Societal implications of UAE tourism development

Published: September 2016.
Journal: Anatolia (2016)

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) was dependent upon oil for its wealth as recently as the 1990s; this has changed since a tourism focus was taken by the government (DTCM, 2013). The country has since become an international tourism destination (Sharpley, 2008). The success of tourism in the U.A.E is now recognized as paramount to the sustainability of the country (Bageen, 2007; Sharpley, 2008). The pace of changes in domestic economic patterns brought about through tourism has been accompanied by issues known to plague tourism. This includes sociocultural impacts, which have been consistently evidenced as a potential negative effect of tourism (Erisman, 1983; Nunez, 1963; Turner & Ash, 1975). Limited research has investigated the U.A.E’s tourism impacts despite rapid modernization (Bagaeen, 2007; Balakrishnan, 2008; Govers & Go, 2009; Henderson, 2006a, 2006b; Sharpley, 2008). Some studies have hypothesized that sociocultural impacts of tourism have been significant in the U.A.E though. These studies have primarily focused on a loss of heritage and sociocultural factors (Stephenson, 2014; Stephenson & Ali-Knight, 2010; Stephenson, Russell, & Edgar, 2010; Zaidan, 2016). Furthermore, a westernization of social and cultural elements stemming from rapid tourism growth may be impacting the U.A.E (Stephenson, 2014; Zaidan, 2016). An amalgamation of Western schooling, Middle Eastern cultural heritage, and a diverse blend of Indian, European, African, and new world cultures and religions have resulted in the creation of a distinctive social structure in the U.A.E (Heard-Bey, 2005; Zaidan, 2015, p. 16). This distinct sociocultural fusion may be impacting U.A.E tourism development and the authenticity of century-long held sociocultural beliefs and factors (Stephenson & Ali-Knight, 2010; Stephenson, 2014; Zaidan, 2016). There is also a noticeable generational gap regarding sociocultural factors. This gap contributes to exacerbation of issues related to religion, culture, age, and ethnicity. These issues manifest in differences over the choice of dressing, working hours, holidays, traditions, media, economy, and tourism, among other things (Zaidan, 2016). This study seeks to better understand the potential impacts of tourism growth and development on the U.A.E’s sociocultural factors via an exploratory qualitative approach that includes semi-structured interviews (N = 424) and a content analysis.

                  Esmat Zaidan , Justin Taillon and Seeun Lee

Department of International Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar;  Department of
Hospitality & Tourism Management, Highline Community College, Des Moines, WA, USA; c Department of Recreation,
Park, & Tourism Sciences, Texas A and M University, College Station, TX, USA

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