Tourism is a product that is produced and consumed at the same time. Tourism affects the economy and lives of communities and has proven to be a lifesaver for many destinations. Impacts occur when tourism changes the value systems/ behavior, threatening native identity and that changes occur in community structure, family relationships, ceremonies, collective traditional styles and morality. Tourism can also cause positive impacts as it can serve as a helpful force for peace, help avoid urban relocation by creating local jobs and foster pride in cultural traditions. The type of tourist will have a differing effect on the host community. The mass tourist is less likely to adapt to the local cultures and will seek amenities and standards found in his home community. On the other hand the independent tourist will adapt more readily. The process of tourism development is very important because the speed and nature of development can be a major influence on the magnitude and direction of socio-cultural changes. The term socio-cultural impacts refer to changes to resident’s everyday experiences, as well as to their values, way of life, and intellectual and artistic products.
The positive and negative impacts of tourism on the Cyprus socio-cultural structure has been an issue for a long time. Social impacts can be considered as changes in the lives of people who live in destination communities, which are connected with tourist actions in regard to moral conduct, creative expressions. Cultural impacts can be the changes in the arts, traditional ceremonies, customs and rituals and architecture of people that result from tourism activity. Witt (1991) claims that, “the greater the difference between the host community and the tourists the greater will be the affect of tourism on society”. This presents a challenge to decision makers in regard to the type of tourism that a destination is trying to attract. Thus, for example, at the national level a specific development might be justified on the grounds that it is positive for the society as a whole even if on average it is not positive for the host community. All travelers seek tourism experience, yet very different goals and objectives are required through different roles and behaviors. This occurs because in Cyprus are many different types of tourists. Each type of tourist can be expected to behave differently while visiting a destination. Certain groups can be seen as more exploitive and less sensitive to social and cultural values. Explorers blend into the Cyprus life as local people do and stay longer but they have contact with fewer people than members of a charter tour that moves through Cyprus for shopping or sightseeing.
In the case of Cyprus, the tourist policy of the Cyprus Tourism Organization aims to attract middle and high-income class tourists in order to minimize possible resentment between locals and tourists. According to statistics by ‘Eurostat’, Cypriots enjoy a higher standard of living than other regions and the type of tourist that visits the island is not the typical high and middle class income tourist but mostly youngsters who tend to reach their limits once they are abroad. The effects of tourists’ behavior and activities on young people in the area are very noticeable. The increase in drug trafficking and crime are the two major effects of tourism on the local community. Young people tend to spend a lot of their free time away from their families and from community activities since they spend more time in the tourist areas going out clubbing or at bars. As a result, we have an increase in the number of school dropouts and in the number of people smoking at early stages of their age. Cyprus is considered to be one of the few destinations that have controlled tourism well, and it is now repaying the benefits.
Cyprus is still an up market destination offering a friendly atmosphere and high quality service. Cyprus has always marketed itself as a prestige resort. Surveys show that many residents see the tourists as a breath of fresh air into the society, economy and life of the locals. The Cyprus Tourism Organization is aiming to keep its high quality and consequently it’s up market clientele by offering excellent facilities and different types of tourism activities such as Agro Tourism, Bird Watching and Cycling. To achieve this selective advertising and promotion are adopted in order to attract this type of customer.
The development of the Tourist Industry led to an improvement in the standard of living for the local people in several areas as tourism expenditure increases the income and improve the standard of living and the quality of life for the locals. Tourism also contributes to the development of infrastructure with the building of airports, new roads, restaurants and hospitals, attraction to enable greatest number of citizens to benefit from the cultural, recreational and leisure activities of the tourism sector. Tourism has also aided in arising the interest for art festivals and crafts, for example weaving, embroidery, wood crafting, pottery etc that have been practiced in small villages for hundreds of years.
The impact of tourism on the conservation of old buildings is also both positive and negative. Cyprus residents claim that tourists look for and appreciate local architecture and authentic traditional style, so a lot of buildings are being renovated or conserved as mainly tourist attractions, which would have been destroyed by eager owner. On the other hand, old buildings do not have enough capacity to provide accommodation for the growing number of tourists, so they are destroyed to give room to new and large guest houses with appropriate capacity and tourist facilities.
The media have described Paralimni and Agia Napa as “a round-the clock neon-lit cosmopolitan mini-metropolis and topless sex capital of Cyprus”. The majority state that tourists have a negative effect on the Cypriot way of life and that tourism changes the traditional culture, also it decreases the lifestyle quality of Cypriots who live in tourist areas. The extreme concentration of tourists resulted in the modification of social attitudes among young people, particularly towards sexual behavior. The European way of living has altered the Cypriot society as younger generations are seeking different values than their families’, and thus resulting in weaker family bonds. A number of researchers examined the link between the perception that tourism contributes to increase in crime and the support for its development. The crime is related to resident perceptions of tourism development. There is also an increase in prostitution and rise in criminal activity and possible anger between local and tourists. Rural population, long term residents, farmers, and younger segments perceive tourism as contributing to an increase in crime especially in the area of Agia Napa. Agia Napa is advertised as a place of great consumption of alcohol, sex, drugs and crime and a great damage caused by thousands of topless beach goers. Moreover the massive arrival of youngsters changed the image of the area from a fun relaxing atmosphere to more of a nightlife entertainment with many nightclubs and discos. As a result, there is an increase in drug trafficking and crime as well as the young generation in Cyprus has started to adopt different set of values on morality and style of dressing which is not acceptable by the older generations. Tourists have altered the Cypriot values and beliefs especially among the young generation and as mentioned before the dress code has changed and nudity is much more acceptable now.
In spite of all negative and positive impacts of tourism on the socio-cultural structure of Cyprus it is not yet clear whether the benefits outweigh the costs. In general, the residents of Cyprus have a positive attitude toward tourism. Since the success of tourism depends very much on the human attitudes and behavior of the residents of a destination towards tourists, this seems to be an encouraging result for the future of tourism development. Residents recognize a range of potential positive and negative impacts of tourism however, current attitudes are generally quite positive and there is support for future modest increase in tourism. The tourism development strategy should aim to protect local culture, respect local traditions and promote local ownership and management of programs and projects so as to foster community stewardship of the natural resource base. As integrated processes take time, tourism umbrella organizations should start with voluntary self-restraint, until locally adapted objectives have been reached.
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