Contestation over an island imaginary landscape: The management and maintenance of touristic nature

Uma Kothari, Alex Arnall
2017 Environment and planning A  
Article Accepted Version Kothari, U. and Arnall, A. (2017) Contestation over an island imaginary landscape: the management and maintenance of touristic nature. Environment and Planning A, 49 (5). pp. 980 998. Abstract This article demonstrates how maintaining high-end tourism in luxury resorts requires recreating a tourist imaginary of pristine, isolated and unpeopled island landscapes, thus necessitating the ceaseless manipulation and management of space. This runs contrary to the belief that
more » ... ourism industries are exerting an increasingly benign influence on local environments following the emergence of 'sustainable tourism' in recent decades. Rather than preventing further destruction of the 'natural' world, or fostering the reproduction of 'natural' processes, this article argues that the tourist sector actively seeks to alter and manage local environments so as to ensure their continuing attractiveness to the high-paying tourists that seek out idyllic destinations. Additionally, by drawing on an example of tourism development, environmental change and local conflict in the Maldives, it shows how interventions by tourism managers can result in conflict with local people who, possessing different imaginaries, interests and priorities, may have their own, often long-established, uses of the environment undermined in the process. The article concludes that the growing diversity and increasing environmental awareness of tourists is currently producing a range of complexities and ambiguities that preclude any easy and straightforward environmental response by the sector, and ultimately might destabilise the Western-based tourist imaginary itself. 2 maintenance of the natural environment. The vitality that inheres in the non-human world, such as the dynamism of plants, animals and microbes, and the continuous transformation wrought by chemical and biological action, necessitates an endless endeavour to keep nature at bay (Graham and Thrift 2007). Wind blows sand into irregular piles, vegetation sprouts through cracks if left untended and seaweed washes up onto beaches. Thus, the production of a particular tourist imaginary of unspoilt and untouched landscapes requires the ongoing maintenance of non-human nature (Edensor 2001). Furthermore, the tendency is for notions of the natural in the tourist island imaginary to abstract people out of the scene or for only particular kinds of people, carrying out particular tasks, to be allowed entry, for the idea of the natural is often understood as one that does not include humans (Gordon 1997). Accordingly, this illusion, and the tourist desires for a deserted and unpeopled island that it sustains, also requires the incessant management and control of the movement of people into and through the landscape. This article explores how a tourist imaginary of pristine, isolated and unpeopled island landscapes requires ongoing and attentive management of space, which runs counter to the belief that tourism industries have exerted an increasingly benign influence on local environments following the emergence of 'sustainable tourism' in recent decades. Rather than preventing further destruction of the 'natural' world, or fostering the reproduction of 'natural' processes, the tourist sector can actively seek to alter and manage local environments so as to ensure their continuing attractiveness to the highpaying tourists that seek out idyllic destinations. While forms of tourism are diverse and tourists seek different kinds of experiences, this article focuses primarily on high-end tourism in small tropical islands. As we argue, imaginaries of deserted, paradisal islands are invoked by an industry intent on commodifying landscapes to produce a specific 'touristic nature' that becomes dislocated and abstracted from other natures. Highlighting this multiplicity of natures, this article focuses on how interventions by tourism managers often result in conflict with local people who, possessing different
doi:10.1177/0308518x16685884 fatcat:kr4xq44ytzhu5bfpac75dcxwxy