Asia Pacific Centre for Hospitality Research (APCHR) Research Seminar

Exploring the socio-cultural sustainability of events

Associate Professor Mair is the Discipline Leader of the Tourism Discipline Group at the UQ Business School, University of Queensland, Australia. Her research interests include the impacts of tourism and events on community and society, and consumer behaviour in tourism and events. She is the author of over 50 academic papers in international peer reviewed journals and four books, and is co-author of ‘Events and Sustainability’ and editor of ‘The Routledge Handbook of Festivals’. The Research Seminar Series 2021 of APCHR is moderated by Associate Dean for Research and Postgraduate Studies, Dr Alexander Trupp.

Judith Mair

In this virtual seminar, Assoc Prof Mair highlighted several socio-cultural impacts of events such as the quality of life and social wellbeing of local residents. Several negative socio-cultural impacts which were identified are: inconvenience due to increased traffic, noise and crowding; personal frustration caused by disruption to normal routines; and behavioural consequences amongst events attendees such as increased vandalism. Nonetheless, there are also positive socio-cultural impacts resulting from events. These include increased feelings of pride towards one’s own local area; being able to socialise; and community growth and development.

Assoc Prof Mair also emphasised that hosting of events can be a catalyst to gain better cross-cultural understanding; preserve local culture and heritage; and build a community of pride especially while creating shared experiences for like-minded individuals.

While planning and organising events, Assoc Prof Mair also highlighted the need to be aware of long-term consequences. One drawback of hosting events is the commodification of destinations, where cultures are showcased for mere economic gains and tend to lose their authenticity. Destinations where events are held frequently may also lead to alienation of its host community, where resentment towards events attendees or tourists can build up. This can eventually lead to division within the host community and reputational damage of the destination.

Given these negative impacts caused by events, Assoc Prof Mair emphasised the importance of improving the socio-cultural outcomes through “consumption”, “production”, “engagement”, “social interaction” and “education”. “Consumption” refers to the need to allow increased access to events for local residents by removing or reducing physical barriers of entry. With regards to “production”, Assoc Prof Mair encourages event organisers to engage with local volunteers, and to patronise with local suppliers such as food caterers, staging set-ups, and other contractual jobs. "Engagement” with locals is indeed another important element of hosting events, where advocacy for social change can take place on a larger scale. Events also provides opportunities for “social interaction”, particularly to uplift one’s social wellbeing and create a sense of belonging, which has gained more attention during national lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Events can also be used as an avenue for “education”, where attendees and local residents can gain knowledge and skills, as seen in educational workshops or community outreach programmes.

As a concluding remark, Assoc Prof Mair mentioned that the pandemic has changed the dynamics of events, where one has witnessed mass cancellations and postponement of events. With more virtual events taking place during this time, it is rather prevalent that some of these negative socio-cultural impacts have been reduced or eliminated. For instance, crowding and traffic congestion are almost non-existent during lockdowns. This topic has significantly contributed to a nuanced understanding and critically discussed the socio-cultural sustainability of events.