Tourism can and does bring about socio-economic changes and is usually deliberately developed to generate economic benefits and through them social betterment. Therefore, it is important to understand the specific types of impacts whether positive or negative, that tourism generates in a society. Because of their close relationship, socio-cultural and economic impacts are examined together.
The socio-economic impacts of tourism have made this field a rather controversial one in recent years, especially where tourism development has been rapid and largely unplanned and uncontrolled, with the result that there have been adverse socio-cultural as well as environmental impacts. Let us, to begin with look at some of the positive changes that tourism brings about in the society.
Economic Benefits :
Direct economic benefits include provision of employment, income and (for international tourism) foreign exchange, which lead to improved living standards of the local community and overall national and regional economic development. In economically depressed areas, the employment and income provided by tourism especially to young people, may help stem out migration from those areas. Increased government revenues, through various types of taxation on tourism that can be used to develop community and infrastructural facilities and services to assist in general economic development are also a direct economic benefit. These direct and indirect economic benefits are usually the primary positive impact of multiplier effect of tourism.
An indirect economic benefit of tourism is that it serves as a catalyst for the development or expansion of other economic sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, construction, certain types of manufacturing, and handicrafts through their supply of the goods and services used in tourism. Another indirect socio- economic benefit is the improvement brought about in transportation and other infrastructural facilities and services for tourism that also serve general national, regional and community needs. Although dependent very much on local economic and cultural development policy, tourism may be seen by the host country or region as being advantageous in trading technical and managerial skills for segments of its population, some of which can be transferred to other sectors which would generally encourage people to adopt regular employment habits and work for things they want. Tourism in large traditional societies, can also provide an opportunity for emancipation of women through training and employment.
Conservation of Cultural Heritage :
Tourism can be a major stimulus for conservation of important elements of the cultural heritage of an area because their conservation can be justified, in part or whole, by tourism as tourist attractions. In other words, the conservation of the cultural heritage acquires a certain economic incentive through the instrumentality of tourism. These are as follows:
1) Tourism provides the incentive and helps pay for the conservation of archaeological and historic sites and as attractions for tourist that might otherwise be allowed to deteriorate or disappear, thus resulting in the loss of the cultural heritage of an area. In South and South-East Asia, most of the archaeological and historic preservation taking place can be economically justified in such lower income countries because they provide attractions for tourists. In some cases such as Sri Lanka, admission fees paid by tourists is used directly for archaeological research and conservation.
2) Conservation and revitalization of traditional arts, handicrafts, dance, music, drama, customs and ceremonies and certain aspects of traditional life styles directly feed into tourism.
3) Conservation of important natural areas also acquires an impetus. Without tourism, those natural areas might be developed for other uses or allowed to ecologically deteriorate, with consequent loss of environmental heritage. This factor can be of especially important benefits in countries with limited resources for nature conservation. For example, marine conservation especially of reef areas, is receiving much attention in some places because these are important attractions for tourism.
4) Financial assistance for the maintenance of museums, theatres and other cultural facilities and activities and for supporting the organization of special cultural festivals and events because they are important attractions for tourists as well as for residents. Admission fees paid by tourists at some major museums in the world, for example, provide substantial revenues to maintain those institutions. Similarly, tickets purchased by tourists at important urban theatres help support their maintenance and other facilities.
Renewal of Cultural Pride :
A sense of pride by residents in their culture can be reinforced or even renewed when they observe tourists appreciating it. A kind of cultural awareness emerges. In multi-cultural countries, regional tourism can help maintain the cultural identity of minority cultural groups that otherwise might be submerged into nation’s dominant culture. The preservation of regional or local culture is very important in modern societies where economic compulsions have tended to discourage and inhibit the growth of local cultures.