Sightseers and vacationers flood Amish communities every summer
Amish get a lot of attention from non-Amish America, with communities like Lancaster County and Holmes County, Ohio seeing millions of tourists yearly. Tourists bring clogged roads and often unwanted attention. They also bring dollars.
One would think that the Amish would universally dislike the avalanche of visitors to their communities. In fact, there are varying opinions among Amish on the tourist industry.
Drawbacks of Amish tourism
Amish see minuses in tourism. In the Lancaster County settlement in particular, roads are busy with traffic under normal circumstances, and the tourist season only amplifies the congestion. Amish dislike being treated as exhibits, to be photographed and stared at by city dwellers.
Tourists sometimes cross bounds, even trespassing on school property, prompting some Amish schools to display No Trespassing signs. Some Amish businesses post “No Photos” or “No Tourists” signs. Amish in certain settlements must adjust to “the world” invading their lives in the form of tourism.
Tourism brings benefits
At the same time, Amish benefit from tourism. Tourist traffic means more money flowing into the local economy. This benefits Amish businesses, as well as non-Amish businesses who sell their products.
Some Amish even run tourist-oriented businesses in towns such as Intercourse in Lancaster County and Berlin in Holmes County, Ohio. Quilt makers, food sellers, and furniture makers benefit from tourist interest in their communities. Tourism is a big draw, and Amish rightly recognize that the good comes with the bad.
It has been noted by scholars that all the outside attention can even have a positive effect on Amish society, strengthening the Amish sense of identity. Visitors marvel at Amish ways and may by their questions point out favorable aspects of Amish society that Amish might take for granted. In this way Amish may gain a greater appreciation for their own way of living.
Typical tourist activities
There are numerous tourist activities in places like Shipshewana, Indiana, or Lancaster County. Many communities feature exhibits that outsiders can visit in order to get a simulated feel for Amish life. These include Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana, and The Amish Farm and House near Lancaster city.
Buggy rides and tours are another popular tourist pastime. Patrons typically ride in an oversized buggy, often guided by an Amish person, who shares information on Amish life. Such tours often include stops at Amish farms and homes, a touch of authenticity and often an opportunity to purchase Amish-produced goods.
Some venues, such as Menno-Hof in Shipshewana, Indiana, and The Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center at Berlin, Ohio, seek to provide an educational experience to visitors, and place emphasis on explaining Anabaptist beliefs and history.
Amish participate in some tourist businesses
As mentioned above, some Amish themselves participate in tourist activities. Some Amish in communities such as Arthur, Illinois and Lancaster County offer an opportunity to visit an Amish home for a meal, and in some cases even to stay overnight. Such activities are geared towards giving outsiders a taste of the Amish lifestyle. Authenticity is valued by many visitors, thus actual Amish involvement is a plus.
Other businesses specifically cater to the tourist trade, such as roadside stands selling a variety of goods, from root beer to produce to homemade baskets. Certain businesses, such as quilt shops, produce goods primarily for the tourist industry. One Amish-operated business even offers horse-drawn tours of an exotic animal farm located among the dairies of rural Ohio.
Amish tourism: a double-edged sword
At first look, it may seem as if Amish would be against tourism in their communities. In some of the more conservative, off-the-beaten-path communities, this may well be the case. But in the larger communities especially, Amish participate (to varying degrees) in tourism, and draw economic and other benefits from it.
When asking Amish for their opinions on tourism, the response you hear from a given person often varies depending on the individual’s occupation. A farmer, for example, is less likely to view tourism favorably, compared to a business owner producing products for the tourist market.
As with so many other issues in Amish society, there is a variety of opinions held by the Amish themselves on the subject of tourism. Regardless, it is incorrect to say that tourism is necessarily “bad” or “good” for the Amish. Tourism has its benefits and drawbacks.
Amish tourism is a relatively recent phenomenon, arising in the early-to-mid 20th century. Amish have adapted to attention from the tourist industry as they have adapted to numerous other challenges and changes over several centuries of existence in Europe and America.
For further information, see:
The Amish in the American Imagination, David Weaver-Zercher
“Heritage versus History: Amish Tourism in Two Ohio Towns”, Susan Biesecker, The Amish and the Media, eds. Diane Zimmerman Umble and David L. Weaver-Zercher