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Is Tourism a Social Impact: Questions for the Conscious Traveler

As with many other things in life, the answer is, “It depends on how you look at it.”

Tourism has both positive and negative impacts on our world. While tourism is highly dependent on its environment, it also has a significant impact on the society around it.

There are hundreds of factors that contribute to the magnitude of this impact, making it difficult to give a definitive answer. However, this article aims to provide some insight into what impact tourism has on our world.

Why Do We Need to Understand the Social Impact of Tourism?

We all know that tourism is one of the largest industries in the world.

Every day, millions upon millions of people travel by plane, train, car, or on foot to attractive destinations. This makes tourism one of the most valuable industries that have a great impact on our economy.

Positive Social Impact of Tourism

Every nation with a large tourism economy has developed a strategy for positive social and cultural impact. In many developing countries, the socio-cultural impact isn’t only positive, but also of great importance to stated development goals.

Economic Impact

The tourism industry provides many employment opportunities while demonstrating a need for development.

Millions of tourists visit places around the world every year, which affects the economy of those places, and the economic impact of the travel industry is great. And even an unskilled worker can get a high salary for his hard work.

International Tourism is a very labor-intensive industry.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism impacts create 15% of the world’s jobs (direct and indirect) in areas such as hotels, restaurants, transportation, travel agencies, entertainment, and shopping. And according to the World Tourism Organization, in developing countries, many millions of jobs and businesses are dependent on a strong and thriving tourism sector.

It’s Not Only Those Directly Employed by Tourism Businesses Who Benefit

The impact on other sectors of the economy is also significant. Not only does the industry provide jobs for people directly involved in leisure and hospitality, but it also impacts other areas of the economy: for example, the demand for goods and services from a variety of sectors such as retail, food services, transportation, and entertainment; the demand for energy to support activities such as air conditioning; the demand for raw materials; the demand for certain skills from education providers; the impact on real estate prices; and so on.

In this era of globalization, more and more countries and cities are interested in benefiting from foreign travelers. Therefore, it’s important that we understand how the tourism industry as a whole is developing and learn more about it.

International tourism businesses contribute to the positive economic development of global and local economies.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council Impact report, “Prior to the pandemic, the travel and tourism sector (including its direct, indirect, and induced impacts) was responsible for 1 in 4 of all new jobs created worldwide, 10.6% of all jobs (334 million), and 10.4% of global GDP ($9.2 trillion). At the same time, international visitor spending in 2019 totaled $1.7 trillion (6.8% of total exports, 27.4% of global services exports).

Cultural Exchange

Each country has its own culture. Traditional costumes, architecture, monuments, songs, and dances are indispensable components of local cultures.

Traveling to other cities or countries is always an adventurous experience and changes one’s life in a positive way. It offers the chance to get to know a different culture, habits, and traditions.

Cultural exchange between people from different countries is another great positive social effect of tourism. Visiting other countries opens new windows to explore art, architecture, history, cuisine, traditions, and customs in one’s own country. By visiting museums or historical sites, you can compare different civilizations.

Social Change

The positive social impact of international tourism creates a more open-minded and tolerant generation that can more easily understand other cultures and ways of life.

This is the best way to break down stereotypes and prejudices.

Social media is also becoming a powerful tool for tourism management. More and more travelers are looking for a destination that not only offers breathtaking scenery and unique cultural experiences but also the opportunity to contribute to making a positive social impact on their destination.

From volunteering with children to ecotourism and host societies-based tourism, exploring the world in new ways can have a positive social impact on local people and their environment.

Negative Social Impact of Tourism on the Local Population

A visitor can have a negative impact on the tourist destination.

Tourists are simply visitors and most are unaware that they’re impacting their host community, its economy, tourism businesses, environment, culture, and the perception of local people.

Environmental Impact

The goal of tourism is to make as much profit as possible without harming the region.

Air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in many countries.

The environmental impact of mass tourism has increased significantly in recent decades, primarily due to increased mobility. It’s mainly caused by air and water pollution resulting from transportation, energy consumption, and waste production.

One of the biggest challenges that tourism can bring to the local population is “urban sprawl.”

Sprawl is a situation where tourism has impacted the land to the point where it can no longer support the people living there. Social conflicts arise when different people have different ideas about what’s good for their society.

In many places, forests have been cleared to make way for tourist facilities and roads. Native wildlife is being displaced or even destroyed by these developments. Tourist destinations also have huge water demands, often causing shortages in surrounding areas. In some cases, mass tourism leads to more poverty among locals who cannot compete with large tourism companies.

Businesses build on the land that people need as a place to live or a source of water, and use too much of something like electricity or water, leaving not enough for everyone else. The landscape can be destroyed by building hotels, restaurants, golf courses, gas stations, and airports in small spaces. This makes it hard to maintain traditional ways of life because new things are being introduced and more money is needed to keep up with these changes.

Loss of Authenticity of Local Culture

The growth of tourism in our world has led to a change in culture.

The tourism industry has a strong impact on local culture, especially in developing countries. Although tourism can bring many benefits, it’s important to be aware of the potential negative social impact of tourism that can occur alongside the positive effects.

There are a number of ways in which tourism can have negative social impacts. Tourism can threaten local culture because tourists don’t respect local traditions and ways of life. In addition, it can change the local culture by imposing its own culture on the destination.

For example, when tourists come to another country, they may eat in restaurants that serve food that’s not native to that country. As a result, local residents may no longer eat the foods that are traditionally popular in the region.

In some cases, decisions to boost tourism can lead to conflicts among local communities. For example, in some countries, local merchants are displaced because hotels are built, leading to tensions between hotel owners and local small businesses.

Dependence on Tourism

Tourism is an important source of revenue for most countries in the world, as it contributes to the country’s economic growth. In fact, it’s one of the largest contributors to a developing country’s economic growth. Tourism can be used as an effective tool for development and poverty reduction. However, tourism development can also have negative impacts on host communities and the environment if not properly managed.

The dependency effect can occur when a region or country becomes increasingly dependent on mass tourism. The economy becomes dependent on the profits from tourism. When tourists stop visiting the area or country, there’s a negative impact on the local economy and the people who depend on this industry for their livelihood.

For example, the COVID 19 crisis had a huge impact on the global and local economies. Here are some statistics from

  • IPAs reported that hotels and restaurants were about 84% affected by the pandemic, followed by other travel and tourism-related services at about 65%.
  • Revenues of 3-5 star hotels are down 60.2% and hotel occupancy is down 50.1%.

It’s clear from the table that tourism and hospitality businesses were negatively impacted by the COVID -19 outbreak, as the majority of respondents (67%) saw a large negative impact on their businesses.

Tourism Is Changing

Sustainable tourism is becoming more popular. The travel industry has begun to focus on sustainable tourism development that addresses the tourism impacts on environmental issues, preservation of culture and heritage, and socio-economic development at the local tourism development level.

Travelers are becoming increasingly aware of the negative social impact they can have on their tourist destination and increasingly expect to actively participate in the preservation of the local culture while on vacation.

For tourists, responsible tourism means being sensitive to the place they visit, taking care not to harm it or its inhabitants, respecting local customs and traditions, learning about the country’s history, culture, and religion, communicating respectfully with its citizens, and doing your travel research.

Responsible tourism also means being aware of one’s own cultural background, appreciating heritage, and supporting one’s country and its economy. It also includes an awareness of environmental issues and social concerns.

Nowadays, tourists may be tempted to participate in certain activities, such as volunteering or learning about the local culture through activities like cooking.

What You Can Do to Have a Positive Impact While Traveling

To have a positive impact while traveling, you need to think about what you can do to leave the place better than when you arrived. By being aware of your actions and your interactions with people, you can make a positive impact on the world as you travel.

Be Environmentally Friendly

Buy locally grown food and handmade goods from local vendors when possible.

That way, your money stays in the local economy and you don’t have to spend it on products that someone else could’ve made at home for a lower price if not worse quality.

Whether you fly, drive or take the train, look for alternatives that are more environmentally friendly. These include public transportation or carpooling instead of driving yourself, or first class on a plane.

Airlines aren’t the most environmentally friendly options, but some are working to reduce their carbon emissions. For example Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, Air France, Singapore Airline, etc.

In your hotel room: unplug electronic devices when not in use.

It can be easy to forget about the energy consumption of electronic devices if they’re plugged in all the time – even when not in use! Unplugging these devices can help you save energy and reduce your carbon footprint. If possible, choose renewable energy sources for electricity.

Be Present

Listen with intention when speaking with a local resident. Take a few minutes to actively listen to others’ stories and try to empathize with their perspective. If a resident is trying to explain something to you, be patient and don’t interrupt them until they’ve finished speaking.

If a resident or occupant shares an idea with you, ask questions and really try to learn from it before you judge them.

As a visitor you can learn a lot from the local residents, sometimes they even make your trip more interesting.

For example, they may tell you about a secret area of the national park you want to visit or find out something interesting about the culture of your host community.

If you see someone behind you in line struggling with their bags, offer to hold the door for them or carry their stuff for them. If the person in front of you at the coffee store is waiting for their order, step aside and let them go ahead.

Your positive influence can go a long way: The local community learns more about your culture and you learn more about theirs. Socially conscious tourism isn’t just about respecting the environment and spending or giving away money, but also about learning and sharing.

No waste. This should go without saying, but trash is often thrown away in a hurry or by someone who’s distracted and just doesn’t realize they’re doing it. When you go somewhere, take trash with you if you’ve room. Avoid taking lots of extra bags so you don’t end up having to throw one away.

Related: What Is Socially Conscious

Respect the Local Culture

Traveling around the world can be one of the most enjoyable experiences, but it can also be very frustrating. As a traveler, you must always respect the local culture to avoid nasty surprises and ensure that you always have a good time on vacation.

Therefore, here are a few things you should never do when traveling to another country:

Don’t dress inappropriately – In many cultures, there are codes that may not mean anything to you, but for them, it could completely change their life.

For example, in some cultures, certain actions, colors, or words can mean bad luck or cause trouble. The best way to avoid offending anyone is to simply ask before you dress a certain way or do something that might be considered taboo.

Don’t photograph anything private – It’s best to avoid photographing things like military bases, security checkpoints, children without permission, police officers, etc.

Some travelers don’t respect the local culture. This leads to confusion and sometimes violence.

The main reason for many travel disasters is ignorance. Ignorance of the basic rules of behavior and ignorance of the facts that are important in the country you’re traveling to. Most people think they know enough to stay out of trouble, but often they don’t know what makes the difference between a good time and enemies for life. So before you go traveling, be aware of what might be important to the place you plan to visit.

Learn some words and phrases in the language of the country you’ll be visiting. It’s always better if people understand what you want than if they guess what you want.

You can also learn some cultural norms of behavior before your trip. What do the people you’ll be dealing with expect from you? Don’t take everything literally – communicate non-verbally too! For example, in Western culture, a look in the eye usually means straightforwardness, while in some other cultures it can be perceived as rude.

Your Social Impact on Tourists

You may not be a tourist, but you live in a place where many pass by. Your influence on tourism is just as great as if you were traveling because the way tourists perceive you affect their evaluations of your country and culture.

It’s important to be friendly, open, and responsive to the needs of tourists spending money in your city. Here are some tips:

Be Curious When You Talk to a Tourist

The best thing you can do when talking to a tourist is to ask questions, listen and pay attention to their answers. You don’t always have to be interested in their activities or destination, but you can show interest by asking questions about them and their experiences.

Be Patient

When you’re working with tourists, it’s very likely that they’ll be talking to someone who doesn’t speak English fluently or knows very little about your city or culture. If this happens and you don’t understand what they’re saying, smile, laugh, and nod. If it seems like they’re looking for directions or trying to find something, help them along.

Be Tolerant

Some people say that tourists should learn about the culture and traditions of the country they’re visiting, but it’s also important to respect the traditions of the country you’re traveling to. I think we should all try to be “empathetic” in the future, then things would go smoother all around.

Part of a country’s prosperity is the cleanliness of its streets, the perception of its residents’ attitude, and how safe it’s for tourists to walk around on their own. To improve these perceived impacts, you should make sure that everywhere tourists go is clean and tidy, that you keep an eye on them, and that they feel welcome in your country.

The Social Impact of Tourism Management Is Changing

The rise of technology has created new opportunities to travel and interact with other cultures, while social media has helped people create a real-time diary of their adventures and experiences.

Travel is no longer a luxury – increased tourism is happening at younger ages than ever before. The explosion of social media has meant that travelers can share their experiences in real-time, so we’re now able to follow our friends as they travel around the world as if we were there ourselves.

It’s no longer unusual to hear about young people dropping everything to travel – sometimes for several years – or to see that someone from your office on Facebook has already checked into Rome or uploaded photos from South America on Instagram.

Technological advances are also impacting business travel and meetings. There are apps that let you rent a meeting room or check into your hotel room from your smartphone, so you don’t have to print anything out or fiddle with paper.

Useful Links

World Tourism Organization for Sustainable Development

International Journal of Tourism Research

A citation analysis of tourism scholars

Travel research on the effects of tourism on natural resources, environmental pollution, the physical environment, and tourist activities in the national park

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