The present paper develops a focused and sustained understanding on how tourism impacts cultural change at the global level, the benefits and drawbacks arising from the interrelationship between tourism and local cultures, and what stakeholders can do to ensure that tourism does not submerge dominant cultural issues as it seeks to generate more deterministic forms of culture. The following are the major findings:
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Tourism & Culture: Understanding the Concepts & Relationships
- Tourism and culture are two different phenomena that not only influence each other but are both open to conflicting interpretations deeply rooted in ideological viewpoints;
- Tourism, which brings people and global societies into contact, and through them cultures and civilizations, has a critical part to play in aiding dialogue, interaction and change among cultures,
- Tourism management literature underscores that culture is not static; rather it evolves and changes, and as such the many-sided correlations it shares with tourism also change, and;
- Culture evolves with a people as a handbook for living harmoniously with each other, implying that the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, and the traditions and beliefs evolve along the continuum of exposure to tourism activities to occasion cultural change.
How Tourism triggers Cultural Change
This section has analyzed various avenues through which tourism triggers and impacts cultural change. The following are the major findings:
Commodification of Culture
Commodification generally modifies the culture of a particular community to suit the tastes and preferences of visiting tourists, implying that the local culture becomes a “pseudo-culture” as its original meaning and implication is lost
The Demonstration Effect
Positive Demonstration Effect: Local communities who are in constant contact with, and exposed to, international tourists soon begin to admire the superior material possessions of the visitors and this may have positive effects by encouraging local communities to not only discard backward looking ways of life, but also to embrace positive values, such as hard work and peaceful coexistence
Negative Demonstration Effect: In many tourist sites in the developing world, tourism has not only assisted to demean and distort the local cultures by encouraging the imitation of foreign culture and the relegation of local people in relation to international tourists, but is often accused of generating cultural demoralization through the acquisition and adoption of undesirable cultural traits, such as homosexuality and drug trafficking.
Tourist & Host Culture Encounters
As more economic returns, services, and facilities become available for the local residents, the tourist-host encounters exert undesirable habits on the locals, decrease their quality of life, and present many other social ills to the locals, such as crime and insecurity
The Expanded Cultural Role of the State/Government
The expanded role results both from the manner tourism introduce new forms of integration into the world economy and from the meticulous significance of cultural attractions in global tourism.
Tourism Occupations associated with Culture Change
Sex-oriented occupations are increasingly becoming a source of conflict for the local cultures as they are producing alienated local people who are ready to cut their cultural ties and bask in the glory of contacts with tourists with the view to provide them with an assortment of services that are themselves considered alien.
Present-day cultural interaction within the context of international tourism hinders the prospect for the exchange of cultural resources; rather, it generates cultural dominion and passes it as cultural change.
Conclusion & Recommendations
It is concluded that tourism-driven cultural dialogue and change will be effective only when each participant perceives the other as an equal partner, and when justifiable respect and legitimacy will be given to non-western cultures. The recommendations include:
- Stakeholders to provide frameworks that could be used to safeguard the cultures of host communities from the extremes of unplanned and uncoordinated tourism development;
- Stakeholders to come up with policy directions on how they should encourage local communities to produce culture for tourists, but nevertheless maintain and preserve culture for themselves;
- Stakeholders to invest in awareness and educational programs, and
- Governments to exercise more control on tourist sites and involve directly the local community within the context of public discussions to ensure that the interaction between tourists and locals is kept at a healthy level.
To date, research on international tourism discourse has been dominated by purely economic perspectives which view the domain as an important mainstay for economic development, especially in the so-called developing world (Wood 562). Unfortunately, however, it has been a well-established premise wherever tourism has triggered economic growth and development, changes in socio-cultural systems and orientations have not been long in following.
It is indisputable to suggest that tourism’s contribution to national economies is proportionately greatest in developing countries, but it is among the cultures of these countries that the most substantial effects of tourism are generated (Terkenli et al 47).
This predisposition has in recent times attracted much scholarly debate and a growing body of research from social scientists keen on understanding the relationship between tourism and culture (Cohen 330). Consequently, it can be argued that cultural change is conceivably one of the most outstanding features of present-day tourism discourse (Higgins-Desbiolles 116).
The present paper uses secondary sources to critically discuss the broad issue of tourism and cultural change.
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More precisely, the paper seeks to develop a focused and sustained understanding on how tourism impacts cultural change at the global level, the benefits and drawbacks arising from the interrelationship between tourism and local cultures, and what stakeholders can do to ensure that tourism does not submerge dominant cultural issues as it seeks to generate more deterministic forms of culture.
The secondary sources used in this analysis are peer-reviewed academic articles sourced from electronic databases as well as the internet.
Tourism & Culture: Understanding the Concepts and Relationships
Available literature demonstrates that tourism and culture are two different phenomena that not only influence each other but are both open to conflicting interpretations deeply rooted in ideological viewpoints (Cohen 331).
In its most basic form, tourism can be described as a feature of modern culture that can best be “…understood as a system of relations that arise when individuals travel and stop over at various destinations to get away from the routine of normal daily life” (Keller 2). Individuals who are involved in this form of travel are also engaged in the discovery of a multiplicity of other cultures around the world.
It is largely believed that tourism, which brings people and global societies into contact, and through them cultures and civilizations, has a critical part to play in aiding dialogue, interaction and change among cultures (Robinson & Picard 4).
In facilitating cultural change, the concept of tourism is perceived as more objective and pragmatically ascertainable than certain other cultural conceptions, in large part because of the fact that the social, economic and spatial implication of tourism can be outlined in terms of both ideas and physical realities (Keller 2).
In discussing culture, it is of essence to underscore that the very nature of culture demonstrates that it is not static; rather it evolves and changes, and as such the many-sided correlations it shares with tourism also change (Robinson & Picard 15).
On its part, The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes culture as “…the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group” (Reinfeld 1).
Culture evolves with a people as a handbook for living harmoniously with each other, implying that the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, and the traditions and beliefs evolve along the continuum of exposure to tourism activities to occasion cultural change (Wood 572).
Consequently, cultural change is a dynamic process with a multiplicity of internal and external influencers that contribute to this change (UNESCO 72).
Culture is undoubtedly at the foundation of international tourism and has indeed assisted in its growth, not mentioning that it has allowed various communities and sections of communities to fully participate in the development of international tourism (Robinson & Picard 17). Consequently, culture is often treated as a critical resource to international tourism.
However, it is important to underline the fact that while tourism is founded upon a multiplicity of individual and collective global cultures, culture – through its practices and expressions – exists autonomously and for motives other than tourism (Wood 568).
Available literature demonstrates that not only is the relationship between tourism and culture an excessively apprehensive one, both in theory and practice, but contemporary tourism continues to bear the brunt of cultural criticism ever since academicians established that such a relationship existed (Vanjangendonck & Leman 126).
To demonstrate the tense nature of the relationship, one author acknowledges that “…large numbers of tourists are as unwelcome as hordes of migrants, since they upset the normal cultural equilibrium of a society or a territorial entity” (Keller 2).
But despite the perceived tense interrelationship between these two concepts, it is important to remember that tourism in all its variations is a key constituent of culture and must be accepted as such.
We only need to remember that the interaction between a tourist and his host is one of the oldest forms of culture, and that travel and tourism assist to make people and communities at large more aware of the obligation to adopt new ways of life to make life more fulfilling while protecting and preserving existing cultural forms for posterity and guidance (Vanjangendonck & Leman 129).
How Tourism Triggers Cultural Change
It is well known that “…the inter-relationships between tourism and culture have attracted considerable scholarly attention over recent years and, quite rightly, have become a focal point for policy at regional, national and international level” (Robinson & Picard 11).
Perhaps one of the major paradoxes of modern-day tourism is hinged on its capability to produce so many benefits and yet, at the same time, fashion a multiplicity of pressures and challenges that bring untold tension across all parts of the world and communities exposed to tourism.
The concerns involved are often vastly multifaceted and sensitive, especially when dealing with components of ‘culture’ where meanings and standards are often challenging to appraise and are repeatedly contested (Robinson & Picard 9-10).
The above intricacies are further compounded by the fact that the structures and practices of tourism as we know them today are rarely secluded from other facets of life; rather tourism is interlinked with all facets of daily life as it touches upon people’s connections with other peoples, places and the past (Ratz 3).
It is these intricacies and sensitivities that act as fuel for tourism to trigger cultural change. This section reviews a multiplicity of variables to demonstrate how tourism affects and influences cultural change, either positively or negatively.
Commodification of Culture
Available literature demonstrates that “…the commodification of a destination’s culture or its conversion into a commodity in response to the perceived or actual demand of the tourist market is one of the major negative cultural impacts associated with international tourism” (Irandu 143).
There is a popular argument that “…tour-operators, tour guides, and tourism planners translate, commodify or package particular types of artifacts, spaces, stories and social practices into discourses, products and events that are accessible to tourists” (Robinson & Picard 21).
It is important to note that these translation and packaging processes occur in any form of cross-cultural communication and exchange, but in the context of tourism this practice of commodification continues to receive sustained condemnation as it inescapably alters original cultural configurations and meanings and locates them in ways that the targeted tourists and other outsiders can comprehend.
Consequently, tourism is viewed as a threat to cultural preservation because it does not only generate empty commodities, but the commodified cultural resources are shaped by interested stakeholders to meet political and economic rather than cultural ends (Li 253).
Tourism often provide monetary and economic incentives to revitalize art forms, crafts and other cultural artifacts of a particular local community; however, the challenge arises when the intrinsic quality and significance of cultural objects and performances become less important that the monetary motivation of earning profits from their production (Irandu 143; Wood 575).
Commodification generally modifies the culture of a particular community to suit the tastes and preferences of visiting tourists, implying that the local culture becomes a “pseudo-culture” as its original meaning and implication is lost.
Indeed, extant literature demonstrates that “…commodification is particularly evident in traditional and/or indigenous societies that are rapidly exposed to relatively intensive and increasing levels of tourism development” (Irandu 145).
According to this author, the Maasai culture in Kenya serves as a classic example of how a culture can be packaged into a commodity and sold to willing tourists. Overall, it can be argued that such form of commodification presents a vivid example of how tourism is used to trigger negative cultural change.
The Demonstration Effect
The ‘demonstration effect’ is undoubtedly one of the most substantial cultural impacts of international tourism ever to be witnessed in recent years. This effect happens where there exist perceptible divergences between tourists and the local population, especially in terms of material possessions and prosperity.
It is often theorized in tourism management literature that simply observing the tourists way of life would lead to behavioral shifts and cultural change in the local population (Irandu 143).
The theory goes that local communities who are in constant contact with, and exposed to, international tourists soon begin to admire the superior material possessions of the visitors and this may have positive effects as it encourages local communities to not only discard backward looking ways of life (Robinson & Picard 47), but also embrace positive values such as hard work and peaceful coexistence, with the view to emulate the luxurious and fulfilling way of life of their visitors (Irandu 143).
The Maasai of Kenya, for example, are discarding their age-old tradition of cattle rustling and female genital circumcision by interacting with international tourists and emulating their way of life.
However, it should be noted that the ‘demonstration effect’ cuts both ways and hence may also bring negative ramifications. For example, the “…inability of the local people to achieve the same level of prosperity as demonstrated by the wealthy visitors may create a sense of deprivation and frustration which may find an outlet in hostility and open aggression” (Irandu 147).
It is indeed true that government agencies and other stakeholders in tourist resort towns located in third world countries spend considerable amount of resources trying to assist susceptible groups of the population who may be involved in vices or other forms of behavior that is not sanctioned by local cultures simply because these groups attempted to emulate the way of life of western tourists (Cohen 332).
These groups are mostly involved in crime, prostitution, homosexuality, gambling, drug-trafficking and other alien behaviors that they internalize as a direct consequence of their exposure to foreign tourists (Irandu 147).
In such circumstances, tourism can only be said to trigger negative cultural change as school dropout rates, drug-peddling and prostitution become high in local cultures because individuals adopt and internalize forms of alien culture that would otherwise be abhorred by the local community and especially the older people.
However, as noted in the literature, it may be unfair to attribute these social and cultural ills sorely to international tourism development because other modernizing agents, including mass media, the internet as well as industrialization, may be to blame too (Irandu 147).
A two-part article by Jacques Bugnicourt posted in the UN publication, Development Forum, takes a highly critical standpoint towards tourism’s cultural effects and accuses it “…of demeaning and distorting culture: it encourages the imitation of foreigners and the downgrading of local inhabitants in relation to foreign tourists; it incites the pillage of artwork and other historical artifacts” (Wood 564).
Additionally, it is suggested in the same report that tourism not only leads to the degeneration of classical and popular dancing, but also the deviation and vulgarization of places of worship and the falsification of religious ceremonies. Lastly, it is suggested that tourism “…creates a sense of inferiority and a cultural demoralization which fans the flames of anti-development through the acquisition of undesirable cultural traits” (Wood 564).
Although these are generally heavily worded statements perceived to represent a direct attack on a large and internationally-recognized industry, they hold some validity especially when reviewed in the context of negative demonstration effect.
In many tourist attraction sites located in the developing world, tourism has not only assisted to demean and distort the local cultures by encouraging the imitation of foreign culture and the relegation of local people in relation to international tourists, but has often been accused of generating cultural demoralization through the acquisition and adoption of undesirable cultural traits, such as homosexuality and drug trafficking.
Tourist & Host Culture Encounters
It has been acknowledged in the literature that “…in the long term, no one culture can successfully exist without contact with other cultures and other cultural influences, drawn from diverse histories and complexities of constant global change” (Robinson & Picard 30). Over the years, tourism has continued to occupy a significant role in facilitating and shaping intercultural dialogue which in the longer term leads to cultural change.
At the most basic level, tourism has provided the fuel needed to trigger direct encounters between individuals from different cultures (Nzama 6), and with these encounters tourists have provided an audience for local communities to not only uphold their heritage and ways of life, but also to dispel myths and stereotypes on both sides through cultural change (Robinson & Picard 31).
Indeed, according to these authors, it can be observed that in recent decades tourists and the tourism sector have gravitated away from being passive consumers of local tourist attractions to becoming more actively engaged in progressing the social, cultural, environmental, and economic interests of host communities by undertaking to raise awareness on a host of issues that continue to affect these communities.
Such undertakings often lead to positive cultural change in the host communities.
The encounters between tourists and host cultures have triggered cultural change in many other recognizable ways. From a purely economic perspective, it has been noted in the literature that tourism attracts more economic investments and spending, which in turn raise the standards of living in the affected areas and cause price increases (Brida et al 367).
The convergence of tourism facilities in particular hotspots also generates incentives for employment opportunities for the locals as well as externals, not mentioning that such convergence also emboldens a concern for environmental conservation (Honggang 3).
But as more economic returns, services, and facilities become available for the local residents, the encounters exert undesirable habits on the locals, decrease their quality of life, and present many other social ills to the locals, such as crime and insecurity (Brida et al 367). This observation implies that tourist-host encounters promote cultural change in both positive and negative ways.
The Expanded Cultural Role of the State/Government
Extant literature demonstrates that “…the expanded cultural role of the state which results from the growth of tourism is one of the significant ways tourism promotes cultural change” (Wood 569). This expanded role, according to this particular author, results both from the manner tourism introduces new forms of integration into the world economy, and from the meticulous significance of cultural attractions in global tourism.
At the basic minimum, the state/government must not only cooperate with tourist development in areas such as visa policy development, foreign exchange requirements, and import regulations, but must also play a proactive role in opening up new areas to international tourism, because either government expenditures or resources from global bodies are needed for the provision of basic infrastructure (roads, rail, airports, electricity, etc) as well as for the development of tourist facilities themselves (Wood 569).
Indeed, it is worth noting that many international tourists are often drawn to locations in the developing world which have been sidestepped by other avenues of economic integration, and therefore they regularly become a symbol of the loss of independence and local management which economic integration and an extended state/government presence tend to involve (Nzama 2).
Expanding on this line of discussion, extant literature demonstrates that “…the expansion of government presence necessarily involves new forms of cultural intervention in such areas as education and law, but the state’s interest in promoting cultural tourism results in other forms of cultural intervention as well” (Wood 570).
For instance, the state assumes the role of the self-appointed arbitrator of the local cultures which are to be preserved and presented to international tourists.
Tourism Occupations associated with Culture Change
It is demonstrated in the literature that “…tourism generates a wide range of associated occupations, altering stratification systems in many ways” (Wood 577).
Prostitution with underage clients is a particularly important spin-off business in many tourist hotspots in the developing world, and it is striking how many tour magazines and other forms of popular media go into considerable detail on procuring underage prostitutes in the local hotspots.
It may be plausible to note that these sex-oriented occupations are increasingly becoming a source of conflict for the local cultures as they are producing alienated local people who are ready to cut their cultural ties and bask in the glory of contacts with tourists with the view to provide them with an assortment of services that are themselves considered alien (Wood 570).
Extant literature demonstrates that “…the irreversible process of globalization has an ever greater impact on the relationship between tourism and culture at the local level, shrinking the world and promoting the emergence of a global village through intercontinental tourism as the locomotive of a worldwide process of integration” (Keller 5).
However, it is important to underscore the fact that tourism does little more than to underpin the main factors that fuel globalization.
It can be argued that the influence of the mass media or the internet on the emerging new world culture is substantially immense than that of tourism, but it would be unfair and inherently illogical to assume that tourism does not have its share of influencing the new world culture by informing varied processes that hinge on globalization (Wood 568).
It is becoming clearer that with the mounting globalization of everyday relations communities are beginning to realize the significance and magnitude of the cultural roots that provide meaning and promote consistency. Therefore, according to available tourism management literature, “…the more uniform the world seems to become the stronger the resistance of those who try to defend and preserve local identity” (Keller 6).
This argument further assumes that the leveling of world culture is therefore neutralized by the rediscovery and redefinition of local cultural differences, leading to cultural change.
But the benefits of globalization initiated by tourism endeavors continue to be diluted by the presupposition that Western culture is the most suitable model for progress (Nzama 7). Indeed, it has been argued that “…despite the rampant poverty, crime, and environmental degradation associated with Western culture, its reach grows ever more extensive through its promise of material goods (Rienfeld 2).
Consequently, according to this particular author, Present-day cultural interaction within the context of international tourism hinders the prospect for the exchange of cultural resources; rather, it generates cultural dominion and passes it as cultural change.
Conclusion & Recommendations for Stakeholders
From a general perspective, the results of this analysis demonstrate that tourism impacts social change, though the relationship is either positive or negative depending on a whole range of issues. As is the case with the beneficial impacts of international tourism, its drawbacks to the broad concept of culture are, by no means, inevitable.
However, it can be argued quite persuasively that for many in the host communities the cultural changes are largely desirable. Tourism can have constructive and long-lasting benefits on our cultural and natural heritage, particularly on creativity, innovativeness and cultural diversity, and also on the environment and balance of societies.
Indeed, it has been equated to empowerment of societies through availing the necessary resources to spur economic and socio-cultural development, but this development can only be achieved at a cost.
Overall, it can be concluded that tourism-driven cultural dialogue and change will be effective only when each participant perceives the other as an equal partner, and when justifiable respect and legitimacy will be given to non-western cultures.
Until then, the juxtaposition of culture in the hope of spurring cultural change will continue to represent more of a threat non-Western cultures’ existence than a genuine desire to achieve productive cultural change
A number of recommendations arise from this analysis, especially in the context of what could be done to reduce the negative effects of tourism to cultural change. The recommendations are outlined below:
- Stakeholders need to provide frameworks and develop policies that could be used to safeguard the cultures of host communities from the extremes of unplanned and uncoordinated tourism development;
- In reducing commodification of culture, stakeholders should come up with policy directions on how they should encourage local communities to produce culture for tourists, but nevertheless maintain and preserve culture for themselves. Such a predisposition will assist locals to discard the negative demonstration effect, which often leads to negative cultural change.
- Stakeholders must invest in awareness programs to ensure that the encounters between local communities and tourists do not reduce their capacity to absorb positively the beneficial norms, value systems and attitudes brought by tourists. Many cultures around the world have been positively impacted by the norms and values systems brought about by tourists, such as technology adoption, education, health and democratic practices.
- The government should exercise more control on tourist sites and locations and involve directly the local community within the context of public discussions to ensure that the interaction between tourists and locals is kept at a healthy level.
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