The Design of a Social Distance Scale to Be Used in the Context of Tourism

ABSTRACT - This paper outlines the methodology undertaken to design a social distance scale to be used in the context of tourism. Traditionally social distance scales have been used in areas such as occupation and immigration but not with regard to the contact between a tourist and the host. Additionally most tourism social impacts literature focuses on host attributes and specific problems with tourism rather than the impact of contact situations between the tourist and the host. Examples of contact situations were extracted from focus groups undertaken in New Zealand. Judges ranked these situations with regard to their intimacy. Modes and means of these ranks determined the seven most appropriate items to be included in a social distance scale.


Maree A. Thyne and Rob Lawson (2001) ,"The Design of a Social Distance Scale to Be Used in the Context of Tourism", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Paula M. Tidwell and Thomas E. Muller, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 102-107.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001      Pages 102-107


Maree A. Thyne, University of Otago, New Zealand

Rob Lawson, University of Otago, New Zealand


This paper outlines the methodology undertaken to design a social distance scale to be used in the context of tourism. Traditionally social distance scales have been used in areas such as occupation and immigration but not with regard to the contact between a tourist and the host. Additionally most tourism social impacts literature focuses on host attributes and specific problems with tourism rather than the impact of contact situations between the tourist and the host. Examples of contact situations were extracted from focus groups undertaken in New Zealand. Judges ranked these situations with regard to their intimacy. Modes and means of these ranks determined the seven most appropriate items to be included in a social distance scale.


With travel times decreasing, the world is becoming increasingly accessible to most of its population. In this context the earth is getting smaller and, because of our accessibility to vastly different countries, cross-cultural contact is becoming more predominant. One area of human interaction where cross-cultural contact is prevalent is tourism and it may be argued that this interaction is often an essential part of the tourism product.

It has been argued that tourism can promote the cross-cultural exchange of tourists and residents; and enhance their knowledge about one another’s cultures; resulting in greater mutual understanding and respect, or at least a tolerance of different value systems and traditions through understanding their cultural basis (Inskeep 1991). This view is quite idealistic and has been disputed by numerous authors. The effect of increasing understanding between nations is, when one looks closely, almost non-existent, and it is possible that tourism in fact has just the opposite effect (Krippendorf 1982). This paper addresses this viewpoint by discussing the design of a social distance scale, to determine the response of the host community toward different nationalities of tourists and how a visitor’s nationality affects the host’s support for the tourist and ultimately for tourism. As such this research may be seen as an extension to the work on country of origin. According to Han (1989) country image or country of origin can be defined as "consumers’ general perceptions about the quality of products made in a given country". Consumers can often stereotype certain countries with regard to the quality of their products/services, this concept can be related to tourism with regard to host community acceptance of tourism and tourists, influenced by the country of origin of the tourist.

Various research has been undertaken on host community acceptance of tourism, for example Pearce (1980:230) states that "the acceptance of travellers from foreign countries by residents of host communities is an often ignored but crucial consideration in the strategic planning of tourism development". However, most of the research examining the underlying factors affecting hosts’ responses, concentrates on the degree to which tourism is accepted due to host demographics, for example, age, and other aspects such as, the degree of host involvement with tourism (Perdue, Long and Allen 1990), host’s length of residency (Brougham and Butler 1981), and the host distance from the tourist zone (Belisle and Hoy 1980).

The research discussed in this paper concentrates on the attributes of the tourists and how they influence the host’s acceptance of tourism, and more crucially tourists, in a community. This is very relevant and important to tourism in New Zealand, especially considering the number of Asian visitors New Zealand usually receives and the increased marketing campaign the New Zealand Tourism Board has undertaken towards the Asian market. In 1997 New Zealand received 161,000 Japanese visitors, 108,000 Korean visitors and 46,000 Taiwanese visitors, however there was a decrease in these numbers in 1998 due to the Asian crisis; the visitor numbers decreased to 153,000, 18,000 and 40,000 respectively ( It has, however, been forecasted that the Asian market will increase again by 2000 (Air New Zealand Personal Communication) and it is important to understand if host communities are going to support this market and be comfortable with increased visitor numbers.

If we can determine the type of visitors towards which residents are most tolerant, we have a better chance of limiting the negative social impacts of tourism. One of the main tasks of tourism planners is to ensure that tourism receives support from the local community. If we can determine why residents prefer some visitors to others, if at all, then we are better equipped to deal with the social impacts of tourism.


Social Impacts of Tourism

Until the mid 1970s and early 1980s, most tourism impact literature focused on the positive economic impacts of tourism. However, in the past two decades it has been recognised that tourism can and does negatively impact upon the lives of the host community. Pearce, Moscardo and Ross (1991) define the social impacts of tourism as the effects of tourism development on the lives of the host community. These often occur as a consequence of the host and visitor coming into contact with each other.

Numerous authors/researchers state that it is external factors which influence resident acceptance of tourism. Perdue et al (1990) found that the degree of involvement residents had with tourism influenced their views. Brougham and Butler (1981) found that the type and amount of contact the residents had with tourists made a difference on their attitudes, as did length of residency and age of residents. The longer a person had lived in the community for and the older they were, the less receptive they were of tourism. Pizam (1978) found that residents whose jobs were dependent on tourism held more favourable attitudes. Belisle and Hoy (1980) found social impacts to vary with the host distance from the tourist zone. The further away the host was, the less favourably tourism was viewed. However these concentrate on the host, they do not consider the impact of any contact between the host and the tourist and they do not address particular attributes of the tourist.

The notion of people being more comfortable with others who are socially and culturally similar to them has been quite apparent over the years in immigration literature and other work, for example occupation literature. However, little has been undertaken in the context of tourism; three predominant studies which have looked at the nationality/culture of the tourist are Shaw and Williams (1994), Reisinger and Turner (1997) and Lawson, Williams, Young and Cossens (1998). The idea behind these studies underlie models of internationalisation common in business literature; companies involved in internationalisation first export to culturally similar countries and gradually move on to more dissimilar cultures. Luostarinen (1980) outlines cultural and psychic distance as important influences on internationalisation. Luostarinen (1980) defines cultural distance as the sum of factors that can create barriers to the knowledge flow and hence also other flows between the home and target country.

Shaw and Williams (1994) state that the generally held view is that impacts of tourism on host communities will vary according to the differences between the tourists and their hosts. For example, differences in race, culture, social outlook, and the number of tourists. However they do not really address the issue of determining how the social impacts of tourism will vary according to these differences. For example they did not design a measure to discover how the host community reacts to visitors of different culture and race.

Reisinger and Turner (1997:141) argue that "understanding cultural characteristics of international tourists is an important factor which determines the success of the Australian tourism industry" with reference to Indonesian visitors to Australia. This paper discusses the cultural differences between Australians and Indonesians and suggests that tourism managers and marketers need to be more sensitive to cultural differences. However again they have not determined the impact of these cultural differences on the host community.

Lawson et al (1998) undertook a comprehensive study on New Zealand residents’ perceptions of tourism. Their study covered issues such as general views on tourism in New Zealand and views on tourism in the respondent’s own town. It also addressed respondent’s opinions on the types (nationality) of tourists that their town should aim to attract. When respondents were asked if they would like to see more tourists from partiular countries, more people disagreed when it came to countries like Japan and 'other Asian countries’ (about 17% for each), than they did with countries like Australia and the United Kingdom (approximately 5% for each). This finding reiterated the need for research on the effect of different nationalities on the host community, thus social distance.

Social Distance

Bogardus (1940:72) defines social distance as the "degree of co-operative behaviour that may be expected in a particular social situation". It has also been defined as the degree of sympathetic understanding that exists between persons, between groups, and between a person and their group (Bogardus 1940:72). This idea will be linked to the relationship between the host and the guest. It is an established notion that most people and communities are more comfortable and hence perhaps tolerant of visitors who are socially and culturally similar to them (for example, Osbeck, 1997). This idea is extremely important with regard to tourism, we need to know if the host communities are going to support different visitor markets and be comfortable with increased numbers of culturally dissimilar visitors.

The prime focus of this paper is to review the design of a scale equivalent to that developed by Bogardus, to measure social distance in a tourism situation. Social distance will be used in this context to encompass attitudes and behaviour towards different cultures, such as prejudice, racism, stereotypes and ethnocentrism. The reason for this is that social distance appears to be more measurable than these other attitudes.

Figure 1 contains a model designed to show the relationship between social distance and community support for tourism. It shows not only the importance of host attributes, such as the involvement the host has with tourism or their contact with tourists, it also shows social distance encompassing ethnocentrism, stereotypes, racism, prejudice and discrimination. These are thought to influence the host’s attitudes towards a tourist because of his/her race and/or culture. Thus, instead of measuring each individual attitude or behaviour (for example, discrimination) a scale will be designed to measure something that encompasses all of these aspectsBsocial distance.

Social distance incorporates a variety of terms to classify and assess people’s behaviour towards each other. Several measures of social distance have been developed in previous research on immigration (Bogardus, 1933), race relations (Lee, Sapp and Ray 1996, Sartain and Bell 1949 and Vaughan 1962), occupation (Bogardus 1929) and religion (Triandis and Triandis 1960).

To assess people’s attitudes towards others, Emory Bogardus devised the Social Distance Scale (Bogardus 1925). Bogardus used his scale to determine the attitudes of three occupation groups towards a variety of racial groups. Bogardus gave his scale along with a list of 36 different nationalities to three American groups: business people, social workers, and public school teachers. They had to admit members of each nationality to one or more of the following categories:

I.    To close kinship by marriage

II.   To my club as personal chums

III.  To my street as neighbours

IV.  To employment in my occupation in my country

V.   To citizenship in my country

VI.  As visitors only to my country

VII. Would exclude from my country

Results showed that some racial groups were distinctly preferred to others. In this sample Northern European groups were preferred,and unfavourable attitudes were directed to those of a different colour or distinctly different culture than the respondents.

Numerous social distance scales were devised between 1925 and 1996. All were of the same type as Bogardus’s scale but with slight variations in the items used to designate the ranks (Lee et al 1996, Sartain and Bell 1949 and Vaughan 1962). However, an examination of these scales shows that they are not sufficiently refined for the context of tourism. Social distance scales to date have predominantly been used with regard to degrees of distance a person feels towards different races; whether it be for immigration or for general research. However, these scales have not been designed for use in a tourism context. Indeed a willingness to accept individuals as tourists is used as one data point on some scales (for example, Vaughan 1962), and so there is no appropriate validated scale that assesses acceptable degrees of social distance within the range of situations encountered between a tourist and the host community.


Extensive literature reviews were undertaken on the social impacts of tourism, social distance and social distance scales. Exploratory interviews were carried out in 1997; these consisted of two personal interviews and one focus group. This exploratory research was undertaken in order to establish a more detailed interview schedule for further qualitative research. From this, a comprehensive guideline for focus groups was established and from these contact situations have been extracted to be used in the development of the aforementioned scales.

These focus groups and interviews took place in three areas in the South Island of New Zealand; Kaikoura, Hokitika/Greymouth and Queenstown. These places were chosen because of their different mixes and intensities of tourism due to their differing stages of development in the industry. Tourism is on the increase in Hokitika/Greymouth, the visitors are mainly FIT’s (Free Independent Travellers) who are predominantly North American or European and the number of visitors is less than the number of residents. The rate of tourist growth in Kaikoura is also on the increase, but this increase has slowed down over the past few years. Kaikoura is a small town, with around 1500 permanent residents. Predominantly the international visitors to this area are Asian and over the summer season the visitors outnumber the residents. Tourist numbers are increasing to Queenstown, however the rate of increase is declining. The ratio of visitors to hosts is very high and the nationality of the tourists is mixed, including Asian, Australian, North American and European. These towns were chosen to enable a comparison between areas in different stages of tourism development. This enables a contrast to be made between different types of host-visitor contact, and also a comparison is possible because of the difference in visitor nationalities.



Four focus groups were undertaken, each consisted of between eight and twelve people. The focus groups were designed to develop an exhaustive list of contact situations between the host community and the visitor. The focus groups began with respondents being asked to comment on the positive and negative impacts of tourismBboth in their particular community and nationally. In order to generate discussion relating to contact with tourists, respondents were asked to comment on three newspaper articles. The first was entitled "Travelling Asians a boost for tourism"; respondents were asked to give examples where New Zealanders could possibly prefer not to have the travelling Asians. Secondly, they were asked to comment on an article that discussed the New Zealand Open Polytechnic developing a skills course to help companies provide proper service for German tourists and whether or not they thought this worthwhile and important. And finally they were given an article that discussed the construction of Asian tyle toilets in a small town in New Zealand that is a common stop point for tourists. They were asked to comment on the construction of such toilets in New Zealand and, in particular, if they would be happy to see them in their community.

Respondents were then asked to list the last few times they had been in contact with a tourist or group of tourists and they were asked to describe the contact. Finally, respondents were asked to complete word associations on particular nationalities of tourists.

The main objectives of the focus groups were to get an understanding of how residents respond to foreign visitors and to gather some contact situations in order to construct social distance scales to be used to research the acceptance and tolerance of tourists in a community and nationally.

Sixty-eight contact situations were extracted from the focus groups and these were individually listed, typed and computer randomised. They were kept in this random order and copied onto separate pieces of card. These cards were given to 20 judges (people with a variety of backgrounds, all over 20 years of ages, and a mix of men and women) who were asked to place the statements into seven different piles according to how intimate they believed the specific situation to be. The judges were asked to imagine the contact situation to be between a visitor to a community and the host, and they were asked to rank the situation between 1 and 7 (1 most intimate to 7 least intimate). They were also asked to ensure that each pile included at least five statements if possible. This was to make certain that each of the seven different degrees of intimacy or social distance were accounted for. When this was completed, judges were asked to go through each pile and shift any statements that they felt would be better suited in a different pile. They were asked to keep doing this until they were entirely satisfied with their choices.

The following section will discuss the extraction of the seven items that will be used in the social distance scale.


Once all 68 items were sorted into seven piles, the pile number for each statement (1-7) was entered into the statistical computer package SPSS and the mean, mode, standard deviation and range for each statement was calculated (Table 1).

These results showed how closely each item represented a particular stage of the Bogardus social distance scale, which also contained seven items. Those items with modes of 1-7 and means very close to the modes, were chosen as good, reliable representations of particular stages in the scale. An additional characteristic that was considered when choosing the items was their relationship to tourism. For example the item 'Have as long term guests into my house, for example as exchange students’, seemed more relevant to tourism than did 'Marry or live with them’, which actually had a lower mean.

Table 2 shows the items that were the most frequently placed items in each pile (as shown by the modes). In addition to this, the mean and modes were very close together.

The consistency of the placements of these chosen items were then checked; the seven statements were again randomised and given back to the original twenty judges, who were asked to again rank them from most intimate to least intimate. This was to ensure consistency between the final seven statements and how they were ranked initially. Table 3 shows the results of this second sort:

The ranking of the statements remained consistent and these items were deemed appropriate in the design of the social distance scale.








This paper outlines research undertaken in order toestablish a comprehensive list of contact situations between the host and the visitor. Focus groups were undertaken in areas of New Zealand with quite different tourism intensities, that attract different types of tourists. The contact situations extracted from the focus groups were given to judges who were asked to rank the situations from most to least intimate. The modes and means of these items were checked to determine the most appropriate items for inclusion in a tourism social distance scale.

This research fills a number of literature gaps both with regard to the social impacts of tourism and also social distance. Social impact research has traditionally focused on the host community and on tourism, as opposed to the tourist. This research looks at how the type of tourist impacts upon the host’s attitudes towards tourism. Social distance literature has mainly concentrated on areas such as immigration and occupation, whereas this research links social distance to tourism. The significance of this research is that if characteristics can be determined which identify communities as being more tolerant towards culturally dissimilar visitors, then we have a greater knowledge base for the marketing of each community. This will ultimately assist in designing plans to alleviate some of the negative social impacts caused by tourism within a community. This may mean educating the tourist or the host, or it may determine that changes in marketing strategies are required.

Future research intends to use the scale outlined in this paper to research residents’ support for tourism. Respondents will be asked to rate various nationalities of tourists and these responses will be linked with particular attitudes towards tourism in New Zealand, which will also be included in the questionnaire. In addition to this, alternative approaches to measuring social distance are also being developed, including a multi item scale as advocated by Churchill (1979).

A later stage of this research will involve the use of a conjoint analysis based experiment. This will be undertaken to ascertain the relative importance of nationality compared with other characteristics of tourists such as income, age and the type of tourist (for example backpacker versus package tour).


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Maree A. Thyne, University of Otago, New Zealand
Rob Lawson, University of Otago, New Zealand


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 2001

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