The Price on Our Practices: Motivation and Cultural Commodification in the Mongolian Tourism Industry

Joseph C. Recupero, Gettysburg College


Mongolia, a country as rich in culture as it is in natural resources, is beginning the process of diversifying its economy beyond the mining sector. This process is opening the door to new industries such as tourism, and more specifically, culture-based tourism. The development of such an industry often leads to a phenomenon known as cultural commodification, by which local communities and peoples alter and sell cultural practices and experiences to tourists in return for a profit. Economically, the marketing of cultural practices is beneficial to local communities within Mongolia, but this conclusion is often drawn without considering other implications of a growing tourism industry. Through the methodology of participant observation and interviews of 20 individuals in Khuvsgul, Bayan-Olgii, and Ulaanbaatar, this study attempts to understand the motivations for developing the Mongolian tourism industry and the effects of this development on local peoples who participate in the industry. The participant observation research was conducted among two community groups, the Tsaatan reindeer herders of Northern Khuvsgul and the Kazakh eagle-hunters of Bayan-Olgii. The Mongolian tourism industry is in its infancy, and therefore presents the ideal climate for research and obtaining results that could influence future decisions pertaining to tourism within the country, both at the national and local levels. The research and analysis allowed for the drawing of four sub-conclusions, which contributed to the greater understanding of the Mongolian tourism industries development and effects on local communities. These sub-conclusions include the ideas of misunderstandings of tourism development, systematic unawareness of community-based tourism initiatives and their development, the multi-motivational reasoning for the development of community-based ethnic tourism, and the effects of cultural commodification on perceptions of authenticity of cultural practices.

This paper was written for the Mongolia: Geopolitics and the Environment program.