IMPACT OF TOURISM On Economic Consequences and Social Consequences


A great deal of research has been directed on a fuller understanding of the impacts of tourism. It has been recorded that although the impacts of tourism are both positive and negative, they may be evaluated differently by different people and there may be considerable disagreement as to what is actually desirable and undesirable. 

Economic Consequences

The major stimulus for the development of tourism is economic and it was understood that tourism was a powerful beneficial agent for economic and social change. The tourism industry stimulated employment, entrepreneurial activity, and modified land use and economic structure. Most studies have emphasized the economic benefits that accrue to the destination areas, particularly the developing countries which usually have low levels of income, uneven distribution of wealth and income, high levels of unemployment, and heavy dependence on agriculture and subsistence activities.

An evaluation of the economic impact provided valuable information that further helped in the formulation of tourism development policies. Many developing countries and remote destinations that have opened up as tourist destinations have seen economic changes, especially in the employment pattern. Since tourism is a labor-intensive service industry, it employs a large number of semi-skilled and unskilled laborers who with little training join this hospitality industry either as tourist guides, tour operators, transporters, etc.

Many farmers and wage earners leave agricultural jobs to pursue more lucrative jobs in tourism in urban areas. The structural change from agriculture to tourism also creates changes in land use patterns. Anthropological studies have revealed that though it created wage labor opportunities, yet it destroyed agriculture and subsistence activities. Mansperger (1995) analyzed how tourism among Pacific islanders led to the cessation of subsistence activities and made locals more dependent on the outside world. Rosenberg (1988) argued that tourism contributed to the demise of agriculture in a small mountain village in France, where grazing animals came to be used mainly for clearing ski slopes. Tourism also increases the competition for land, raising land prices and also contributing to the fragmentation of landholdings.

For instance, tourism may result in escalating real estate prices which may create difficulty for locals who intend to purchase the property. The research emphasis on the positive economic impacts of tourism has contributed to the widespread optimism among policymakers concerning the potential of tourism to stimulate economic development. But it is seen that various economic benefits come with a variety of costs which have been largely ignored by the policymakers. Anthropologists have researched the changing economies, high inflation and land speculation, overdependence on outside economies, problems due to the seasonal nature of the industry, etc. to show that we need to have a more balanced perspective and measure both benefits and costs.

Social Consequences

The research on the social and cultural impacts of tourism fall into three different categories: 

1. The tourist – here the research is focused on the demand for touristic activities, the motivations, attitudes, and expectations of tourists, and their corresponding purchasing decisions.

2. The host- looks at the inhabitants of the destination areas, the labor engaged in providing services, and the local organization of the tourist industry.

3. Tourist-host interrelationships- the research deals with the nature of the contact between hosts and guests and the consequences of the contact.

The social consequences of tourism basically enumerate the ways in which touristic activity has contributed to the changes in the value system, individual behavior, family structure and relationships, collective lifestyles, moral conduct, traditional ceremonies, and community organizations. The host-tourist encounter which is transitory in nature is often superficial; lacks in-depth communication/interaction; is mainly confined to ‘tourist ghettos’ (hotels and resorts) is of unequal nature.

The tourist-host interaction can be both positive and negative. Factors that affect the host-guest interaction are – length of stay, the physical isolation of tourists (to hotels/ resorts), language and communication etc. The relationship between hosts and guests and how they are formed and change over time is of profound importance to the anthropological study of tourism. The cross-cultural interactions and the commercial transaction that occurs between the hosts and the guests illuminates how tourism affects the host’s society. On one hand, tourism brings business and thus generates more employment opportunities for the host population.

There are a number of other factors that affect the complex nature of interactions occurring when strangers coming from different cultures or subcultures interact. The length of the stay of the guest, attitudes, and expectations (of both the host and guests), the length of the season, and the role of the ‘cultural brokers’ or ‘marginal men’ are the focus of studies that are based on the host and guest relationship. Cultural brokers or marginal-men (Smith 1977) are defined as multilingual and innovative mediators who control or manipulate local culture for tourist’s purposes. Their role is often crucial in setting an entrepreneurial contest for tourism development. These cultural brokers can bring change to their society. They may develop certain levels of control over the amount and quality of communication between the hosts and guests.

As Nunez (1989: 267) noted that the acquisition of a second language for purposes of catering to tourists often results in economic mobility for people in service positions: interpreters, tour guides, bilingual waiters, clerks, and police are often more highly compensated than the monolinguals of their community. It is seen that tourists are less to borrow from their hosts than their hosts are from them thus precipitating a chain of change in the host community. One striking example has been language acquisition by certain members of the host community.


Nunez (1989) noted that linguistic acculturation in which usually the less literate host population produces a number of bilingual individuals. The cadre of bilingual individuals in a tourist-oriented community or country is usually rewarded. According to Mathieson and Wall (1982: 163) ’the cultural-brokers/ bilinguals are in a position to manipulate local culture for tourist purposes without affecting the cultural identity of the host society in a detrimental manner. Here a little discussion on language becomes essential as it is seen to have an impact on tourism.

It is appropriate to examine the socio-cultural role of language in society and its relationship with tourism. Language is a vehicle of communication and it is a part of the social and cultural attributes of any population. Wagner (1958:86) stresses that ‘language exercises a decisive influence on the composition and distribution of inter-communicating social units- on who talks to whom- and thus on the activities in which men are able to participate in groups. Language is an important factor in an analysis of social and cultural change and could be a useful indicator of the social impact of international tourism. Only a few studies (Butler 1978; Cohen and Cooper 1986; Huisman and Moore 1999; White 1974) were done which identified the effects of tourism on the use of language. 

White (1974) examined the relationships between the growth of tourism and social change, using language as an index of the latter. He presented a conceptual model which identifies three ways in which tourism can lead to language change:

1. Through economic change- The new jobs like that of tour guides, interpreters, transporters, etc. associated with the expanding tourism lead to an increased number of locals learning the language of the tourists and act as mediators between tourists and the host population.

2. Through the demonstration effect- Tourist’s portrayal of their material and financial background, their attitudes and behavior may introduce new viewpoints within the indigenous community. Aspirations of achieving similar status on the part of hosts may prompt them to replace their own language with that of the tourists.

3. Through direct social contact-The direct communication between the tourists and the host (for instance workers in the retail or service sector may be required to converse in the language spoken by the tourist as the tourist may not be able to speak the local language) may result in the decline of usage of the host’s language. 

Another study by Butler (1978) of rural Scotland indicated that tourism activities act to displace the indigenous language by that of the tourists. Butler and White had also found that tourists staying in private homes, farmhouses, and locally based accommodation units had less impact on the linguistic loyalties of their hosts than those staying in hotels or motels. Both studies illustrated that the linguistic solidarity of host cultures is seriously threatened by the assimilating forces of tourist development. 

Cohen and Cooper (1986) suggested that changes in host language are also related to the nature of the tourist-host relationship and the socioeconomic characteristics of the interacting groups. It is known that tourists are temporary visitors whose contact with the host society is superficial and brief. Anthropologists have also believed that the linguistic interactions between tourists and locals is also a reflection of a ‘power relationship’, the level of education of both groups, and also on the degree of dispersal of the tourist beyond the normal tourist areas. More detailed investigations are required for different cultural and linguistic groups and different geographical locations before we can conclude about the changing nature of tourism in contemporary times where because of an open market economy the tourism industry has profound impacts, especially on the host population.

Discuss Question 

  1. Briefly discuss the economic and social consequences of Tourism on the host community.
  2. Define cultural brokers. How does linguistic acculturation help the tourism the potential of the host community?

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