School of Creative


BA(Hons) Arts Management

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Chinatown – cultural preservation vs cultural tourism: Are they a dichotomy?

In recent years, there has been an increase in cultural tourism due to globalisation, economic growth and increased accessibility to resources both online and offline. Thus, multicultural countries such as Singapore capitalise on marketing their ethnic enclaves by highlighting culture-specific aspects of each district as racial commodities to attract tourists and boost the economy. In Chinatown, Singapore’s largest heritage district, tourism agencies play on the elements that tourists would immediately associate with Chinese culture. However, these associations could potentially lead to the promotion of cultural stereotypes. This raises the question of whether Singapore’s efforts in attracting cultural tourists could have an adverse effect on the authenticity of the heritage elements promoted, or whether the government has been able to balance cultural tourism with heritage preservation of its local identity. Using the case study of Chinatown, this research aims to explore the potential discrepancies between the international portrayal of Chinatown to cultural tourists and the authenticity of the local identity as perceived by the Singapore community and the tourists themselves.

Applying key conceptual frameworks such as 'sense of place', 'destination authenticity', 'the tourist gaze' and 'multicultural representation', this research looks at the perspectives of tourists, government institutions and private agents who play a role in the cultural interpretation and promotion of Chinatown. The data collected from the ethnographic study, interviews and focus group discussion provided insights into the perception and portrayal of Chinatown from these three distinct perspectives. This research then used triangulation analysis to identify the key disparities which include poor geographical wayfinding and differentiations in cultural representation.

From the analysis, this research reveals that there are currently gaps between what the government hopes to achieve through cultural tourism and what cultural tourists wish to experience. Moving forward, these insights could be used as a foundation to initiate conversations with relevant stakeholders including tourists and service providers in Chinatown to better understand their needs and to refine Singapore’s tourism strategies accordingly.

Keywords: Chinatown Singapore, cultural tourism, cultural preservation, heritage management

Subtopics: tourist perceptions of Chinatown, marketing and interpreting Chinatown, disparities between the portrayal and perception of Chinatown

Nikhita Ganesh

Nikhita Ganesh

Nikhita is an aspiring arts manager who is highly motivated and self-driven. She is exceptional in both interpersonal skills and organisational abilities. She is a firm believer in servant leadership and working alongside her team to achieve the best outcome possible for any project.

Work experience

Dec 2021 – present
The Arts House Limited
Venue stage manager

May 2021 – Oct 2021
Pangdemonium Theatre Company Limited
Production apprentice

Dec 2020 – Aug 2021
ARTWALK Little India
Overall team lead, administration IC and festival spokesperson

2017 – 2019
IGNITE! Music Festival
Festival secretariat