Helson’s (1947) adaptation-level theory in psychology discusses human responses to focal, contextual, and organic stimuli and the way humans adapt to their environment. In tourist-host encounters, adaptation theory describes the process in which individuals establish and maintain relatively stable, reciprocal, and functional relationships with unfamiliar cultural environments, possibly leading to personal transformation (Kim 2001). Long-stay tourists may even become acculturated. Berry’s (1997) bidimensional acculturation theory describes the process of psychological acculturation in which people engage in interacting with and adopting parts of the host culture on one hand and preserving their home culture on the other. These theories explain how humans make adjustments in new settings. Responses to external stimuli are affected by prior experiences and frames of reference, leading to possible attitude and behavioral modification.
When applied in tourism, the stimuli are presented by tourist-host encounters which challenge both parties to modify their current set of attitudes and behaviors in order to sustain, and mutually benefit from, the encounter. From a host community’s perspective, adaptation can take physical forms by adjusting the types of entertainment, price, experience, and gastronomy, among others, to suit the taste and expectation of tourists. At the psychological level, residents adapt to their community and lifestyle changes in different stages of destination lifecycle (Butler 1980). The beginning stages are characterized by a destination receiving an increasing number of explorers and pioneers who are highly adaptive. As more institutionalized or organized mass tourists come, they become more dependent on the local community (Cohen 1972), hence there is a higher demand for local residents to adapt to tourists’ needs.
Typically, the spectrum of population in a destination ranges from tourists, holidaymakers, sojourners, and drifters to migrants and residents. Notably, tourists make the least adaptation due to their short encounter. At most, they may only need to cope with new and nonrecurring situations, rather than to adapt. However, other groups have been exposed to culture shocks long enough, making adjustment necessary if they wish to stay.
Current research focuses on the continuum of adaptation-assimilation-integration-migration, where one moves from “tourist” on one end to “migrant” on the other. This is especially relevant for long-stay tourists, who get attuned to local practices, find their place in local social networks, and gradually develop a strong attachment to a destination. Future research could examine how adaptation, or the lack of it, affects the occurrence and resolution of tourist-host conflicts. Other topics include antecedents of adaptation, effect of tourism policy on host community adaptation, and the role of education in shaping tourist-host attitudes and behaviors and promoting intercultural awareness and tolerance.
- Berry, J. 1997 Immigration, Acculturation and Adaptation. Applied Psychology: An International Review 46:5-68.Google Scholar
- Cohen, E. 1972 Toward a Sociology of International Tourism. Social Research 39:164-182.Google Scholar
- Kim, Y. 2001 Becoming Intercultural: Integrative Theory of Communication and Crosscultural Adaptation. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar