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  • Writer's pictureJosé-Carlos García-Rosell

What role do our senses and bodily movements play in co-creating animal-based tourism experiences?

When we talk about tourism experiences, it is crucial to understand how tourists engage with different actors like staff members, locals, animals, and nature to co-create those experiences at a specific time and place. Co-creation involves tourists’ emotional, affective, and embodied engagement with the setting they're experiencing. Look at it this way: tourism experiences are embodied activities where tourists engage physically and emotionally with the places they visit. This becomes particularly emphasized in animal-based tourism, where tourists' practices are deeply influenced by their encounters with animals, highlighting the complex interplay of human and animal agencies in shaping the overall tourism experience.


Photo by José-Carlos. García-Rosell


Even when performances are guided or coordinated, they are never completely set in stone. Tourists are not just passive participants following a script; they shape the experience through their sayings and doings. This opens up space for the tourist agency, which can even push back against the script of tourist places. When we talk about nature-based tourism up in the Arctic, guides play a huge role in ensuring the successful performance of tourists. Their actions are based on embodied knowledge, that is, the knowledge gained through direct sensory and physical experiences. Embodied knowledge helps guides navigate everything from weather conditions to equipment and safety concerns. For instance, by reading the terrain, and snow conditions, and picking out spots for breaks and sightseeing, a guide can enhance the potential for creating memorable nature-based experiences. Embodied knowledge becomes even more relevant when animals participate in the co-creation of nature-based experiences, as exemplified in activities such as dog sledding.


Dog sledding as an adventurous embodied practice


As a performed tourism experience, a husky safari comes into existence by seamlessly blending various elements associated with dog sledding: from the tangible objects like snow, ice, sleds, and kennel facilities to different kinds of bodily movements like the trip to the kennel, driving instructions, the walk towards the dog sleds and the dense choreography of mushing. Within this immersive experience, husky safari participants find themselves in close proximity to fellow tourists, guides, and huskies. These shared movements and connections foster intimate relational dynamics, generating an affective atmosphere between humans and non-humans.


Photo by an anonymous tour guide.


The case of dog sledding illustrates well how the co-creation of animal-based tourism experiences requires a wide variety of bodily skills and the use of different senses. As a choreography, dog sledding performances are guided by both guides and animals. Dogs, as non-human actors, have powerful agency in creating the affectivities of the experience. In their agency, the familiarity of pet dogs and the unfamiliarity of working animals is a discrepancy that carries strong affectivity.


These ideas and thoughts were originally published in the chapter "Understanding performativity and embodied tourism experiences in animal-based tourism in the Arctic" co-authored with Minni Haanpää and included in The Routledge Handbook of Tourism Experience Management and Marketing (2020) edited by Saurabh Kumar Dixit. Read more and find interesting literature on the topic by clicking the links.

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