Authenticity and tourism in Kazakhstan: neo-nomadic culture in the post-Soviet era
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The country of Kazakhstan is not a well-known tourism destination, either globally or within Central Asia. Although the number of inbound tourists remains relatively small, the country possesses numerous tourism attractions based on its past Soviet times, nomadic culture and a variety of unique landscapes. As heritage is intrinsically a contested phenomenon subject to visitors’ interpretations, the concept of authenticity applied to Kazakhstani cultural heritage has become particularly relevant to the specialists of cultural and sustainable tourism development in the country. Whereas the tourism industry tends to provide its own definitions of the traditional or typical, it is therefore important to gain an understanding of tourists’ perceptions of authenticity of objects and experiences, as well as to understand how Kazakhstani tourism attractions and destinations are constructed and marketed by the private and public sectors. This PhD research investigates the perception of authenticity in Kazakhstani tourism practices through the lenses of visitors, community members, policymakers and tourism developers involved in the development of eco-cultural tours. The thesis adopts an explorative/interpretive qualitative method. The fieldwork takes place in Almaty, Karaganda and Astana cities where policymakers and tourism developers are interviewed. Two embedded case studies in Central and South Kazakhstan serve as sources of empirical evidence to interview visitors and community members and evaluate how various stakeholders’ perceptions of authenticity allow higher levels of cultural-heritage penetration. Multiple sources of data include semi-structured interviews with groups of experts in nomadic culture, government officials, international and local visitors, local home-stay providers and tourism operators. Using a grounded theory methodology, the thesis introduces the conceptual theory of transnomadic authenticity by constructing relationships among four major themes: ‘the characteristics of the tourism experience’, ‘the destination context’, ‘global travelling trends and mobilities’ and ‘visitor profiles’. By advancing theoretical understandings of the role authenticity plays in visitors’ access to cultural heritage, the thesis provides a rich and broad context to comprehend how the model of transnomadic authenticity can be used in visitors’ perception of travelling destinations. The thesis explores new directions in which to apply the concept of authenticity in eco-cultural tourism and makes important contributions to current debates in the authenticity literature about various stakeholders’ perceptions of authenticity. The thesis specifically details what attributes of the performative aspects of the tourism experiences authenticated by tourism suppliers and made available to visitors are influencing the host–guest relationship. The study underpins the managerial implications of the process of commodification of Kazakhstani cultural heritage by detailing various stakeholders’ authentication positions regarding topics identified as being important sources of authentic tourism experiences for visitors. This PhD research examines in particular the role authenticity plays in the planning and development of Kazakhstani tourism and local community participation and empowerment. The research also makes a practical contribution to literature associated with the incorporation of the notion of authenticity in future tourism products and experiences and their marketing to potential visitors.