Sustaining Local Food Cultures and Identities in Malaysia with the Disruptive Power of Tourism and Social Media

Sally Everett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Measured by both the number of arrivals and revenues, the direct and indirect contribution of the travel, tourism and hospitality industry has grown exponentially over the past two decades, interrupted only by the coronavirus pandemic, and accounted for over 10% of global GDP in 2019. Tourism is the third biggest contributor to Malaysia’s economy, and food tourism is a major aspect of this; many people travel for a taste of a place. Much of the massification of tourism in Malaysia has been driven by large-scale corporate interests—both Asian and Western—who control key services such as airlines, cruise ships, travel agencies, tour companies, accommodation, and food and beverage outlets. This poses a danger of squeezing local providers out of the lucrative tourism market, including producers of traditional foods. In this context, consumer-generated media are widely recognised as powerful vehicles for destination and sector-specific marketing. They are challenging and disrupting traditional approaches to tourism promotion. Given that access to social media and the internet is relatively inexpensive, are they empowering tools for small-scale local providers to compete in tourism markets? This chapter examines social media’s role in the development of the Malaysian tourism sector, and its relationship with local food cultures and projections of identity. The discussion draws on concepts of ‘creative resistance’ and the ‘transcendence of third spaces’ to situate local producers servicing tourism. It then presents findings from a study of small-scale food providers, coupled with an analysis of websites/blogs/social media platforms which draws out qualitative data from tourists and producers. The data help to establish how social media are being used to transcend core/peripheral spaces. The analysis shows that strengthening product marketing—and creating ‘digital capital’—is a potentially useful way for local food producers to benefit from consumer-driven tourism and sustain local identities and ways of life. In doing so, social media can help disrupt powerful, hegemonic economic forces and globalisation associated with mass tourism.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAsia in Transition
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media Deutschland GmbH
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameAsia in Transition
ISSN (Print)2364-8252
ISSN (Electronic)2364-8260


  • Creative resistance
  • Food culture
  • Identity
  • Malaysia
  • Social media
  • Tourism


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