Although the “China boys” were initially welcomed, relations between the immigrants and white San Franciscans soon deteriorated. In 1882, Congress passed the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act, which froze almost all Chinese immigration for decades. They even began anti-Chinese riots - one supervisor demanded that the Chinese either be moved to reservations or “be separated under police guard in a tent city near the city cemetery.” 

Rebuilt with Westernized Oriental ideals, the goal was to drum up economy and also protect the Chinese immigrants rights to the land. The centerpieces of SF‘s exoticized Chinatown would be 

two imposing buildings, Sing Fat and Sing Chong, which stand at the most important intersection in the district, California Street and Grant Avenue. The buildings, executed by the firm of Ross and Burgren, “demonstrate the pseudo-Oriental style with the curved eaves of a pagoda tower.The neighborhood’s makeover worked. Cash registers in the new, exotic Chinatown jingled, and never again did city officials try to raze the district. To this day, the neighborhood whose hallmark is pseudo-Oriental fairy palaces created after the 1906 fire is one of San Francisco’s biggest tourist attractions.

Globally, all Chinatowns almost all look alike with similar Chinesy elements. Yet, it is not because they represent authentic Chinese architecture. They were created as a strategy to protect their land. It all started in the United States with the wave of Chinese immigrants during the Gold Rush. They were exploited for cheap labor. In the 1870s, following an economic recession, they were blamed for taking away jobs - Yellow Peril. This was followed by the Anti-Exclusion Act which stopped immigration but also took away the rights of the Chinese Americans.  Luckily the Chinese immigrants built themselves a steady and growing economy. 

By the early 1900s, San Francisco Chinatown was on a valuable piece of real estate and the city officials tried to kick the Chinese out with false reports about illegal crimes and filth. They planned to relocate Chinatown and other cities (Seattle and Los Angeles) wanting cheap labor beckoned the Chinese to relocate. Tragically/luckily, the San Francisco earthquake shattered the plans along with thousands of buildings. To save their land, the Chinese rebuilt Chinatown into a tourist attraction in the eyes of the Western audience. And, this strategy has spread throughout the world in the 1900s. In recent years, with Covid, the Chinese American community was under threat again and they continued to rally together to protect their unique heritage and their rights. 

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Terrorists once flew passenger jets into a pair of New York city skyscrapers; now the museum built where they once stood is a world tourism center. Interest in dark tourism is exploding all over the world; some sites even feature special exhibits for children. Yet, while many places lean into their tragic backstories, others, like Nagasaki, downplay them. Discuss with your team: are there some locations that should be completely off limits to tourism? Why do some places advertise their bleak pasts while others carry on as if they never happened? Be sure to explore the following examples:

Droves of tourists frequent concentration camps, sites of famous battles or even places where mass atrocities occurred. What draws us to this dark tourism? The motivations of tourists in visiting dark tourist locations often come down to four common themes, according to a 2021 study published in International Hospitality Review. 1) Curiosity appears to be the biggest factor, but personal connection also matters. 2) Many tourists take part because they feel connected — or want to feel a connection — to the events that transpired at a particular location, says Heather Lewis, assistant professor at Troy University who was involved in the 2021 study.  3) Others visit for educational purposes. 4) celebration of survival or getting through a hard time. Some criticize that it allows contemporary visitors to consume narratives of death that have been streamlined for their consumption. In other words, the practice can be considered a "touristification" of the places and people steeped in death and tragedy. According to Heather Lewis, assistant professor at Troy University who was part of the study, “The overall concern that we should have with dark tourism is making sure that we are being ethically and morally upright in the marketing and use of these locations as a dark tourism destinations. We should never seek economic gain by exploiting others’ suffering and loss.” 

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 this week is a somber reminder of the deadliest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Thousands of people — including many young children — will visit 9/11 memorial sites in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Mary Margaret Kerr, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and Pitt's Department of Psychiatry, has long been curious about how children make meaning of such events. She is personally involved with the project of education for 9/11 memorials, called Flight 93 National Memorial's Junior Ranger program. It offers activities that encourage children ages 6-12 to explore the site through looking, touching, writing and drawing. Students from the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School at Pitt field-tested the original program. The model describes different aspects of a child's experience that researchers and others might consider. These factors include what young tourists know or believe before they tour, what kinds of exhibits and interpretation they may see and react to and how their interactions with staff and other visitors influence their visit.


This former prison island in the Bay of San FranciscoUSA, is one of the world's premier dark-tourism attractions. Possibly the most legendary ex-prison in history, this famed former maximum-security prison once housed Al Capone & Machine Gun Kelly as well as many other notable names. It was in operation for 29 years and the aspect that former prisoners say they found the most difficult was being able to look across the water and see life continuing as normal in San Francisco. The site is now managed by the National Park Service and as such is open to the public – who come here in droves, which means that at least in summer you have to pre-book tickets well in advance.


Said to be a symbol of what Hiroshima stands for and a prayer for world peace, the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima has survived both an atomic bomb and the test of time. The dome serves as a reminder of the tragic war that took the lives of so many Japanese citizens. The fact that it survived the first atomic bomb to ever be used in human history will forever awe those who witnessed the aftermath of the bomb and the war. As part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Atomic Bomb Dome can be viewed exactly as it was after the fall of the atomic bomb onto Hiroshima, Japan. Though this location isn’t as dark or frightening to view as others on the list, the history behind the dome and the lives that were lost during the war makes it so.

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The site where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center used to stand in Manhattan, New YorkUSA. They were destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in which nearly 3000 people were killed, the vast majority at the World Trade Center site. It is thus one of the darkest sites in contemporary America and certainly the most talked about one.  An official national memorial was inaugurated in 2011 and in 2014 it was complemented by a dedicated museum at the site. Together they form what has to be considered one of the world's premier dark-tourism sites. But there are also a few smaller-scale attractions related to 9/11 that are also worth seeing.  

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This is the site of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, one of the most beloved American presidents, who led the country through Civil War. Lincoln was watching a play at the theatre when he was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth. 


The Chernobyl disaster began on 26 April 1986 with the explosion of the No. 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and it is the site of one of the worst man-made disasters in the world. Located in Ukraine, formerly USSR, the reactor explosion pumped out radioactive contamination over a huge area, causing widespread human suffering and prompting an entire region to be evacuated. According to the website, the average Chernobyl tour consists of a day trip from Kiev with a short stop at a viewpoint near Reactor 4. Only a very small minority of tourists are allowed inside the plant itself.

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The word Auschwitz alone stands for the horrors of the Holocaust like no other. It was the largest and most deadly of all the Nazi concentration camps / death camps. The site in the south-east of Poland was turned into a memorial after the end of WWII. Between 1.1 and 1.3 million victims in total, about 1 million Jews. A large proportion murdered in that infamously most "industrialized" fashion: in gas chambers, by means of the specially mass-produced poison gas Zyklon B – cynically it's a pesticide. Auschwitz is actually three locations, and they are very popular with tourist, making it perhaps the most over-toured dark tourism site.


This is really a case of dark tourism gone dark. Titanic was the ship that could never be sunk, but tragically it sunk on her maiden voyage after it collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic off the Newfoundland coast.  Since the wreckage's discovery in 1985 various parties have visited the site via submersible, for treasure hunting and documentaries. After the blockbuster in 1997 and its centennial, Titanic became super popular topic and there are many museums with Titanic artifacts. UPDATE 23 June 2023: a deep-sea submersible (called "Titan") taking tourists down to the wreck of the Titanic has been lost; all five on board perished. Unlikely that tourism is going to be approved anytime soon. This is a case of dark tourism turned extreme-tourism. 

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