Early studies on residents’ attitudes to tourism were criticized for being atheoretical. As a result, it was not clear to researchers how, why, and in what conditions residents of a destination react to the impacts of tourism. To address these shortcomings, researchers started making use of a number of theories, among which, the Social Exchange Theory (SET) is considered to have made the most important theoretical contribution to studies on residents’ perceptions of tourism. This paper critically analyzes the different elements involved in the social exchange process between residents of a destination and the tourism industry. It analyzes the core constructs of the SET and in particular, focuses on power and trust between the actors in the exchange process. The arguments suggest that researchers have failed to integrate these core concepts in a single study to investigate their influence on residents’ perceptions of tourism and their support for development. The paper suggests that the power and trust concepts have significant potential in explaining community acceptance of tourism and if this field of study is to be advanced theoretically, then researchers should empirically test these concepts in an integrative framework.
Tourism has been a growing sector in several parts of the word. It creates jobs, generates revenues for the local community, promotes cultural exchange, improves infrastructure, and acts as a vehicle for environmental protection and preservation (Andereck, Valentine, Knopf, and Vogt, 2005; Hao, Long, and Kleckley, 2011). However, while tourism has brought many benefits, it has also led to several negative social, cultural, and environmental impacts (Choi and Sirakaya, 2005; Nunkoo and Ramkissoon, 2007). The industry has been found notorious for its ability to disturb, disrupt, and destroy local communities, undermining social norms, degrading social structure, and stripping communities of individuality (Nunkoo and Ramkissoon, 2011; Ramkissoon and Nunkoo, 2011; Simpson, 2008). Such concerns have led to an increased emphasis on the notion of sustainable tourism development, requiring residents’ input in the tourism development process (Choi and Sirakaya, 2005). A community’s active support for tourism is a pre-requisite for the sustainable development of the industry. The extent to which residents’ desires are met and their views are taken into account determines their receptiveness to both tourism development as well as visitors (Davis, Allen, and Cosenza, 1988). Through an evaluation of the host community’s views on tourism, the industry’s negative impacts can be minimized and appropriate policies put in place (William and Lawson, 2001). Residents’ attitudes to tourism also have a significant influence on tourism development policies. Consequently, studies on this topic have been an important topic of research and continue to proliferate in the literature (e.g. Nunkoo, 2015; Nunkoo, Gursoy and Juwaheer, 2010; Nunkoo and Ramkissoon, 2010; Nunkoo, Smith, and Ramkissoon, 2013; Nunkoo and So, in press; Park, Nunkoo, and Yoon, 2015).