Critical evaluation of the extent to which tourism can improve the quality of people’s lives


Critical evaluation of the extent to which tourism can improve the quality of people’s lives

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Tourism is an industry that has been around for decades and its imperative nature to local and world economies cannot be ignored. However, it is also paramount to inquire as to the viability of tourism in improving the quality of life of people engaging in it. Similarly, the quality of life is of great concern to both individuals and their administrations and it is a priority for all persons. It is from this end that this essay puts forth a critical review of the extent to which tourist experiences can improve the quality of life of tourists. The essay firstly introduces the relationship between quality of life and tourism as a leisure activity. A background and definition of quality of life is also offered and the essay concentrates on the subjective definition. The analysis is done on social tourism experiences, cultural tourism experiences, and long stay tourism experiences and extended to Voluntourism. The conclusion is that tourism experiences improve the quality of life of people through better health, environments, family bonding, socialisation et cetera. However, there are also negative experiences that serve to degrade the quality of life.


The need to attain a better quality of life is imminent in all spheres of the society ranging from religion to political realms. For example in the contemporary society, Bouckaert and van de Walle (2003) believe that the quality of life of a nation should be among the top priorities of the government. Similarly, there are various assertions that have been put forth regarding the ability of tourism to improve the quality of life of a tourist alongside the quality of life in the destination. For example, Michalko et al. (2009) posits that the act of changing one’s location and spending time in a different place helps therapeutically. Specifically, changing one’s daily environment helps in satisfying physical needs including helping in regeneration of self. McCabe, Joldersma and Li (2010) support the claim by advancing that tourism has a direct effect on an individual’s health. This is through dome of the personal benefits that are derived from tourism that include recuperating from work, personal and social development, visiting friends and relatives, intercultural communication, religious pilgrimages et cetera. The aforementioned are among the upsides of tourism. However, this essay intends to critically analyse the extent to which tourism experiences improves the quality of life of individuals.

Quality of life

Bond and Corner (2004) accord a very amorphous definition to quality of life in their work whereby they refer to it as influenced by the perceptions of the user and thus not definite. Other scholars have alluded to the same sentiments too. Kober (2010) for example summarises the definitions of quality of life by categorising them as subjective and objective. A subjective definition is based on the importance – to an individual – of the elements being used to determine the quality of life in question. Objective definitions follow the position the society takes on the same issue. This essay follows the subjective definition of quality of life. Exenberger and Juen (2013) elaborate more on the subjective definition by pointing out that objective indicators of well being are related to personal feelings, attitudes, preferences, beliefs, judgements and opinions. Extrapolating from this definition, leisure activities offer subjective well being as they offer divergent opportunities to meet life values and needs. Brajsa-zganec, Merkas and Sverko (2010) further add that leisure activities, both people centred and place centred are contributing factors to subjective well being and cannot be ignored. In summary, quality of life in both the objective and subjective aspect are partly or wholly influence by leisure activities as evidenced in the discussion above. Similarly, tourism which is part of leisure activities is bound to have the same effect.

The extent to which tourism experiences improve quality of life of tourists

As mention above, tourism is part of the leisure activities which Brajsa-zganec, Merkas and Sverko (2010) link to personal well-being. Several tourism activities are apparent to causing personal well being according to scholarly studies. Each of them however has an extent as limitations also exist.

Social tourism and quality of life

Firstly, McCabe, Joldersma and Li (2010) identify a specific area of tourism that influences individual’s well-being as social tourism. They note that the impact is not only on well-being but also its antecedents including happiness and healthy life. Minnaert and Miller (2009) define social tourism in its broad scope which includes involvement of different holiday types, destinations and different groups intended for commercial and non-commercial purposes by governmental and some non-governmental institutions. In the words of Minnaert and Miller (2009) social tourism has the common form of charity organisations paying for holiday trips for groups – such as children from low-income backgrounds – that would otherwise not afford such services. Sigala (2014) brings on a different perspective to social tourism by noting that all the activities involved in social tourism converge towards bringing moral dimensions to tourism. As such, social tourism is a direct way of assisting the disadvantaged in the society.

There are programmes in different parts of the world that exemplify social tourism. For example in the year 2005, the UK government was pressurised by the Family Holiday Association to organise charities towards financing social tourism for natives that were low-income earners, suffered disability and other illnesses or could not go on holidays due to family break ups (Ramrayka, 2005). Family Holiday Association is part of the organisations in the UK that advocate for family holidays in the nation. In Spain, there is a program titled Imserso tourism program under which over 300 hotels come participate in a year. The program is an initiative where the travel prices and other holiday expenses are subsidised for almost a million of sate pensioners yearly (Spanish news today, 2015). The benefits that Family Holiday association links to social tourism include: it improves well-being and reduces stress, increases self-esteem and confidence, strengthens family relationships and bonds, widens the family perspectives and wholesomely results in a more inclusive society (Family Holiday Association, 2015). 

Despite having various benefits to the common citizens, the extent to which social tourism benefits the extent to which this benefits can be enjoyed is much limited. Rodríguez (2010) succinctly addresses the limitations existent in the social tourism industry especially in Spain. One of these drawbacks is cited by Rodríguez (2010) as sustainability issues. This is majorly because social tourism is perceived by private organisations as a venture for the poor majorities. Thusly the sector lacking direct monetary profitability tends to create disinterest among various parties. Puczko and Ratz (2011) while addressing social tourism in Hungary notes that practice has faded off because of non-profitablity. Citing that the right to holidays is a natural consequence to a right to work, Puczko and Ratz (2011) emphasise the need for social tourism in a nation. However, this brings on board a critical limitation to the extent of application of social tourism because it is limited to either government pensioners or citizens of the specific country.

Cultural tourism and quality of life

Beyond social tourism, there is cultural tourism which is also termed cultural heritage tourism. Miller (2014) while elaborating on the importance of cultural tourism highlights the therapeutically effect it has on tourists. It thus arguably improves the quality of life. By definition, cultural tourism includes all the movements by people in visitation of different cultural contexts in order to satisfy their human needs for diversity and to gain new knowledge, experiences and encounters (Ivanovic, 2008). Miller (2014) points out that the needs of cultural tourists circle around entertainment, social connections and fun activities. Socialisation has been presented by studies as being able to quicken the cure for some ailments such as cancer. For example a study done on cancer and the impact of movement and socialisation showed that there is a positive link between recovery and movement and socialisation (Moore, 2010).

 Attributing to the definition of cultural tourism, there are a variety of examples that can describe cultural tourism in action. This is because every society has its own culture. An example is UK’s historic and cultural sites which include the British Museum, Tate Gallery, Kensington trio of national history among others. London has topped the cities of the world as the most visited destination for heritage, history, arts and culture events (BBC News, 2013). As mentioned earlier, the quality of life is enhanced generally through leisure tourism of which cultural tourism is part of. Cultural visits to such destinations as London enables a person to gain new experiences that can results in happiness and overall improvements. This is also according to the position held by Uysal, Perdue and Sirgy (2012) under which they note that besides benefiting the locals, tourism adds value to the tourist’s life through happiness and new exposures away from the usual routines.

 Miller (2014) divides the area of cultural tourism into two beneficial realms that include intellectual facets and emotional facets. Intellectually, cultural tourism is thought-provoking, enriching, educative and offering historical memories. On the other hand on the emotional perspective, cultural tourism offers the tourist enjoyment, relaxation, resting from routine work, socialisation and feelings of well-being. The limit to the extent to which cultural tourism can improve the quality of life is the incongruence of culture that may often result in bad experiences and consequently reduction in the levels of happiness. As Moufakkir (2013) posits, culture shock affects tourist’s perceptions of destinations and their perceptions towads tourism in general. Such instance may cause the impact of tourism experiences on the quality of life to be negative rather than positive ones.

Long stay tourism and quality of life

The experiences of cultural tourism, sports tourism and social tourism improve the quality of life. However, these visits are often short-lived and sometimes seasonal. Therefore, the need for long term quality of life achievement can only be achieved through long stay tourism. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in many countries ranging from Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Europe, United States and Mexico (Wong and Musa, 2014: Nagatomo, 2015). Also referred to as international retirement migration, long stay tourism is defined as an attempt to migrate to other countries after working years in search of a better quality of life (Mayomi, 2008). In addition, long stay tourism in thus not a new phenomenon but has been around for long. Phiromyon (2011) for example in his dissertation addresses the need for more accommodation in Thailand to cater for the burgeoning business of long stay tourism.

The nature of long stay tourism in relation to quality of life is, as aforementioned, to improve the conditions after retirement. However there are special cases under which people still in their working years seek services of long stay tourism. Phiromyoo (2011) notes that in the specific case of Thailand, long stay tourists are often avoiding high cost of living, cold countries and driven by the need to spend their old age in peaceful destinations. This is what sums up as quality of life in their context. A case example of long stay tourism is as explained by Mayomi (2008) in his study of long stay tourism of Japanese national in Malaysia. According to Mayomi (2008) there is a hike in the number of Japanese nationals aged over 50 years are enjoying long-stay tourism in Malaysia. An imminent issue in long stay tourism in Japan is that the number is alarmingly high that it causes jeopardy in the distinction between migration and tourism.

The main attribution to this massive adoption of long stay tourism by Japanese nationals is due to a couple of reasons as addressed by Mayomi (2008). Firstly, there has been a constant reduction on birth rates in Japan a situation that has caused the nation to fall short of labour especially in the medical realm and thus resulting in a shortage of patrons to take care of the elderly. In this sense thusly, the elderly – aged over 50 years – move to seek better services in Malaysia. Secondly, life expectancy in Japan has increased a lot and thus there is hope for the older people to live longer. Having most of them retire early, the get to pursue their own ‘kigai’ a concept in Japan which translates to ‘what life is really all about’. This means that they explore what subjectively means quality life to them. Hutchinson and Saravanamuttu (2013) claim that long stay tourism especially in Japan has shown signs on achieving self-actualization and creating. This is because there is a general surge in the subjective quality of life in different destinations as opposed to Japan.

The same phenomenon of Japan is replicated in Morales (2010) study under which Americans living in Los Cabos in Mexico. The study shows that a large number of Americans moved to this place after their retirement. The main reason for movement was cited as escape from pressure in their former residences, cultural exploration, climate et cetera. These reasons narrowed down to improving the quality of life. In summary of the concept of long stay tourism, the view of Koch-Schulte (2008) would suffice. He notes that the field on international retirement migration and its facets including expatriate residency, residential tourism and international second homes all play a part in improving the quality of life as it is their primary purpose. In addition, Long stay tourism unlike seasonal tourism is a permanent scenario. Long stay tourism is also faced with a couple of disadvantages the main one being unequal treatment of tourists in comparison to the local population. According to Sloane et al. (2013) in regard to the case of US citizens in Mexico, there is a difficulty in the access of some services such as advanced medical attention and this necessitates them to make costly trips back to the states.

Voluntourism and quality of life

Tourism experiences, as noted from the above discussions, are often associated with positive stances and happiness. Forgan (2014) for example compiles a list of the reasons as to why it is great to be a tourist. Among them include the discussed freedom from work pressures, clearing one’s mind, supporting a good course, family stability among others. Forgan (2014) argues that though sometimes seen as wastage tourism helps in maintenance of the work-play balance. However, these sentiments are not shared by everyone. Brown (2014) counters the argument that tourism is complete bliss by noting that it is a waste of time and money. The fundamental of Brown’s (2014) criticism is the facet of ‘voluntourism’ – a concept whereby people visit other countries as tourism and volunteers at the same time. The main argument against this is that the harm done is more than the good. On the part of the host, denial of jobs as firs accommodate tourist volunteers is the major loss. However on the part of the volunteer tourists, there if often a great deal of unfulfilling and disappointing experiences that jeopardise their need to make a difference (Brown, 2014). In this way it can be critically argued that tourism experiences are not always a source of a better quality of life.


Quality of life is an important phenomenon and as noted in the introduction it needs to fall under the priorities of the modern government. There are various sources of value that improve quality of life whether objective or subjective. In this essay, the main focus was the subjective elements of quality of life as brought about by tourism experiences. Evidently, there are difference types of tourism activities including cultural tourism, sports tourism, social tourism, long term tourism and Voluntourism. All these types as seen from the practical and theoretical arguments in the essay offer better quality of life especially in the subjective sense, Good health, serene environments, socialisation, relaxation, exploration, family bonding, personal fulfilment among other positives drawn for the aforementioned tourism activities have been seen as impacting quality of life. However, there are imminent limitations to the extent to which this quality of life can be achieved because of factors such as regulations to long stay tourism, negative experiences in Voluntourism, culture shock among others. Thusly, it is factual to conclude that tourism experiences have an imperative contribution to the quality of life but this is not always the case given the existence of limiting factors.


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