Action Asia: New Paradigm or Déjà-vu?
In recent years tourism in the west has been marked by an experiential 'turn'. Academics have sought to explain this trend through such concepts as reflexivity, narrative, mobility, articulation of risk and an embodied imperative. The industry has met these tourist needs with the provision of a host of mainstream and alternative 'product' that facilitates new ways of experiencing a destination. This is evidenced by the growth of 'special interest' pursuits such as adventure tourism, ecotourism, health tourism, food and wine tourism, and many others. This has had enormous impacts not just in this sector, as tourists leap between different experiences, and many operators move progressively towards the mainstream. In this paper we seek to map out the impacts of these trends in Asia, the fastest growing inbound and outbound tourism region globally. This area has been traditionally observed as relatively conservative in behaviour, however recent developments reflect a latent dynamism. Although long a playground for the west's adventurous spirits, hosting some of the pinnacles of the tourist experience, here we seek to uncover Asian participation in such pursuits, both at home and abroad. This draws on observations and discussions with a range of practitioners inside and outside the region. We also examine specific developments in South Korean and mainland Chinese societies that influence contemporary modes of participation. For example, South Korean social and legislative imperatives have led to the dominance of 'leiport', a time-conscious combination of leisure and sport activity in that society. Two Hong Kong based publications that specialise in embodied tourism experiences, Action Asia and Asian Spas, are also utilised to illustrate contemporary trends. In our discussion we hope to dispel two myths that seem to hamper research in this area. Firstly we wish to argue against an opinion that Asian tourists will simply follow western trends and take up existing products. Rapidly emerging economies based on significantly different cultures challenge a number of accepted western ideals. Rather than imitation we must look to this region as a source of innovation. For example, a resurgent interest in health and healing tourism in the west can be contrasted with a long established tradition of this sector in Asian markets. Indeed, what is observed is perhaps better conceptualised as a 'hybrid' of the regions' cultural and historical experiences with contemporary western developments. The second myth we wish to challenge is that the Asian continent is somehow homogenous. Although bound in a deep history that scholars are still uncovering, the region has many differences regarding their histories, colonial impacts, present desires and future trends. For example, recent research in Northern Queensland has suggested that emerging Asian markets are more adventurous than those who dominated in the past. Although offering a number of challenges it is important that we engage critically with trends in this region and collaborate with colleagues based in the continent who can offer new perspectives. Through such interface we hope to move away from binary modes of classification and present a less reductionist tapestry of Asian tourism in the new millennium.
IGU commission on TOURISM, LEISURE AND GLOBAL CHANGE Pre-Congress Symposium. Australia