Despite the many potential benefits of adventure tourism, it does not always succeed to improve the livelihoods of the local communities. Marx (2011) criticizes “In many cases CBT projects have failed to deliver financial viability due to lack of trade-off between costs and revenues, commercially unsustainable products, and weak market linkages, hence weak market demand.” Sometimes adventure tourism can even have negative effects on the host communities. The main issue that tourism researchers have been debating is the possibility of culture loss as tourism may erode and transform the traditional lifestyle of indigenous communities.
In a case study about the land diving ritual naghol as practiced by the Sa speaking peoples in the island of South Pentecost, Vanuatu, Cheer et al. (2013) assessed the effects of tourism on the traditional culture and the tensions it created in the community when kastom (a framework that defines traditional culture) was commercialized. “Land diving, or naghol, nagol, nangol or gol, is the customary property of the Sa (…). Its demonstration is built around outwardly death-defying feats, seemingly with scant regard to self-preservation and reverence for a practice from a primordial past. Testament to its enduring appeal is ‘bungy-jumping’; arguably a derivative of the naghol” (Kellett, 2010, cited in Cheer et al., 2013, p.436).
Cater and Cater (2007a, cited in Wang & Cater, 2015) note that power relationships play an important role in community-based tourism as they can generate significant effects, which result in a lack of benefit sharing (Wang & Cater, 2015). Often times only a few privileged individuals benefit from tourism because they do already have a powerful position and network, better language skills or the financial backup. These stakeholders will often use their power to their own advantage, which then leads to tensions between group members and key individuals. Cheer et al. (2013, p.437) clearly found that these tensions were also existent in South Pentecost: “Sahlins (2005) argues that big-men are adept at turning a trade to their advantage – often through exerting their influence as guardians, leaders and pathfinders with scant regard for the wider constituency. Consequently, standoffs between big-men and their constituents prevail, given the complexities and disjunctures inherent in the monetisation of traditional assets (Wearing & Wearing, 2006)”. Bainton (2010, in Cheer et al., 2013, p.436) supports this statement and goes even further:
“Of particular concern are modes of patriarchal authority underpinned by big-men common in the governance of traditionally owned assets, considered a hindrance to enabling gains from being more widely shared and invested in enduring legacy initiatives.”
The question is not only how the proceeds of the naghol (or other traditional customs) should ideally be shared among community members or if its touristic display is beneficial to the community at all, but also who is to decide over its commercialization in the first place. “During the 1990s, Chiefs expressed antipathy toward the naghol’s utilisation for tourism, arguing that the wider community had received little of lasting value (Douglas, 1996). Since then, two persistent questions remain unanswered. Firstly, to what extent has the commercialisation of the naghol left an enduring and widespread legacy and secondly, who is entitled to preside over the terms of its utilisation?
Forsyth (2012) argues that tourism heightens tensions centered on how traditional culture is deployed, especially where it is linked to critical livelihoods” (Cheer et al., 2013, p.437). “Traditional culture underpinned by values, beliefs, ideas and knowledge systems (Daskon & Binns, 2010, p.497) rather than culture itself, emphasises the specificity of kastom to the naghol discourse” (Cheer et al., 2013, p.437). However, the tensions centered on power relationships, profits and culture management can also be expected in other community-based tourism settings where traditional culture is to be commercialized. Cheer et al. (2013, p.435) conclude that “Reconciling the nature of naghol commercialisation and overcoming the constraints of traditional patriarchal authorities (‘big-men’) and an entrenched tourism industry network is critical if widespread benefit and lasting legacies for the ‘grassroots’ are to be realised”.
Parallels can be drawn to the study conducted by Wang & Cater (2015) that examined the livelihoods of the Taomi community in Thailand. Conflicts about the financial distribution of the proceeds ceased after the installation of a community fund to which “ecotourism operators would donate from 5% to 10% of their income”. This had a positive impact as more community members were able to benefit from the ecotourism proceeds.