Tourism at the roof of the world: young hosts assess tourism community futures in Lhasa, Tibet

Wu, Mao-Ying (2012) Tourism at the roof of the world: young hosts assess tourism community futures in Lhasa, Tibet. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis aims to explore how the Tibetan "post 80s" youth assess tourism community futures in Lhasa, Tibet. This work can be classified as tourism community studies, which has been an important agenda within tourism research for several decades. The studies were developed by reviewing previous research in four areas: tourism community relationships studies, tourism future studies, tourism research in and about youth, and tourism research in China and Tibet. Five research opportunities were identified, which helped shape five notable features of this thesis. These five distinctive characteristics are: applying a forward-looking perspective, integrating the emic and etic research approaches, focusing on the young hosts, working in a non-western urban context, and undertaking research at a community level.

To achieve the overall aim, this thesis employed a research design process which comprised two levels. At the conceptual level, social representations theory, the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, and an integration of the emic and etic approach were selected because they were seen as mutually complementary. The social representations theory helps to understand how people "see" and organise their views of the tourism futures. The SL framework provides the content of what defines and constitutes community perceptions and preferences. The integration of the emic and etic approaches acts as the glue or connecting agent for the joint use of these two approaches. It offers a way to implement the theories and framework, particularly in cross-cultural studies as it helps elicit locally meaningful representations. At the methodological level, three methods - photo-elicitation interviews, focus groups incorporating photos, and a questionnaire based survey with picture scenarios - were carefully considered and selected. These three methods are consistent with the essence of the research approach, that is, to offer a natural research environment to elicit the emic voices from the research respondents. These three methods were carried out in a sequence with the earlier data collection phases providing information for the construction of the next activity.

Two physically close communities at the roof of the world (in Lhasa, Tibet) were chosen as the study sites. They are the Old Town of Lhasa and Caigongtang Town (a suburban town). These two communities differed in their social and economic backgrounds, as well as their degree of exposure to tourism. The young generation living and working in the communities were the research respondents. Following the full development of the research design and the specification of the research context, the overall research aim was subdivided into five subaims which were explored across four chapters of this thesis (Chapter 3-6).

Chapter 3 of this thesis presents the foundation studies in the Old Town of Lhasa. These findings were based on four photo-elicitation interviews and four focus groups. The foundation studies revealed that the young hosts defined the future as the next 5-10 years. Lay concepts of tourism and tourism livelihoods issues were examined. An analysis of the data identified that there were five sets of tourism assets in the Old Town of Lhasa. These assets were the world heritage sites, the religious sites, the Tibetan traditional yards, the daily life and customs, as well as the Tibetan medicine. The young hosts considered that "outsiders" were interested in visiting these sites in their community. It was found that the contextual issues, especially the cultural values, institutional arrangements and vulnerability issues were very influential to the young hosts' access to different forms of development assets (e.g. economic, human and social), their representations towards tourism as a livelihoods choice, as well as their pursuit of tourism livelihoods outcomes.

Chapter 4 fully explored different levels of perceptions of the young hosts' gaze towards tourism community futures in the Old Town of Lhasa. It employed a questionnaire based survey, which was built on the adjusted SL framework under the guidelines of social representations theory. A diversity of statistical methods were undertaken through SPSS 20.0. A holistic approach was employed to interpret the data, considering three components of social and cultural values operating on and through tourism (e.g. a primary concern on the social stability, the traditional values, and the contemporary thinking). In detail, this chapter firstly explored and found the young hosts’ perceptions of and preferences for the development of 5 different sets of tourism assets and the tourist groups were quite complex and fluid. These representations were determined by the nature of the tourism assets, their cultural values, their social life and their images of different tourist groups. Later, their concerns about economic assets, human assets and social assets, as well as their understanding towards the vulnerability issues and PIP issues were presented. The issues on institutional arrangement which address the access to assets and political stability were commonly highlighted. Polemical representations on seasonality were identified. Further, this chapter analysed the representations of tourism as a future livelihoods choice. Emancipated representations in the community were observed. Four distinctive groups, moderate supporters, the community-oriented supporters, the willingly involved controllers, and the lovers, emerged with clear characteristics. The last section of chapter 4 adopted IPA analysis to explore the young hosts' aspirations and priorities towards sustainable livelihoods outcomes. It indicated that the young hosts placed "maintain and even improve the environment", "availability of legislation and regulations to tourism market", "Tibetan culture is appreciated and protected" and "more people approach Lhasa with an open mind" as their highest priorities.

Chapter 5, focusing on the suburban Caigongtang Town, forms a complementary study in this thesis. It was selected to better understand how the contextual issues affect the hosts' assessment of tourism community futures and their preferred involvement. Similar methods were conducted in a sequence in this suburban site, with minor differences in the techniques used to recruit the research participants. The same study topics as these investigated in the Old Town of Lhasa were examined in this suburban site. In detail, two sets of tourism assets, the Linka parks and ruality of the town, were identified. Tourists were generally understood as city people from Lhasa city and nearby counties, visiting them on a daily basis. A highlight of the suburban study site is that the young hosts there significantly preferred a community based tourism development style, rather than invested by outside companies. Concerning tourism as a future livelihoods choice, the suburban youth showed diverse representations as well, but generally less enthusiasm than their urban counterparts. They expected that tourism livelihoods would bring them better public infrastructure (especially sealed roads) and amenities (more fun in the community). They would also like to see the protection and appreciation of local culture and customs, as well as customers' (city people's) satisfaction.

The final chapter (Chapter 6) provided a synthesis of the research. A comparison of the findings for the two physically close communities was undertaken and subtle similarities and differences highlighted. Reflecting the research opportunities identified earlier, the chapter then documented how this thesis has seized these opportunities and has contributed to both academic work and practical directions for tourism managers. It enhanced our understanding of doing research in marginal and politically sensitive contexts. It strengthened the diverse nature of a society, tourism’s role in community development, and the importance of thinking through tourism and contextual issues. Practically, this thesis may help Lhasa authorities, not limited to tourism, better plan and develop through the contribution from local youth, the understanding of their aspirations and priorities. In addition, this chapter also briefly presents the research limitations with solutions offered. Finally, four areas of future research were revealed with concise suggestions for further exploration of Tibetan tourism.

At core, this thesis is about how the young generation in Lhasa views the tourism community futures, especially their future livelihoods choices. However, this thesis' contents, which are arguably rich and comprehensive, are not limited to tourism at the roof of the world. In fact, the work provides a wide window through which readers may not only learn about Tibet tourism's past, present and future, but they may also have a greater understanding of the modernization and transformation in Tibet, China.

Item ID: 24990
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: appraisal, careers, cultural tourism, employees, employment, futures, hospitality, job prospects, Lhasa, perceptions, Tibet, tourism, workers, young people, youths
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 2 - Pearce, Philip L., and Wu, Mao-Ying (2010) The joint power of social representations theory and livelihoods analysis to assess tourism community futures. Proceedings of 16th Asia Pacific Tourism Association Annual Conference: competition and collaboration between regional tourism destinations APTA 2010 16th Asia Pacific Tourism Association Annual Conference. , 13 - 16 July 2010, Macao, China

Chapters 3,4,5 - Wu, Mao-Ying, and Pearce, Philip L. (2013) Tourists to Lhasa, Tibet: how local youth classify, understand and respond to different types of travelers. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, Online First Article . pp. 1-24.

Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2013 06:31
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150601 Impacts of Tourism @ 34%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150602 Tourism Forecasting @ 33%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150605 Tourism Resource Appraisal @ 33%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900301 Economic Issues in Tourism @ 34%
90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900302 Socio-Cultural Issues in Tourism @ 33%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9401 Community Service (excl. Work) > 940105 Childrens/Youth Services and Childcare @ 33%
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