|dc.description.abstract||Authentic experiences of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) are popular as tourist attractions, particularly in developing countries. However, how the authenticity of ICH is conceptualized in the context of tourism and how ICH relates to community empowerment is unexplored in recent literature. This study aims to investigate how hosts and guests (in this case domestic tourists) at a traditional cultural festival perceived the role of ICH in community empowerment. The study also sought to identify the factors influencing how hosts and guests perceive the authenticity of ICH, and how the effect of mutual (host-guest) authentication of ICH can build on community empowerment. A qualitative case study approach was utilised to understand host and guest perceptions and experiences of the traditional Rush Mela Festival (as an example of ICH) in the Sundarbans forest region, specifically at the sites of Dublar Char (inside the forest) and Chila (on the periphery of the forest), in Bangladesh.
The study was based on a conceptual model for understanding mutual (host-guest) authentication of ICH and its relationship to community empowerment. This model was developed based on prior literature. The study revealed that the major elements of the Rush Mela Festival comprised of religious rituals, cultural programmes, economic activities, tourism, and community institutions. The majority of hosts and guests perceived that these elements play an important role in four dimensions of community empowerment (psychological, economic, social and political). However, there was some variation in the perceptions depending on the locality of the festival (i.e., Dublar Char or Chila) and the tourism opportunities available. The study found that factors such as the hosts’ attitudes, motivations, economic benefits, emotional benefits, individual participation, and institutional involvement influenced their perceptions of authenticity (both objective and existential) of the Rush Mela Festival. Also, the study found that factors such as guests’ attitudes, motivations, authenticity of objects, and authentic experiences also play a significant role in building guests’ perceptions of authenticity of the Rush Mela Festival.
Despite some differences, most of the hosts and guests have perceived that some of the objects (e.g. the statues of the God and Goddess, the temple, the dried fish and local foods (sweets)) and experiences (e.g. worship ceremony, the holy bath, cultural programmes, and meeting family and friends) during the Rush Mela Festival were authentic, and these support the objective and existential authenticity of the festival. Mutual authentication of the festival has led to host support and guest loyalty towards Rush Mela tourism. Few hosts were concerned about excessive tourism and commodification of cultural practices, whereas some guests were not satisfied as they expected improved tourist facilities and more authentic local products.
Moreover, the research also suggests that the mutual authentication of the festival and support for tourism have ultimately influenced the community’s psychological empowerment (i.e. strengthens spiritual belief), economic empowerment (i.e. increasing economic benefits), social empowerment (i.e. increasing social cohesion and consensus for preserving cultural tradition and natural resources), and political empowerment (i.e. development of community institutions). Finally, the study suggests that empowerment of the community could influence host and guest factors for authenticating the Rush Mela Festival and increasing loyalty and support for tourism, which could contribute to the development of sustainable ICH tourism. Further research should be carried out to test and validate the conceptual mutual (host-guest) authentication model in various ICH-based tourism contexts. Also, further study could explore the potential for a community-based ICH tourism programme that can facilitate the preservation of authenticity of ICH and enhance community empowerment.||