The Impacts & Benefits of Tourism: Greening an Industry (Part 2)

In November 2020 when we first officially launched The Sustainable Switch, our owner, Saige Friedman wrote a series on the impacts and benefits of tourism for Canadian adventure company Peak Adventure. These articles will now be available via our website and Peak Adventure’s Journal. Part 2 focuses on the socio-cultural aspects associated with tourism and the overall industry.

Socio-Cultural Aspects of Tourism 

Understanding the socio-cultural effects that tourism can have is integral to providing adequate sustainable management to the tourism industry. This refers to the impact that direct and indirect contact with tourists and the tourism industry have on host communities. There are positive impacts of tourism, demonstrating benefits to the local community and the tourists, but there are also a number of negative impacts that occur without proper forethought and implementation. Some common socio-cultural benefits associated with tourism include:

  1. Preservation of local culture & heritage
  2. Strengthening of local communities
  3. Provision of social services
  4. Improvements to infrastructure
  5. Commercialization of culture & art
  6. Revitalization of customs, art forms & heritage

It is the local culture that tourists are often attracted to. For instance, tourists will visit Italy to admire classic pieces of art and taste authentic Italian food or go to Brazil to experience the Rio Carnival (see Figure 1). This encourages the preservation of culture. Tourism can also be a catalyst for strengthening local communities. Events and festivals that encourage the participation of local residents and spectators are often rejuvenated and developed in response to interest from tourists. One example is the Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain (see Figure 2). A festival is a historical event for the area that has long attracted tourists, including infamous writer Ernest Hemingway, who was a huge fan of the event, even writing about it in The Sun Also Rises. However, over the past few decades, there has been much debate from both Spaniards and tourists, about the continuation of the festival, as many feel the running of the bulls involves animal cruelty, while others argue it is an integral element of Spain’s culture. 

Figure 1 – Streets during Rio Carnival (Canva) / Figure 2 – Running of the Bulls in Spain

Unfortunately, there are a significant number of socio-cultural costs to host communities. These consist of issues relating to social change, changing values, an increase in crime, gambling problems with the tourist-host relationship, and the destruction of heritage. 

Socio-Cultural Impacts of Tourism

Social Change

Social change refers to changes in the way society acts or behaves. Unfortunately, there are many undesirable impacts that can result from tourism, and many examples where local populations have been altered due to tourism. This change may be in the way they speak or dress or maybe the introduction of alcohol or drugs through the tourism industry, or locals may have just become resentful of the wealthy tourists that surround them, and have turned to crime. 

Globalization & Loss of Authenticity 

Globalization refers to the way in which the world is becoming increasingly more interconnected; we are losing our individuality to become more of one global entity. Globalization is inevitable in many industries, but particularly so in tourism. This is because it is based on interactions between hosts and the tourists who come from all over the world. Typically, those interacting individuals will have differing geographic and cultural backgrounds. Interactions such as these can be positive, encouraging us to be more alike on a global scale.

There are definitely both positives and negatives of globalization’s entrenchment in tourism. For instance, do you want to use an authentic squat toilet while you’re in Asia? Or would you rather have access to a Westernized toilet? Do you want to struggle to order food or find directions because you don’t speak the local language? Or are you pleased to find numerous people who speak English? When travelling, many tourists want to experience a sense of familiarity rather than authenticity. 

Figure 3 – Squat Toilet

Providing authentic experiences for tourists can be positive and negative like anything else; the positive impacts relate to the preservation of the host community’s culture and heritage and provides allowances for tourists to experience a new culture and learn about their traditions. Alternatively, this can have severe negative influences, as it undermines the host community’s culture, uniqueness, and the value of the experience for both the community and the tourist. As well, staged authenticity is not sustainable in the long term. A common example of staged authenticity is the shows put on by resorts, showcasing the area’s culture through costumes and dance. More often than not, these are not an accurate representation of the present culture of the community outside of the resort.

A loss of authenticity could also be related to the standardization and commercialization that occurs in tourism destinations. This occurs in the process of satisfying tourists’ desires for familiar facilities and experiences. While they may be on the other side of the globe, tourists often look for recognizable institutions in an unfamiliar environment, like fast-food restaurants or hotel chains (see Figure 4). 

Figure 4 – Japan McDonald’s

Tourist-Host Relationships

Culture clashes can occur due to the fundamental differences in culture between the locals of the host community and the tourists. There is likely to be economic inequality between locals and tourists who are spending more money than they usually do at home. This can cause tension and resentment from the locals towards the tourists, especially when they flaunt their wealth with expensive items that the locals cannot afford. To further this divide, tourists often (whether intentionally or not) fail to respect local customs, traditions and morals. A little education can go a long way in this regard, but unfortunately, many travellers are unaware of the negative socio-cultural impacts their actions or words may have. 

Figure 5 – Miscommunication

Crime & Gambling

Unfortunately, the growth of mass tourism is often accompanied by increased crime. The presence of a large number of tourists with money to spend, often carrying valuables (e.g., jewelry, cash, passports), increases the attraction for thieves such as pickpockets (see Figure 6).

While tourism is not the cause of sexual exploitation by any means, it does provide easy access to it (e.g., prostitution, sex tourism), and can be attributed to the rise in the number of sex workers in a given area. Gambling is also a common occurrence in tourist destinations. The growth of casinos and other gambling facilities can encourage tourists and the local population to part with their cash.

Figure 6 – Pick Pockets

This concludes the second part of the Greening an Industry series. Make sure to come back tomorrow to read part 3, in which the environmental aspects of tourism will be explored.

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