Cultural tourism began to be recognized as a distinct product category in the late 1970s when tourism marketers and tourism researchers realized that some people traveled specifically to gain a deeper understanding of the culture or heritage of a destination (Tighe, 1986). In most regions of the world, particularly in Europe and North America, cultural attractions have become important in the development of tourism. At the global level, cultural attractions are usually perceived as being icons of important streams of global culture (Richards, 2001). Unfortunately, in developing countries, in which much of the earth's magnificent heritage is located, the preservation of this heritage turns out to be very difficult because there are many challenges in the developing world that often thwart conservation objectives.
Deeply rooted in its culture and resolutely opened to the world, Mali has witnessed a considerable increase in the development of tourism in the last ten to fifteen years. The country hosts a number of authentic attractions making Mali a “sanctuary of African culture” (an expression used by “OMATHO”, the Malian tourism board). Most visitors come to the country to see its rich and diversified cultural attractions among which the Dogon Country, home of one of the few ethnic groups in Africa that succeeded to preserve their rich cultural heritage from outside influence. Today, tourism has become a major source of income for the country and the Dogon communities, living in a very difficult environment, have found in tourism a major tool of economic development (see table 1 in Appendix 3).
Today Dogon art has become famous and is particularly sought-after by collectors who offer generous prices for it. However, in Dogon communities, where traditional religious beliefs are partly expressed through masked dances and festivals, dances and masks bear a ritual meaning and the Dogon area is confronted to a cultural loss illustrated by the illicit trade of their cultural artifacts and the loss of value of their traditions and beliefs: “tourism has become a major factor in the artwork leakage” in the Dogon area, (Shackley, M. (2001) Managing Sacred sites: service provision and visitor experience, p.43).
The goal of this study is to analyze the issue of tourism and its impact on the Dogon culture, discover the causes of the cultural changes affecting the Dogons today and understand whether they are the outcome of tourism development or the result of the normal evolution of the Dogon communities as they open themselves to the global community.
This thesis is divided in five chapters and four appendices. A brief description of each chapter will be given in Chapter 1.