Race, Discourse and the Cultural Economy of Neoliberal New York:An Analysis of Online Tourist Reviews of Harlem Heritage Tours

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Virginia Tech

This study is about how Harlem--an ethnically diverse community regarded by many as a primary site of the African American Experience--is represented in the online tourism domain. More specifically, it is about identifying loci of value in the content of online tourist reviews which contribute to a color-blind and politically sanitizing discourse about Harlem that reinforces a neoliberal understanding of Harlem as an underdeveloped economic frontier. Tourism has been identified by New York policy makers to be a way to generate revenue in culturally diverse, low-income areas, and especially in Harlem. In order for tourism to be successful, a neighborhood needs to be considered a place that can offer tourists a valuable experience. Online reviews, particularly those on social media sites, are becoming increasingly influential within the tourism industry because of their influence with consumers, who regularly consult them to guide purchasing decisions. This study examines online reviews of a prominent Harlem tourism company as a way to analyze the valuating discourse needed to keep tourists coming back to the community. What do reviewers find valuable during the tour? And what elements of the tour are responsible for producing value for tourists? These questions are investigated using a four-step qualitative approach to analyzing online tourist reviews on TripAdvisor.com posted about Harlem Heritage Tours.

Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Recreation