WP #40: Tourism and Leisure in Thailand

In “Tourism and Leisure in Thailand: Erik Cohen and Beyond”, Victor T. King, Professor of Universiti Brunei Darussalam critically reviews the concepts of ‘mobilities’ and Eurocentrism in in the context of Thai tourism.

Author: Victor T. King

Abstract: One of the major research interests in the study of development, culture and identity in Thailand during the past four decades has comprised the effects and processes involved in the development of international tourism and the globalization of leisure. More recently attention has also been paid to the importance of domestic tourism in Thailand and the wider Southeast Asia as economic growth has led to an expansion in the local middle classes and greater opportunities for leisure activities. Tourism in Thailand has tended to focus on selected sites along an axis which includes the northern hill or ‘tribal’ regions, Chiang Mai and its environs, the greater Bangkok metropolitan area, and several beach and island resorts in southern Thailand. The leading scholar in research in this field has been Erik Cohen. Not only has he contributed to the store of empirical material on Thailand on a wide range of tourism-related subjects, but also to an important series of theoretical debates in the sociological-anthropological study of tourism. These debates examine the appropriate concepts to be deployed in understanding tourism and the transformations which it has set in motion. In tourism studies, there are several key ideas which have preoccupied researchers, many of them in relation to Thailand: cultural ‘touristification’ and commoditization; imaging and representation; staging and authenticity; identity and ethnicity; host-guest relations; mediation and tour guides; trajectories of change; sequential typologies; and the tourist gaze. A most recent set of discussions generated by Erik Cohen and Scott Cohen has considered the utility of the sociological concept of ‘mobilities’ and the problem of Eurocentrism in understanding local-level touristic encounters. The paper will critically review these concepts in a changing Thai tourism context.

Keywords: tourism, mobilities, encounters, Erik Cohen, Thailand

About the Author: Victor T. King is Professor of Borneo Studies, Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam; Emeritus Professor at the University of Leeds; Professorial Research Associate, School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London); Occasional Visiting Professor, Chiang Mai University, Thailand. He has long-standing interests in the sociology and anthropology of Southeast Asia, ranging over such diverse fields as social and cultural change, development, tourism and heritage, ethnicity and identity, multidisciplinary regional studies, and museum and photographic studies. Among his recent publications are an edited book, UNESCO in Southeast Asia: World Heritage Sites in Comparative Perspective (2016, NIAS Press), and co-edited books on Tourism and Monarchy in Southeast Asia (2016, Cambridge Scholars Publishing), Tourism and Ethnodevelopment: Inclusion, Empowerment and Self-determination (2018, Routledge) and Tourism in East and Southeast Asia (2018, Routledge).

Contact: victor.king@ubd.edu.bn

IAS Working Paper Editorial Committee:
Professor Lian Kwen Fee (kwenfee.lian@ubd.edu.bn)
Assistant Professor Merlin F. Franco (merlin.francis@ubd.edu.bn)

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