Festivals or rituals?
Festival politics, religiosity and sociability,
The importance of the court jester.

Part IV – Authenticity (identity, commercialisation, commodification).

There is an ongoing discourse about the cultural authenticity of events, often with the particular concern that tourism commodifies events and corrupts their authenticity, but also that many events are created for commercial and exploitative reasons. Another discourse relates to the preservation of traditions and meanings in festivals.

The tourist quest for the authentic, marked by authentic social relationships that can be thwarted by the commercialization of tourism, is the motivation for all travel.

As early as the 60s, there was concern about the loss of authenticity in events, due to the “conspicuous leisure” and indirect and artificial experiences offered in the 50s. Events created specifically to meet participants’ expectations were considered “pseudo-events”, events that distract the passive tourist who waits for things to happen.

The definition of authenticity varies between the perception of authenticity focused on consumers (tourists) or suppliers. The underlying claim is that tourists are active creators of authenticity and marketed authenticity is based on consumer demand. Authenticity can be defined as a process of negotiation between the two perceptions.

Another perspective sees events as having several stages, a continuum of increasingly authentic experiences, in which a person moves from events of lesser authenticity to greater, based on a personal need to go beyond their own level of normal and ordinary.

The meanings attributed to the front and back regions of social space in social establishments can be used to highlight the ways in which structural divisions are maintained within the tourist experience. The front is associated with the hosts and guests or clients, while the back is associated with the relaxation and preparation of the employees. Tourist configurations comprise a continuum of six stages: the front region that tourists try to get behind; the touristic front region that appears as a back region; front region arranged like a back region; back region that is open to outsiders; modified back region that tourists may gain entry to; and the back region of social space that motivates touristic consciousness. Tourists seek out the authentic backstage regions of the host community.

There are two sides of the stage for participants; one for those who seek the authentic experience and one for those who are satisfied with pleasure alone. This brings us back to Turner’s distinction between liminal and liminoid experience. Stricter criteria of authenticity are associated with anthropology. Anthropologists belong to the broader category of modern, alienated intellectuals. Alienation and the search for authenticity seem to be positively related. Tourists, however, seek authenticity in different degrees of intensity and rigidity, depending on their degree of alienation from modernity, with intensity being proportional to alienation and rigidity being inversely proportional. There are five modes of tourist experience which vary according to the depth of the experience sought and which, as far as it is concerned, involve the tendency for one tourist to meet another. The five modes of tourist experience are, ordered from greater to lesser depth of experience sought, as follows: 1) Existential tourists; 2) Experimental tourists; 3) Experiential tourists; 4) Recreational tourists; 5) Diversionary tourists. Existential tourists are the most purist of tourists, seeking close contact with locals, but they have no professional attitude or critical ability to evaluate authenticity, so they are more prone to sophisticated forms of staged authenticity. Experimental tourists try out various potential elective centers. Experiential tourists seek to participate indirectly in the authentic lives of others. Recreational tourists, with a playful make-believe attitude, will have much broader criteria for authenticity. Finally, diversionary tourists seek mere fun and oblivion. Both experimental and experiential tourists will tend to employ fairly strict authenticity criteria. Recreational tourists will accept a product with a more naive staged authenticity as authentic, even if they are not convinced of its authenticity. Diversionary tourists are unconcerned about the authenticity of their experiences.

When the packaging changes the nature of the product, the authenticity sought by the visitor becomes staged authenticity provided by the touree [i.e., host]. Experiences cannot be considered authentic, even if people themselves think they have achieved such experiences. There is a sense in which all cultures are staged and, in a sense, inauthentic. Cultures are invented, remade and the elements reorganized; thus, the concept of emerging authenticity describes this evolutionary process.

A cultural product, or a characteristic of it, that at one point is generally judged to be artificial or inauthentic can, with the passage of time, become generally recognized as authentic. Thus, an apparently planned, tourist-oriented festival can, in due course, be accepted as an authentic local custom. Emerging authenticity emphasizes an aspect, or refers to a manifestation, of the broader phenomenon of the invention of tradition. New messages can also be incorporated into these festivals, which become new cultural expressions and are recognized as authentic.

Staging involves moving cultural production from one place to another and modifying it to suit new conditions of time and place, yet what is staged is not superficial, as it contains elements of the original tradition. The perceived level of authenticity is controlled partly by the media and partly by the people themselves.

Existential authenticity, which divides into intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions, best explains how an event participant can discover their inner self while taking part in experiences that they determine to be authentic.

Man-made attractions have a lower sense of adventure than natural environments because participants feel safer. The experience is more personalized and less produced for the masses, although all are authentic, albeit to different degrees.

Contemporary literature on the nature of modern tourism and its impact on host societies is based on several important assumptions that can be formulated as follows: 1) tourism helps to lead to commoditization; 2) commoditization destroys the authenticity of local cultural products and human relations; instead, a covert staged authenticity emerges; 3) staged authenticity is said to thwart the tourist’s genuine desire for authentic experiences. In this way, commoditization destroys the meaning of cultural products for both locals and tourists. However, commoditization does not necessarily destroy the meaning of cultural products for either locals or tourists, although it can do so under certain conditions, and it is necessary to consider the role of the vehicle of identity self-representation for locals and the broad conceptualization of authenticity for tourists.

Special events increase social cohesion by bringing people together for a common purpose, but it is not easy to reconcile this cohesion with tourism development in order to stimulate the local economy. Festivals are founded on the principle of recurrence and continuity, pointing to cultural identity, and, at the same time, they are less and less linked to places or spaces, in particular due to the contribution of new types of celebrations that have connected different spaces and places through shared social concerns and/or characteristics, although they have also contributed to the disconnection with local celebrations. These changes reflect the notions of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, i.e. the deconstruction and reconstruction of territorial boundaries as a result of economic and political change. But how is cultural identity reinterpreted in the face of the resulting processes of decontextualization and recontextualization? Decontextualization implies that the meanings of the event can only be maintained in relation to the space, not the place, and the facilitators of the event, the visitors and the host community must be considered in terms of their resulting interconnections with the space, despite the fact that their perception of the event includes both. Elaborating a set of thematically interconnected but spatially and temporally dispersed events broadens the scope of perceptions and representations and enhances the range of meanings generated. Both the sense of identification (associated with the combination of space, time and memory) and belonging (through the construction of experiences) need to be created according to the multiple anchorages of an individual or group. If events are mobile, they have a greater chance of supporting this sense of multicultural belonging. Festivals and events have the potential to allow communities to interpret and reinterpret their cultural identity through the experience and practices they portray, motivate and help introduce.


BIAETT, Vernon (2013) Exploring the On-site Behavior of Attendees at Community Festivals: A Social Constructivist Grounded Theory Approach, Tese de Doutoramento: Arizona State University.

CHHABRA, Deepak (2005) “Defining Authenticity and Its Determinants: Toward an Authenticity Flow Model”, Journal of Travel Research, 44:1, pp.64-73.

CHHABRA, D. et al. (2003) “Staged Authenticity and Heritage Tourism”, Annals of Tourism Research, 30:3, pp.702-719.

COHEN, Erik (1988) “Authenticity and Commoditization in Tourism”, Annals of Tourism Research, 15, pp. 371-386.

ELIAS-VAROTSIS, Sophie (2006) “Festivals and events — (Re)interpreting cultural identity”, Tourism Review, 61:2 pp. 24–29.

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MATHESON, Catherine M. (2005) “Festivity and Sociability: A Study of a Celtic Music Festival”, Tourism Culture & Communication, 5, pp.149-163.

Authorship: João Carvalho [1], Victor Afonso [2], Nuno Gustavo [3].

Based on the project work “Business plan. Cosmic Festival. Transformational Festival”, authored by João Carvalho, under the supervision of Specialist Professor Victor Afonso and co-supervision of PhD Professor Nuno Gustavo, for completion of the Master’s Degree in Tourism, with a specialisation in Strategic Event Management, at the Estoril Higher Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies. Presented and defended on December 27th, 2019.

May, 2020.

[1] Master’s Degree in Tourism, with specialisation in Strategic Event Management, by Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Beach Break®.

[2] Specialist Professor (Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Center for Advanced Studies in Management and Economics at the University of Évora – CEFAGE).

[3] PhD Professor (Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Centre for Research, Development and Innovation in Tourism – CITUR).