Anthropology as a study involving human beings has always spread its areas of learning to various aspects of society. In this unit, we will take you through a discussion of how anthropology studies tourism and why it is important to do so. Understanding tourism in the context of anthropology had begun as early as the 1970s when major concepts of anthropology were interrogated for addressing tourism.


Anthropology of tourism initially concentrated more on the way of life and behavior of the natives of a tourist spot, more popularly called the “hosts”. The inclusion of tourism as a topic of anthropological inquiry did provide a new base for the expansion of anthropological knowledge (Holden 2005). However, with the passage of time, the interests of anthropologists studying tourism broadened. The focus extended to other pivotal concerns of contemporary times, like

(1) How individuals and social change due to tourism;

(2) How tourists and hosts interact and what they share;

(3) The mobility that takes place due to tourist and host contact;

(4) Creation of new identity and self-characterization; and

(5) Finally new meaning emerges as a combination of all these aspects (Di Giovine 2017).

It is important to note that the main branches of anthropology are all involved in the study of tourism from one perspective or the other. Though the major work in tourism is done by socio-cultural anthropologists from its myriad concerns, like social organizations, history, cultural transformations, migration, environment, gender, stratification, rituals, and identities, the other branches are not far behind.

Heritage sites and museums are places that tourists prefer to go to while visiting historical places. The archaeological anthropologists work in collaboration with archaeologists to keep heritage buildings, monuments, and museums of importance in good condition for the public. Gathering museum artifacts and displaying them to the public is also their job. This has led to the development of a collaboration of sorts between tourism and archaeology, known as “archaeo-tourism” collaboration or partnership. The communication that ensues between tourists and hosts, through language and symbols is an important area of study for contemporary linguistic anthropologists.

These exchanges of language and gestures are a way by which, the outsider and the insider build trust for each other for the days that they are in each other’s contact. These give the linguistic anthropologist conceptual space to analyze such ongoing verbal and figurative transmissions. Physical Anthropology is equally involved in studying different arenas which are linked to tourism. 

For example, Design Anthropometry is a popular branch of physical anthropology which uses anthropometric measurements to devise plans for better services to tourists. Body measurements of different human types can assist in the creation of seats for vehicles used on land, air, or sea which can provide better comfort to tourists traveling long distances. Also, in places like Thailand where sex tourism is promoted, physical anthropologists can play a big role in the analysis of sexually borne diseases like AIDs affecting tourists. This section thus clearly gives us an overview of how different branches of anthropology are seriously involved in the study of tourism.

What are the areas of study in tourism that anthropologists focus in contemporary times?

Selwyn (1996) identified three main strands within the anthropology of tourism: social and cultural change. semiology of tourism. tourism's political economy.

What do social anthropologists study in tourism?

The anthropology of tourism is concerned with the social and cultural nature of tourism and the behavior of tourists. The anthropology of tourism offers insight into the socio-cultural dimensions of tourism, such as the behaviors of cultures and societies. For anthropologists, tourism can be a lens through which to explore issues of political economy, social change and development, natural resource management, and cultural identity and expression.

Do archaeological anthropologists play any role in the study of tourism? Give an example.

Anthropology offers a valuable approach to the critical analysis of tourism through its holistic and comparative framework, which has the ability to bring the local and the global together by recognizing the interconnectedness of social, cultural, environmental, religious, political, and economic domains.

What elements of tourism does anthropology focus on?

In order to capture disparate aspects of tourism, anthropologists draw on interdisciplinary theoretical paradigms, such as political economy, cosmopolitanism, dis- course analysis, semiotics, feminist theory, phenomenology, embodiment, development studies, and applied/praxis approaches.

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