Impact of tourism on culture and sociology in Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Impact of tourism on culture and sociology in Sri Lanka

12 March, 2023

The tourist industry is one of the largest and a key contributor to socio-economic development in developing countries, but rural tourism has been highlighted as a potential alternative source of income. Tourism refers to short-term or temporary departures from one’s customary residence and place of employment, ranging from a single night to a full year.

People travel for a variety of reasons, such as business, to see friends and family, for education, or for health. The activities that persons engage in while travelling are also part of tourism, such as sunbathing, going to a theme park, participating in religious rituals, skiing, or going to a corporate conference. Tourism has a significant economic impact and should be considered when developing rural areas with tourist attractions.

Sri Lanka is a developing nation that attracts tourists due to its diverse fauna, pleasant climate, cultural attractions, and natural beauty. Seven World Heritage Sites are in Sri Lanka, including six UNESCO-designated world heritage sites. The tourism industry contributes significantly to the country’s economy, accounting for 12 -13 percent of its GDP. However, the Covid-19 epidemic and the ongoing economic crisis have decimated the sector.

Tourism, Culture and Sociology

Tourism is the process by which individuals or a group of people visit places outside their usual surroundings and stay for up to one year for leisure, business or other purposes. Culture is the collective set of beliefs, behaviour, and material possessions that make up a people’s way of life. The study of people in social contexts, such as groups, organisations, cultures, and societies, is known as sociology.


Tourism and culture can interact in a way that can make places, regions, and countries more desirable and competitive. Some of the beneficial economic effects of tourism include an increase in per capita income and earnings, a higher standard of living, and more employment opportunities. Sociocultural influences include interactions between different cultural backgrounds, attitudes and behaviour, and relationships to objects and things. To maximise beneficial effects and reduce negative ones, it is essential to have a responsible tourist policy. Promoting cultural tourism is desirable for people who are sensitive to different cultures, and restricting tourists when things are at risk.

The development of a country’s tourism sector seeks to maximise the benefits of the sector and minimise its negatives. Culture is a crucial idea in the sociological perspective, as it affects people’s ideas and behaviour. The sociology of tourism focuses on the investigation of touristic motives, roles, linkages, and organisations as well as their impacts on tourists and the cultures they visit.

Local perspective

Tourism is a major contributor to development, providing tax revenue, foreign exchange earnings, income multiplier effects, and redistribution of income. It also aids in the integration and unification of communities, knowledge advancement, socio-cultural revaluation, and appreciation of the environment.

About 2.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, or US $ 367.00 million, was generated from tourism in 1995. It was around US $ 886 per person at the time, which equated to 414,000 tourists. The nation’s reliance on tourism has significantly risen in the past 25 years. Sales were $4.66 billion, or 5.6 percent of the national gross product, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Thus, the average cost of a trip to Sri Lanka for each visitor was $2,300. The Covid-19 pandemic caused a significant drop in tourism income in 2020.

Tourism is expanding quickly in the country, and it has long been a popular destination for tourists. Sri Lanka has been divided into a number of tourist regions by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority to promote the expansion of the tourism sector

Western Region: The Colombo and Greater Colombo Resort Region stretches from Negombo in the North to Mount Lavinia in the South. The zone is the focal point and the nation’s hub for conferences, business meetings, and sporting events in the Colombo city. International travellers can enter and exit through Colombo.

Eastern Region: The area stretches from Pottuvil in the South to Kuchchaveli in the North. Arugam Bay, Pasikudah, Trincomalee and Nilaveli are the principal tourist areas.

Southern Region: The South coastal zone stretches from Tissamaharama to Wadduwa. There are two major regions that make up the zone. From Wadduwa to Galle, the first region includes Kalutara, Beruwala, Bentota, Dedduwa, Madu Ganga, Balapitiya, Ahungalla, and Hikkaduwa. Unawatuna, Koggala, Weligama, Mirissa, Matara, Tangalle, and Hambantota are included as sub-points of the second region, which stretches from Galle to Tissamaharama.

Up Country Region: The up-country includes Nuwara Eliya, Bandarawela, and Maskeliya.

The Ancient Cities Resort Region is home to Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Kandy, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiriya, five World Heritage Sites. There are also the regions of Habarana, Giritale, Matale and Victoria.

Cultural tourism in rural development

Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural nation with a variety of celebrations, such as the Galle Literary Festival, Vesak Festival, Christmas, Ramadan Festival, Thai Pongal, and Kandy Esala perahera. It is one of the greatest tea growers in the world, and its handicrafts include woodwork, silverware, copper casting, ceramics, bamboo products, pottery, bars, textile work, jewellery, wooden masks, coir products, handlooms and ivory products.

Cultural tourism is an important component of rural development in Sri Lanka, providing direct employment, economic growth, social empowerment, better living conditions, cross-cultural interaction and improved tourism perception. Agrotourism, community-based tourism, cultural - based tourism, nature-based tourism and rural – based tourism have potential to alleviate poverty in rural areas.

The goal of cultural tourism is to increase the engagement of rural residents in the creation of cultural products which bring an advantage as getting an additional income for them. The impact of cultural tourism experiences on repeat visits of tourists is a major priority for the rural people. Sri Lanka has recognised tourism as a strategy for economic growth.

The majority of foreign and local guests to the country travel in Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Anuradapura, Kandy, Upcountry and the costal belt, which have cultural substances such as Sigiriya wall art paintings, ancient cities, Dalada Perahera, Traditional food, Safaris, beach entertainment, cultural dancing, religious events and locations, Cultural festivals, Agro – tourism, Eco- tourism and traditional dressing.

Rural people provide tangible and intangible items to attract tourist by focusing mostly on cultural items. Cultural handicrafts are unique items for attracting tourists, but the production needs to be modified so tourists can carry them easily.

Effects of tourism on culture and sociology

The impact of tourism on culture and sociology in Sri Lanka has been studied by many researchers. It can either be beneficial or negative depending on whether it improves or disrupts important characteristics of society. Economic, sociocultural, environmental and health are the typical categories used to define the impact of tourism.

Interactions between people from different cultural backgrounds, attitudes and behaviour and links to material possessions are examples of economic values. Direct environmental impact include increased harvesting of natural resources for food, indirect air pollution and changes to natural phenomena.

Tourism has a positive impact on culture and sociology, contributing to the development of infrastructure such as museums, resorts, parks and beaches. It also increases trade and business, creating employment opportunities and improving the economic prospects of the people. Promotion of local culture, arts, crafts and traditions, cultural engagement, understanding and preservation, as well as development of host communities and promotion of cultural values are among the most frequently observed positive effects.

However, the social and cultural effects of tourism need to be carefully considered since they have the potential to benefit or damage communities. Tourism growth can have a positive impact on quality of life by making it easier for residents to interact with visitors, encouraging cultural interchange, and increasing peoples understanding of other communities.

Cultural tourism also preserves local communities’ natural, historical, and cultural resources, teaches locals and visitors about the past and customs of their communities, strengthens and unites local communities, promotes civic and economic viability, and encourages local ownership of small businesses.

Tourism can have a negative impact on culture and sociology, such as the commercialisation and cheapening of culture and traditions, alienation and loss of cultural identity, undermining of local customs and ways of life, displacing traditional residents, expanding the gap between those who benefit from tourism and those who do not, conflict over land rights and resource access, harm to landmarks and facilities, loss of authenticity and displacement of traditional residents, and changes in lifestyle.

Tourism has negative effects on the health of the local population, such as increased noise pollution, disease transmission, traffic accidents, higher crime rates, crowding, congestion, and other stressful situations. Locals may also experience anxiety or depression due to their perceptions of the hazards related to mortality rates, food insecurity, and contact with infectious tourists. The United Nations Environment Programme has highlighted the serious socio-cultural consequences of tourism development, including prostitution and sex tourism.

Sri Lanka has chosen tourism as one of its main growth strategies, and its cultural and social landmarks have become one of the most popular travel destinations. However, there are many concerns and issues that need to be addressed to ensure the viability of the industry. These include tourism, conflicts of interest, unauthorised buildings and alterations, inappropriate tourist behaviour, misunderstandings and poor management.

Before further tourism development in those historical and cultural sites, the authorities must take steps to address related problems and issues otherwise, the country will suffer more adverse effects rather than the anticipated economic benefits.

(The writer is a M. Sc. Student - Development Communication and Extension, Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya.)