Cultural Tourism, Economic Development, and Cultural Preservation
Many international development organizations, UNESCO, and the World Tourism Organization promote cultural tourism as a force for sustainable development and cultural preservation in developing nations. In Benin, cultural tourism has become a widely-accepted goal for development at national and local levels, including the region in the northwest that is home to the Betammaribe.
The primary tourist attraction in Betammaribe culture consists of traditional houses, ‘tatas,’ two-story fortresses containing living quarters for a family and their livestock, and towers for grain storage. Because tourists visit private homes, tourism provides a venue for direct contact between foreigners and local people.
Following the anthropologist Michel Picard, I use the framework of ‘touristification’ to examine the agency of members of Betammaribe society in creating a tourist product. Drawing on my experience on the ground, I look at the current implications of tourism for sustainable economic development in the region. I emphasize the difference in benefits and impacts for different members of society, including townspeople, villagers, and ‘mediators’ between tourists and local hosts. I explore the link between tourism and the preservation of Betammaribe culture, noting that tourism plays a relatively small part in motivating an already strong sense of cultural identity.
Finally, I discuss my collaboration with a small community on a tourism micro project, initiated by the community members for village development. I conclude by emphasizing the need for local initiative in creating sustainable development through tourism.
Keywords: Betammaribe of northwest Benin, Ethnography, Cultural tourism, benefits and impacts, Tourism’s potential for sustainable economic development, 'Touristification’ of society, Tourism’s role in cultural preservation, Tourism micro project for sustainable development
Student/ Researcher, Sub-Saharan Africa- Benin, Fulbright Foundation
During college, Savell studied ‘Culture and Development’ for a semester in Cameroon with the School for International Training (SIT). She further pursued cultural immersion in India on a backcountry expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), in Ireland working with local farmers through the organization Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF), and in indigenous communities in Nova Scotia and Costa Rica leading community service trips for American teenagers.
Savell is published in Abroad View Magazine's
Spring 2001, “Of Mountaineers and Mountain People.”