Sociocultural Impacts

The sociocultural impacts of tourism are mostly a result of the interaction between residents and travelers in the tourism destination. Interaction between these two groups can happen in a variety of ways – from residents working in tourism enterprises to merely passing by each other on the street. Each of these interactions has the potential to change the lives of those involved for better or worse. Additionally, the economic impacts of tourism often have secondary effects of the lives of those in the tourism community, especially in their quality of life.


Acculturation refers to the adaptation or borrowing of traits from one culture into another. I tend to think even the act of learning about a different culture changes the way we think and act, even if only to have an open mind toward different ways of thinking and doing. In this way, acculturation can be a positive exchange between travelers and those living in tourism communities. On the other end of the spectrum, acculturation can result in a loss of cultural identity, especially when one culture is assimilated into another. There is a tendency for this to happen when travelers expose residents to a socially “desirable” culture. Acculturation is a continuum, and there can be different levels of adoption of cultural norms and practices by the traveler and the resident of the host community. Acculturation is often responsible for both culture shock (when a traveler struggles to get used to how different a new place is) and reverse culture shock (when the traveler has gotten used to the culture of their destination and finds it difficult to relate to regular family and friends who haven’t shared their unique experiences).


Tourism attractions are often based around cultural artifacts or activities that tourists find interesting or entertaining. When done with the input from those with local cultural knowledge or representatives from cultural organizations, allowing tourists to view artifacts or activities can be a healthy way to preserve culture and support the arts. If you’ve ever been to a museum, historical site, concert, art gallery, etc. you have (perhaps unwittingly) contributed to the preservation of local culture and art. While culture certainly can and does change over time (remember 80’s hair bands?), there are often certain elements within a culture that locals and travelers alike feel should be preserved for future generations to experience. While cultural sites have been slow to evolve, many are starting to integrate interesting technological innovations like 3D movies to entice younger generations to appreciate the past.


Alternatively, cultural artifacts or activities that are commodified specifically for the consumption of tourists can cause a great deal of harm, leading to a loss of meaning, respect, and pride for those to whom they were once important. One of the surest signs of cultural commodification is the trinketization of cultural artifacts. Think of trinketization as anything that used to have meaning for a people that can now be bought on a keychain. Staged authenticity is another way culture is commodified for the consumption of tourists. Staged authenticity refers to any time a space or activity is designed to look like it is giving the tourist an ‘inside glimpse’ into what it is really like in the destination. There are varying levels of staged authenticity, but in most cases, businesses or destinations design spaces or shows to display what they think tourists think they should look like. A perfect example of this is a tiki bar in Hawaii. Real Hawaiian spaces do not actually look like tiki bars, and the tiki bar movement was actually started in California.


Although we’ve already talked about how the cost of living can increase, one of the benefits of collecting taxes from tourists is the increase in standard of living that can come with it. This particular impact area has disproportionately positive impacts on women and children in certain less developed places, where access to things like pre and post-natal medical care and education may have previously limited. There are a great many things that tax dollars can be used to pay for, including clinics and hospitals, schools, roads, utilities, and transportation hubs like airports or railway stations. As the tax base increases due to tourism, these areas tend to receive increased funding, which usually has a net positive impact on residents.

Continue on to economic impacts or environmental impacts to learn more!