Exploring empowerment within the Gullah Geechee cultural heritage corridor: implications for heritage tourism development in the Lowcountry
While scholarship on the Gullah Geechee (GG) people has been extensive, little research has examined heritage tourism’s potential to empower or disempower the GG. In an attempt to shed light on this, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (GGCHC) was chosen as a case-study site because of its 2006 designation by Congress to protect and promote the unique attributes of the GG’s cultural heritage. Qualitative interviews were conducted to unearth how heritage tourism was psychologically, socially, politically and economically empowering or disempowering the GG. The interviews described heritage tourism as having both the potential to be a positive force for good, as well as destructive. Specific positive examples of empowerment discussed were increased pride in being GG, tourism providing opportunities for community members to come together around certain initiatives such as the Sweetgrass Basket Festival, tourism being a ‘carrot’ to clear heirs’ property issues, and the many economic opportunities associated with tourism in the Lowcountry. One example of disempowerment which transcended all four dimensions of empowerment was the claim that frauds were posing as GGs and attempting to benefit from the current renaissance surrounding the culture. Implications to the marketing and management of Lowcountry heritage tourism are discussed.