10 Ch. 10 Tourism


Ch. 10: Tourism

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, readers should:

  • List and define different types of tourism.
  • Understand the ways that tourists and hosts interact and how that has an impact on tourism.
  • List and define ways hosts regulate contact with tourists.
  • Define culture shock and list ways to overcome it.
  • Identify positive and negative ways that tourism can effect an economy.


Key Vocabulary

  • staycation

  • tourism

  • host

  • retreatism

  • resistance

  • boundary maintenance

  • revitalization

  • culture shock

  • micro-blogging

  • cyber tourism

  • virtual tourist

  • E-tourism

The travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest industries.  Statista.com (ret. 7/26/19) estimates that the (direct, indirect, and induced) global economic contribution of tourism in 2016 was over 7.6 trillion US dollars.  Amazing, considering the tourism industry has experienced growth almost every year. International border crossings increased from 528 million in 2005 to 1.19 billion in 2015 with a forecast of 1.8 billion by 2030.  Each year, Europe receives the most international border crossings, but it also produces the most travelers with 607 million outbound in 2017. This constitutes a huge movement of people and a large transfer of resources.

International tourism is booming, but it’s important to remember that many people travel within their own country.  Approximately 25% of tourists actually cross national boundaries (Orion, 1982). The Great Recession of 2007-2010 popularized a relatively new form of tourism called the staycation.  A staycation is an alternative to the traditional vacation and is influenced by such things as economic conditions, availability of discretionary income, and time.  One might spend time in their home country visiting local and regional parks, museums, and attractions rather than going abroad. In the larger, more geographically isolated countries, such as the United States and Canada, local and regional travel has probably always been the norm, whereas travelers from the European nations probably expect to cross national boundaries on vacation.  Of course, tourism in the sense of travel to distant lands is a very ancient tradition. The scale and economic reach of contemporary tourism is something new.

Economics aside, tourism provides rich opportunities for intercultural encounters.  “Tourism is centered on the fundamental principles of exchange between peoples and is both an expression and experience of culture. It reaches into some deep conceptual territories relating to how we construct and understand ourselves, the world and the multilayered relationships between them” Dimitrova, et al., 2015, p. 225).  Outside of our exposure to the various forms of popular culture, tourism is the next big way that we are exposed to cultures other than our own.

Communication Challenges with Tourism

Coping with tourists can be a complex process involving social, political, and economic contexts better addressed in courses other than a fundamentals of communication class.  Valid questions exist about the ethics of resource consumption, power inequities, standard of living, and cost-benefit distribution along with the consequences of culture becoming public property.  From a communication studies perspective, the challenges we are concerned with involve attitudes of hosts/tourists, characteristics of tourist/host encounters, language issues, social norms, and culture shock.

Tourism acts as a vehicle to provide direct encounters between people of diverse cultural backgrounds; therefore, tourism is a social activity in which the relationship between hosts and guests is fundamental to the experience.  The various attitudes that hosts display towards tourists is crucial in understanding the communication process.

Attitudes of Hosts Toward Tourists

Traditionally, a host is a person who invites and receives visitors.  In the tourist context, we refer to the people who live in the tourist region as hosts, taking note of the fact that many hosts have not invited the tourist, nor do they particularly welcome them.   One attitude of hosts towards tourists is retreatismRetreatism basically means that hosts actively avoid contact with tourists by looking for ways to hide their everyday lives.  Tourists may not be aware of this attitude because the host economy may be dependent upon tourism. Such dependence could possibly force the host community to accommodate tourists with tolerance.  Hawaii is a place that depends heavily on tourism and often uses various forms of retreatism to cope with the tourist invasion.  Several students have mentioned that other than people who worked at restaurants or on tourist excursions, they didn’t see many locals when vacationing in Hawaii.

Another attitude of hosts towards tourists is resistance.  This attitude can be passive or aggressive.  Passive resistance may include grumbling, gossiping about, or making fun of tourists behind their backs.  Aggressive resistance often takes more active forms, such as pretending not to speak a language or giving incorrect information or directions.  Deserved or not, the French have a reputation of tourist resistance.  As Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world for many years in a row, and during the tourist season the population doubles or triples with visitors, it is not surprising that Parisians have developed a resistant attitude.

Boundary maintenance is a common way to regulate the interaction between hosts and tourists.  This attitude is a common response by hosts who do not want a lot of interaction with tourists.  The community may be dependent upon the economics of tourist interactions, but prefers to encounter tourists on a limited level–possibly in specific locations or only with specific people.  Many Native American tribes and First Nations people prefer to have visitors start at a tribal welcome center or museum before wandering around their reservations or traditional lands. Horror stories exist of tourists walking into private homes in order to meet “real Indians” and see how they live.

Not all host attitudes are protective or negative.  Some communities may capitalize on tourism and accept it as the social fabric of their community.  Other communities actively invest money to draw tourists as a way to create economic.  Other communities passively accept the community members who actively develop tourism opportunities to keep the community from dying.  This attitude is called revitalization.  Residents do not always share equally in the revitalization, but sometimes it does lead to pride in the re-discovery of community history and traditions.  Dolly Parton’s “Dollywood” located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee was created as a way to revitalize a community that she loved much as “Disneyland” is a revitalizing force in Southern California.

Within the same community, hosts can have a variety of attitudes towards tourists.  These differences can be major sources of conflict that cause on-going strife. It’s important that tourists be aware of their own attitudes towards tourism and acknowledge the cultural differences between hosts and tourists.

Characteristics of Tourist and Host Encounters

Much has been written about the characteristics of tourist and host encounters in all the various shapes and forms it occurs.  The newest research tends to focus on not the encounter itself, but rather the context in which the encounter occurs as a measure of success.  In general, there are a few concepts that are basic to tourist/host encounters from an intercultural perspective.

First, most encounters are very predictable and ritualistic because they are business transactions and nothing more.  If you are thirsty, you can buy something to drink from a vendor, market, or restaurant. You ask as politely as you know how, exchange money, and receive a product.  Once you have learned the ritual, you use it repeatedly throughout your visit.

Most tourists don’t have time for lengthy interactions, which leads to fewer opportunities to authentically engage with the hosts.  Package tours are infamous for short time schedules, but free-range tourists often try to fit in as many local attractions as they can in one day before moving to the next location.  Such commodification leads to great Instagram pictures, but little time to interact with the locals on a meaningful level.

Another characteristic of the tourist/host encounter is that tourists are often—but not always–more economically and socially privileged than their hosts.  Traveling can be expensive so tourists are often looking for a good deal or places where their money can go farther than at home. Maybe they splurge on something normally inaccessible to them in daily life.  Such actions are part of normal tourist expectations, but can lead to power imbalances between hosts and tourists.

Research indicates that contact between hosts and tourists is significantly more positive if tourists slow down and take an interest in the country they are visiting and the culture they are experiencing.  It is also clear that when hosts have the time and space to treat tourists like guests, while taking pride in their own communities, hosts are most likely to welcome interaction with tourists.

Language Challenges

Not surprisingly, language is often a problem for both hosts and tourists.  No one can learn all of the languages of the places they might visit or of the people who do visit.  Perceptions of service, inability to interact, and the lack of language resources are all huge frustrations for both sides.  Host cultures often have very different expectations of tourists regarding language usage as well. Some host cultures expect tourists to use the host language in interactions whereas other host cultures believe that they should provide language assistance for tourists.  Language difficulties are often the basis for any culture shock experienced by both the host culture and the tourists.

Social Norms and Expectations

People do not behave randomly.  Social norms and expectations regulate human behavior.  For example, people visiting a tourist site may avoid littering because the site is clean, which suggests that others have been making an effort to be environmentally responsible.  Whereas the community may support recycling programs at the site because they think that tourists are willing to pay extra for eco-friendly practices.

Norms that govern tourist/host behaviors are influenced by personal, societal, and cultural expectations.  Some of the most impactful cultural norms to consider are expectations about public social behavior, shopping, and acceptable communication styles.

Social interaction in public ranges from informal to very formal.  Most cultures have expectations for gender- and age-related interactions.  Some accepted conventions may have speakers address status with a formal relational title such as “honored grandmother” or “small friend” whereas a more informal convention would be “Florence” and “Ryann.”    Norms may also be related to religious beliefs, traditions, politeness, and more.

Norms for shopping vary from culture to culture.  It might be expected that consumers touch the merchandise before buying it or touching might be forbidden until after the purchase.  Bargaining might be the norm, and initial prices are given as higher than the expected purchase price or the price on the tag is the price you pay.

According to Howstuffworks.com (Curran, ret. 7/30/19) there are “10 Grocery Store Etiquette Rules” in the United States.

  1. Don’t yell at the checker.
  2. Bring a reusable tote instead of one-use bags provided by the store.
  3. Children sometimes have a mind of their own, so parents are not always to blame.
  4. If you break it, you buy it.
  5. Ask for a mop if you make a mess.
  6. Don’t judge the contents in the cart of someone else.
  7. If using a check, pre-write as much as you can while waiting.
  8. It’s okay to avoid people you know if you don’t have time to talk.
  9. Don’t text and push a cart at the same time.
  10. When you are done, park your cart in a safe place.

Shopping norms are significant, but even more importantly, communication styles (see the verbal chapter) do dictate how people act in public.  Direct cultures will still ask questions that they want to know the answer for and expect to hear an answer. Indirect cultures will still avoid asking questions but strive to provide direction in the context of the situation.  Some cultures value elaborate speakers and some value being concise. Conversation might involve grabbing a hand or arm to emphasize sincerity or you might want to avoid physical contact with others at all costs. Information about the appropriate behavior is all around you.  Observe what the host/tourists usually do and act accordingly.

Culture Shock

Being in new cultural contexts can lead to culture shock and feelings of disorientation.  Even the physical aspects of traveling (crossing time zones, changes in food, etc.) can be difficult for some tourists.  One student mentioned experiencing culture shock as a naive 16-year-old in Mexico.  She didn’t understand the language, and was freaked out by all the lizards in her room.  Although culture shock has already been discussed in previous chapters, it’s important to remember that both hosts and tourists can experience culture shock.  When host communities encounter new values and behaviors, they can reach a point of uncertainty.  Researchers (Prokop, 1970; Furnham & Bochner, 1989) who examined culture shock experienced by host cultures noted higher incidence of alcoholism, depression, and minor psychiatric illness.

Not all tourists experience culture shock.  Many variables, including purpose of the trip, power dynamics, mental & physical health, and types of contact influence the experience of culture shock.  New research (Moufakkir, 2013), proposes that culture shock can be negotiated at home before the trip even begins. One thing to note is that when tourists do experience culture shock, they often take it out on the host community.

Culture Learning and Types of Tourism

Sharing food, holding a conversation, or participating in a meaningful cultural event are all ways that one can learn about a different culture before going on a trip.  Be observant and more conscious of your own and others’ communication. Read books and articles written by people from other cultures from their own cultural perspective.  Follow social media of people from, or organizations that represent, other cultures. Learn another language. Enter into a cultural exchange. Visit museums and cultural centers. Ask questions (gcorr.org, ret. 7/30/2019).  Be flexible and open to other ways of living. These are all great ways to negotiate culture shock before leaving home or before you find yourself hosting others.

Although we have a tendency to think that all tourist experiences are the same, in today’s world, this is not the case.  As the economy changes, and as tourists and hosts needs change, the idea of what travel can be has also changed. Below you will find a short list of things that travel agents book tours for.

Adventure travel, agritourism, alternative tourism, athletic tours, birth tourism, booze cruise, camping, culinary, cultural tourism, dental tourism, recreational drug tourism, ecotourism, experiential travel, extreme tourism, fashion tourism, garden tourism, genealogy tourism, geotourism, glamping, guest ranch, heritage trails, identity tourism, industrial tourism, international volunteering, justice tourism, LGBT tourism, literary tourism, medical tourism, military, music cruise, railroad attraction, religious tourism, river cruise, romance tours, safari, scenic route, senior, sex tourism, space tourism, sports tourism, virtual tours, walking tours, war tourism, water tourism, wellness tourism, and women’s tours.

Tourism and New Media

Tourists and hosts are using new media as never before.  Tourists are skipping the traditional ways of booking vacations and directly interacting with hosts and cultural organizations.  Hosts are enticing, inviting, and advertising their experiences directly to the public. Free apps allow tourists and hosts to talk directly over the internet.  Pre-departure information no longer is in the control of travel agents, airlines, and hotels.

Fascinating research is being done by Thurlow & Mroczek (2014) that explores the ways that the micro-blogging (web-based self-reporting of short messages) is changing the tourist experience.  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter use self-reporting to share what one is doing, thinking, and feeling at any moment. Viewers can not only experience the trip in real time, but also plan the same experiences with the contacts provided.

Another new media impact on tourism is cyber tourism and virtual touristsCyber tourism is the application of new technologies such as GIS or Google Earth to create realistic images.  Cyber tourism can lead to actual physical tourism, but for those without the time and money, or have other restrictions to prevent travel, new technologies offer a viable alternative.

Back in 2001, Lonely Planet noticed a group of people who would buy travel books, but never travel.  They called these people, virtual tourists (Champion, ret. 7/30/2109).  Today’s virtual tourist uses an enhanced virtual environment that can be seen through a headset.  This augmented reality merge the real and virtual world together into virtual reality. Although a new and emerging experience, various organizations such as museums, cultural groups, and travel agencies are beginning to offer this interesting way to “travel.”

E-Tourism is a non-governmental organizational (NGO) initiative from the United Nations with the aim of helping developing countries make the most of their tourism potential.  The internet is packed with plans and discussion of tourism potential from such varied places as Afghanistan to Botswana.

Political and Environment Impact on Tourism

Tourists consider a multitude of factors when deciding where they should or should not go.  One such factor is politics. A country’s “visitor-friendly” policies are important. Does travel require a passport or visa?  Are they easy to obtain? Are they costly? Does the ruling party encourage or discourage visitors?

Instability can have devastating consequences on tourism, but even the perception of political trouble can effect tourism.  In recent times, Qatar tourism was largely impacted by a political decision. The UAE and other countries in the region banned travel to and from Qatar.  As most tourists to Qatar were from neighboring states, tourist numbers dropped leading to an economic downturn.

Tourism can exacerbate political tensions through environmental disasters as well.  Tourism can increase the price of housing, land, goods, and services thereby increasing the cost of living.  Imported labor may be needed to support tourist demands unfulfilled through local populations. There might also be additional costs to support the infrastructure needed for tourism such as water, sewer, power, fuel, hospitals, roads, and transportation systems.  Plus tourism uses resources and generates waste well in excess of local population needs. Without a planning and oversight system, tourism can add problems to an already strained political system.

To Wrap It Up

Tourism is one of the world’s largest and most complex industries.  Most of us have been a tourist, and have interacted with tourists. Much like our exposure to popular culture, our tourist experiences have formed and impacted our understanding of different cultures.  There are intercultural communication challenges inherent in the tourist process. We must consider the attitudes towards tourists, tourist host encounters, language, cultural norms & expectations, and culture shock.  In today’s world, there are many ways to be a tourist, and all of them are being impacted by new media. Tourism is not without costs to political structures and the environment.

At its best, tourism is a useful tool to share, sustain, and improve cultural diversity.  At its worst, tourism can destroy a community and a culture. The reality of tourism is much more complicated than just taking a vacation.



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Furnham, A., & Bochner, S. (1989). Culture shock: psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments. London: Routledge.
(n.d.). General Commission on Religion and Race. Retrieved from http://www.gcorr.org/
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Moufakkir, O. (2013). Culture shock, what culture shock? Conceptualizing culture unrest in intercultural tourism and assessing its effect on tourists perceptions and travel propensity. Tourist Studies13(3), 322–340. doi: 10.1177/1468797613498166
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(2019, August 19). staycation. Retrieved from https://www.wikipedia.org/
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Intercultural Communication for the Community College Copyright © 2019 by Karen Krumrey-Fulks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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