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Social and cultural impact

We look at the social and cultural impacts of tourism and how they are related to economic impacts.

Tourism may or may not create some form of socio-cultural impact because it is, by nature, about bringing people from one culture and background to interact temporarily with those of others.

These differences include aspects such as language, religious beliefs, traditions, customs, lifestyles, behavioural patterns; dress codes; sense of time, budgeting, and attitudes towards strangers. These differences can range from minor, when we deal with domestic tourism, to significant in the case of international tourism.

‘Social impacts’ is the term which describes the changes in the quality of life of the local residents of tourism destinations with interactions between tourists and the local residents lying at its heart. Changes that affect individuals’ surroundings (architecture, arts, customs, rituals etc.) owing to influxes of tourists constitute cultural impacts. The enormous range of impacts include arts and crafts through to the fundamental behaviour and beliefs of individuals and collective groups (Sharpley, 2008; Sharpley & Telfer, 2014).

Socio-cultural impacts can be approached from four different but overlapping viewpoints:

  • Tourism impact studies
    • This emphasises the inextricable links between this and other types of impacts, ie economic and environmental.
  • Host – guest interaction
    • This looks at the sociological and psychological changes which take place throughout and following the interactions between tourists and different destination communities.
  • Tourist systems
    • This refers to the production side of tourism, which may be structured in a way which reduces negative impacts e.g. isolated facilities available for tourists which may reduce exposure to behaviour deemed negative by residents.
  • Tourists and their behaviour (typologies)
    • This focuses on the needs and wants of tourists and the extent to which they consider those of destination communities, i.e. adapting or disturbing their local norms.

(Adapted from Fletcher et al., 2018)

The socio-cultural impacts of tourism can be positive or negative depending on the nature of the exchange between different cultures. For example, the sexual and drinking habits of some tourists are notorious in destination communities in Muslim countries because of the stark contrast between cultures, leading to conflict and sometimes arrests.

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However, residents’ perceptions of, and attitudes towards, tourism and tourists as foreigners in any locality may be linked and influenced by the rise or fall of other general social aspects such as residential rent, crime, pride, gambling, prostitution, sexual behaviour, accessibility, and moral values. Interestingly, this may be true regardless of whether the tourists have any direct or indirect influence on these aspects.


Fletcher, J., Fyall, A., Gilbert, D. & Wanhill, S. (2018). Tourism: Principles and practice (6th ed). Pearson.

Sharpley, R. (2008). Tourism, tourists and society (4th ed). Elm Publications.

Sharpley, R. & Telfer, D. J. (2014). Tourism and development: Concepts and issues. Channel View Publications.

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0 Images © Getty Images
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The Impacts of Tourism

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