Tourism has positive as well as negative cultural and social effects. The people of the tourist destination need to try to maximise the good, while managing the bad, in order to extract optimum benefits from this activity.
For the individual and the family, tourism and travelling are normally pleasurable activities. It helps them learn about new places and cultures. It may help broaden their mental outlook.
For societies, some of the positive effects of tourism include:
- national integration and interdependence, as people come to know about and understand better their fellow-citizens, make friends, and different areas come to be economically dependent on each other.
- fostering local pride, as foreigners are attracted mainly by the uniqueness of the destination. A sense of community pride is connected to economic development. Tourism also provides the money needed to keep an area well-maintained, which also fosters a sense of local pride.
- cultural exchange, when tourists as well as locals find out about each others' cultures, and influence each others.
- raising awareness, as travelling can lead to local brands becoming known nationally or internationally. Local problems also become better known when the areas receive a lot of visitors. Negative stereotypes may change.
- funds for conservation, because a lot of the money needed to maintain tourist destinations comes from tourists themselves. Natural and cultural heritage sites can become self-sustaining through income from tourists. In this way, tourism may help keep local culture alive and preserve the natural environment.
- through these, tourism can promote international diversity, tolerance, and peace - to a limited extent.
Tourism may have negative effects too, especially when it is uncontrolled and mass tourism. Since the host communities tend to be weaker than than the guests in the interaction, they are the ones to bear most of these negative effects. Some negative social and cultural effects of tourism may include:
- overcrowding and loss of privacy, may lead locals to resent tourists. Overcrowding may lead to tourists taking over the best local facilities, because they usually have more money than the locals.
- culture clashes may also lead to resentment, when for example, a visitor from a liberal culture may offend the conservative hosts. Economic differences between the hosts and tourists, and competition over scarce water and space can also cause tension.
- loss of culture, as locals try to imitate tourists. This leads to standardization of many forms of cultural, such as clothing and diet. But as a unique culture is one of the main attractions of tourist destinations, this may make the destination less desirable.
- commercialization, when local activities are molded to fit tourist expectations. Local art and craft traditions may be 'trinketized' to fit tourist tastes.
- crime tends to increase in areas frequented by tourists, both because tourists make easy victims, and because they demand certain kinds of services. Some areas popular with tourists have to cope with problems like prostitution, gambling, or drunkenness.
The claim that tourism is a vital force for peace is exaggerated. Tourism thrives in times of peace, and declines during times of war and other disturbances. Terrorism and social disturbances may lead to a decline in tourist arrivals and have the following effects:
- direct decline in sectors directly connected with tourism, like airlines and hotels and catering, and in turn these can depress the economy as a whole.
- the costs in the tourism sector become higher, with need for greater security. This again has a depressing effect.
- international tension. This can happen especially if terrorists target tourists.
Tourism is also susceptible to other factors: currency instability, epidemics, and energy crisis.
Sometimes, even the economic benefits from tourism may not go to the local people. The money spent by the tourists may go to international companies and hotel chains.
Communities may face difficulties if they become too dependent on tourism - to the exclusion of other economic activities. Governments need to weigh the benefits against possible problems when they promote tourism.