Cultures clash: Tourism, identity and Dukha reindeer herders in the Mongolian taiga

Theme 2. Connectivity
Session Name 2.6 Tourism, mobilities and globalization in the Arctic
Presentation Type Oral
Author(s) Jean Hatcherson (Western Connecticut State University, USA)
Abstract text

Tourist visits to Dukha reindeer herder camps in the Mongolian taiga bolster the local economy. However, these cross-cultural contacts sometimes disrupt traditional socio-cultural identities and egalitarian norms, and further violate tourists’ cultural assumptions of nomadic peoples. Currently, the year-round entry of tourists to Dukha camps is unregulated, with the timing and context of these encounters, including entry point and compensation, not always under the herders’ control. Thus, though the Dukha and their reindeer are a marketed attraction, monetary and social benefits are not guaranteed them. Moreover, guides may portray the Dukha as a disappearing ethnic group; tourist expectations are violated when these perceived ‘primitives’ have motorbikes, electricity, and satellite television.  Attempts made to educate tourists of Dukha culture have seen limited success. This exploratory qualitative, interpretive study used guided, open-ended interviews (N=30), free-listing, ranking, and participant observation to examine reindeer herders’ perceptions of tourist visits. Additional interviews with tourists (N=32) and Mongolian guides (N=5) in situ, Tsagaan Nuur and Ulaanbaatar regarding gifts, compensation and expectations were conducted. Results show that overall the Dukha most involved with tourists have a positive attitude toward their visits. As tourist groups stay only one to three days, negative outcomes regarding cultural misrepresentations and compensation currently appear minimized. Nevertheless, resentments among the Dukha and between the Dukha and tour operators/tourists occur when unequal benefits are perceived or when tourists egregiously violate traditional norms and values. As visits increase, formalizing Dukha owned and controlled economic and ethnographic initiatives could reduce adverse results for the herders.

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