Tourism’s Social Cultural and Ecological Impact

Tourism’s Social, Cultural, and Ecological Impact Advances in technology, transportation, and globalisation have made the farthest reaches of the globe available to tourists wishing to experience the exotic lifestyle of a distant culture. It has also brought distant cultures, often in developing nations, into contact with places that were previously pristine and isolated from the economic and cultural impact of the developed world. Advocates of the promotion of tourism tout the economic benefits, the employment opportunities, and the elevated standard of living that comes with increased financial resources. Critics contend that unchecked tourism can run rampant on the ecology, social order, and existing culture of a developing resort area. There can be no doubt that when an area is opened up for tourism that there will be significant changes. Tourism, while stimulating the economy, places the social order, the cultural values, and the ecology of the area at great risk.
The social structure of a tourist area will change dramatically as the enterprise matures. A study on North Cape Norway by Gjerald (2005, p.48) found that the seasonal nature of the employment opportunities attracted in-migration to the area during the peak season, as well as an out-migration of young people dissatisfied with the "employment prospects offered by seasonal tourism". One respondent to the study noted the personal change that takes place and reported that contact with the tourists caused her to, "become someone … something you’re not. Without knowing it consciously, and it just seems like you are so cosmopolitan, so sophisticated" (Gjerald 2005, p.49). When we add in the factors of stressing the infrastructure, changes in local politics, and the loss of existing social networks the social change is substantial.
While the social order is at risk of great change, cultural traditions and values may all but disappear. Tourist destinations are often modeled on the tourist it intends to attract, while the local culture is placed on display as an oddity. The islands of Aruba and Barbuda are, "exemplified by the dominance of large scale resorts, convention trade, and the increasing prevalence of manmade attractions like shopping, gambling, and cruise traffic" (Thomas, Pigozzi, &amp. Sambrook 2005, p.19). In addition, Gjerald (2005, p.50) reports a modest increase in drugs, alcohol use, theft, and sexual assault in the North Cape Norway area. Meanwhile, local customs and traditions are relegated to be a display for the tourists, rather than have any meaningful cultural value.
It’s easy to see the impact that large-scale development has on the ecology of an area, but the damage can also be less noticeable, but just as severe. In the wetlands of Queensland, Australia tourism has contributed to damage to vegetation, degradation of the water supply, erosion, and the spread of feral animals (Turton 2005, p.142). These more subtle issues are not as readily identified as a high-rise building, but the effects can be just as difficult to reverse. Many of the newer and more desirable tourist destinations are the least able to cope with the importation of an overcrowded tourist population.
In conclusion, tourism can have a significant positive effect on the economics and employment opportunities of a developing tourist destination. However, these gains may be offset by the cost of social restructuring, importation of undesirable elements, and the destruction of the local ecology. It is incumbent upon the tourism and travel industry to closely monitor the shifting forces that can impact an area. In addition, local residents should be apprised and educated of the social, cultural, and ecological expectations that come from developing a tourist destination in a pristine location.
Gjerald, O. 2005, ‘Sociocultural impacts of tourism: A case study from Norway’, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, vol.3, no.1, pp.36-58
Thomas, R, Pigozzi, B &amp. Sambrook, R 2005, ‘Tourist carrying capacity measures: Crowding syndrome’, The Professional Geographer, vol.57, no.1, pp.13-20
Turton, S 2005, ‘Managing environmental impacts of recreation and tourism in Rainforests of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area’, Geographical Research, vol.43, no.2, pp.140-151