Saturday, 29 August 2015

In Persuit of Authenticity

Tonight was the night that almost all of us were looking forward to: spending a night at the desert at Wadi Rum!

As we entered the Bedouin camp, we noticed that it was clearly was not a mere tent in the desert. Having read a blog by Drumond regarding this, I was well aware of what was to expect. According to Drumond (1) the Bedouin tours in Israel ( and in our case Jordan) serve as a perfect example of a postmodern travel experience. These tours work on the premise of ecotourism, cultural preservation, and authenticity.With an increased interest in cultural tourism, there seem to be a lot of tourists  in search of an “authentic experience”. These people want to move away from the so called "mainstream tourists" and are in search of the genuine or real experience and environment. They thus visit the desert camps at Wadi Rum. 

Our camp at Waldi Rum 

Going to the Bedouin camp as a student of tourism studies, I clearly saw how the local people had tried to make the place seem authentic, in combination with providing for the comfort of the tourist. It was a perfect spot for Arab tourists (mostly from Saudi Arabia) to enjoy music, dancing and drinking alcohol( alcohol is forbidden in Saudi Arabia). Besides this, they also catered to foreign tourits. The local people showed us how they made food under the ground and gave us a taste of their clothing, decorations, music and food.

Food cooked below the ground

Joining the dance 
There are scholars(2) who argue that tourist experiences can never be authentic even if they perceive them to be. Strangely enough, this so called 'staged' form of authenticity did not bother me and I enjoyed every single part of my time there. In fact one of the arguments supporting this 'staging' is that it is not intention of the Bedouins to decieve the tourists, but rather for them to enjoy the exotic environment created for them in the midst of comfort (4). 
A paper (3) argues that tourist often forge relationships to make an experience authentic. I experienced this in the camp. When we saw the local people and other Arabs dance, I convinced Jelle that we both go and dance with them. By learning traditional dance steps from a local man in traditional clothing ,I really felt as though I was bonding with the people, thus making my tourist experience authentic. The dance with the people and my fellow students was the highlight of my trip so far. At the end of the evening I was beaming with delight, my body full of joy. This is an experience I will never forget.


1) Arianna Drumond.Contextualizing Authenticity in Tourism: An Examination of Postmodern Tourism Theory. 2013 [Online] Available at: 

2) MacCannell, D. (1973) Staged authenticity: arrangements of social space in tourist settings. American Journal of Sociology Vol. 79 (3): 589–603.

3) Krystin St Jean. How to Have an Authentic Experience. 2008. [Online] Available at:

4) G´eraldine Chatelard. Tourism and representations: Of social change and power relations in Wadi Ramm, Southern Jordan. Images aux fronti`eres. Repr´esentations et constructions sociales et politiques. Palestine, Jordanie 1948-2000, Institut fran¸cais du Proche-Orient, pp.194-251, 2005 [Online]  Available at: