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The social aspects of tourism The social aspects of tourism
by Joseph Gatt
2020-11-15 10:59:09
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A brief guidebook for tourism policy.

tour001_400To be very honest, I've worked with a dozen countries on tourism policy. I spent two decades listening to what they had to tell me and thinking about the question of tourism policy.

Maybe they know what they're doing. But I did notice that a lot of countries had very “stereotypical” tourism policies. Stereotypical as in “tourists come becomes they love going to the beach!” or “tourists come become we have beautiful sights and warm, loving, friendly, welcoming people!”

Tourism is a lot more complicated and comprehensive than that. So I'm going to try to list all the different types of tourists that you might encounter, and what they need in terms of infrastructure and activities.


What they need


Some tourists like to travel alone. They can have many different reasons to want to travel alone.

Some loners are looking for “holiday friends.” Others are looking for a “holiday lover.” Others are tired of dealing with crowds and want to spend a week or two in complete silence.

Some are trying to escape mass murders in the news and dipping sales at the office. Others want to forget about all those sleepless nights studying for college exams.

Some want to celebrate their college or graduate degree. Others just quit their job after years of hell and want to see something that will make them forget about that hell.

Some want to try out new food. Others want to tour different night clubs and dance until their feet hurt. Others want to meet people from different countries to gain a new outlook on life. Others hope that maybe they'll find the love of their life.

Some want to shop and purchase items, such as electronics or ingredients that are not available in their home country. Others want to purchase cheap clothes. Others are more into art or literature and buy as much of that as they can.

Some want a big, comfortable room if they can afford one. Others don't mind sleeping on the floor, as long as it's not too uncomfortable.

Some plan to visit many places and end up spending the entire week at the hostel chatting with other visitors. Others plan nothing in particular and end up meeting a group of friends who show them around.

Some are paranoid about scams and triple check the prices, and don't talk to anyone. Others are a bit more naive, and easily gain anyone's trust.

Of course some are really in it for the casinos and hope to win the jackpot to cover their huge debts.

Some are freelance writers looking for ideas a few good stories.

And some just got a huge bonus at work and want to spend some of it on a nice vacation.

More details below.


Unlike individuals, couples tend to be a bit more organized.

Individuals tend to improvise a lot, and a lot of individuals don't do their research carefully before traveling.

Couples however tend to do their research, and look around guidebooks to see what food they can eat, what restaurants they should visit, where they should shop, what cheap (or expensive) hotel they will stay in and what activities/sightseeing they will do.

Couples are of course not looking for a hot date and probably won't go around nightclubs, although some couples, especially those from conservative societies where nightclubs are rare and have a bad reputation; do like to visit nightclubs when they travel.

Couples will probably be shopping for home items, and that makes them a great prey for carpet salesmen and antiques salesmen and art salesmen and electronics salesmen.

Couples also tend to be preys for tour organizers who tend to sell them the more expensive packages.

Couples are also less likely to try to make friends, because they have each other. And they tend to be more likely not to be satisfied. Most individuals will make friends and freely move around, which makes for great memories. Couples however tend to hinder each others' freedom, and tend to notice the “ugly” side of tourism, when individuals will be more tolerant. 


Same as couples. They tend to do their research, and tend to be very organized.

They also tend to be more careful and cautious.

For families, travel can be a big hindrance on “freedom.” Children tend to dislike being away from their friends. Parents also secretly dislike being away from their friends.

Finding activities that both parents and children can enjoy can be very difficult. Children find museums and sights very boring; parents are bored when the children are having fun at the playground.

Some resorts are built with this in mind: children are taken care of by “camp monitors” while parents can either relax at the swimming pool or go out and tour the markets or visit a museum or something. This business model worked great in the 1990s, but in the 2020s a lot of parents don't really trust strangers with their children.

So families tend to leave with “tepid” memories to say the least.

A group of friends

Now you have the great memories.

When a group of friends decide to travel to some foreign country or distant city, this is when you tend to have an excellent dynamic.

The group of friends can be school friends or university friends or more rarely workplace friends.

They tend to enjoy all the liberties in the world and tend to agree that freedom has no limits. This can pose some security problems.

Some groups of friends are more conservative and are in it for the food and a few strolls by the lake at night.

Other groups of friends are more hedonistic and like to try things doctors would advise against trying, such as binge drinking and unrestricted sexual activity.

Groups of friends can try out shopping but they will tend to discourage each other from making purchases, unless they have a really good deal.

Groups of friends can share a house or a hotel room or stay in bed and breakfast kind of places.

Note on tourism real estate: a lot of tourism organizations and ministries tend to believe that families and groups of friends should stay at separate venues because “they don't have the same morals.”

This can lead to a “tourism real estate bubble” to burst. That is you have countries like China or Japan where all kinds of resorts were built with different social groups in mind.

Problem is, in the end, tourists come in limited numbers. And most tourists know how to adjust their behavior depending on the circumstances. Of course there could be incidents involving groups of friends fighting with conservative families, but such incidents are rare, as most families (and groups of friends) avoid such provocations.


I'm not talking about groups of friends here.

I'm talking about school classes, or workplaces batches, or college classes or some kind of Church group or any member of the same organization.

When those groups travel, excellent memories tend to be formed.

Of course, many tour operators have all kinds of predatory practices against such groups, including “locking them up” in stores where “they can't leave until they purchase something expensive.”

Good tour operators are very important for groups. A lot of tour operators really focus on making money and nothing else, and the groups leave very disappointed, as the groups are forced to pay all kinds of fees at restaurants, stores, markets and other venues. And the tour operators tend to be shabby when it comes to sightseeing or relaxation, and tend to be rude with the group.

So you want good tour operators who can focus on making money, but also on visiting sights and creating a positive atmosphere within the group. Otherwise the bad rumor spreads, and fewer groups come next time around.


Some tourists, be they individuals or groups, like to move around. They want to visit 3, 4, 5, 10 different cities, and rarely spend more than a night at one single city.

As a tourism policy maker, you really need to focus on good transportation for these groups.

Some like to take trains, others like to travel around taking the bus. Some like to rent cars, others like to rent motorbikes.

For nomadic tourists, cheap hotels are really important, because they rarely spend more than one night at a single venue. So you don't want them going to a city where the only hotel they can find costs over 100 dollars a night or something.

Nomadic tourists have different reasons to be nomadic. Some just want to be in a different city every night. Others want to visit the entire country or the entire group of countries and want to see as much as they can.

Others want to travel from point A to point B (let's say from London to Athens) and want to visit as many cities as they can before they get from point A to point B.

Nomadic tourists are usually very seasoned and experienced tourists. Tourists are rarely nomadic the first time they travel. They usually travel around for a few years, before they start doing the nomadic kind of tourism.

For nomadic tourists, tourism tends to be a bit of a “sport.” They are not really in it for the shopping or entertainment. They just want good food and to move around.


Most tourists are of course sedentary tourists.

Sedentary tourists usually pick one or two cities and that's all they'll visit.

Sedentary tourists usually spend several nights at the same hotel or resort. They usually travel so they can relax.


There are rich tourists. There are middle-class tourists. And there are working-class tourists.

Upper-class venues tend to have private homes for tourists rather than hotels. Some homes even have private swimming pools and other commodities.

Some upper-class resorts are very strict about privacy and don't allow tourists to mix.

Others are more like “social clubs” and have meetings every evening that tourists can enjoy.

Some resorts have membership systems where there are rules to become a member, and once you become a member you have some kind of status and are treated like a family member.


Middle-class venues and resorts tend to have large comfortable rooms, but the facilities tend to be shared (such as the swimming pool).

A lot of middle-class resorts function more like “loose” social clubs. There tend to be no formal activities or social activities, but members tend to get organized and throw parties or improvise games or other social activities.


Working class tourism venues tend to be cheap. And how to you compensate cheap? By volume!

So working class tourism venues tend to be very crowded. You can't walk around without bumping into people, and you have to wait in line for most activities, in some cases you have to wait in line at restaurants, and a lot of times your meal takes a lot of time to be served.

Most activities will tend to be simple, nothing outside the box. Perhaps a boat tour or some jet skiing or maybe some beach volleyball.

But, because they are cheap, everything tends to be slow, and there are frequent misunderstandings. Hotel rooms could accidentally be given to someone else and the like. And don't expect room service or anything.


There's a group of tourists who come from countries where shopping is very, very difficult.

There are quite a few countries in the world, small and large, where purchasing something as simple as a good, solid pair of shoes is incredibly difficult.

So middle-class or rich people from those countries will travel to Paris, London, New York City or perhaps Hong Kong, mainly for shopping.

What are they looking for? A few good suits, a few good neck ties, a few good pairs of socks and shoes, some clothing, some good jewelry, some textiles and cloths (their grandmothers know what to do with those) and a few housing electronics (like blenders or mixers or pots and pans and the like). And of course they want the very best quality for those.

These people don't always want to try local food. They're not going to Hong Kong for roasted duck or to Paris for tartar steak. They'll usually stick to good old couscous or kebab or curry for dinner.

But some like to try a few things for dining. Some also travel around to purchase ingredients (mainly spices) or in a lot of cases to purchase liquor and perfumes and cosmetics, which tend to lack in their countries.

Sports and leisure

Popular sports tourists travel for: hiking, mountain climbing, mountain bike tracks, kayaking and canoeing, hunting, fishing, anything involving a boat, skiing of course, snowboarding, snorkeling, surfing and paddleboarding, and, increasingly, yoga, palates, crossfit, and all these new trendy sports that come out every day.

People of course don't usually travel to play soccer or basketball or tennis or even golf. But some do enjoy the availability of a tennis court of golf course or basketball court when they travel.

Sports and leisure usually have special resorts for that. Or tourists blend in with the locals for those activities. But if you're starting a resort just for sports and leisure, you want to make sure there's a demand for that, because a lot of times, people don't travel just so they can hunt. They'll hunt or fish for a day or two, and spend the rest of the time sightseeing.


First-time tourists usually travel for sightseeing. That's the first thing that comes to a tourist's mind.

By first-time tourists I don't mean first-time visitors to your country. I mean someone who has never travelled in his/her life and travels for the first time.

Of course a lot of the sightseeing is done with stereotypical tour busses and tour guides and amazed tourists who take pictures of everything.

That's an important group of tourists, but don't focus exclusively on those!

mingling with strangers

Some travel so they can mingle. I've met a lot of people who travel just so they can go to bars and discuss travel with other people.

Quite a few tourists travel just so they can meet people and chat with them. Some are careful who they talk to, others talk to everyone. Some are careful who they drink with, others drink with everyone.

mingling with family members/old friends

An important part of tourism that tends to be neglected is those who travel to visit family members.

You know those Vietnamese-Americans who will visit Vietnam not so they can go to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, but so they can go to their ancestral village and relax a bit with their uncles or grandparents or distant cousins.

Those tourists usually have a place to stay (not always) and they have very special needs. They are usually accompanied by family members when they travel around, which can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it's a family member, a curse because very often family members have no idea what counts as tourism or sightseeing.

So I have quite a few friends who visited their families in Hanoi or Casablanca or Buenos Aires and who ended up playing video games with their cousins all day, because their cousins had no idea where to take them.

wider objective (world trip/regional trip)

Some of course travel with a wide objective in mind.

Some tourists make a list of places they want to visit and follow that list, and check out of the list whatever places they visited.

Some have goals related to food, others to activities, others to sights. Some just want to visit a fixed amount of cities with no goal in mind as to what they will do in the city. Others want to visit “every single country in Africa” or “every single country and territory in the Caribbean” and the like.

Social ritual (travel after graduation/after year end/after end of military service/when you quit a job)

An important part of tourism is that in a lot of countries tourism is a social ritual.

For example, at a lot of schools in North America, teachers “must” travel when the school year is over. That is if you come back to school in September and you stayed home (or “staycationed”) your colleagues could make fun of you.

People who travel as a ritual often ask their friends for advice on where to travel, and tend to use their friends advice as their guidebook. So whatever their friend tells them to do, they will do. Sometimes they will peak at a thing or two, but they will usually stay inside the box.

Social ritual: honeymoon

Honeymooners. This is the most common social ritual, a universal one at that.

Trends are very, very important in the honeymoon tourism business. One year the trend could be Hawai'i. The following year everyone's going to go to the Bahamas, and the following year the Bahamas are out, and Bermuda is in, and the year after that Bermuda gets relegated to the Diadora League and Mauritius becomes the golden league.

Advice to tourism organizations: fight for your spot in the golden league!

Social ritual: travel as a gift to parents/children

Children pass university entrance exam, they get a free trip! Parents retire; you give them a free plane ticket and hotel reservation.

Some parents are careful what they choose for their parents and children. Others head to the nearest travel agency and purchase whatever the agent offers.

The problem is the high-school graduate child or the retired parents did not choose the destination nor did they choose the trip. So luck is an important factor here.

Especially for retired couples, there are a lot of scams where retired couples are promised “majestic tours” when they end up locked up in a hotel with nothing to do but drink or swim at the swimming pool.

Social ritual: travel during a break from your job

People who take a break from work. These folks tend to be super-ambitious about their overseas trip. They plan to visit everything! They plan to eat everything!

But then they're too tired to get out of the hotel! So make sure they stay at a hotel that has good food. And don't count on them to make it for breakfast!

Sex tourism

This is both overrated and underrated. Some people in the tourism business talk to me like all tourists are in it for the sex. Others swear by God that no one travels for that.

Truth is sex tourists tend to have the following profile: older single men (usually in their thirties) or divorced men (usually in their forties or over).

They are usually the kind of socially awkward men, the kind who tend to be too shy to talk to “normal” women. Usually.

They are not the majority.

In addition to social awkwardness, they are usually men who are willing to take risks.

So you end up with a small group, and that small group does not want to be noticed. They usually think that if they get caught they could bribe their way out.

Some groups of older men also travel for that, but it's the same profile: socially awkward and risk-taking.

Academic tourism

This is oddly also dangerous turf. Some people like to travel for “study” purposes. Some want to spent a couple of weeks learning the language, while others want to spend a month studying society or the local political system.

Problem is: most governments dislike these tourists. Tourists that come for the beaches, nice! Tourists that come to study our people, bad!

Major sporting event tourism

Of course when there are major sporting events like the Olympic Games or the soccer world cup, people can travel just for that.

Tourists at such events tend to travel around in groups. Rarely as individuals. They are usually “fans” who want to cheer for their team and usually get organized way before the event even starts. They purchase the tickets together; book hotel rooms together, eat meals together, and watch the games together.

Some like to travel as a couple, as a family or as a small group of friends to those events. But they usually end up feeling a little bit lonely, because everyone else comes together with a very large group, and that's where all the fun seems to be taking place.

Special event (music festival/art festival/exposition etc.)

Music festivals or music events are a different kind of tourism. It's usually people from neighboring countries who want to see their favorite band, but their favorite band won't make a stop in their country.

Some like to go alone, others in groups. Some will attend the event, spend the night and go back home. Others will stick around and spend three or four days visiting the country.

Religious tourism/pilgrimage/worship

These tend to be groups or individuals. Either they are attending an annual ritual, or they have very private reasons for the pilgrimage.

Most religious tourists don't really engage in other forms of tourism. They are mostly older men and women (sometimes younger as well) and mostly from rural areas or smaller cities (sometimes bigger cities as well).


So much more I could say. In sum, tourism is not just hotels and beaches. It's also people, an atmosphere, a budget, a plan, a goal.

There are other factors that I did not discuss, such as language, pricing, geographic distance, and destination trends. I'll discuss those in a near (or distant) future. Bon voyage!

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