Tourism and reciprocal altruism
On the surface, it seems that the only cooperative relationship between a tourist and a host country is that of the economic agenda. However, researchers in this study claim that cooperation, defined as a long-term relationship based on reciprocity and altruism, should not be occurring in tourism because of the short-term nature of tourism. They go through a series of interaction scenarios between tourists and hosts to demonstrate why, from a socio-biological perspective, the cooperative response is not ideal.
The one-shot reciprocity scenario goes as follows: the tourist pays a fee to the host, who is the service provider. They receive this payment as a benefit. However, for the host to provide this service to the tourist, they must be subjected to a cost themselves for their time, equipment, etc. Although both parties involved incur costs and benefits, the one-shot nature of this event allows for cheating. Given that the host will likely never see the tourist again in their lifetime, there is nothing preventing them from withholding premium-quality service, at the expense of the tourist.
Imagine you are on vacation in Rome and have joined a tour group led by a local. You’ve prepaid for this experience, so there is no incentive for the tour guide to actually provide you with the experience they claimed since they have received the full payment beforehand. So instead of leading your tour group to a local bar that has the best drinks in town for a cheap price, they bring you to an expensive bar with mediocre drinks since it is less out of the way, or they have a deal with the bartender, or another sneaky reason – since tourists wouldn’t know any better.
Researchers suggest that sustained selfishness in place of cooperation could be a solution to this problem. Not only would tourists be helping other tourists that come into contact with the same host, but they would also be helping themselves under the assumption and expectation that another tourist before acted altruistically for their benefit.
For example, tourists who have received a tour from a certain company are able to put reviews online about their experience and discuss with other tourists who also received the same tour from the same company about how they felt about the experience and share their ratings for others to see.12