The central premise of this narrative focused on an issue that has had both a positive and negative impact on heritage tourism. In essence, chapters 5 and 16 in Dallen Timothy’s book Cultural Heritage and Tourism focused on authenticity and accurate portrayal of tourism and historic sites. However, within the quest for authenticity, the issues of staged experiences created spaces, and the most problematic of them all, overtourism, which disrupts not only areas for tourists but also creates discourse among residents and patrons.Read more: Dallen Timothy Discussion: Cultural Heritage and Tourism (Chapter 5 and 16) (2022)
Angor Wat, Cambodia, and the infamous “Tomb Raider” Hindu temple site is a place that operates between these aspects. This 12th-century heritage site rose to prominence with tourists in 2018 after being featured as the location destination in the Tomb Raider (2018) film. Despite opinions on the film’s contribution to the Lara Craft brand, the movie grossed nearly $275M with domestic and international box office revenues combined.
As mentioned, the Angkor Wat temple and Ta Prohm are 12th-century structures. Naturally, with the film’s allure, tourists from worldwide descended upon the grounds, and naturally, human traffic began to destroy the ruins. Some tactics implemented to reduce traffic included raising tour and ticket prices and strategically capping the number of visitors near the central tower at one time.
Eventually, what I found interesting with this site also pushed its focus toward creating a more authentic experience for tourists by adding a gatekeeper aspect with a local specialist that engages tourists on a more personalized and impactful tour about the cultural significance of the temple. In addition, tourists are encouraged to visit the lesser-known sites and cultural traditions around the area instead of the main attraction.
Another gatekeeper experience attached to this site can be found through extotravel.com with the touring company Luxe, which invites tourists to a full-day or half-day tour of the Angkor “Tomb Raider” Temples with archeologists. Personally, authenticity can be questioned here because these could be staged tour guides with little archeological knowledge and experience.
Since 2018, attendance has fallen due to poor tourist experiences, souvenirs, and the highly unpredicted COVID-19 global health crisis. And, of course, this once-booming tourist space that brought in $99M in 2018 economically declining is not a healthy alternative either because now the local community and businesses are suffering from unprecedented loss and are having to restructure. A recent article from 2020 captured a local’s comment stating, “I would like to have the tourists come back because the people out there, they are struggling a lot, but slowly, slowly, not like a million people come back at the same time.” (Hunt, 2020)
With spaces of authentic heritage locations that have turned into cultural tourist attractions due to fictional and often elaborate media campaigns, it will be interesting to see how the lines of authenticity versus creation will continue to impact future tourist attractions and experiences. Before, not much credit was given to tourists regarding their perception of tourist destinations and heritage sites, but as Timothy states at the end of Chapter 16, tourists are “now drawn to supplement their experiences with visits to heritage sites that are more realistic in terms of their relationship to everyday men, women, and children.” (Timothy 2021, 363)
HS 7203.003-Special Topics: Heritage Tourism
November 3, 2021
“9 Iconic Destinations Struggling with Overtourism.” Real Word, June 12, 2020.
“Angkor ‘Tomb Raider” with an Archaeologist.” EXO Travel, April 26, 2021.
Hunt, Luke. Cambodians Revel in Now Tourist-Free Angkor Wat. Washington: Federal
Information & News Dispatch, LLC, 2020.
Timothy, Dallen J. “Chapter 16: Landscapes of the Elite and the Ordinary,” Essay.
In Cultural Heritage and Tourism: An Introduction, 352–363. Bristol, UK: Channel View Publications, 2021.