For long holiday tourism has been in the grip of economic thinking and sociological research. On this webpage a more balanced view is maintained on the focal centre of tourists' activities: tourists themselves and their encounter with their holiday destination. Tourists take what is given to them and then turn it into their own ends; it is these ends what is of our primary interest and more than 25 articles on this site are about just that: the tourists' tourism.

Under the heading "Tourism" a new article has been added on Climate Change (July, 2020)

and also under the heading "Tourism" I have added a new article about Phenomenology and Tourism (Feb. 2020).

The Local Population

All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source


The unique moment in tourism is the instant that a tourist starts to live an experience, when he begins the intake of Impact Calories (ImpCal). The intake and processing of ImpCal leads to an experience and that is exactly what the tourist is after. The tourist wants to have an experience and he can only do so by using his senses to absorb ImpCal that will be processed later into inner experiences. In fact, the tourist pays for the possibility of absorbing ImpCal and this is what we call ‘consumption’ in tourism. When the tourist buys a tourism product (holiday arrangement), he or she hopes to get the richer by experiences. Additionally these experiences must be acquired somewhere well away from the tourist’s home environment for it to be labelled tourism, since life is full of all sorts of other experiences.

The experience the tourist seeks has usually to do with things, animals or plants and seldom does human contact take a central spot. Most people do not go on holidays to see other people, but when they do so we may wonder if this can still be called tourism. Visiting friends is generally not considered tourism and if someone simply wants to meet some nice people, they do not need to leave their home town, which means that this cannot be called tourism either. It all means that the tourist goes to a place of potential ImpCal intake with a certain attitude, giving priority to flora, fauna, physical exercise or some nice view. This tendency may even lead the tourist to watch the local population with the same eyes: an object or attraction being the reason he arrived there and where all his senses will receive all kinds of impulses that he will try to convert into lasting experiences. In first instance the tourist looks at local people as if they were objects and not human beings, the same as anything else he is seeing, smelling or hearing.

The main point of the above observation is that the tourist visits his holiday destination with a certain disposition that may not be in tune with some concepts of sustainable tourism. The local population plays an important role in any sustainable development. However, when tourists arrive with a typical attitude of wanting to get as many ImpCal as possible from things, the relationship between locals and tourists becomes a tricky one.

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A woman carrying a water bucket on her head, walking with a gently swinging pace. The tourist is content with his authentic photograph. Will he ever realize how water shortages influence one’s life?

On this webpage we mentioned an example of a woman carrying a bucket of water on her head, walking with a gently swinging pace. This is just an image for the tourist, who may not realize its human background; the bucket is actually a vessel for carrying water, but to the woman it is of vital importance for subsistence, while the tourist sees only an acrobatic trick. The separation of the two realities forms the basis of the separation between locals and tourists, forming a challenge to the vision of sustainable development.






The Local Population

The above observation is important because wherever there is a tourist attraction there is also a Local Population (LP). The Impsource itself may be located well away from populated areas (e.g. national parks), but not that far away there must be some kind of tourism infrastructure, which means that there must also be people living nearby. Usually these people were living there before the Impsource became a tourist attraction. In other words, we begin with the premise that at any place where there is tourism, there is a local population. Secondly, we assume that a LP is always being influenced either directly or indirectly by the development of tourism products as well as by their consumption by tourists. When we talk about a LP our basic assumptions are that the LP is always present where there are tourism activities and that the LP is always being influenced by them. This means that the LP forms an element that is inseparable from tourism and why we must pay special attention to it. The tourist may arrive to see things, but combined with this there is a human side to it that boils down to an encounter – touches, flirting or mere glances – between two realities, two worlds and two ways of living experiences.

The participation of a LP in tourism should be obvious, especially because they receive direct and indirect consequences from it. There are cases where a LP is converted into an attraction in itself, totally different from the tourist’s home environment, possessing few or no human characteristics for the tourist. Exotic tribes can be mentioned in this category, such as women wearing many rings around their necks, colourful folkloric costumes or next to nothing. The tourists see these people more as objects to be photographed rather than as people to be met. Often those LP know how to take advantage of the situation, smile for the cameras, or perform some folkloric war dance or other activity to earn a little money. Any human relationship is out of the question and the LP’s participation in tourism is completely passive.

Another more common situation is when the LP is directly or indirectly involved in tourism activities, or in other words the LP is playing an active role. The LP does not form an attraction in itself and, depending on its internal structure, the LP plays a certain role in tourism. The population may participate in the development of tourism Impsources though not usually in a leading role because investments in major Impsources are high and usually require governmental support. The LP may play their part by setting up side Impsources or infrastructure to reach the tourists through small projects such as guiding, souvenirs or folklore. Obviously the LP itself may form part of a tourist attraction.

Another extreme in this picture is when a LP does not have any participation in the tourism development of a certain area. We think of a LP just watching the tourists passing by without having any contact and no possibility of any earnings from this type of tourism.

The three variations of this theme that has dozens of variations to consider can be summed up as: a LP being an tourist attraction in itself, a LP with active participation on some tourism level, and a LP that does not participate in any form in tourism (although present in their area) and who may receive more trouble than good from it.

Keeping these three categories in mind, we may wonder what we mean exactly by the term ‘Local Population’. In tourism we often talk about the Local Population at a destination. How local is this population? Which population are we talking about? These questions are important, because for many people there are many interests at stake and much of the involvement. What type of involvement is this exactly? First of all, let’s take a look at the types of population groups.

We might first think of a LP in terms of an ethnically and culturally closed composition. This may refer to remote tribes in Africa or the Amazon. In this case we are dealing with people who are completely different from the average tourist and therefore they become an Impsource in their own right. Then there are the LPs that have lived in a place for tens of generations and may be of ethnically mixed composition with socio-cultural differences within the group. As in the previous case, we are thinking of a farmers’ population. Mixed composition groups of people that have lived somewhere for a long time may have a less closed community and may suffer from internal conflicts.

Depending on how long a population has lived somewhere, we must also consider the cases of populations that have lived in an area for no more than two or three generations. The sentiment that the area ‘belongs’ to them is less strong and quite often we can see that notions of private property are fully developed and the organizational community structure may show weaknesses.

And there are the LPs that are a complete mix of all of the above – a trend that is more common nowadays with populations consisting of recent settlers, people coming from the cities (tourism!), and farmers who have lived there for many generations; apart from this we are dealing with a mixture of ethnic and socio-cultural features. These mixed LPs usually contain (conflicting) interest groups. From the tourism point of view there are populations that have hardly any contact with tourists (the first group mentioned is one example). There are contacts between the community as a whole and the tourists. In this case any income generated by tourism goes to the community. When a LP is of a mixed composition, in most cases those working in tourism receive benefits through their labour by contributing to the means of production or via investments of some sort. Quite often it is the case that the more mixed composition a LP has, the more contact some parts of it may have with tourists, while others (usually the more traditional parts) barely participate. Another observation we have made is that the higher the education level of a local person, the higher the chance this person will have direct contact with tourists.

The distinctions we have made here are arbitrary and in fact they represent only a few variations on this theme. There is another group we should mention in this respect: the population in big cities. We may well wonder who we can consider to be the local population in a city such as Paris. Families who have lived there the longest? How do we recognize them? In some cases their accent may give a clue, such as Argot or Cockney in London. But in that case we are dealing with relatively small groups within these big cities and it is easy to observe that these groups play hardly any role in tourism at all. In the western cities participation by the most traditional inhabitants is minimal. This may be different for cities in Asia, Africa or Latin America, where clearly recognizable ethnic groups sometimes dwell within a city; these may be turned into ‘models’ for tourist because of their clothing or hairstyles. To what extent these groups are well organized is uncertain and quite often the ‘turn over’ in terms of people coming and going is quite high. Therefore it is difficult to say how local these people are, especially since migration to the cities is more recent. Ethnically and culturally well identified groups within big cities usually play little or no part in tourism, or they serve as ‘models’ or ‘objects’ (and thus Impsources) for tourists and their cameras.

Since it is an important matter in sustainable tourism to establish who is local and who is not and on this basis, the importance a real local population may mean to an area, it is worth understanding who we definitely do not consider a local population. These criteria do not concern land or property directly, but are more related to the span of time the people have lived there, to what extent they participate in the local economy, whether or not they participate in any community group or activity, and if their lives conform to the reigning socio-cultural traditions.

From this point of view, we can immediately distinguish two groups that do not belong to what we call a local population. One type concerns groups that migrate regularly and remain in an area during harvest periods. This may involve large groups and they do not take part in tourism activities. In some cases these people remain one or two years at the same spot before moving on. These groups often have a clear-cut cultural identity. The other obvious, non-local group involves the owners of second homes, usually in the countryside and quite often in areas where there are tourism Impsources. We assume that the owners’ first homes are located in cities, most often in the western world. In no way can we consider these people ‘local’ and they do not have any influence on tourism, or if they do, it is in the role of tourist rather than host.

Apart from those two quite obvious examples, we also have the group of large landowners, who usually do not participate in local activities. They may be the owners of (major) tourism Impsources; in this respect we can also think of areas that still have feudal socio-economic relations. A large landowner may be very active in tourism indeed, but most likely he will do this on his own account and not bother with any LP. On this same level we can mention big investment companies and their staffs who may have much to say about the field of tourism Impsources and infrastructure, but we cannot possibly consider them as local. Project developers or other professionals sent to an area for potential tourism development are another example. Professionals in tourism activities or infrastructure (managers, chefs or other qualified personnel) are examples. Government authorities form another group, as do other civil servants, police officers or people in health and education sectors. And especially when an area is experiencing tourism development, this attracts many people who cannot be considered ‘local.’

Earlier we tried to map out what we call a local population and create a more or less clear idea of whom we are talking about and who not. Generalizations are not always useful, but our description of encounters between local people and tourists gives us a working framework. We use criteria such as ethnic, cultural and religious homogeneity of groups of people, how deeply a population is rooted in an area, how strong their feelings are that an area belongs to them, how well organized a population is, how income is distributed among the members of the population, and the type of contact the people may have with tourists. Before we proceed with describing the encounters between tourists and locals, we should clarify that relationships between LP and tourism should not be confused with the one with tourists. In the first case we are talking about the role a LP plays in an Impsource or tourism infrastructure. In the second case we are talking about its direct (or indirect) contact with tourists.

We can now pursue the main theme of this article, a first look at the encounters between members of a local population, and people who are from the destination country but not from that area or the tourists from other countries, since these encounters should be of importance and bear some fruits for future sustainable tourism development.

The Encounter with the Local Population

From the tourist’s point of view these encounters can be divided into two kinds:

  • Encounters of one human being with another: shaking hands (or whatever local etiquette dictates), a short conversation (depending on the language abilities of the tourists or locals), paying for something and receiving change; waving to one another or – even more human – exchanging smiles.
  • Tourist encounters with a culture: observing houses that have different architecture, use of colours in a different way, new smells and dishes, foreign styles of dress, indigenous music or intriguing religious relics.

The first type of encounter may provide the tourist with social experiences while the second type deals with possible cultural, gastronomic, aesthetic or religious experiences. With the first encounter there may be a language barrier and different customs – with the second encounter there is no barrier; this is precisely what the tourists came for, to experience something new. This may mean that some tourists see a LP more as part of a culture than as individual human beings, as was already noted at the beginning of this chapter. Most people do not go on holiday to see the locals, but they do travel to observe cultures and customs as Impsources.

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Boat with engine and roof versus small canoe. Tourists with cameras capturing authenticity, which is the harsh struggle for survival of a father and his son.

In the case of tourists we know that the experiences they gain may impose some changes on their referential frameworks whereby they adjust some of their ideas and concepts; in other words, they learn something. The tourist is enriched and that is what tourism is all about. This enrichment has been caused by the experiences he has had, and some of these experiences may have been caused by the encounter with the local population.

We must also wonder to what extent a tourist wants to have experiences and if he really wants to learn something. There are many tourists who are not going on holidays to learn something; they simply want to relax and sunbathe. This may even concern a large proportion of all tourists, apart from the fact that these tourists just want to be away from home and their daily troubles. For this type of tourist we can say that their motives are more egocentric in nature rather than idealistic. The latter refer to the group of tourists who actively seek contact with the LP to learn something from them or who base their holiday on more idealistic grounds to support poor people, do voluntary work (day care centres, reforestation programmes, etc.), or for political reasons.

We all have some egocentric attitudes, and on holidays these may form a barrier to contact with a LP. We have often observed that a tourist’s interest in a LP is minimal, mainly because the tourist is too busy with himself. While a tourist may select a holiday destination for hedonistic reasons, he is sure to have some ImpCal intake and experiences and make some contact with locals and their culture. An important part is played by the fact that locals and local culture are simply different and it is important to realize that whatever his motives may have been, the tourist always wants something different from his home environment, even if the degree of differentiation is not high. A tourist is often disappointed when he sees indigenous people walking around in jeans and drinking Coca Cola. What ImpCal can he get from that? Why don’t they wear feathers in their hair? A folkloric show is often offered so tourist can have at least some ImpCal intake from the indigenous culture. Any tourist feels a certain aversion when he sees locals using cell phones and using credit cards – the same as they do. That is exactly what a tourist does not want to see, because many tourists prefer the idea that they are better off than the locals and that their home economy is more advanced. The tourist’s ego has to be reassured. One of the existing prejudices is that a LP must be primitive and once a tourist notices that this may not be the case, the tourist may perhaps gain an experience, but he surely loses an illusion. How is it possible that they construct a modern building in an area with old houses? The possibility for tourists to have ImpCal intake may be destroyed by this, if the tourist has little interest in the needs of the LP. And why is everything not exactly the way it is on TV? And why is the tourist so disappointed when he starts realizing that the locals are just normal human beings like everyone else?

In viewing the encounter between tourists and the local population, we are walking on quicksand. The question of to what extent a tourist is interested in a LP and its culture has no simple answer. There are more circumstances than those mentioned here that can influence this encounter, including the tourists’ prejudices. As explained in the previous chapter, we all have referential frameworks and information stored in our memories. Cultural concepts form part of this system, which means that apart from clothing and other personal items the tourist carries in his suitcase, he also has the fixed ideas and personal views he carries with him. They may have many outdated concepts and ideas, such as that a LP is supposed to be poor and the tourist always has reason to feel superior. At the same time, in their efforts to get as much ImpCal as possible, tourists may perceive some poor little huts as “nice traditional cottages” – the problem of two realities.

Prejudices, the inevitable human attitude of only seeing what one wants to see, handicap observations from penetrating beyond one’s own referential frameworks and the influence of (correct or false) information gathered beforehand can all form tremendous barriers that keep encounters (among human beings) from become more than just the wave of a hand or a casual smile.

The Encounter with the tourist

We have mentioned a number of obstacles to the tourist having real encounters with locals and now we are confronted with another one of importance: to what extent are local people interested in sharing something of themselves and their culture with tourists? And to what extent does a LP get the chance to do so?

It is hard for a LP to see how tourists arrived there and too often locals simply feel that tourists come from nowhere. Suddenly there they are! The complicated machinery of the interconnected networks that got the tourist to a certain place is a reality the LP may be unaware of. Locals usually do not know how the tourist got there or what was promised to him; neither do they realize who ‘sent’ the tourist or how many tourists they can expect to come. In a village, a tourist may go to see the little old church there, inspecting it and taking pictures, then continuing their journey afterwards. Meanwhile, the local people may wonder why the tourist only wants to see the church and not the rest of the village. Why doesn’t the tourist stay for a couple of days? Why doesn’t he have a cup of coffee there? And who decides what the tourist has to see and what not?

Effectively, these are interesting questions, because we cannot possibly say that the tourist himself selects everything in his holiday. The Tour Operators in the tourist’s country of origin try to guide or lure people into buying certain holiday arrangements. Another possibility is that some travel guides mention the nice little church and nothing else, so the tourist just confides in that information without knowing what else there may be worth seeing in the village. A very important point is that the tourist goes to places he does not know and depends on the various information sources he accesses (see the chapter on “The Tourist and Sustainability”). Access to those infosources is from the tourist’s country of origin and in his own language. How can a LP influence the information a tourist receives in its own mother tongue? In practice we have seen that hardly any information is offered or accepted from the destination or specifically from the LP. A tourist visits an area, therefore, based on information and expectation patterns generated in his home country, while locals at the destination have had very little input.

When we see the many travel guides for any given country (such as the Lonely Planet guides or similar), we notice that most authors are from western countries and definitely do not belong to the LP from the country or region they are describing. We can even go one step further and note that in these guides ‘they’ and ‘them’ refer to the LP. One of the consequences is that the LP’s expectation patterns are not adequately adjusted and a LP does not really know what they can expect from the tourist and the LP’s information sources in this respect are usually ‘second hand’. For the LP that plays a passive or no role at all, this must be obvious. For those parts of a LP participating actively in tourism it is quite hard for them to see how the whole tourism machinery works, sending the tourists in their direction. A LP usually knows very little about tourists or their nationalities. In the latter, many locals think of tourists in clichés, such as Americans are so noisy or the Dutch are so mean. In this sense we cannot talk about sustainable development for a local area where a LP has no control at all. This then is another obstacle to smooth encounters between locals and tourists and when we view things from a different angle, more obstacles arise – there is no way around this.

The lack of sufficient information about the tourist, what he wants and what he is looking for means that locals fill in the expectation gap with their own interpretation of what they think a tourist may want to do, offering all kinds of services in tune with this interpretation. Logical as this reaction may be, there is a big risk that the tourists’ expectations patterns are quite different from what a LP estimates. This can lead to misunderstandings, such as having animals in cages for tourists to photograph, assuming this is what a tourist wants. Apart from this the LP has its own fixed ideas and many locals assume that all tourists are rich and should be charged more. This phenomenon can best be observed with regards to LPs of homogeneous socio-cultural composition. LPs of mixed composition usually a more varied offering including low-budget options. It is quite understandable that tourists are assumed to be rich, arriving in expensive rental cars or luxury coaches compared to the old buses the locals have to use for their public transport.

Restaurants form an interesting place for tourists to meet with locals, not only on a face-to-face level but also from a cultural perspective. Local populations and owners of tourism Impsources (these can be different groups) try to please the tourists’ tastes, but they usually understand that they have to offer something typical too, to facilitate ImpCal intake among the tourists. The meal the tourist selects can also have ambiguous characteristics: on the one hand, the food can be something original because most tourists really want to have a new experience, but on the other hand, the meal cannot be too different from what the tourist is used to, otherwise it will fall outside his referential frameworks and the food becomes weird. Meals served to tourists show this ambiguity: international dishes with a local flavour, less spicy food in Mexico, food with less curry in India, or potato chips with a dish in Egypt. Apart from the different preparation of dishes, there is another phenomenon. Local chefs and cooks may even decide to imitate western cuisine altogether. One example is the potato: in many parts of the (non-western) world, the potato is treated as a vegetable (a side dish or mixed with other vegetables) that is served along with rice. However, under the influence of western tourist, the potato has now become the basis of the meal (mashed or fried) and the rice disappears. This change then starts to appear on the tables of the locals, damaging traditional eating habits. It may be obvious that globalization processes may play their part as well. While this may be the case, from a content view of the encounter between tourists and locals, the ideas they hold of one another may become blurred.

There are more phenomena to be observed in restaurants. There are those cases where tourists may hope to meet locals, but the friendly waiter is not part a LP either and what the tourist is served as food typical of a certain area would never appear on any dining table in a local home. In other words, the tourist is exposed to a false image based on what locals think tourists like to see or eat. Obviously, this tendency is more common in those areas where a LP plays only a small role in tourism; in the second chapter we mentioned that locally organized ‘shows’ have to counter the problem of tourists not taking in sufficient ImpCal due to a lack of originality in the cultural environment shown to the tourists.

A final observation concerning restaurants refers to phenomena at highway or railroad restaurants or airports. The staffs working in those places see an enormous number of people passing by with little or no chance they will ever see any of these faces again. To give the people a ‘personalized’ service does not make any sense. Noticeably, these staffs live in their own worlds and show little interest in making any personal contact. In a normal restaurant in a town, the staff would work hard to build up a fixed clientele and to be recommended; but in airports where thousands of people march by, the local staff has little interest in the human part of any contact, apart from contact with their colleagues.

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A local market: a lot to observe for tourists, but little direct contact. Some bargaining, receiving change or just a smile are the most common forms of communication.

Keeping this observation in mind, what interest can a LP have in tourists? What chance do they have of seeing them again? Local markets are a good example of locals seeing an endless number of tourists passing by, a parade of foreign faces.

What we stated at the beginning of this chapter, that the encounter between locals and tourists is an important element for sustainable development in a certain area, seems to be reduced to an area of mutual incomprehension.


Dreaming of people who get in touch with each other through tourism – a Michelangelo image of two individual’s fingers nearly touching each other – we are confronting realities that are separated to such an extent, there is a great deal of ground to be covered before any sustainable development goals can be achieved. Are these realities really so far apart? And what about globalizing effects? Are we drifting away from one other?

Locals meeting Locals

Before commenting on these complicated questions we should mention one additional aspect that may help shed a different light on the matter. So far, we have talked about tourism from abroad, that is to say ‘foreign’ from the point of view of a local population. But it is worth analyzing tourism from the same country or national tourism? This type of tourism is not easy to define. When people visit family members in other towns or villages we do not call this tourism, but there is a grey area in this respect. Basically we are talking about people who want to have holidays and therefore want to take in ImpCal. Secondly, local tourists must be from an area or region that is quite different and well away from the home town, because otherwise we do not really call it tourism anymore. The most common example of local tourism is beach tourism, where many local tourists from the big cities want to have a holiday at a beach in their own country. The local tourist has the advantage of speaking the same language as the locals (although this is not always the case). As far as information is concerned, we assume that channels are shorter and more direct and both parties – locals and local tourists – should know what to expect. A LP has to be well aware that local tourists are also looking for something different from their own home environment, so that local customs, foods or habits should be maintained by the LP. Obviously there is a greater chance that is type of tourism has a more egocentric character (see chapter 5), especially if we are talking about beaches. The encounter between locals and local tourists starts with quite a different background than the case of foreign tourists.

The threshold is much lower regarding the ‘foreign’ and ‘unexpected’ elements of international tourism. We presume that the local tourist is less adventurous and that their main concern is being away from home. This type of tourist wants something different but he knows that within the boundaries of his own country things can only be a little different. Obviously there are examples of very large countries with remote areas: the Amazon is the same adventure for people from Rio or from Rome, but this is an exception. Relaxation is the main concern in most cases of local tourism and that means that the LP can develop all kinds of activities to keep the local tourist occupied: fun fairs, circuses, theatre, discotheques, etc. In practice, this means that the destination really serves as a background while the amusement part of the holiday becomes the focal point and ImpCal intake is directed to possibly social and physical experiences, among others.

Another interesting point is that of prejudices; in the case of local tourism these should play a minor part, since one knows much more about a population from the same country. A LP will not immediately assume that local tourists are rich; in fact the opposite may be true since local tourists often have only so much money to spend. Reservations, information supply and transport are all parts of tourism that a local tourist can arrange for himself, so that part of the supply sector is much smaller. Travelling in your own country is much simpler than doing so on another continent and most people arrange their own journeys. With local tourism we better see the effect of regular customers, because in local tourism people tend to go back to places they have been before. The fact that a hotel or restaurant is famous may help to boost sales in the local tourism market and service levels for local tourists tend to be good and do not suffer from the impersonal touch so often found when dealing with international tourists.

With local tourism there is another interesting point to make: there are more opportunities for the locals to participate in this type of tourism. Access to direct information supply is easier and more knowledge about the local tourists and a wider range of low-budget options make local tourism more accessible to the LP. Small-scale investments are more common and with local tourism an area does not need to depend on big investors.

Many of the problems that arise from the encounter between locals and international tourists seem to be less frequent than when we look at the relation between locals and local tourists. Obviously this observation is of great importance, since the concept of domestic tourism can be expanded with the incorporation of neighbouring countries. In many cases there is good contact between neighbouring countries, people in one nation know quite a lot about those in the other, tourists can still arrange things fairly easily and therefore the supply sector of tourism plays a minor part, too. The type of tourism may coincide much more with local expectations at the destination than in the case of modern Western tourism.

Tourism is far too versatile to limit it to a simple division into two parts: international versus domestic tourism. There are many variations and mixtures in this respect. However, by showing these two extremes we may get one step closer to an answer on the complicated questions of the role of sustainable development in the encounter between locals and tourists. Let us take a look at an illustrative example: two beach resorts in Latin America. One example is Mar de Plata in Argentina and the other is Cancun in Mexico. The first was developed as beach destination for the population of Buenos Aires (domestic tourism), while from the start Cancun was aimed at international tourism. At Mar de Plata there is strong participation of the local population at all levels, while in Cancun there is hardly any original population left and if there is, it does not take part in tourism. In other words, in Cancun tourism is managed by big (international) investors and local immigrants. Mar de Plata entertainment is offered first of all to the Argentines by the Argentines and tourism development is run more in accord with local initiatives. The encounter in Cancun between tourists and people who appear to be locals suffers all of the pitfalls described above. In Mar de Plata a small, local hotel may put an ad in the paper – just two lines – and the reader will know more or less what he can expect from such a hotel. In Cancun, hotels have enormous websites that are all very glossy, but they do not say anything about the hotels themselves.

The Background of the Encounter

It may be clear that there are two extremes and how they function. Keeping in mind the requirements for sustainable development, the choice of opting for domestic tourism (incorporating neighbouring countries) may enhance the opportunities for a LP to handle their own future in tourism. However the debate does not stop here, since international and intercontinental tourism have increased enormously and apparently will continue to do so. The direction these tourism flows may take depends partly on the supply side in tourism (whether the tourists want to make use of it) and on the information supply by the various actors in tourism. In the previous chapter we showed a figure of the tourism cycle from the tourist’s point of view. In the lower left quadrant of that figure (supply from the home country), local travel stores, tour operators, airlines or Internet businesses try to influence the tourist to go to a certain destination. They investigate the tourism market in the tourist’s home country and decide every year what the tendencies are and what should be offered. This may refer not only to certain destinations, but also to individual travel versus groups, soft adventure mixed with beaches or emphasis on cultural elements in a holiday – whatever the market dictates. Tourism information provision in general comes to a certain extent from this supply sector and plays a role on an objective level (facts about the destination) or on a subjective one, mainly as advertisements and similar information provision (see the chapter on “Tourists and Sustainability” for details on infosources). In turn, the supply sector has to obtain information about the destination, its Impsources and infrastructure. They may do so directly by sending someone to the destination, by use of the Internet or by getting in touch with a local agent who may provide the requested information. In this sense this local agent (see the lower right quadrant of the tourism figure) plays the part of information provider (being much closer to the source) as well as the seller of holiday arrangements or excursions to tourists directly in the destination country.

This same supply sector may get involved in the development of tourism Impsources through (local) investors or by direct participation. This may involve the development of ski slopes or thermal baths, for example. The involvement of the supply sector may also become visible on a small-scale level, offering as many Impsources as possible to the tourist in a certain area. A tour operator may want to include local folkloric shows, exhibitions of typical vehicles or concerts in an effort to sell to tourists the feeling of seeing something real and being part of a local population. On the same level we find the practice of including visits to local schools (donating pencils and notebooks) or having a typical lunch at local people’s homes. The supply sector hopes that this kind of “spying” on the locals may generate an additional Impsource and that this may be a selling point at the time holiday arrangements are offered to the clients. Whether tourists will gain a real experience from these kinds of Impsources is not certain, and neither is the case for the LP, although the latter will earn some money from this. All these examples show the influence of the supply sector on the tourist and the effort this sector exercises to convince tourists to book a holiday with them. The examples on the local level therefore originate from the supply sector with the involvement of local agents or other actors in local tourism, though with little direct involvement of the LP. Why are we so sure about this last statement? The basic concepts under which the supply sector works are focused on the tourists’ fixed ideas and prejudices and usually concentrate on the tourists’ egocentrism. The supply sector knows what the tourists want while the LP does not and it must follow the advice of this same supply sector or their representatives. The supply sector feels that the tourist market demands certain (fashionable) experiences and they try to convert existing supply (Impsources) into what they think tourists want. This may even lead to a situation where there is a gap between the supply sector’s promises and the reality of what Main and Side Impsources can produce in terms of possible experiences.

Obviously, things are different in the case of the more idealistic tourists who really want to learn something from their encounter with a LP. What plays in the background is the fact of which reality a tourist wants to see. The tourist is being led by what has been promised to him and he will see only what he wants to see and what he is able to see as far as his referential frameworks and expectation patterns are concerned. The same holds true for the LP. They too will only see the reality they are able to see. One local will notice the richly coloured T-shirts and funny hats tourists wear; another may be impressed by the luxury rental car, a third just sees a noisy and arrogant group of people, while a fourth is intrigued and seeks contact.


reverse eng


Talking about realities, there is a phenomenon we call reversed tourism, meaning that the tourist becomes an Impsource for the locals. The locals go out to see the strange looking tourists and may be fascinated by them. Sometimes tourists want to be photographed together with local people, while the opposite may take place, too: locals want to have their picture taken with tourists.

A final remark in this section is that locals with more education tend to seek contact with tourists more frequently, because they are interested in other cultures or they may want to practice their English, for example.

The Sustainability of the Encounter

From the sustainable development point of view, there are several factors that impede the LP from participating actively in tourism. As we have seen above the foreign tourist is not really ready for a frank encounter with local people, nor is the supply sector helping in this sense, either. A LP lives with uncertainty regarding international tourism and in many cases lacks control of Main and Side Impsources. In most cases, only a portion of the income generated by tourism goes to the LP, which also diminishes motivation. But the negative effects, such as pollution, the “importation” of people, higher prices or water shortages they suffer in full. It is true that there are many positive things too, such as better infrastructure, fire brigades, health clinics, etc., and undoubtedly these services are more than welcome, but a LP usually does not control them. In fact, the Encounter as set out in this paper is playing only a small part in sustainable development so far. Tourists visiting Main or Side Impsources may see the personnel working there, and we presume some of them are locals, although this does not need to be the case. A more common practice nowadays is to teach local people to be guides, so they have some income from tourism and at the same time they have a chance to show something of what is theirs – their culture and background. In the case of the Shared Impsources there is much more contact with a LP. Public transport, local supermarkets, parks or squares may be meeting places for tourists and locals alike. To what extent they intermingle has to be seen and depends very much on language and cultural barriers. Many tourists like to sit down (with or without a local cup of coffee or drink) just to watch local life pass by. Suddenly a person falls, a tourist rushes to help and two people from different continents may have a real (usually short) encounter. Having the chance to observe local people is a valid source for ImpCal intake and should be regarded as such. These types of Impsources are usually found in (large) cities, although villages often offer opportunities to watch locals in their daily routine. What is important in this sense is that the tourist should be given that chance and this may depend partially on the supply sector in cases where the tourist purchased a holiday arrangement beforehand. Travel guide books may concentrate more on these types of Impsources, since they produce a greater chance of having any type of encounter with its subsequent ImpCal intake and experience. Through Shared Impsources locals have a chance to sell their own products to tourists or offer some kind of service. We should realize that there are always important restrictions in terms of numbers of tourists versus numbers of locals. A small village of 300 souls, where thousands of tourists come flocking in, may suffer serious consequences for their socio-cultural survival. There are many towns and villages in the world that are converted into towns of foreigners during the tourism high season (beach areas!), while the locals can return to their normal daily routine when the season ends.

The reality of this daily life, such as labouring in the fields or in a factory, visiting temple or church, getting married or having children, people keep these for themselves and do not share them with foreigners or tourists in general. The meaning of the sun and the moon in life, as well as all symbols they surround themselves with form a vital part of a community and of that community alone. The concepts of sustainability inspired by the preservation of our planet, the wellbeing of mankind and its economic development can still be applied, when we look at the Encounter between a local population and tourists, but the human part of it, the culture and all that is dear to us, have a different dimension and are anchored in history itself.

The way a community deals with its environment and its relation to nature is usually quite different from what a tourist might be used to. The feelings of solidarity among people in a population and with their environment might be changed by the presence of tourists, especially when there are too many of them. A local population may give up part of this solidarity under the pressure of tourism, the prospects of financial gains or when pushed by government authorities or investment companies.

Understanding how each community relates to nature and their environment as well as respecting the solidarity the people have with each other form part of sustainable development and with it a mutual respect.

We return to the image of the woman carrying a water bucket on her head, walking with a gently swinging pace. A camera flash startles her for a moment, but quickly she resumes her pace. The tourist turns around contently. Will he ever realize how water shortages influence one’s life?

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