20 Nov 2002


Copysites: Tourist Attractions in the Age of their Architectural Reproducibility
by Bauer Bernhard & Canestrini Duccio
Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 16 December  2018

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In this article we focus on those tangible assets that have been copied and imitated for reasons that are linked to tourism. What we call copysites are the replicas of places, buildings and sites that attract visitors interested in cultural heritage (tangible and intangible) and leisure activities, such as, entertainment, shopping, gastronomy etc. We analyse characteristic cases and acknowledge that the creation of copysites has different backgrounds: commercial interests, artistic and aesthetic motives, entertainment reasons, the joy to reproduce forms of success, preservation of the original sites, among others. We focus on who is content with visiting copies of monuments, sculptures, cities or ‘fakelore’ performances. On the basis of our examples we explain how far the principle of visiting replicated sites can be a success formula and why it seems so important for many tourists to see, check-in and tick-off activities and destinations, even if they are ‘almost authentic’.


Humanity has never travelled so much as in recent years. In 2030 UNWTO predicts international tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion thanks to the rise of emerging economies (2012). Every summer we are expected to go on holiday, take paid vacations, leave home and play tourist. As we need tangible evidence of our tourism activity, it is considered appropriate to bring home souvenirs as trophies of our travels (Canestrini, 2004, 2001). In David Lodge´s novel Paradise News (1991) the tourism anthropologist Roger Sheldrake, who never goes on holiday, is writing his first book about ‘tourism and the myth of paradise.’ His theoretical approach is that ‘people are not really enjoying themselves when they go on holiday, but engaging in a superstitious ritual’ (p. 62). In this article we occasionally refer to Sheldrake´s theory on the basis of copysites.[1] 

We call copysites replicas or imitations of certain monuments or groups of buildings of outstanding universal value that have received global fame through the tourism and marketing industry. Too often such copysites are pejoratively stigmatised as fake buildings and downgraded to be visited by thoughtless tourists who are sight-seeing at the ‘wrong’ spots. The present article studies various kinds of copysites as tourist attractions in the light of the following three hypotheses: i) historical tourist spots are neither pure nor immutable; ii) tourism is performance; and iii) copysites are inherently a business driven idea. Society, travel habits and motivations as well as destination marketing have undergone significant change and development in the last decades. Thus, we deem it relevant to analyse the mentioned hypotheses, in part related to Cohen´s (1988) assumptions, from a contemporary point of view informed by rather recently created attractions as case studies. 

Concerning the first hypothesis, we analyse the fact that tourist ‘originals’ undergo constant change. The dynamic processes that are combined with the commodification of assets are further linked to adaptations for our modern consumption and digital communication society. It has become difficult for travellers to distinguish between an authentic site and a copysite, moreover, travelers have different needs and expectations of a certain destination, and so it is delicate to argue whether it is ‘better’ to visit one or the other. 

The article is based on the assumption that tourism and its corresponding industries are performances (Canestrini, 2003; Edensor, 2001; MacCannell, 1976). People go on compulsory holidays, travellers are collecting destinations and ‘ticking off’ sights from their must-travel list and the behaviour as a tourist has become routine for those who can afford to travel. MacCannell observed that ‘the term “tourist” is increasingly used as a derisive label for someone who seems content with his obviously inauthentic experiences’ (1973, p. 592). In addition to this, we argue that tourists are not constantly hunting for the ultimate authentic real world, as other scholars have pointed out (Brown, 1996; Ritzer & Liska, 1997). They might rather be “collectively gazing” as Urry emphasises (1990), or carry with them a certain inability to have authentic experiences (Cohen, 1988). There are many tourist types (Cohen, 1979) and various reasons why visitors are enjoying seemingly superficial emotions, ‘fakelore’ performances or obvious replicas. The chosen examples describe cases of different justifications for the motivations of visitors. 

Regarding the contested, yet highly relevant concept of authenticity in tourism related research we adopt Wang´s (1999, 2000) identification of the three dominant and different approaches to understanding authenticity, which are ‘objective’, ‘constructed’ and ‘existential’. While the latter is ‘activity-related’, the others are ‘object-related’. He observed that tourism is an ‘industry of authenticity’ (2000, p. 71) where the actively-related form of existential authenticity becomes a commodity. What Wang defined as ‘toured objects’ can be compared with the here used term of copysites which are ‘totally inauthentic’ but the ‘existential version is a justifiable alternative source for authentic experiences in tourism’ (1999, p. 365). With the presentation of several examples, this article argues about the justification for the construction of copysites as well as the justification of tourists visiting them. 

In our opinion, copysites are commercially driven business activities. Moreover, they are plainly beneficial for the destinations where they were constructed and we intend to contribute to the de-stigmatising such places. We also deal with the controversial issue of commodification of culture in its positive and negative aspects (Bauer, 2016). Certainly, the de-contextualisation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage is rooted in terms of an anthropological critical approach, while from a practical point of view the advantages of ‘duplitecture’ are undeniable for destinations and its visitors. 

We use terms such as ‘tourism product’ and ‘commodity’ when we write about cultural elements, which have been or are in process of being transformed, hence commodified, into consumable and saleable products (Gotham, 2007). In this context we apply Bourdieu´s concept of symbolic goods - these ‘(…) are a two-faced reality, a commodity and a symbolic object. Their specifically cultural value and their commercial value remain relatively independent, although the economic sanction may come to reinforce their cultural consecration’ (1993, p. 113). On the one hand, art is produced according to a logic, which is heteronomous with respect to the logic of economic profit. If produced for commercial success it is discordant with the dominant logic of arts. On the other hand, its production is autonomous with respect to the economic field and therefore created for enhancing symbolic capital or prestige. This is valued and its success is determined by the approval of other autonomous cultural producers (p. 39). Appadurai (1986) deals with the significance of such commodities in their socio-cultural contextualisation and in particular with the emergence of their significance for the relation among individuals and groups regarding consumption. 

With reference to the social structure of tourism sites, MacCannell (1973) following Goffman (1959) distinguishes between front and back regions of certain destinations. The front region is defined as ‘the meeting place of host and guest’ and presumed a ‘show’ while the back region is a space where only locals have access to and thus defines an ‘intimate’ and ‘real’ part of social life at a destination. In light of Goffman´s distinction we argue that copysites and their social spaces are primarily a front region of an alien destination.[2]

Copysites and their architectural reproducibility

When we speak about copysites and try to understand their meaning we might first need to recognise where they come from. In terms of monumental tourist attractions copysites immanently arise from original sites. Such sites of outstanding universal relevance (statuary works, buildings, edifices and architectonical structures) have a historical value and so they recall and represent historical processes. Throughout history original sites have often been subject to change in different manners including visible architectonical modifications (inside or outside), alterations to their initial purpose, adaptations, misunderstandings, political manipulations, modernisations (be it electricity or security measures, access for disabled persons, elevators, etc.), or simply through a process of decay due to missing commitment or financial funds. Therefore, original sites cannot be defined as undiluted or pure forms that have always remained in the same ‘original’ state. They are dynamic structures that are adapted to human longings and needs throughout history.

In relation to historical or modern original sites: we could allege that the Taj Mahal is a copy of an older mausoleum somewhere in India and the Burj Khalifa is a copy of the Empire State Building. Copies and imitations of monumental sites have always existed. Today´s remnants of ancient Roman temples and theatres have been copied in early times both from Etruscan and Greek examples. New erections of architectonical buildings have been trying to imitate others. With slight or profound alterations this turned out to be the evolution of architecture and keeps evolving until today: there will always be a higher skyscraper, somewhere, which quotes a ‘twin.’

Some copies have in the meantime become originals in their own right like Michelangelo´s David in Florence. The biblical figure of David has been sculptured by many artists (Donatello 1440, Verrocchio 1475, Bernini 1623) but the one by Michelangelo Buonarroti, finished in 1504 is aesthetically said to be the most beautiful artwork and hence more famous than others (although it is criticised that his right hand is slightly larger and not perfectly proportional to the rest of the body). After having spent almost 400 years in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, David was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia in 1872. Weather and animals contributed to the material degradation of the fragile white marble and conservationists wanted to have him protected with a roof above his head. Thanks to this action the Galleria has become the second most visited museum in Florence in the last decades. In 1910 a replica was erected at the exact former position in Piazza della Signoria. In 1911 another replica of David (in bronze) was put in Piazzale Michelangelo. Today, these replica statues are more commonly visited and photographed than the real David in the museum. They have become almost originals. In this case we actually have a rare example of a historical commodification of cultural heritage. Nobody would regard those copies as fake Davids.

Both concepts, the original and the replica, have been defined and discussed from different points of view across various academic disciplines. We could list numerous conceptual categories and definitions that have been published by scholars in fields such as philosophy (Baudrillard, 1983), semiotics (Eco, 1986), history of art (Schwartz, 1996), social sciences (Benjamin, 1936, Bourdieu, 1993), just to name a few. Each of these disciplines give a contribution to our understanding of what is an original, a copy, a fake, a mimicry, a simulacrum and duplitechture.

In addition to these points of view of academic disciplines, there are cultural differences across the world in the understanding of what is an original and what is a copy. For example, in her book Original Copies, Bosker (2013) discusses the proliferation of copysites in China and claims this to be related to the Chinese concept of replica, which is different from Western perspectives. Bosker argues that in China a well made replica is considered appropriate and trustworthy, as opposed to less valuable than the original. Moreover, according to Fong (1962), there are four different understandings of a replica: mu means ‘to trace’ and heads after an exact replica (also regarding the replication of ruins); lin is the term for a copy or a looser replica; fang means ‘to imitate’ and can be an adaption of an original to the context; tsao means ‘to invent’, the original serves as an inspiration to the final work. In China, copied objects are understood as originals if they are ‘created to bring an old style and maintain the spirit into the new’ (Wang and Rowlands, 2017, p. 264). In the European context, copies definitely have lost the aura of the uniqueness of an original piece of art (Benjamin, 1936).

When we speak about copysites we also need to take into account the legal aspect of copyrights. While there are no royalties to pay when the historic town of Hallstatt is copied in China or the Eiffel Tower is reproduced in Las Vegas, sites replicated as miniature souvenirs or depicted on postcards are subject to intellectual property rights. For example, paintings, photographs, books, movies and music are normally subject to royalties if they are reproduced and sold on the market. Wang and Rowlands (2017) state that the missing idea of the ‘fake’ in Chinese art and heritage during the imperial era has resulted in a contradiction in the contemporary discourse of intellectual property rights in the global and Chinese context. A copyright is the ‘legally protected entitlement of individuals or groups to control and to profit from the circulation, duplication, and sale of their creative work’ (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2009, p. 33). Wong (2013) as well as de Kloet and Chow (2017) did research on the concept of duplicating art work in Dafen village, China. The local painters regard their work rather as performing an act of adaptation (‘fang’) and innovation (‘tsao’) instead of ‘copying’ western Masterpieces of Van Gogh, Warhol, and others. Wang and Rowlands argue that in China ‘practices have blurred the boundary between fake and authentic in the arts world’ (2017, p. 265). The question of ‘who owns native culture’ is posed by Brown (2003, 1998) in two different ways. There are, on the one side, those who protect intellectual property with laws, rights, and decrees such as the World Intellectual Property Organization or UNESCO with its Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, among many others. On the other side, however, are those who maintain that culture is ‘inherently public, organic, unbounded, and therefore cannot be reduced to private property, individual or collective’ (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2009, p. 30). The copyrighting of culture is according to the Comaroffs a rather modern mechanism of ethno-commodification.

Justifications for copysites

Copysites are not just created for replicating or imitating an original site. Each copysite has its specific justification and is used in various ways, not merely for tourism. This is exemplified in the following cases. The common rationale for copysites, though, is making profitable business. It is an attempt to reproduce alien cultural heritage at another destination or in another country. Making copysites is a successful model in times where ‘culture means big business’ (Bauer, 2016). Often, copysites pop up at destinations that need to reinvent themselves in order to stay attractive in the competitive global tourism market. At such destinations, copysites take up the role of an Ersatzkultur. Sometimes, these are places which lack historical developed tangible and intangible assets of global success and are thus dependent on importing and re-creating attractions that have proven to be successful in their original settings. As an example, the iconic nature of the Eiffel Tower, whether in Paris, Las Vegas or Shenzhen, attracts visitors anywhere due to its recognisability and popularity. The same is valid for the intangible heritage of the Münchner Oktoberfest and its many copies around the world, such as ‘Wiener Wiesn’ in Vienna, ‘Hofbrauhaus’ in Las Vegas, ‘Oktoberfest Namibia’ in Windhoek. These examples suggest that once a cultural heritage asset has been commodified successfully in terms of business development, it is often subject to being re-produced somewhere else and in a different context.

According to Lanfant (1995), once a cultural element is transformed into a tourist product, its cultural value is also transformed into a commercial value, a process which stimulates the reinvention of the past (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983). Rather than being a reclamation of the past, many elements of heritage and tourism work as new forms of cultural production - a kind of value-added industry (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 1998). The cultural value is usually framed in everyday life as profound, transcendent, creative, intrinsic, while the economic or commercial value is framed as superficial, repetitive, instrumental, calculative: one is supposed to be good, the other is consequently bad (Smith, 1988). Copysites are those reproductions of cultural elements that already have been commodified containing the commercial value only.

There are various definitions and uses of the term commodification in the social sciences. For example, Gotham (2007, p. 10) proposes a definition which is suitable for this research, and which sees commodification as a transformation of local cultural elements into consumable and saleable products (commodities), which are traded and sold for profitable exchange. In this sense, we apply the capitalist approach which assumes that anything that can be priced (tangible or intangible) can be sold, purchased, and consumed. As such, culture can be understood as a commodity, too (Burns and Novelli, 2006).

In their book Ethnicity Inc. the Comaroffs (2009, p. 28) stress that the constant ‘shift in the production of value from the material to the immaterial’ through the trading and sale of intellectual property, identity, experiences, and so-called modes of self-production also indicates the fact that commerce ‘exceeds the sale of goods and services.’ Moreover, it is not just culture (with its traditions and expressions) that is increasingly commodified but that its commodity ‘is being rendered explicitly cultural’ - so the production and the consumption are focused on the intangible product of the experience. This means that the ‘difference between marketing and consuming, and between living and buying is becoming smaller and smaller’ (Comaroff and Comaroff, 2009, p. 28). In a similar vein, Tunbridge and Ashworth (1996) have analysed that the past is used as a resource and is increasingly being reshaped into a heritage commodity that serves present-day demands.

The commodification of culture for tourism purposes often coincides with a social and cultural influence, which certainly has to be differentiated in types of tourism and range of impact (Greenwood, 1977, 1989). Scholars of tourism-related topics have frequently ‘begun their studies with a notion of tourism as something that is inherently “bad”, due to the cultural degradation it is claimed to cause’ (Shepherd, 2002, p. 183). Other exasperating consequences are false interpretations or low respect for local cultural values by visitors, transformation of local environments, etc. which are in conflict with the values and lifestyles of the local population.

Tourists themselves cannot be made responsible for displeasing impacts on the environment or congested city centres peppered with souvenir shops generating annoyance to the locals. Tourists follow their instinct of consuming related services and experiencing something new – and the local businesses follow the tourist demand. Mass tourist flows need to be channelled, managed and organised with the purpose of keeping locals, tourists, and businesses catering to the visitors satisfied.

Some copysites seem to fulfil beneficial preconditions because they are planned for being visited by high numbers of tourists. The sites can be described as comfortable places: all necessary direct tourist services such as restaurants, toilets, souvenir shops, site information, entertainment facilities, etc. are easily accessible. Potential disputes with the local population are rare since the chances for immediate contact are rather low. The sites tend to unload and relieve the congested original settings and generally appear as safe environments. Moreover, through the commercial character they attract investment within the value-chain, create jobs and awareness of the place through enhanced site promotion. The user-friendliness of copysites applies to intangible heritage assets as well. Cultural performances and shows that are fee-based reproductions of spectacles usually take place in neat and safe environments during theme-based events or in other business driven celebratory occasions.

For example, our fictitious, yet credible, protagonist Roger Sheldrake is alarmed about the carrying-capacity at tourist destinations. Original sites, where mass tourist flows are poorly organised, are often confronted with such issues: ‘In 1987 they had to close Venice one day because it was full. In 1963 forty-four people went down the Colorado river on a raft, now there are a thousand trips a day.’ (Lodge, 1991, p. 63). Historical cities like Florence and Barcelona have become victims of their own success, such that it is even suggested to put replicas of the cathedrals like Santa Maria del Fiore or Sagrada Família next to the airports (Canestrini, 2016, 2015). We can observe the issue of carrying-capacity as a worst-case scenario in the Venetian lagoon. The city authorities of Venice are hardly capable of keeping the masses off the islands or on the designated tourist paths – not even when the city is flooded and visitors are supposed to walk on improvised runways. Recently, Venice has been called the ‘Disneyland on the sea’ (Horowitz, 2017) where visitors need to put on their ‘pollution masks’ (Friedrich, 2017) due to the harmful toxic air pumped out by the world´s largest cruise liners – though its mayor condemned this comparison and imputation. But in reality, Venice would need more of such negative press coverage so as to reduce the masses.

Venice´s sister city in Las Vegas does not contribute to lower the visitor numbers in Italy. The US copysite offers its gamblers blue sky and carnival for 365 days a year, never-ending shopping facilities in imitations of Doge-style palazzi, singing Gondoliere on crystal clear waterways and the finest restaurants – flooding excluded. The replica gives the imagination of the perfect city and even fosters the will to travel to real Venice – but the original is quite different. This effect already happened to Umberto Eco (1986) after having visited Disneyland. He had the feeling that the imitations do not merely reproduce reality, but try improving on it.

Venice, perhaps the most copied place in the world, has become a brand and a commercial trend not just since the Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas opened in 1999. In the United Arab Emirates soon the project ‘Floating Venice’ will be realised. In 2020 a hotel complex with 414 luxury suites will be finished 4km off the coast of Dubai. The resort is supposed to spread the flair of Venice on floating platforms with rooms above and below sea level. The project does not aim at replicating Venice in detail but only takes its concept as a floating city (MacEwan, 2017). The same happens at the ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi’, a museum city on the Arabian gulf, which is not intended as a copy of the building complex of the Louvre of Paris. Louvre Abu Dhabi simply replicates the concept of the museum as a place where visitors can see and experience art galleries with exhibitions ranging from prehistoric artefacts to contemporary artwork. The term Louvre has become such a global synonym for excellence, preservation and exhibition of art that it is commodified as a brand.

The following case of a real-estate development that turned out to be an accidental replica represents a reverse process in which a UNESCO world heritage site ultimately became famous through its clone: Austria´s town Hallstatt, tucked away in the Salzkammergut mountains on Lake Hallstatt with about 800 inhabitants. The almost exact copy of the town (church, mountains and lake included) was constructed in Luoyangzhen, province of Guangdong by the mining company China Minmetals as a real-estate investment for private apartments and office space. There was hardly any intention of creating an attraction for visitors. In 2011, the mayor of Hallstatt coincidentally learned about the Chinese copy when it was almost finished. While scepticism ruled at the beginning, he was quick to realise that this replication would have a positive effect on tourism for his own town. The opening ceremony of the complex took place a year later, during which the mayor of Hallstatt signed an agreement of cultural exchange and a traditionally dressed Alpine brass band accompanied the Chinese investors walking through the newly paved main square decorated with both typical Austrian flowers and untypical palm trees.

Retrospectively, the Chinese copysite can be seen as an ‘appetizer’ for the UNESCO world heritage site in Austria, and indeed, since 2012 the numbers of visitors have been rising continuously in Hallstatt. Annually there are up to 700,000 tourists visiting the town – this means an average of 1,800 tourists a day hopping on and off the buses, arriving mainly from China, Japan, Korea and Thailand[3]. Due to increased overcrowding, Hallstatt has recently been thinking about a policy of limiting the daily entrances and has already implemented a ‘no drone zone’ (Müller, 2018). Locals have lamented about the increased air traffic and danger of drones taking pictures from above or flying pass their picturesque bathroom, kitchen and bedroom windows (Lanz, 2017) The information signs, showing a crossed-out drone, further urge the visitors to show respect to the people living in Hallstatt, keep off private property and use waste bins properly. The initiative was launched by the association of citizens for Hallstatt (‘Bürgerliste Hallstatt’) which turned into a local political party getting 28% of the votes in the local council elections in 2015 at first go.

When our protagonist Sheldrake in David Lodge´s novel is asked what he actually wants to achieve with his research, the man who never goes on holiday immediately responds: ‘to save the world’ because ‘tourism is wearing out the planet.’ He is worried about the conservation of buildings: ‘The frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are being damaged by the breath and body-heat of spectators. A hundred and eight people enter Notre Dame every minute: their feet are eroding the floor and the buses that bring them there are rotting the stonework with exhaust fumes’ (Lodge, 1991, p. 63).

For us this sounds like one good reason for justifying copysites: they can contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage. In this context, we discuss three examples of exact heritage reproductions, which are not viewed as ‘alien’ due to their physical vicinity to the original site. The Lascaux caves with their 17,000 years old rock paintings have been closed to the public after fifteen years of exposure to the humidity, body heat and the breathed-out carbon dioxide produced by up to 1,200 visitors a day had threatened to ruin the site back in 1963. In 1983 Lascaux II was opened, the first of its kind as an exact replica of the cave at Dordogne, just about 200 metres next to the original. With more than 250,000 visitors a year it has become a tourist magnet which gave reason to the creation of a touring exhibition (Lascaux III) to North-America and Asia as well as the opening of the Centre International d´Art Pariétal – Lascaux IV in Montignac in 2016 (Connexion, 2017).

Similarly, the Chauvet cave, discovered in France in 1994, designated as UNESCO world heritage site in 2014, with rock paintings of an age of more than 30,000 years has never been open to the public. Every Palaeolithic brushstroke was perfectly reproduced thanks to advanced digital technology 3km away in a 51 million Euro visitor centre that was launched in 2015 (EC, 2016).

Our third example is the famous tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun, which had rested untouched for more than 3,000 years until it was uncovered by the British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. Although the tomb in the Valley of the Kings is still open to the public, an exact replica was unveiled in 2012 with the prime goal to protect the original. The probability that in the near future tourists will be only allowed to visit the replica is very high.

This step provides an outlook on the future of heritage sites in a broader sense. Replicas of fragile sites will become more common. Visitors are becoming more aware of the fact that their presence contributes to the physical degradation at such sites and need to be pleased with the conscience that copies are more sustainable. Based on the experience of the Lascaux caves, the versions two, three and four seem to have more success in terms of visitor numbers due to better accessibility and visibility than the originals ever had.

While tangible heritage sites have been immobile by their very nature, the touring exhibitions or the creation of copysites around the world contribute to the fact that tourists do not need to travel far or frequently. On the contrary, the sites become mobile and seemingly come to the tourists. This phenomenon is even more valid in our modern society which is increasingly based on digital technology. Online 3D museums which are virtually visitable on electronic devices are a further outlook into the creation of copysites of the future and the visitor experiences associated with them.

Justifications for visitors at copysites

We deem it important to state that not every tourist is looking for the ‘real authentic’ experience when visiting a certain destination. It often depends on the opportunity whether an original or a copysite is visited. Just as there seems to be a different reason for the creation of each copysite there are several personal justifications for visitors who are interested in experiencing tangible or intangible replicas. MacCannell has rightly observed that with the global rise of mass tourism the term tourist itself slithered into a crisis and slowly got marked with a pejorative connotation. Etymologically a tourist is someone who goes on a trip and returns to his place of residence. Today, tourists often return also to the same holiday destination and enjoy the vacation as a matter of routine. Consequently, it has become difficult for travellers to have ‘authentic’ experiences at the same destination every year. Besides, it has become even more difficult to understand what is ‘authentic’. Recalling Wang´s discussion about existential authenticity, our arguments are in line with the findings that tourists mainly ‘seek their own authentic selves’ and that whether the visited copysites are authentic is ‘less relevant’ (1999, p. 366).

Travel motivations can be manifold, in our opinion there is no archetypal tourist such as a ‘visitor in a hurry who prefers monuments to human beings’ who is concerned with ‘the impressions that countries or human beings leave with (him or her), not the countries or the people themselves’ as described by Todorov (1994). Ted Silberberg (1995) tries to categorise visitors with his explanation of the different degrees of consumer motivation for cultural tourism. Cohen (1979) argues that there are a range of tourist types seeking varying degrees of authenticity in their travels, while some are motivated by the desire to escape and to engage with the authentic, this is not the case for all tourists (1988). Urry (1990) further distinguishes between the various types of ‘gazing’ tourists. With the following examples we try to disentangle the dichotomy between the often cited ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the ‘profound’ and ‘superficial’ visitor, the ‘educated’ traveler and the ‘stupid’ tourist as this kind of classification is discussed by Urbain (1991) and Boorstin (1961), among others.

The Chateau Lafitte Hotel, situated in Beijing, China, represents an ‘authentic’ French Winery and satisfies all visitor expectations with great success. The multi-million dollar replica was realised by Chinese real-estate magnate Zhang Yucheng. The construction of the opulent structure was inspired by his personal fascination for French wine; about 2,000 bottles of France's finest are stocked in the private cellar of the residence. The original chateau was designed by French architect François Mansart in 1651 and is located in Maisons-Lafitte, a suburb northwest of Paris. While the chateau in China is obviously a copy, the wine is not. Here we are confronted with the fact that the copysite itself is not acknowledged as the main attraction and so its value of originality is less important. The Chinese visitors are interested in tasting top-wines – such culinary highlights have a better flavour in an ‘authentic’ ambience and as a result may likewise lead to an increased sale of wine.

As for intangible heritage, for instance, in New Orleans the so-called ‘Second Line’ performances, celebrated by Afro-Americans, are increasingly performed at hotel lobbies or congress centres for conventioneers. An authentic Second Line would typically take place on a Sunday afternoon when Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs are meandering through the backstreets of the city led by brass bands playing rhythmic up-beat songs and melodies roaring through the public spaces. The club and the band (the first line) are followed by hundreds of residents of the different neighbourhoods (the second line) participating at the street parade. For the entertainment of tourists, though, they are taken off the streets and are reproduced at places where the spectators feel more comfortable (Sakakeeny, 2013). In such staged events the first line remains, the visitors are supposed to substitute the second line.

Also the dance-driven parades of the local ‘Mardi Gras Indians’ (carried out by black performers masking Indian) with their colourful made-to-measure suits and tambourine guided chants, are continuously commodified within the borders of the tourist-centre of New Orleans. While their traditional events take place far off the commercial hotspot of the city the ‘fakelore’ reproductions are staged within a few blocks of the architectural heritage of the French Quarter. The tangible context of the heavily marketed Vieux Carré with its renovated and restored ironwork galleries and lace balconies are very important assets for visitors. The tourist-centred performances of Afro- and Native-American cultural heritage just feel more typical and authentic if you experience them in ‘original’ locations.

As mentioned previously, the provision of health and safety is an important characteristic for copysites since visitors pay attention to security and prefer places where they feel safe. For example, in New Orleans shootings happen regularly at the so-called Second Lines and parades of Mardi Gras Indians that are held somewhere in the backstreets of the Big Easy. Moreover, visitors do not have access to original sites: these Afro-American street-based parades often pop up on improvised occasions, are neither promoted outside the clubs and neighbourhoods nor are they seeking the participation of outsiders. The same happens with the famous jazz funerals – as a tourist it is hard to realise when someone has died for whom a special funeral is organised. The only possible way to participate is when one books a mock jazz funeral including a down-beat playing brass band, a black priest, an empty coffin and a crying widow woman. The question about access is even more complete at the French caves of Chauvet and Lascaux which are closed for the public.

Visitors at copysites are not always attracted by the tangible asset but value the intangible surrounding atmosphere and activities as well. For example, tourists at the Venetian lagoon in Las Vegas are mainly interested in gambling. At the crystal clear Canale Grande they just take their Mediterranean lunch and listen to Italian music. Chinese visitors at the copy-chateau Lafitte Maison are focused on tasting and purchasing French wine, the surrounding architecture just seems to fulfill the function of a nice backdrop. Conventioneers dancing at a mock jazz-funeral or staged second line at a conference hall in New Orleans might interpret the show as a felicitous relief. The city is promoting itself significantly with such parades so the visitors actually expect to make such an experience.

Destination marketing has a major impact on visitor motivation. The tourism authority of Cuba promotes its country with the slogan: Auténtica Cuba. The city of Vienna is doing marketing with the wording Wien hat Kultur (Vienna has culture). These two slogans implicate that there must be places that are not authentic or that do not have culture - are those destinations meant to be in-authentic or less worth visiting? Are we travelling to Cuba or Vienna because we are convinced that they “have culture” or are we visiting because the marketing slogans have convinced us that these destinations are worth to be visited since they must be more ‘original’?


There are arguments that we are somehow obliged to go on holidays where we pretend to be content with our inauthentic experiences, that tourism is performance and routine, that copysites are simply businesses and that originals might be replicas or vice versa: is there something true about Sheldrake´s concept that we are not enjoying ourselves when we play tourist?

The attractions of outstanding value (natural, cultural and intangible) remain the archetypes for the cultural tourists: those people for whom culture is an instrument of interpretation and pleasure for the ‘real’ testimonial of history. Often (but not always) this group of persons coincides with the ones that have the passion and financial resources for realising a travel that is motivated by a specific interest. So here we return to the origins of tourism: spiritual and cultural enrichment, intellectual growth, the shocking beauty of the original (combined with its decadence) and the sum of all experiences that tourism can give us. Should all this be reserved for those travellers who have enough time, money and the sufficient amount of cultural interest?

As travellers, visitors, guests and tourists, we tend to look for extraordinary places and experiences – and copysites sometimes come ‘closer to paradise’ than the reality if we recall the case of Venice and its Doppelgänger in Las Vegas or Eco´s observations (1986). At destinations promoting their replicas or staged performances the chance for disappointed visitors is less probable. These places are usually well-organised, catering to specific target groups, the necessary tourist services are present and the consumed experience is what the visitor expected to pay for. Copysites are an example of well-managed tourist places where commodification can show rather positive results. It is the tourism industry and its related businesses that give us the opportunity to visit copysites or enjoy fake performances by providing high quality services. Its visitors have different motivations, needs, interests or opportunities.

Roger Sheldrake´s girlfriend broke up their relationship. She said he ‘spoiled her holidays, analysing them all the time’ (Lodge, 1991, p. 133). In order to stay satisfied during our vacations we may just want to enjoy the moment even though we obviously might not have achieved the ultimate authentic experience.


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[1] Sheldrake´s arguments appear to come directly from Valene Smith (1977) Hosts and Guests, particularly the chapters by Greenwood „Culture by the pound“ and by Graburn “Tourism: The Sacred Journey”.
[2] The title of this article is influenced by the paper entitled ‘Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit’ by Walter Benjamin (1936). It is an essay of cultural criticism which proposes that the aura of a work of art is devalued by mechanical reproduction.
[3] Source: Statistik Austria 2018