It is very likely an understatement to say that this book provides an “interesting” collection of chapters, yet this is probably the best way to sum up, in one word, a somewhat eclectic collection where the common theme is not always obvious. Nevertheless, the editor should be congratulated for bringing together such a large number of contributors to produce a well-written book. This is perhaps the absolute strength of the book—the fact that it has been possible to draw together 24 international academics, researchers, and industry professionals to produce 14 high-quality chapters. The book is divided into 5 broad sections, each containing chapters written by established tourism and recreation researchers. Although the style and quality of writing is high throughout, the language is not particularly accessible, especially to readers whose first language is not English. This is a fact worth noting, given that most of the case studies are from non-English speaking parts of the world. The frequent use of academic jargon and concepts also makes the book difficult to access for those who do not have an advanced understanding of tourism and recreation research.
The theoretical and conceptual approach taken in many contributions may be one possible reason why these chapters are not easy to digest. I would have preferred a much more concerted effort to structure them around empirical research, as this could have broadened the book's appeal to include professionals and managers in the tourism and heritage interpretation industry, rather than focusing exclusively on an academic audience.
Although I have some reservations as to the relevance of several topics addressed in the book, I can nevertheless see how these chapters contribute to its overall theme of strange experiences and stranger practices. In order to give potential readers with a specific interest in mountain areas a better understanding of these criticisms, I have focused specifically on the first and fourth sections of the book: “The edge of tourism,” and “Tourism for the poor, the old and humankind.”
The first section focuses on tourist experiences that are available only to a very small and elite group of travelers—for instance, space tourism (Laing and Crouch), Antarctic travel (Splettsoesser et al), and skilled commercial adventure (Buckley). It would have been interesting to see a more comprehensive investigation into experiences and motivations of tourists who have been able to access these forms of travel, since this could have stimulated innovation within related, but less exclusive tourism activities. This is particularly true for Buckley's contribution on skilled commercial adventure, which focuses on the type of adventure tourism that has a specific relevance to mountain regions: white-water kayaking, skiing, snowboarding, climbing, and exploration. The chapter provides an interesting discussion of how this type of tourism can assist in the development of local tourism. One example describes how tour operators in Nepal have added whitewater rafting to their traditional trekking and mountaineering products. Buckley highlights some of the continuing tensions that have emerged as a result of these developments in relation to indigenous societies and the preservation of their specific cultural heritage.
Singh, Chauhan and Singh develop this issue further in their chapter entitled “Tourism trespasses on the Himalayan heritage.” Examining the presence of tourism in the Kulu Valley in the Indian Himalaya, they argue that the gradual opening up of communities that were previously isolated from the outside world and Western influences in particular, is rapidly eroding the natural and social capital that had attracted tourists in the first place. The authors discuss the needs for community involvement and ownership of development processes, using the example of the so-called hermit village of Malana to illustrate how a small mountain community is thus far managing to benefit from tourism whilst retaining its distinct cultural heritage. One of the questions raised in this chapter is whether or not tourism can ever become anything but a vehicle for Westernization.
The fourth section covers the growing topic of pro-poor tourism and is of great relevance to many communities in mountain regions, particularly in the developing world. The chapter on “Volunteer tourism: New pilgrimages to the Himalayas” by Singh and Singh relates to some of the issues raised in the chapter mentioned above, looking at how developments in tourism can have a negative impact on the socioeconomic and cultural heritage in the Himalayas. However, the tone and focus of this chapter is much more positive as it examines two volunteer tourism case studies: the Krishna Temple Society's Ananda Project and the Rural Organization for Social Elevation (ROSE; formerly Kormanchal Seva Sansthan or KSS) project. Whilst both projects are reported as a success for locals as well as visitors, the authors note that insufficient understanding of the context through people, place, and processes has led to a certain degree of incompatibility between volunteers and hosts. Arguably this is because the role of interpretation in providing access to remote parts of our global heritage is merely hinted at and not properly discussed or applied. However, this is a criticism that applies to the entire book and not just to this particular chapter.
In conclusion, I would recommend this book as a reference work to anyone with an interest in the development of niche tourism markets in mountain regions.