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Sociology and tourism - Group 1

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    Sociology and Tourism

    Zinnia Guittin, Fia Wahlbäck, Nastassia Yaramchuk, Vjaceslav Alekseev



    The study of society comes initially from the Greek philosophers, namely Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, Plato wrote his Republic about 2.400 years ago, where he describes culture and society at length, explaining what a just republic should be like (Hülsmann, 2007). A few years later, the French Revolution happened (1789), and with it was born a desire to understand society in a more scientific way, rather than philosophical. Hence, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) can be considered as the father of sociology, as he was the "first to attempt to move the understanding of society from a philosophical to a scientific basis" (Holden, 2006). The word 'sociology' comes from both Latin and Greek: socius means companion in Latin and logos means study in Greek, which can basically be translated into the study of companionship (Holden, 2006).

    Sociology is about studying "values, attitudes and behaviour of human collectivities", whether it is within large communities such as nations, or smaller one (Dann and Cohen, 1991). Sociology within the tourism industry aims to study the tourists (and thus the demand side), the relationship between hosts and guests, the tourism system and the social impacts of tourism (Dann and Cohen, 1991). In a post industrial context and world, there appeared a need to explain the changes occurring in society, such as communication means and new forms of tourism (Jafari, 1991). Some major aspects of sociology and tourism will be explained in this article, such as how sociology can give a better understanding on the demand side in tourism; what the social impacts of tourism are on societies; what types of barriers to travel people encounter; and finally, the need for a new understanding of non-Western tourists.


    Study of tourists – the demand side

    Out of all the areas that sociology looks at in the tourism industry, the tourist is one of them (Holden, 2006). By studying the tourists themselves, sociology is able to have a better understanding of the needs and demands of the tourists, and thus to enable the supply side (or destination) to adequately answer the tourists' needs. Basically, sociology studies the different push factors enabling tourists to travel (Dann and Cohen, 1991).

    Within the field of sociology, there are several factors that are of great interest to understand the travel behaviour of tourists – and thus their reasons for travelling. Indeed, as Holden (2006) explains, factors such as urbanization, work and employment, and social status all have an influence in the tourist's travel decision. Urbanization, for instance, is said to change people's perception of their environment by making them adapt to the over stimulation of urban life – this is called being 'blasé', that comes from the same French word and defines a person that find no interest in human life or anything anymore (Larousse). Thus, in order to cope with urban life, people become 'blasé' (Holden, 2006). Tourism could then be considered as the means to escape a life that has become routine and doesn't hold any interests anymore (Holden, 2006). In the case of work, the alienation it creates makes workers seek a way to escape and find fulfillment in leisure – and thus tourism (Holden, 2006). Finally, tourism represents a way to assert one's social status and place in society by 'showing off' one's "wealth, high status and success" (Holden, 2006).

    Not only does sociology explain why people travel, but it also gives indications as to what pushes people to travel, and how some of their travel behaviours can be explained. Cohen and Cohen (2012), for example, explain the importance of climate change, natural disaster and terrorism in people's travelling decisions. In the case of climate change, there is a need for public behaviour to shift in order for tourism to become more sustainable (Cohen and Cohen, 2012); by understanding how people think about climate change, sociology is able to promote the increase of awareness about sensitive topics. Natural disasters, such as tsunamis or typhoons, lead to new types of tourism such as 'disaster tourism, which can be linked to 'dark tourism'(Cohen and Cohen, 2012). Terrorism, on the other hand, although being less deadly than natural disasters, is a strong demotivator for tourists; however, governments and tour operators still manage to convince people to travel to terrorist hit destination (Cohen and Cohen, 2012).


    Social impacts of tourism

    "Visitor behavior can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of the host community. For example, crowding and congestion, drugs and alcohol problems, prostitution and increased crime levels can occur. Tourism can even infringe on human rights, with locals being displaced from their land to make way for new hotels or barred from beaches. Interaction with tourists can also lead to an erosion of traditional cultures and values" (USA Today)

    Not only does tourism have many negative social impacts on societies, but is also enhance the gap between communities, such as the gap between rich and poor people – gap that is shown using the conflict theory (theory that focuses on the structures within society and shows the importance of divisions within societies) denoted by Holden (2006). Of all negative impacts brought by tourism, social impacts are the ones affecting human lives the most. As inhabitants of this Earth, all are entitled to respect social standards applying in different nations. Tourists are often more relaxed when they go travel, as a way for them to forget about their lives back home. For example, a family goes on vacation.

    "The father usually doesn’t drink a lot of alcohol, but is drinking more when they are on vacation. One day, as they are on the beach, the father gets aggressive after a few beers and hits his son. A local family sitting close by sees the event and becomes very concerned about the child's well-being. They confront the father and he tells them to leave and to not bother them anymore." (Personal testimony, Fia Wahlbäck, 2015)

    This shows how other people's behaviour can affect those around them, and are part of social negative impacts brought by tourism.

    A darker and too often ignored side of tourism is the problem of child labor. 218 million children between the ages of 5 to 17 are a part of child labor today. 13 to 18 million of these are directly working for the tourism industry. Children are a part of the tourism industry because they work for companies that have an indirect connection with the industry (the multiplier effect benefits those companies as they are indirectly part of the tourism industry; at the same, this same multiplier encourages child labor). This problem is most often seen in Asia, in the pacific region and in sub Saharan Africa. Most children have tasks such as washing vegetables, sowing souvenirs etc. The work is often hidden away from the society to see, for the simple reason that it would otherwise likely drive tourists away, or raise protests. Child labor is common in areas where the economy is poor and where children consist in a more flexible and cheap manpower. In some tourism areas, children start working at an earlier age to be able to support their families. This has become today's societies' biggest hidden problem, and must be addressed and resolved.


    Barriers to travel

    Due to terrorism and other reasons, racism is a growing issue for travelers and host communities; indeed, in Jordan for instance, people strive to change the negative image foreigners have of Arab countries and of Islam. Racism has led to people refusing to work when certain nationalities (tour guides refusing to work with Israeli tourists) and people not being employed because of their nationality and color (Buda et al., 2014).

    Another issues caused by racism is the refusal of people to visit a country they have a negative image of, caused by immigrants (Moufakkir, 2014); for instance in France, people are less likely to visit Turkey or Romania because of the negative image they have of Turkish and Romanians (called Roms) immigrants. This denotes closed-mindedness from potential travelers and calls for socio-cultural exchange.

    However, the other way around is also a reality, where the host community is overtly hostile to tourists; in South Africa, for instance, there have been reports of murders from colored people on white people. Racism is a problem that makes people feel uncomfortable travelling.

    Homophobia is another barrier to travel. Gays and lesbians represent a growing part of the market and are considered as being quite wealthy (Holden, 2006), but too often, they are faced by nations strongly influenced by Church that oppose homosexuality. Police brutality and negative media coverage are also common problems that homosexuals face in homophobic countries (Frohlik, 2011). For instance, in New Orleans, there is a festival called 'Mardi Gras'. It is a carnival for "free people" and many homosexual people attend it. The local people that live in New Orleans are mainly conservative and tend to move away from the city because of this festival.


    Emergence of non-Western tourists

    Tourism is not an only Western phenomenon anymore, but encompasses the whole world (Cohen and Cohen, 2012). Non-Western countries, especially in Asia, are currently facing a high and rapid growth of their tourism market; indeed, as emerging countries, more and more people are able to travel and partake in tourism (Cohen and Cohen, 2012). However, since most socio-cultural studies about tourists have been undertaken in Western countries, sociologists are ill equipped to investigate the social and cultural factors influencing travel and tourism decisions of emerging countries markets (Cohen and Cohen, 2012).

    Studies undertaken in England on Pakistani populations revealed that most of their travel behaviors were religiously or family related. Muslims are expected to travel at least one in their life to visit the Mecca (Holden, 2006). The Afro-Caribbean community explained associating travelling with former slavery system and more recently, as a need for "economic migration" (Holden, 2006). They regard holydays as a white privilege and mostly travel for the purpose of visiting friends and relatives (Holden, 2006). This shows how differently people from the non-Western world regard travel and tourism compared to the Western world.

    Holden (2006) denotes that tourists from emerging countries might come to adopt western travel and tourism behaviour, and that destinations will have to adapt to the needs of this new market; for instance, by providing halal meat for Muslims, the direction of the Mecca in hotels, prayer times, mosques, etc (Jafari, 2014) or casher meat for Jews. Jafari (2014) explains how religions can influence the perception of traveling, and that different religions have different needs, especially when considering pilgrimage sites that might – or might not – be open to sight seers. This reflects a different value of pilgrimage sites for Muslims, such as the Mecca, than for Christian churches. Nowadays, Muslims start enjoying tourism for other purposes than religion, but still travel according to the Koran. Thus, tourism is seen as a means for "contemplation and consideration" (Jafari, 2014). Tourism is then seen like a means to discover the world and learn from it, much like the sons of rich families were encouraged to do during the Grand Tour.

    However, as noted by Cohen and Cohen (2012), Holden (2006) and Jafari (2014), there is much need for further research into this new non-Western tourism market, in order to understand in better and be able to answer its needs.



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