The Sociological Perspective on Tourism Industry

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Updated: Jul 05, 2022
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The main aim of the paper is to define the tourist role carefully and includes the complete range of touristic phenomenon which indeed is critical task as tourism comprise the activities from small scale mass to an organized tour, visiting friend and family to well-organized tour, drifting off beat track to well secured destination and so on.

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Tourism includes vast and diverse range of activities and is not limited to precise set of activities. In addition to fully -fledged tourism, which includes various touristic components of varying strength; famous example is African immigrant visiting to old country, third world country citizen travelling abroad for jobs and settlement and so on. When we realize and look closer the touristic attributes and the typology of tourist seems vaguely delimited with various dimension. Similarly, there exist no strong gradient between the traveler who are actually tourist and who are not (Cohen, 1971, p. 18).

Through this discussion, we would like to address following things:

  • Develop clear understanding for sociological generalization on touristic phenomenon that are used hitherto.
  • To have clear picture of various neglected form of tourist and tourism typology.
  • To integrate sociological analysis of tourism within the borders (Cohen, 1971, p. 18)


A book on contemporary tourism diversity and change and other literature from Erik Cohen paper provides a framework for qualitative presentation and analysis of the paper in better way.

Significance of the study

Tourism has been rapidly growing social phenomenon but is difficult in recognizing social and cultural – as against economic- significance because of its complexity and the vivid nature. Without a better understanding of tourist and tourism typology. The study will help to develop tourism content or context from social and other perspective as they are coined differently and has different meaning.

Tourist and Tourism

Etymologically, the word ‘tour’ is derived from Latin word ‘Tornore’ and Greek word ‘Tornos’ meaning “Lathe or circle”; a movement around a central point or axis. The suffix” ism” is defined as an action or process; typical behavior or quality; while suffix “ist” denotes one that perform the given action.

When the word tour and the suffix ‘ism’ and ‘ist’ are combined, they suggest the action of movement around a circle.

Simply; tourism is the act of leaving and returning to the original starting point i.e. journey is round trip and conducting the activity by the one who takes the journey is tourist.

What is Tourism?

It’s a difficult phenomenon to describe and ambiguous to many scholars and certainly to the “person on the street” and has not be defined well in last 40 years (Robert Christie Mill 2012).Tourism is a new global religion. It’s a nebulous phenomenon (social, cultural and economic) yet is not an industry. Different from different perspective and has link between travel, tourism, recreation, and leisure, yet the link is fuzzy. Major form of Tourism typology is:

  • Cultural tourism
  • Ethnic tourism
  • Recreational tourism (sun, sand, sea, sex, safety and security)
  • Eco tourism
  • Heritage etc.

Who is a Tourist

Similarly, is the case of tourist and people would not easily recognize a tourist. The stereotype components such as strangely dressed, slightly funny, and being different from the host will not help to classify the tourist typology. Ambiguous concept – fuzzy sets and are partly opposite: ideal type: stressing certain elements common to major types.


Stanley Plog (1973 conducted a study on the residence of New York: Why destination rise and fall in popularity? He applied psychographic approach and focus on the individual / personality of the people. According to him personality of the person will guide to buy destination(package) i.e. where to go and not. According to him, there are three major types of tourist which are :1. Allocentric tourist (Adventurers or pilgrimage), 2. Mid – centric and 3. Psychocentric.

According to UNOTO, there are three major types of tourist namely International, Domestic and Excursionist. American Express (1989) has listed various form of tourist typology such as adventurers, dreamers, worriers, economist and indulgers. Valen l. Smith (1977) has listed seven major tourist typologies: Explorer, elite, off beat, incipient mass, mass, charter and John Urry (1990) a renowned Sociologist has classified tourist as either collective gaze or romantic gaze.

Sociological Viewpoint of Tourist and Tourism

Tourism is a nebulous phenomenon and has gain enormous growth in last couple of decades. However, it has been neglected from sociological viewpoint or as a social phenomenon as few studies has been done from social aspect (Boorstin, 2012; Knebel, 1960).

Novelty and strangeness/change are the crucial element of human experience and people travel to appreciate the experience of the changes and novelty which is don’t find in his usual home environment. The difference in sights, customs and the culture make the trip exciting, titillating and gratifying.

The people should have a mindset or the tendencies of appreciating the new things which are different from his usual things for enjoying and gaining novelties. People should travel to realize the big things which are different from his cosmos as everything outside is mysterious, superficial, interesting, different and challenging. Tourism can be the modern phenomenon as people are constantly travelling to gain noble experience and seek changes by understanding, learning, observing the different places, faces and environments.

The experience of tourism combines , then , a degree of novelty and with the degree of familiarities , the security of old habits with the excitement of changes ( Ch 3Cohen, 1971, p. 38 Varieties of Tourist Roles). The tourist should immerse himself to the local culture or the environment to gain experience. The degree of immersion varies and so do the experience varies from person to person. Normally, the tourist wants similar thing which are common or like the usual chores. According to (Cohen, 1971) a modern tourist view people, places and culture of the society through the protective walls of his familiar “ environmental bubbles,” within which function and interacts in much the same way he does in his own habitats. For example, he likes to same the similar type of food, transportation, hotel rooms etc. while being away.

Erik Cohen (1972) classified tourism into two general categories:

  • Interactional type and cognitive -normal model. Interactional emphasis the manner of interaction between the visitors and strangers. The cognitive normative model stress the motivation behind travelling. He classified tourism based on the relationship to both the tourist business establishment and the host country. Cohen developed four types of tourist namely drifter, explorer, individual mass tourist and organized mass tourist.
  • Drifter (youngster, hippies) travelling world for getting pleasure and are uncontrollable people. Nepal is a wonderful hippy’s destination in late 80’s. They like going away from the normal chores and behave different which they aren’t. They have stereotype tourist image and can easily transform to the local culture and are easy accommodating to local foods, shelter, habits and behavior. They avoid timetable and plans instantly according to demanding situations. They can fully immerse to local culture and this type seeks high novelty from the travel undertaken as they have completely new experience from completely new destination.
  • Explorer are the small size group who travel alone to discover new places, face and people. They try to explore new place but with low risk such as they want a proper place to stay, reliable transportation and can modify to the local culture and tries to behave like local such as speaking in local language, wearing local dress and so on. They normally gather prior information about the destination and dares to travel away from comfort zone i.e. “environmental bubbles” but doesn’t risk as drifter. Immersion to local culture prevails but not completely as like of drifter. They try to seek changes with the travel undertaken but novelty domains.
  • Individual mass tourist. They form a group and register in a travel agency and travel together. In contrast to organized tour there are certain flexibility as the tour is not preplanned. The tourist has certain flexibility of the travel undertaken. However, the travel agency helps to shape the travel by arranging everything. They experience novelty high in compared to organized one, but they seek changes as they are travelling to familiar destination with almost activities being routine.
  • Organized mass (more than 50 form a group and register in travel agency and visit same place, perform same activities and return to the destination). The trip is usually undertaken to the popular destination (environmental bubbles) with fixed itinerary and schedule. The role of the tourist is just to act according to the plan and be with the guide wherever they lead. They follow schedule/time for everything and package of everything so they cannot go out of the track which sometimes can be less adventurous. Familiarity is maximum because the travel is undertaken to common destination and has detail information of the destination.

The institutionalized form of tourism: The organized and individual Mass Tourist

‘Where were you on Dashain Vacation?’

‘In Major dimension of tourist role:

  1. Temporary movement
  2. Voluntary traveler
  3. Round trip
  4. Relatively long journey
  5. Non-recurrent trip
  6. Non-instrumental trip

In order to demonstrate the derivative of the tourist role from the general category of traveler and to highlight analytical difference between the tourist role and other type of traveler role, this definition can be presented in the form of a “conceptual tree” as shown in figure below:

Source: (‘Conceptual Tree’ for the defination of the toursit roleCohen, 1971, p. 23)


Alike tourism, tourist is also a vague concept and there is a huge gap between the tourist and non-tourist categories leading considerable conceptual confusion and realistic distortion. Also, the role of various tourist typology may intersect with each other slightly or heavily and have many roles in common but should be segregate separately to reach distorted substantive conclusion about tourist role and function. The paper has given significant emphasis on sociological viewpoint of tourist typology and the definition may not be relevant from another perspective.

  1. Boorstin, D. J. (2012). The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America: Vintage.
  2. Cohen, E. (1971). Contemporary tourism: diversity and change (Vol. 8): Elsevier.
  3. Knebel, H.-J. (1960). Soziologische Strukturwandlungen im modernen Tourismus: Mit 25 Tabellen: Enke.
  4. Robert Christie Mill , A. M. M. (2012). The Tourism System (Vol. 7). United States of America: Kendall Hunt publishing company.  
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