Sociological aspects of mass tourism : the case of the Scottish Highlands
Tourism can be understood as both an economic and social phenomenon. Theories of tourism have, however, failed to take account of this and lack a critical function. One possible solution is to conceptualise tourism as a mass medium. In the Highlands the cultural foundations of mass tourism can be traced to a transformation in the perception of landscape and society dating back to the eighteenth century. In recent years this has been reflected in the production of tourist information by the industry, albeit in the construction of a partial and restricted view of the region's social and physical characteristics. Economically, state intervention has signalled tourism's importance as a developmental alternative in the Highlands. The rationality of state activity suggests that it has become 'systematically integrated' to dominant entrepreneurial groups. Institutional decision-making has however proved impervious to the demands of the wider population, especially the workforce, which is noticeably under-represented in consultations. Tourist employment is notable for the prevalence of marginal groups and a low level of pay and conditions, therefore it may not be appropriate for the indigenous inhabitants. The ownership structure of the industry does not indicate that it exacerbates inter-regional inequality. In contrast tourism can be said to exaggerate existing asymmetries within the local social structure. Certain groups within the population, notably the entrepreneurial middle class, have benefited to a disproportionate extent from the tourist industry's recent expansion. In this sense tourism performs an inequality maintaining function. The state's successful moderation of market laws has contributed to the ascendance of local capital. Given the nature of the small enterprise, it has thus become increasingly difficult to reconcile the public goals bestowed on the industry by state agencies with the private orientation of property owning groups.