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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sociology of Tourism

Introduction, general overviews.

  • Anthologies, Edited Collections, and Review Articles
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  • Contemporary Sociology of Tourism in the Post-truth Era

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Sociology of Tourism by Erdinç Çakmak LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022 LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0263

The sociology of tourism studies tourists’ relationships, roles, and motivations and the ongoing exchange among tourists, institutions, and host communities. Tourism cannot be treated in isolation since it embodies all tourism practices in a system they operate in. Thus, tourism is a complex sociocultural, economic, and political phenomenon and touches all levels of society. The investigation of tourism’s role in society, the tourism system’s effects on nature, tourism spaces, objects, practices, relationships, and the tourist typologies demand systematic sociological investigations. A researcher needs to consider the whole macro system through its members’ social, political, cultural, and economic interactions. In such a social context, both human and nonhuman actors continuously shape and reshape the tourism system, and the tourism system reshapes these actors’ values, attitudes, and behaviors. Researchers examining the sociology of tourism departed from several theoretical Perspectives , blended theory and method, and focused on sociological concepts to understand and explain the different aspects of tourism. This group of scholars has been working within the several cores of sociology (e.g., education, family, economy, development, religion, gender, language, migration, social inequalities, labor, art) and at the margins of emerging interdisciplinary formations, including those crossing many disciplines such as geography, anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, marketing, communication, women’s studies, history, and cultural studies. The sociology of tourism studies engendered transdisciplinary conversations both in academia and in practice, and the results of these studies have created pragmatic changes in tourism practices, habits, and governance.

Five scholars, judging from the Google Scholar citation counts of their critical works on the sociology of tourism, have contributed to the field in an original and pioneering way. These leading scholars’ abundant and consistent publications have provided the foundation for a sociological approach to tourism. They can be called the established leaders of the sociology of tourism, and are listed here alphabetically: Erik Cohen, Graham Dann, Marie-Françoise Lanfant, Dean MacCannell, and John Urry. Cohen 1972 opposed treating tourists as a homogenous mass and provided a heuristic tourist typology ranging from familiarity to strangeness. Later, Cohen 1984 classified tourism’s sociology into four main areas: tourist as a traveler, tourists’ relationships with hosts, the tourism system, and tourism impacts. MacCannell’s 1973 seminal article on staged authenticity spotlighted the relationship between tourism and (Western) modernity, which became an essential research agenda for the sociology of tourism in the last quarter of the twentieth century. MacCannell 1976 argued that alienated modern tourists are motivated by a quest for authenticity in their travels, but this quest is thwarted through a “staged authenticity” offered by host communities. Dann 1977 sought to answer the question “what makes tourists travel?” and employed the themes of anomie and collective representations in the sociology of tourism research. He combined anomie with status enhancement in a motivational study of tourists and provided the first empirical results of the presentation and profiles of anomic tourists. Besides this approach, Dann 1996 took a sociolinguistic approach and examined the promotional counterpart of tourist motivations in “the language of tourism” using semiotic analyses. Lanfant 1980 emphasized the international dimension of tourism. She argued that tourism is a “total social phenomenon” which challenges identity formation. Lanfant, et al. 1995 transcended the dichotomy between seeing tourism as either business or not business and suggested a novel approach reflecting the fundamental level of reality in tourism practice. Urry 1990 introduced Foucault’s concept of “gaze” into tourism discourse. Urry prioritized the visual sense of gaze and distinguished the tourist gaze as “romantic” and “collective” without concerning other Foucauldian issues of power and authority. By introducing the concept “gaze” into tourism, Urry made a crucial theoretical opening in the sociology of tourism, and other scholars followed him by focusing further on the body and other senses. Later in the decade, Urry 1999 proposed studying journeys, connections, and flows (both physical and virtual movements) as mobile theories and mobile methods and that this be placed at the top of the research agenda.

Cohen, E. 1972. Toward a sociology of international tourism. Social Research 39:64–82.

This article stresses the travel dimension of tourism and devises tourist typologies along a continuum from familiarity to strangeness. It emphasizes the differences among tourists and calls for further examination of their travel types’ attitudes, motivations, and behavior.

Cohen, E. 1984. The sociology of tourism: Approaches, issues, and findings. Annual Review of Sociology 10.1: 373–392.

DOI: 10.1146/annurev.so.10.080184.002105

This is a crucial academic text for understanding the classification of the sociology of tourism. Cohen classifies tourism into four main areas: tourists, their interaction with hosts, the tourism system, and tourism impacts. Following this article, scholars have given more attention to systematic empirical research in the field.

Dann, G. M. 1977. Anomie, ego-enhancement and tourism. Annals of Tourism Research 4.4: 184–194.

DOI: 10.1016/0160-7383(77)90037-8

This paper maintains that tourists’ anomie (i.e., absence of the general societal and ethical standards) needs to be investigated at the pre-travel level. This sociopsychological research is the first empirical research of tourists’ attitudes and behavior and it provides a firmer theoretical and empirical footing to the literature on tourist profiles.

Dann, G. M. 1996. The language of tourism: A sociolinguistic perspective . Wallingford, UK: CAB International.

This book analyzes the verbal framing of tourists’ experiences. Paradigms on social control, the tourist as a child, and the tourism media from the printed word to television screen have been brought together with semiotic analyses at a quality level.

Lanfant, M. F. 1980. Introduction: Tourism in the process of internationalisation. International Social Science Journal 32.1: 14–43.

This article captures the multipolarity of tourism as a particular form of consumption. The author provides insights into world tourism organizations and the role of international bodies and tour operators by using the methodological principles of systems analysis.

Lanfant, M. F., J. B. Allcock, and E. M. Bruner, eds. 1995. International tourism: Identity and change . London: SAGE.

This book offers a novel approach in examining how tourism transcends individual societies and has become an international fact. It emphasizes the necessity of understanding the local and global developments simultaneously. The volume argues that local social practices cannot be understood independently of the global, and that the global practices are never independent of the local setting in which they operate.

MacCannell, D. 1973. Staged authenticity: Arrangements of social space in tourist settings. American Journal of Sociology 79.3: 589–603.

DOI: 10.1086/225585

This academic article and the ensuing book have dominated the discussions in the sociology of tourism in the last quarter of the twentieth century. This study describes the alienation of Western tourists and their search for authentic experiences in other times and places while hosts modify a cultural practice for tourism.

MacCannell, D. 1976. The tourist: A new theory of the leisure class . New York: Schocken.

This is the most influential book in the sociology of tourism and it portrays the role of tourists in postindustrial society. Tourists seek meanings to their deepest longings and travel as pilgrims to the secular world, paying homage to various attractions that are symbols of modernity.

Urry, J. 1990. The tourist gaze: Leisure and travel in contemporary societies . London: SAGE.

This book takes a postmodernist perspective and describes the foundation of tourist behavior in the form of a tourist gaze. Here tourism becomes a performance and acts as a central element in the broad cultural changes in contemporary society.

Urry, J. 1999. Sociology beyond societies: Mobilities for the twenty-first century . London: Routledge.

In this book, Urry suggests the necessity of replacing the examination of society as the traditional basis of sociology from bounded clusters and objects of a region to networks and fluids in the borderless world. The book studies the physical and virtual movements of people, ideas, messages, money, and waste products across international borders.

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Sociology, tourism

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Whereas there is often an overlap between (the) sociology and anthropology of tourism , there is no gainsaying that arguably these two social science disciplines have contributed disproportionately more to the academic theorizing of tourism than economics , geography, history , political science , and psychology (Dann 2005 ). This theoretical predominance of anthropology and sociology is confirmed in a book edited by Nash ( 2007 ) which, from its very title, focuses on the “anthropological and sociological beginnings” of the study of tourism. This important volume comprises solicited offerings from the following representatives of (the) sociology of tourism : Erik Cohen, Graham Dann, Marie-Françoise Lanfant, Dean MacCannell, Michel Picard, and Pierre van den Berghe. These writers, who first made their mark in the 1970s, constitute some of the “golden oldies” in this field (Dann 2010 ).

Indeed such a designation is reflected in the contrast between their extensive Google Scholar citations and...

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Cohen, E. 1984 The Sociology of Tourism: Approaches, Issues and Findings. Annual Review of Sociology 10:373-392.

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Dann, G. 2000 Theoretical Advances in the Sociological Treatment of Tourism. In The International Handbook of Sociology, S. Quah and A. Sales, eds., pp.367-384. London: Sage.

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Dann, G. 2005 The Theoretical State of the Art in the Sociology and Anthropology of Tourism. Tourism Analysis 10:13-25.

Dann, G. 2010 Golden Oldies or Rising Stars: Whither Tourism Research? Études et Rapports (Studies and Reports), série L, no. 15. Aix-en-Provence: Centre International de Recherches at d’Études Touristiques.

Dann, G. 2011 Anglophone Hegemony in Tourism Studies. Enlightening Tourism: A Path-Making Journal 1(1):1-30.

Dann, G., and E. Cohen 1991 Sociology and Tourism. Annals of Tourism Research 18:155-169.

Dann, G., and G. Liebman Parrinello 2009 Setting the Scene. In The Sociology of Tourism: European Origins and Developments, G. Dann and G. Liebman Parrinello, eds., pp.1-63. Bingley: Emerald.

Jafari, J. 1985 The Tourist System: A Theoretical Approach to the Study of Tourism. Ann Arbor: University Microfilm International.

Nash, D., ed. 2007 The Study of Tourism: Anthropological and Sociological Beginnings. Oxford: Elsevier.

Sharpley, R. 1994 Tourism, Tourists and Society. Huntingdon: Elm.

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Dann, G.M.S. (2014). Sociology, tourism. In: Jafari, J., Xiao, H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Tourism. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-01669-6_183-1

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The ‘mobilities turn’ and the geography of tourism, unpacking business tourism mobilities in sub-saharan africa., issues of a sociology of tourism, tourism geographies, tourist studies and the turn towards mobilities, reconsidering the geography of tourism and contemporary mobility, trending questions (3).

Yes, there is extensive research on tourism as a social phenomenon, exploring tourists' relationships, roles, motivations, and interactions within sociocultural, economic, and political systems.

Sociology of tourism studies the complex sociocultural, economic, and political aspects of tourism, influencing development through understanding relationships, roles, motivations, and societal interactions within the tourism system.

The paper does not explicitly state why the sociology of tourism is important.

The Interrelationship of Tourism and Society

Sociology is the study of social structures and human connections. Sociology aims to explain how human activity and awareness are influenced by surrounding cultural and social systems by unifying the study of these disparate fields. Sharma (2021) claims that one of sociology’s specializations and subfields is tourism, which uses sociological ideas, methodologies, and frameworks. Models and theories may be explanatory, descriptive, or predictive. Tourist activity, social aspects of tourism, its effects, traveler motivation and role, and social, economic, and cultural repercussions in both the host and destination countries are a few topics covered in sociological studies of tourism.

Because it is “the phenomenon and interactions emerging from the engagement of tourists’ businesses suppliers, host governments, and host communities in recruiting and hosting these tourists and other visitors,” tourism may be referred to as “the whole of these phenomena and connections.” Sharma (2002). Domestic, foreign, and international tourism are the three sorts. A collection of individuals with a shared industrial, social, and economic infrastructure is referred to as a society (Andrew & Leopold,2013). Furthermore, they contend that civilisation creates social groupings and molds cultures. It permits control of how public facilities are distributed and fosters interpersonal harmony. According to the UN, sustainable tourism “addresses the demands of travelers, the industry, the environment, and host communities, taking full account of its present and future economic, social, and environmental implications.”

According to Apostolopoulos et al. (2013), tourism involves cross-cultural interaction between people from different nations and fosters peace and harmony. Tourism enhances communication between communities and adjacent countries by promoting cultural understanding, mutual respect, and peace. Tourists are aware of and appreciate the art, architecture, and other aspects that greatly influence them. This essay aims to show how tourism and society are interconnected by highlighting tourism’s many effects on society. The effects on culture, socioeconomics, environment, and economy include both sound and negative, direct and indirect effects. The essay also predicts how tourism and society will function in the future:

Economic Impacts of Tourism

Tourism’s direct and indirect economic consequences on society are both beneficial and destructive. The direct effects category represents the GDP produced by enterprises directly associated with the tourism sector. This includes travel agencies, hotels, tour operators, airlines, restaurants, and other businesses that serve tourists (WTTC 2019). The term “indirect effects” describes the results of the sector’s activities. Three factors affect them: Spending by companies in unrelated sectors on tourism-related assets like transportation and hotels is considered part of the tourism industry’s total capital investment. “Government spending on tourism” refers to federal, state, and municipal dollars spent boosting the travel and hospitality industries. Other tasks include management and guest services, as well as the promotion of tourism. Implications for the Supply Chain: This refers to the money companies spend in the tourism sector on domestic goods and services that will be utilised as raw materials to produce finished goods.

According to Sharma (2021), there are six key ways that tourism directly affects the more extensive economy: Employment Creation: When tourism-related activities result in jobs being created via a variety of channels, such as hotel personnel, tour guides, and chefs. Food and furnishings are examples of the services and goods that national or local firms may provide to the tourist industry (WTTC 2019). When domestic production falls short of meeting consumer demand in terms of price, quality, or quantity, imports may be necessary. Retailers in popular tourist destinations may reap the economic advantages of the influx of tourists right away via direct sales of products and services. Construction of Tourism Businesses: High levels of tourist activity encourage the development of new businesses and the creation of new jobs. Tax and Levy Generation: The local, federal, and state governments get more revenue from tourism-related enterprises paying taxes directly to the government and tourists paying taxes.Investment in Infrastructure – As the tourist industry grows, so will its demands on the local infrastructure, which drives infrastructure investment from the public or private sector.

However, the adverse economic effects include the following: In many cases, residents have to pay extra for transportation, meals, and other needs because of a sudden increase in demand caused by an influx of visitors. Owners of second homes in popular tourist areas sometimes only spend a fraction of the year there. Disputes between residents and tourists are common because of the rising cost of living brought on by the demand for vacation homes, which makes it harder for locals, especially young people, to buy their first homes (Apostolopoulos et al., 2013).

According to research, the sector globally supports (WTTC, 2019): 5 times the employment of the automobile industry; 5 times the number of employees in the worldwide chemical industry; four times the number of jobs in the mining sector; twice as the number of jobs in the communications sector; and fifteen more jobs than in the financial service sector. The main economic benefit of tourism-related activities is their contribution to the three top priorities of developing nations: employment, revenue creation, and foreign currency earnings. In this regard, tourism may significantly contribute to economic growth (Sparrowly Group, 2022).

Environmental Impacts

There are cases in which environmental change is sparked in part because of the positive impact tourism has on the local ecosystem. Several once-derelict factories and other locations in the United Kingdom have been renovated into tourist destinations (Fletcher, 2018). The tourist industry has also benefited from the revitalization of once-abandoned waterways. Historic buildings such as churches, castles, and cathedrals may be preserved for future generations with the help of tourism, which can help generate funding for restoration work on these sites.

However, several travel and tourist activities hurt the environment. Natural resources deplete when visitors use a lot of water and other resources in areas where such items are in short supply. Water Waste: Excessive Use of Water Caused by Tourist Attractions Like Swimming Pools, Garden Maintenance, and Individual Use. Local Resources: Increased tourism may increase the need for energy, food, and raw materials. According to the WTTC (2020), tourism may harm biodiversity by overfishing and trekking. Pollution: tourism may cause pollution by releasing air pollutants, solid waste, and wastewater. Noise & Air Pollution: As the number of tourists grows, the tourism industry’s role as a significant producer of pollutants increases. Based on data from 2005, the WTTC (2019) studied the effect of tourism on carbon emissions, and it was realized that the sector contributed almost 5% of all carbon emissions.

Social Impacts

People travel for many reasons, but one of the most common is to broaden their horizons by meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. “(Fletcher, 2018)” Improvements done with tourists in mind frequently result in a positive return on investment. No rule prevents locals from enjoying tourist spots that cater exclusively to visitors (Philipp, 2022). Travelers typically have a deeper appreciation for the culture of the places they visit. It has been shown that an increase in tourism has a positive effect on a region’s economic prosperity and educational level.

Negative social repercussions have been seen. Most of them involve problems between guests and the locals. These could develop due to the activities of residents who are upset about tourists intruding on their area. Local crimes increase, including robbery, prostitution, illicit gambling, and drug trafficking. Locals, in particular places, have been forced to leave their traditional homes to create room for tourist development. Seasonal work, or more accurately, unemployment, is another frequent problem (Philipp, 2022).

Cultural Impacts

Due to tourism, there may be a greater demand for regionally produced food and drink and an increased interest in preserving traditional arts like music. As a result of increased demand from tourists, several indigenous communities have begun producing and selling arts and crafts. To keep a place’s unique culture alive, tourist marketing is essential, says WTTC (2020). In recent years, concern has grown that rapid growth in mass tourism might damage local cultures. Instead of urging visitors to consume local dishes, giving them ethnic cuisine and beverages that they are used to is simpler. Staging of performances, such as Spanish dancing, in which the local culture is insulted or made fun of to attract visitors (WTTC 2020).

According to WTTC (2021), the tourism sector has to acknowledge that it produces a significant amount of carbon emissions and look into strategies to do so while preserving the mobility required for travel. Local tourist stakeholders must be aware of the threat they pose to protecting their original local surroundings and take action to ensure their activities are sustainable.

Future of Tourism and Society

According to Vintean (2019), international tourism is expected to expand rapidly by 2023. As of that year, there will have been 1.6 billion tourists from all around the world. With better transportation links, more people will visit the UK. According to the UN (2016), many factors will determine the future tourism business’s course. The increasing number of people on Earth, the expansion of international trade and travel, the emergence of affluent middle classes in emerging markets, the advent of low-cost airlines and their effect on consumer behaviour, and the development of new technologies that influence costs, travel times, and information dissemination are all factors to consider.

Longer flights are now possible with new aircraft technology while simultaneously reducing emissions, fuel consumption, and noise. According to Vintean (2019), Clouds in the sky include the availability and cost of energy, terrorist attacks, and political unrest worldwide. Buyers are starting to pay attention to carbon dioxide levels and environmental consequences. Companies of all sizes are beginning to understand the importance of environmental protection. This is often a result of public demand. The aviation industry, a significant contributor to carbon emissions, is under intense scrutiny.

According to United Nations, Some preventative measures that can be put in place for future development include using newer planes and greener technologies and allowing consumers to offset their emissions by donating to environmental causes. Because of the damage it does to the planet, flying can lose its appeal. Better fuel efficiency, carbon dioxide collection and storage, and alternative fuel mixes might benefit the aviation industry. As a means of mitigating their impact on the planet and becoming ready for a future with fewer resources, several industries advocate for eco-friendly and sustainable technologies.

Countless variables have an impact on the tourist industry. United Nations (2016) predicts cultural and social disruptions brought by the global crisis and mindful consumerism. The emphasis is no longer on the individual but on the group. In the wake of the Great Recession, prudent consumption has taken the place of frivolous spending. Consumers’ perceptions of brands and the values they represent are shifting. Plans include promoting mindful travel, i.e., keeping in mind the true purpose of travel, which is to familiarise oneself with the locals, form meaningful relationships with the landscape, and absorb as much of the history and culture of the place visited as one’s own pace allows (Legislation 2016).

In conclusion, there are four connected ways that tourism affects economies: positively and negatively, directly and indirectly. Direct effects come directly from tourism-related activities, such as tourist spending, employment in the industry, and taxes generated by these activities. The influence of tourism on other economic sectors, such as hotels buying products from shops or procuring food from growers, results in indirect effects. The economic impact of the tourist industry on a nation is determined by these effects and the sector’s organisational structure. The statistics on the direct and overall impacts of the tourist industry reveal considerable positive economic consequences, and the section demonstrates an apparent beneficial influence on growth by the sector. The favourable effects of tourism on employment are similar to those of growth.

Overall, the tourist industry supports a sizeable number of employees and performs well compared to other important industries like the extractive, financial, and car manufacturing sectors. Depending on the nation and how prevalent tourism is, its effects vary, but generally, it is a net contributor to employment. Compared to growth and employment, the impact of tourism on incomes is more challenging to measure, primarily because of the sparse data and the global scale. The data on how tourism affects growth and employment is sufficient to understand the “raw” effects of the industry. However, more information is needed on how the industry affects incomes, livelihoods, and poverty, making it more challenging to measure and track how it affects equality. Due to the scarcity of impact data, it is more challenging to accurately estimate tourism’s environmental effects. However, there needs to be more information on the industry’s other environmental effects, such as waste, deforestation, and land degradation. However, data indicates that tourism may have a negative environmental effect since GHG emissions rise when travel demand rises along with the sector’s demand.

Apostolopoulos, Y., Leivadi, S. and Yiannakis, A., 2013.  The sociology of tourism: Theoretical and empirical investigations . Routledge.

Fletcher, J., Fyall, A., Gilbert, D. and Wanhill, S., 2018. Tourism: Principles and Practice (6th Editio).  Harlow, England: Pearson .

Legislation.gov.uk. 2016. Equality Act 2010.

Miles, S. (2021). Consumer Culture. Oxford Bibliographies Online

Philipp, J., 2022. World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). In  Encyclopedia of Tourism Management and Marketing  (pp. 806-808). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Sharma, S. (2021). Introduction to tourism. New Delhi: SAGE Publications

Sparrowly Group. (2022). Tourism for all – Why accessible tourism matters.

United Nations. World Tourism Council. (2016)

United Nations. World Tourism Organisation. (n.d.b). Tourism in the 2030 agenda.

United Nations. World Tourism Organisation. (n.d.c). Sustainable development

Vintean, A. (2019). Tourism of the Future – An ongoing challenge. Studies in Business and Economics. 14. 258- 272. 10.2478/sbe-2019-0058

World Travel and Tourism Council (2021). Trending in Travel: Emerging consumer trends in travel and tourism in 2021 and beyond.

World Travel and Tourism Council, 2019. Travel and tourism economic impact.

World Travel and Tourism Council, 2020. Economic impact reports.

WTTC, 2020. Travel & Tourism: Global Economic Impact & Trends 2020.  World Travel & Tourism Council , pp.1-20.

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Sociology of Tourism

Profile image of DR ABUKHALIFEH ALAA

2022, in Encyclopedia of Tourism Management and Marketing Published: 25 Aug 2022

Smith, MacLeod and Robertson (2010, p. 156), define the sociology of tourism as ‘concerned with the relations between tourists as types, and the structuring, function and consequences of the tourist system in general’. It has been argued that tourism is simply a reflection of society and, as such, offers scholars a lens with which to study it. Sharpley (2018) recommends that to better understand this phenomenon, one should utilize the theories associated with sociology. The research of tourism as a sociological practice has historically focused on the different approaches, concepts, theories and issues of tourism (e.g., interculturality, perceptions, socio-cultural impact). This concept encompasses four main areas: the tourist – an individual’s motivations, attitudes, reactions and roles; the relations and perceptions of tourists and locals; the structure of the tourist system; and the socioeconomic and socio-cultural impact of tourism.


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Tourism Teacher

13 Social impacts of tourism + explanations + examples

Disclaimer: Some posts on Tourism Teacher may contain affiliate links. If you appreciate this content, you can show your support by making a purchase through these links or by buying me a coffee . Thank you for your support!

Understanding the social impacts of tourism is vital to ensuring the sustainable management of the tourism industry. There are positive social impacts of tourism, demonstrating benefits to both the local community and the tourists. There are also negative social impacts of tourism.

In this article I will explain what the most common social impacts of tourism are and how these are best managed. At the end of the post I have also included a handy reading list for anybody studying travel and tourism or for those who are interested in learning more about travel and tourism management.

The social impacts of tourism

Preserving local culture, strengthening communities, provision of social services, commercialisation of culture and art, revitalisation of culture and art, preservation of heritage, social change, globalisation and the destruction of preservation and heritage, loss of authenticity , standardisation and commercialisation, culture clashes, tourist-host relationships, increase in crime, gambling and moral behaviour, social impacts of tourism: conclusion, social impacts of tourism- further reading.

Firstly, we need to understand what is meant by the term ‘social impacts of tourism’. I have covered this in my YouTube video below!

To put it simply, social impacts of tourism are; 

“The effects on host communities of direct and indirect relations with tourists , and of interaction with the tourism industry”

This is also often referred to as socio-cultural impacts.

Tourism is, at its core, an interactive service. This means that host-guest interaction is inevitable. This can have significant social/socio-cultural impacts.

These social impacts can be seen as benefits or costs (good or bad). I will explain these below.

happy friends on camper van roof

Positive social impacts of tourism

There are many social benefits of tourism, demonstrating positive social impacts. These might include; preserving the local culture and heritage; strengthening communities; provision of social services; commercialisation of culture and art; revitalisation of customs and art forms and the preservation of heritage.

thai temple under blue sky

It is the local culture that the tourists are often coming to visit.

Tourists visit Beijing to learn more about the Chinese Dynasties. Tourists visit Thailand to taste authentic Thai food. Tourists travel to Brazil to go to the Rio Carnival, to mention a few…

Many destinations will make a conserved effort to preserve and protect the local culture. This often contributes to the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources, the protection of local heritage, and a renaissance of indigenous cultures, cultural arts and crafts.

In one way, this is great! Cultures are preserved and protected and globalisation is limited. BUT, I can’t help but wonder if this is always natural? We don’t walk around in Victorian corsets or smoke pipes anymore…

Our social settings have changed immensely over the years. And this is a normal part of evolution! So is it right that we should try to preserve the culture of an area for the purposes of tourism? Or should we let them grow and change, just as we do? Something to ponder on I guess…

Tourism can be a catalyst for strengthening a local community.

Events and festivals of which local residents have been the primary participants and spectators are often rejuvenated and developed in response to tourist interest. I certainly felt this was the way when I went to the Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain. The community atmosphere and vibe were just fantastic!

history of the running of the bulls

The jobs created by tourism can also be a great boost for the local community. Aside from the economic impacts created by enhanced employment prospects, people with jobs are happier and more social than those without a disposable income.

Local people can also increase their influence on tourism development, as well as improve their job and earnings prospects, through tourism-related professional training and development of business and organisational skills.

Read also: Economic leakage in tourism explained

girl in white long sleeve shirt and black skirt sitting on swing during day time

The tourism industry requires many facilities/ infrastructure to meet the needs of the tourist. This often means that many developments in an area as a result of tourism will be available for use by the locals also.

Local people often gained new roads, new sewage systems, new playgrounds, bus services etc as a result of tourism. This can provide a great boost to their quality of life and is a great example of a positive social impact of tourism.

Tourism can see rise to many commercial business, which can be a positive social impact of tourism. This helps to enhance the community spirit as people tend to have more disposable income as a result.

These businesses may also promote the local cultures and arts. Museums, shows and galleries are fantastic way to showcase the local customs and traditions of a destination. This can help to promote/ preserve local traditions.

red art relaxation girl

Some destinations will encourage local cultures and arts to be revitalised. This may be in the form of museum exhibitions, in the way that restaurants and shops are decorated and in the entertainment on offer, for example.

This may help promote traditions that may have become distant.

Many tourists will visit the destination especially to see its local heritage. It is for this reason that many destinations will make every effort to preserve its heritage.

This could include putting restrictions in place or limiting tourist numbers, if necessary. This is often an example of careful tourism planning  and sustainable tourism management.

This text by Hyung You Park explains the principles of heritage tourism in more detail.

Negative social impacts of tourism

Unfortunately, there are a large number of socio-cultural costs on the host communities. These negative social impacts include; social change; changing values; increased crime and gambling; changes in moral behaviour; changes in family structure and roles; problems with the tourist-host relationship and the destruction of heritage.

unrecognizable female black player sitting on football field

Social change is basically referring to changes in the way that society acts or behaves. Unfortunately, there are many changes that come about as a result of tourism that are not desirable.

There are many examples throughout the world where local populations have changed because of tourism.

Perhaps they have changed the way that they speak or the way that they dress. Perhaps they have been introduced to alcohol through the tourism industry or they have become resentful of rich tourists and turned to crime. These are just a few examples of the negative social impacts of tourism.

Read also: Business tourism explained: What, why and where

woman in white and red dress holding yellow flowers

Globalisation is the way in which the world is becoming increasingly connected. We are losing our individuality and gaining a sense of ‘global being’, whereby we are more and more alike than ever before.

Globalisation is inevitable in the tourism industry because of the interaction between tourists and hosts, which typically come from different geographic and cultural backgrounds. It is this interaction that encourage us to become more alike.

Here are some examples:

  • When I went on the Jungle Book tour on my travels through Goa, the tourists were giving the Goan children who lived in the area sweets. These children would never have eaten such sweets should they not have come into contact with the tourists.
  • When I travelled to The Gambia I met a local worker (known as a ‘ bumster ‘) who was wearing a Manchester United football top. When I asked him about it he told me that he was given the top by a tourist who visited last year. If it was not for said tourist, he would not have this top.
  • In Thailand , many workers have exchanged their traditional work of plowing the fields to work in the cities, in the tourism industry. They have learnt to speak English and to eat Western food. If it were not for the tourists they would have a different line of work, they would not speak English and they would not choose to eat burger and chips for their dinner!

Many people believe globalisation to be a bad thing. BUT, there are also some positives. Think about this…

Do you want an ‘authentic’ squat toilet in your hotel bathroom or would you rather use a Western toilet? Are you happy to eat rice and curry for breakfast as the locals would do or do you want your cornflakes? Do you want to struggle to get by when you don’t speak the local language or are you pleased to find somebody who speaks English?

When we travel, most tourists do want a sense of ‘familiar’. And globalisation helps us to get that!

essay about sociology of tourism

You can learn more about globalisation in this post- What is globalisation? A simple explanation .

bread with soup

Along similar lines to globalisation is the loss of authenticity that often results from tourism.

Authenticity is essentially something that is original or unchanged. It is not fake or reproduced in any way.

The Western world believe that a tourist destination is no longer authentic when their cultural values and traditions change. But I would argue is this not natural? Is culture suppose to stay the same or it suppose to evolve throughout each generation? 

Take a look at the likes of the long neck tribe in Thailand or the Maasai Tribe in Africa. These are two examples of cultures which have remained ‘unchanged’ for the sole purpose of tourism. They appear not to have changed the way that they dress, they way that they speak or the way that they act in generations, all for the purpose of tourism.

To me, however, this begs the question- is it actually authentic? In fact, is this not the exact example of what is not authentic? The rest of the world have modern electricity and iPhones, they watch TV and buy their clothes in the nearest shopping mall. But because tourists want an ‘authentic’ experience, these people have not moved on with the rest of the world, but instead have remained the same.

I think there is also an ethical discussion to be had here, but I’ll leave that for another day…

You can learn more about what is authenticity in tourism here or see some examples of staged authenticity in this post.

Read also: Environmental impacts of tourism

Similarly, destinations risk standardisation in the process of satisfying tourists’ desires for familiar facilities and experiences.

While landscape, accommodation, food and drinks, etc., must meet the tourists’ desire for the new and unfamiliar, they must at the same time not be too new or strange because few tourists are actually looking for completely new things (think again about the toilet example I have previously).

Tourists often look for recognisable facilities in an unfamiliar environment, like well-known fast-food restaurants and hotel chains. Tourist like some things to be standardised (the toilet, their breakfast, their drinks, the language spoken etc), but others to be different (dinner options, music, weather, tourist attractions etc).

Do we want everything to become ‘standardised’ though? I know I miss seeing the little independent shops that used to fill the high streets in the UK. Now it’s all chains and multinational corporations. Sure, I like Starbucks (my mug collection is coming on quite nicely!), but I also love the way that there are no Starbucks in Italy. There’s something great about trying out a traditional, yet unfamiliar coffee shop, or any independant place for that matter.

I personally think that tourism industry stakeholders should proceed with caution when it comes to ‘standardisation’. Sure, give the tourists that sense of familiar that they are looking for. But don’t dilute the culture and traditions of the destination that they are coming to visit, because if it feels too much like home….. well, maybe they will just stay at home next time? Just a little something to think about…

woman in white tank top doing yoga exercise

On a less philosophical note, another of the negative social impacts of tourism is that it can have significant consequences is culture clashes.

Because tourism involves movement of people to different geographical locations cultural clashes can take place as a result of differences in cultures, ethnic and religious groups, values, lifestyles, languages and levels of prosperity.

The attitude of local residents towards tourism development may unfold through the stages of euphoria, where visitors are very welcome, through apathy, irritation and potentially antagonism when anti-tourist attitudes begin to grow among local people. This is represented in Doxey’s Irritation Index, as shown below.

essay about sociology of tourism

Culture clashes can also be exasperated by the fundamental differences in culture between the hosts and the tourists.

There is likely to be economic inequality between locals and tourists who are spending more than they usually do at home. This can cause resentment from the hosts towards the tourists, particularly when they see them wearing expensive jewellery or using plush cameras etc that they know they can’t afford themselves.

Further to this, tourists often, out of ignorance or carelessness, fail to respect local customs and moral values. 

Think about it. Is it right to go topless on a beach if within the local culture it is unacceptable to show even your shoulders?

There are many examples of ways that tourists offend the local population , often unintentionally. Did you know that you should never put your back to a Buddha? Or show the sole of your feet to a Thai person? Or show romantic affection in public in the Middle East?

A little education in this respect could go a long way, but unfortunately, many travellers are completely unaware of the negative social impacts that their actions may have.

The last of the social impacts of tourism that I will discuss is crime, gambling and moral behaviour. Crime rates typically increase with the growth and urbanisation of an area and the growth of mass tourism is often accompanied by increased crime.

The presence of a large number of tourists with a lot of money to spend and often carrying valuables such as cameras and jewellery increases the attraction for criminals and brings with it activities like robbery and drug dealing.

Although tourism is not the cause of sexual exploitation, it provides easy access to it e.g. prostitution and sex tourism . Therefore, tourism can contribute to rises in the numbers of sex workers in a given area. I have seen this myself in many places including The Gambia and Thailand .

Lastly, gambling is a common occurrence as a result of tourism. Growth of casinos and other gambling facilities can encourage not only the tourists to part with their cash, but also the local population .

As I have demonstrated in this post, there are many social impacts of tourism. Whilst some impacts are positive, most unfortunately are negative impacts.

Hopefully this post on the social impacts of tourism has helped you to think carefully about the impacts that your actions may have on the local community that you are visiting. I also hope that it has encouraged some deeper thinking with regards to issues such as globalisation, authenticity and standardisation.

If you are interested in learning more about topics such as this subscribe to my newsletter ! I send out travel tips, discount coupons and some material designed to get you thinking about the wider impacts of the tourism industry (like this post)- perfect for any tourism student or keen traveller!

As you can see, the social impacts of tourism are an important consideration for all industry stakeholders. Do you have any comments on the social impacts of tourism? Leave your comments below.

If you enjoyed this article on the social impacts of tourism, I am sure that you will love these too-

  • Environmental impacts of tourism
  • The 3 types of travel and tourism organisations
  • 150 types of tourism! The ultimate tourism glossary
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