There are various definitions of tourism. Theobald (1994) suggested that etymologically, the word “tour” is derived from the Latin ‘tornare’ and the Greek ‘tornos,’ meaning ‘a lathe or circle; the movement around a central point or axis. ‘This meaning changed in modern English to represent ‘one’s turn.’ In this perspective, we are discussing ‘Cultural Significance of Tourism’ in this article.
The suffix-ism is defined as ‘an action or process; typical behavior or quality’ whereas the suffix-ist denotes one that performs a given action. When the word tour and the suffixes-ism and -ist are combined, they suggest the action of movement around a circle. One can argue that a circle represents a starting point, which ultimately returns back to its beginning. Therefore, like a circle, a tour represents a journey that is a round trip, i.e., the act of leaving and then returning to the original starting point, and therefore, one who takes such a journey can be called a tourist.
The Macmillan Dictionary defines tourism as the business of providing services for people who are travelling for their holiday. Wikipedia defines it as travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. The OECD glossary of statistical terms defined tourism as the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited.
Over the decades, tourism has experienced continued growth and deepening diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Tourism has become a thriving global industry with the power to shape developing countries in both positive and negative ways. No doubt it has become the fourth largest industry in the global economy.
Similarly, in developing countries like India tourism has become one of the major sectors of the economy, contributing to a large proportion of the National Income and generating huge employment opportunities. It has become the fastest growing service industry in the country with great potentials for its further expansion and diversification.
However, there are pros and cons involved with the development of tourism industry in the country. Tourism industry has several positive and negative impacts on the culture of a particular region. These impacts are highlighted below.
To boost tourism huge money is invested to preserve the local heritage, to improve infrastructure, to provide better local facilities which in turn creates better education, better leisure facilities, organizing frequent social events and thus a better lifestyle for the locale people. They interact with the tourists, mix with people from diverse backgrounds which creates a cosmopolitan culture in the region. Due to the demand for better services, varied employment opportunities are created within the region and therefore people do not feel the need to migrate to other cities to earn their living.
Tourism helps preserve several places which are of historical importance by declaring them as heritage sites. For instance, the Taj Mahal, the Qutab Minar, Ajanta and Ellora temples, etc, would have been decayed and destroyed had it not been for the efforts taken by Tourism Department to preserve them. Likewise, tourism also helps in conserving the natural habitats of many endangered species.
Tourism tends to encourage the development of multiple-use infrastructure that benefits the host community, including various means of transports, health care facilities, and sports centers, in addition to the hotels and high-end restaurants that cater to foreign visitors. The development of infrastructure has in turn induced the development of other directly productive activities.
Honey and Gilpin (2009) suggests that the tourism industry can also help promote peace and stability in developing country like India by providing jobs, generating income, diversifying the economy, protecting the environment, and promoting cross-cultural awareness. However, key challenges like adoption of regulatory frameworks, mechanisms to reduce crime and corruption, etc, must be addressed if peace-enhancing benefits from this industry are to be realized.
Due to the heavy traffic in the region, the infrastructure may not be able to cope up the increased rush thus leading to overcrowding, poor sanitation which may further lead to diseases both to the tourists as well as local people. The intrusion of outsiders in the area may disturb the local culture and create unrest among the people. The local people may copy the lifestyles of tourists through the demonstration effect and the result could be loss of native customs and traditions. Some people may enter into criminal activities to fetch easy money from tourists which leads to increased crime and anti-social activities and loss of moral and religious values.
Tourism sometimes led to the destruction of the social fabric of a community. The more tourists coming into a place, the more the perceived risk of that place losing its identity. A good example is Goa. From the late 60’s to the early 80’s when the Hippy culture was at its height, Goa was a haven for such hippies. Here they came in thousands and changed the whole culture of the state leading to a rise in the use of drugs, prostitution and human trafficking. This had a ripple effect on the country.
Tourism can increase tension, hostility, and suspicion between the tourists and the local communities when there is no respect and understanding for each other’s culture and way of life. This may further lead to violence and other crimes committed against the tourists. The recent crime committed against Russian tourist in Goa is a case in point.
Tourism brought little benefit to the local community. In most all-inclusive package tours more than 80% of travelers’ fees go to the airlines, hotels and other international companies, not to local businessmen and workers. Moreover, large hotel chain restaurants often import food to satisfy foreign visitors and rarely employ local staff for senior management positions, preventing local farmers and workers from reaping the benefit of their presence. This has often created a sense of antipathy towards the tourists and the government.
Tourism industry is growing and it has vast potential for generating employment and earning large amount of foreign exchange besides giving a fillip to a country’s overall economic and social development. But much more remains to be done.
Eco-tourism needs to be promoted so that tourism helps in preserving and sustaining the diversity of natural and cultural environments. Tourism should be developed in such a way that it accommodates and entertains visitors in a way that is minimally intrusive or destructive to the environment and sustains & supports the native cultures in the locations it is operating in.