(Last updated on: 01/06/2022)
Are you trying to understand what Doxey’s Irritation Index is and how it works? Then you have come to the right place.
A lot of life – business, sociology, humans in general – can be explained with theories. Academics, whether they be psychologists or sociologists or economists, propose theories in order to explain a particular phenomenon. These are generally also intended to help change things which are ‘wrong’ with a particular issue or sector of society. Theories can be complicated, however. I am hoping to explain one particular theory today: Doxey’s Irritation Index.
What is Doxey’s Irritation Index?
Also known as the Irridex, this is a system established by Doxey in 1975. It is based on understanding how local residents feel about – e.g their changing attitude toward – tourists and the development of tourism in the different stages of a destination’s life cycle. It was proposed by George Doxey, who’s name is not particularly well known outside of tourism academia.
Put simply, it was a four-step timeline as follows:
The following excerpt is from Yasong Wang’s paper, Residents’ Attitudes Toward Tourism Development: A Case Study of Washington DC.
This model is supported by Long et al.’s (1990) research results, which indicate residents’ attitudes are initially favorable but become negative after reaching a threshold. The Irridex model indicates that residents’ attitudes toward tourism would change over time within a predictable one-way sequence. It suggests that residents’ attitudes and reactions toward tourism contain a sense of homogeneity (Mason et al. 2000).
In this article I will dive a bit deeper into Doxey’s Irritation Index, and explain how it works in simple, easy-to-understand terms – as well as how it is relevant today.
What does each stage of the Irridex entail?
We can think of Doxey’s Irritation Index as a scale of sorts. It starts off positive and ends up negative, with attitudes sliding from one end to the other as time passes. It is theoretical, but it definitely has a place in the reality of tourism. The four stages are laid out again below with the destination’s response to tourism at each level…
In the first stage, the population of the destination might feel euphoric (a positive emotion) at the prospect of tourism in the area. The index suggests that this level is associated with the initial development of a destination as a tourist location – so there is a sense of excitement and anticipation, especially if there are plans to fund new developments in the area. At this point, residents have little/informal contact with tourists themselves; a lot of it might be hypothetical at this stage too.
The second stage of Doxey’s Irritation Index is apathy. This is a fairly neutral feeling, still erring on the side of positivity, and more formal contact with tourists starts to develop. Residents will begin to see these tourists as a source of both income and investment.
Annoyance (also called Irritation)
Part three of the Irridex is annoyance – as we know, this is a fairly negative emotion. Annoyance will likely be mild at first, but will start developing into much stronger feelings as time goes on. Residents will start to see the negative side of the tourism industry in their area: overcrowding, too much traffic, littering, investment spent on tourist activities/amenities rather than things the locals need and so on.
The final stage in Doxey’s Irritation Index is antagonism. This is when things are at their worst – residents are actually expressing their irritation in various ways, with politeness out of the window and giving way to this antagonism. Tourists are seen as the root of any problems occurring in an area.
Arguments against Doxey’s Irritation Index
This is one theory in the world of tourism, tourists, and attitudes to tourism. However, there are arguments against this; in the earlier excerpt from Wang’s paper we see that the Irridex idea relies on a homogeneous community. This means that all of the residents of an area think and feel the same (or a very similar) way. However, there is research from other academics to suggest heterogeneous community responses instead – with diverse attitudes from residents, not all agreeing on everything or feeling the same thing at all times in response to tourism and tourists.
The Irridex suggests that all residents feel the same way, collectively, at all times – travelling in one direction down the scale towards negativity. However, different sectors of a community may respond differently. Entrepreneurs might enjoy tourism as it provides custom for new business ventures – and job seekers will benefit from this too as new employment positions become available. Drivers, however, might detest tourism if it causes a lot more traffic.
How does Doxey’s Irritation Index work?
Researchers use the index to look at how tourism is working in reality, and examine how real communities feel about tourism in their area. They present these findings as research papers, which can and should be used by tourism marketing companies and local councils/governments as they plan for touristic developments in order to find the sweet spot between providing great experiences for tourists without making life harder for residents.
In a research paper about tourism in Krakow, entitled ‘The Attitude of Tourist Destination Residents towards the Effects of Overtourism—Kraków Case Study’, three researchers drew the following conclusion:
The research confirms the initial hypothesis put forward. The actual attitudes of Kraków residents depend on the degree of involvement of residents in providing tourist services and obtaining income from such services, as well as on the place of residence in relation to the districts most crowded with tourists in the tourist destination. It is also worth noting that the research confirmed that the historical part of the city is currently in the first phase of excessive development of tourism, illustrated by saturation in the supply of tourist sites and accommodation, limited resources (land, buildings, streets, parking spaces, etc.), and the palpable level of irritation in the community. The fact that residents and businesspeople from outside the tourist districts do not experience the side effects of overtourism may also in the long term give birth to conflicts between the city center, which bears the costs of the tourist industry, and neighboring local communities.
This is an example of real-life research into a thriving tourist destination – Poland’s beautiful and super-cultural capital city – which shows how residents feel about the changes. You can read the whole paper here, and look more in depth at the questions residents were asked and what the answers were…
The Irritation Index and Stakeholder Theory
We can look at Doxey’s Irritation Index and Stakeholder Theory together – as the people of a community become the stakeholders in tourism for (in) their area, and travel companies (such as tourist boards or hotel chains) need to consider them when making plans. For example, hotel moguls need to consider a variety of people when planning to build a new hotel such as environmentalists and shareholders but also the local community living in the area where the hotel is going to be. Those at management level who are making the plans can use the Irridex in order to examine where community attitudes might lie in regards to a new hotel in the area; this can help them to spark conversations with locals, and hopefully plan better.
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