Amish Tourism Developing Sustainable Models Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

) They are, in the popular imagination, a peaceful people who spend their time going to church and making preserves, while the rest of us lost our spiritual way, got jobs moving paper around, became obsessed with buying stuff, and watched our families fall apart. (Issenberg, 2004, p. 40).

Today, tourism is second only to agriculture as Pennsylvania's leading industry and Lancaster County accounts for $1.6 billion of the state's $20.5 billion in annual tourism revenue (Goodno, 2004). While the tourism industry in Lancaster County is booming, many observers suggest that unless something is done soon, the Amish will have significant problems in being able to sustain their way of life - and the burgeoning tourism industry -- in the future. Although the Amish are not unique in being reclusive (Paige & Littrell, 2002), they remain the most important tourism element in this region of the country. For example, in his study, "Garden Spot: Lancaster County, the Old Order Amish, and the Selling of Rural America," Friesen (2003) emphasizes that, "The Amish are the primary drawing card in Lancaster County, since their way of life is so vividly represented as a sacred symbol of America's past. The lure of witnessing the rural America of the past in action draws millions of tourists to Lancaster County each year, causing no end of traffic problems as well as interfering with the daily lives of the Amish" (emphasis added) (p. 274).

In this environment, identifying sustainable models for current levels of tourism has assumed new relevance and importance, especially since all signs indicate that this industry is going to continue to grow in the future (Ivanko, 2001). To this end, Walbert (2002) maintains that if such rural communities are going to survive as a vital part of the nation's landscape, there are going to need to be some fundamental changes made that may be beyond the ability of the Amish because of their reclusive nature. For instance, Walbert recommends that people from rural and urban areas need to be brought into closer contact: "City folks should visit country folks and vice versa on a deeper level than tourism allows. Community residents should also buy locally-made goods so they can get to know their neighbors better. Evidently improved understanding between these groups will result in harmonious living and contribute towards the perpetuation of the rural way of life" (cited in Friesen, 2003 at p. 274). History has shown time and again, though, that increased contact between divergent peoples can also lead to trouble. For instance, according to Goodno (2004), "Tourism typically helps local economics, but the benefits come at a price. Construction may degrade the environment. Tourism jobs frequently pay less than disappearing jobs in mines or lumber mills, and housing costs rise as outsiders, particularly affluent outsiders, discover the beauty of place" (p. 16). Even the reclusive Amish are not exempt from these forces (Kemper, 2006). In this regard, Walle (1998) emphasizes that, "In situations where marketers want to generate public relations, people who are ill at ease with publicity may be underserved or hurt by aggressive marketing and promotional activities.... One only has to think of host cultures of tourism such as the Amish to see how important it can be to limit or tightly control the promotion that outside marketers use in order to attract tourists" (p. 117).

Even some of the ordinary and apparently innocuous things that other Americans simply take for granted represent threats to the Amish and their simple way of life. For example, in his essay, "Plain Reservations: Amish and Mennonite Views of Media and Computers," Kraybill emphasizes that, "The Plain People of North America worry that mass media and the internet will ruin their souls and lead to the demolition of their communities. Old Order Amish and Mennonite groups have consistently banned access to many forms of media, old and new, in the hopes of preserving their collective soul" (p. 99). Likewise, as Stodolska and Livengood (2006) note, "The Amish remain largely isolated from the mainstream American society. They seek to pass along their religious beliefs and a way of life to their children. The Amish have also denied the entrance of secularism, or the mainstream American way of life, into their communities. In order to do so, they follow a specific set of rules called the Ordnung, which regulates and restricts aspects of life such as dress, behavior, and modern technology" (p. 293).

Given this mindset, it is little wonder that the Amish community in Lancaster County finds itself confronted with a very real dilemma in terms of maintaining and promoting a growing tourism industry that can help them survive while avoiding the contaminating elements of American society in the process. In this regard, Kraybill emphasizes that, "Drawing lines in the social sand between themselves and the larger society, these groups believe that the values purveyed by the new communication technologies will contaminate their culture and lead to its demise" (1998, p. 100). There is also the question of tourism capacity; after all, as expansive as it is, Lancaster County appears to already be or approaching critical mass and if people are not able to visit a location easily, they may simply change their minds and go to Disneyland instead. According to Tooman (1997), "Once thresholds of capacity begin to be approached or exceeded, then the visitor experience and tourist industry become potentially less viable, resulting in the inability to sustain growth or even in declining rates of growth" (p. 917). Clearly, infrastructure development and tourist-focused amenities are important considerations in crafting sustainable tourism models that require careful analysis of what can reasonably be expected compared to what a community wants to accomplish. As defined by Forsyth (1997), sustainable tourism refers to "the improved social and environmental impact of all forms of tourism including mass tourism" (p. 270). In this regard, Tooman advises, "Carrying capacity is therefore a significant concern requiring planning and management of growth and resource allocation so that the negative aspects of tourism can be minimized while the economic, social, and natural health [of the destination] can be maintained" (1997, p. 917).

In response to these threats to the integrity of their community, the Amish in Lancaster County have created an "Amish-land theme park" of sorts that features representative samplings of Amish architecture, furnishings, dress and mannerisms to provide tourists with plenty of opportunities to spend their money without even coming into close contact with an actual Amish community. According to Boissevain (1996), "A cordon sanitaire of more than six hundred tourist attractions -- ranging from shops, museums, bus tours and pretzel factories to artificial homesteads -- keep the fifteen thousand Amish inhabitants in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from being overrun by some five million annual visitors intent on photographing their archaic clothing and horse-drawn carriages and visiting their farms" (p. 13). This approach is highly congruent with Walle (1998) who advises, "Promotion is not a controllable variable to be employed at the whim of the marketer; instead, strategies should be forged in consultation with the host culture, and they should not be dictated by marketers from outside organizations who are dedicated to short-term profits" (p. 117).


The research showed that while the Mennonite Church has spread its message of faith, piety and a simple lifestyle all over the world, a large number of Amish have settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in what has become known as the "Garden Spot." The research also showed that the Amish are reaping an enormous windfall from a growing tourism industry that shows no signs of tapering off in the future. Indeed, long-term sustainability is the key, but is remains unclear whether the "theme park" approach developed that provides tourists with a "separate but equal" and perhaps watered-down version of their culture that has been developed by the Amish will provide such a sustainable model for the future.


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