GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Gulf cultural identity and tourism: in search of economic diversification and touristic diversity
Paper Proposal Text :
The importance of tourism industry to the economic growth is well recognized. UNWTO assesses that foreign tourists receipts have become “an important pillar of the economies of many destinations”, creating employment and development opportunities (2011, p. 5). In addition, Rossouw and Saayman (2011) pointed out that tourism contributes to increasing per capita income and government revenues that
can be used for fostering growth of manufacturing. Furthermore, Sharpley (2002) highlighted that tourism redistributes wealth, spurs economic diversification, creates backward linkages to the local economy (i.e. farming, construction) and by utilizing economic resources, which are already there such as historic sites, it is a low-cost start up industry. These benefits are combined with the fast growth of tourism worldwide. UNWTO estimates that international tourist arrivals rose from 25 million in 1950 to
940 million in 2011 and will continue to grow and reach 1.6 billion by the year 2020. It comes as no surprise that although two decades ago, for most countries in the Middle East international leisure tourism has been \"either culturally undesirable or economically unnecessary\" (Sharpley, 2002, p. 221), GCC countries slowly turned to tourism as a way of diversifying their economies. The path of economic diversification through development of tourism has proven successful in the United Arab Emirates, especially in Dubai. Statistics indicate that in 2012 tourism accounted for 14% of UAE GDP and 31% of Dubai GDP alone. As a result, UAE have become a global leader in the higher-end leisure market (WTTC, 2011, p. 19). UAE are ranked 28th among 139 countries covered by the “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013” issued by the World Economic Forum. The progress in development of
tourism is noteworthy as UAE came \"ahead of many of the ancient tourism destinations, despite the moderate natural resources of tourism sector\" (Emirates News Agency, 2011). Over the years 2010-2020, tourism contribution is expected to have a steady share of 8.1% growth in UAE GDP (Baumgarten and Kent, 2010, p. 3). Given that using international leisure tourism as a vehicle for economic development proved to be successful in UAE; other countries in the region, with the exception of Saudi Arabia that specializes in religious tourism (hence it is excluded from the study), embarked on similar ventures. Successful tourism strategy depends on the creation of a place identity. Given cultural and environmental similarities between the GCC countries, creation of such an identity is the core question of the study. The
process is a complex one: “What is depicted or not depicted in destination image advertising, and on whose authority it is selected, involves a more complex question of what comprises the destination and who has the power to define its identity” (Fesenmaier and MacKay 1996, p. 37).
This study assesses to what degree GCC countries (except KSA) have succeeded in creating competitive tourism strategies. The latter involve creation of distinctive place identities. By comparing textual, visual and on-site materials, it will provide the answers to the questions: Have they produced such place identities? Or is the Dubai tourism model simply copied? Have the GCC managed to specialize and develop niche tourism strategies? How successful have they been so far in attracting tourists? As a result, is the tourism strategy of each country competitive enough to be viable? In addition, what is the relation between tourism and local place identities? By providing a comparative study of tourism models of five GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, UAE), this study will bridge a gap in literature. It will assess to what point each of these countries managed to create a place identity and whether these identities are competitive enough to secure a flow of international tourists. Ultimately, this study will establish whether tourism strategies of the selected GCC countries are sustainable. By pointing out tourism strategy gaps it will provide recommendations on improvement of tourism strategies adopted by each of these countries. In addition, it will provide new evidence to the study of semiotics in tourism in general.
Creation of place identity involves “imagery as a political process that encodes and reinforces the dominant ideology of tourism culture, essentially a global process which manifests locally and explicitly involves the construction of place” Ateljevic and Doorne (2002, p. 648). Creation of such identity takes place through the use of text combined with signs and images to add meaning to destinations, explain the destinations or the experience tourists can expect there; thus semiotic language of tourism is deployed in the process (Tresidder, 2011). Identities acquire meanings through the process of framing (Herbert, 1995). Frames are the cognitive structures that we use to make sense of the world around us (Bateson, 1972; Goffman, 1974). Content analysis is well suited for retrieving frames from any written, verbal or visual form of communication (Cole, 1988). At this point, it is necessary to mention the complementary character of content analysis and critical discourse analysis. Content analysis concentrates on the text itself, without taking into account the context in which it was produced, that is, the social reality, the producer and the audience; discourse analysis stresses that social reality is constructed through meaningful interaction and it strives to examine how that reality was produced. It is clear that a text must be located in historical and social reality to be interpreted. As a result, discourse analysis complements content analysis and allows the researcher to interpret meanings. Hence, I will use the term content/discourse analysis in the following study, and the basic characteristic of discourse analysis, namely, its constructionist, inductive and subjective approach, will be applied to data.

The approach of this research will be thus eclectic in nature, combining the content/discourse analysis of written text with that of images. Creation and consumption of place identities takes place in physical and in virtual environments (Molenaar 1996, 2002). After gathering material for a comprehensive literature
review, which will include the published tourism strategies of each country from governmental publications; data will be collected, to begin with, online from governmental tourism websites, websites of local tourism agencies and national airlines (the search will purposely exclude international websites). Secondly, data will be collected on-site in national museums, major attractions etc. At that point, frames
of place identity will be extracted, analyzed and compared. The second step is also vital to establish whether the place lives up to its created identity and how that identity. Researchers employ such “postmodern, reflexive ethnography” (Jaworski and Pritchard, 2005, p. 3), combining visual methods, field surveys and participant observation (Crouch, 2001) to understand how tourists experience the place
(Urry, 1995). Indeed, the researchers should focus on places as items of visual consumption: “Places are chosen to be gazed upon because there is an anticipation, especially through day-dreaming and fantasy. . . The gaze is directed to features of landscape and townscape which separate them off from everyday and
routine experiences” (Urry, 1995, p. 132). As “[c]ities capitalize on the tourist gaze in revamping themselves as destination sites” (Chang and Huang, 2008, p. 226), understanding these processes in the Gulf is vital to this study that will contrast the tourist attractions, which are tangible and “the most iconic, and the most central component of the tourism system” (Lew, 2014, p. 363) to the images that the countries strive to construct in the mind and imagination of the potential tourists.