Subjective Well-Being in World Heritage Sites: Localization and Thematic Integration of the Happiness Index for Turkey


The investigation of subjective well-being with the aim of steering tourism development towards improving host community well-being in World Heritage Sites is the principle behind Planet Happiness project. To complement the extant literature on the Happiness Index’s use in different national contexts, this research outlines a methodological approach of the translation and localization of Happiness Index to Turkish language and cultural characteristics. Subsequently, additional items derived from scholarly literature to capture residents’ perceptions of conservation efforts and tourism activity are proposed. Reinforcing these theoretical findings with insights of polling firms and through interviews with experts working in World Heritage Sites, this research suggests that well-being studies would benefit from a modular perspective that allows the reflection of contextual elements in the survey instrument and in the data collection process that are rooted in the geographical, legal, economic, and socio-cultural attributes of the region or city in question. This methodological approach is tested in Cappadocia World Heritage Site in Turkey with 178 respondents chosen via convenience sampling. The findings of descriptive statistical procedures indicate a contextual incompatibility of several items of the Happiness Index in Turkey and suggest that future inquiries into subjective well-being would benefit from context-specific modifications to the Happiness Index. By combining well-being with findings pertinent to additional tourism and conservation domains, the methodological implications for future well-being studies in Turkey’s World Heritage Sites are discussed.


Governments, civil society organizations, and corporations are increasingly focused on satisfying aspirations of societies and contributing to the well-being of individuals (Helliwell et al. 2019). Although there are general underlying elements that influence well-being and happiness, cultural and contextual elements are also instrumental (Uchida et al. 2004). While general subjective well-being (SWB) instruments may suffice when general populations are investigated, specific inquiries render it imperative to address the idiosyncrasies of the population in question, such as different economic activities (e.g., agriculture, mining, fishing, tourism), governance (e.g., taxation, investments), and social issues (e.g., migration, urban development). This way, SWB indicators can be leveraged as a tool to aid sustainable development trajectory and to guide good governance (Ott 2009). Planet Happiness is a global project with a mission to steer tourism development towards well-being and happiness of communities around World Heritage Sites (WHSs) (Musikanski et al. 2019). In order to assess well-being and happiness of local communities, Planet Happiness utilizes a survey instrument of Happiness Index (HI), which is a statistically valid and multidimensional measure of happiness and well-being (for a full list of the items in the HI and their domains, see Musikanski et al. 2017a) to be administered in the WHSs worldwide, including cultural, natural and mixed heritage sites located in vastly different geographies and institutional contexts. Inscription of WHSs exposes the communities around these sites to conservation measures and tourism activity which have consequences on their well-being and happiness. In order to improve well-being and happiness of communities exposed to conservation and tourism, an important building block of the Planet Happiness project focuses on gathering happiness data from the communities around the WHSs, which are located in different contexts.

In this regard, this paper aims to develop and demonstrate a methodological approach for local adaptation of the HI to one of the institutional contexts and its thematic integration to tourism and conservation status of WHSs in order to relate community well-being with the consequences of inscription as a WHS. The institutional context of Turkey and WHS of Cappadocia is used as the empirical research setting. Cappadocia is one of the WHSs from Turkey that have joined in the Planet Happiness Project in its initial phase (Musikanski et al. 2019). Turkey’s national government attaches paramount importance to increasing the international recognition of its heritage assets, as indicated by the exponential growth of tentative sites (UNESCO 2018b). Combining this with the perceived importance of tourism from the governmental perspective, the long-term viability of cities and heritage assets as tourism attractions and destinations, arguably, remains central to tourism strategy. In Turkey’s centralized governance structure, the strategic planning and its implementation follow a hierarchical trajectory – from the national government to its local representatives. However, residents are commonly excluded in the heritage governance in Turkey (Human 2015), although they are most affected by the outcome of strategic initiatives. In this regard, the WHS of Cappadocia and the context of Turkey represent a relevant setting to develop and demonstrate a methodological approach for local adaptation and thematic integration of the HI.

In order to achieve a successful integration of tourism and conservation domains, this research focuses on developing a comprehensive, yet a modular construct to assess SWB of residents in WHSs by using the HI as the primary construct. Despite HI’s comprehensive assessment of SWB and its previous adaptations to a variety of languages (Musikanski et al. 2017b), it responds to the need for making adaptations to the HI for taking into account the contextual understanding of happiness. Although translation is the first step in cross-cultural studies, the domains being investigated in the HI are tied to place-specific cultural attributes. Thus, the cultural characteristics of the context are taken into account to derive modifications for its successful application in Turkey’s WHSs. The concerns that arose during the translation and adaptation processes, as well as the efficacy of the integration of tourism and conservation domains, are empirically tested through the localized and modified HI’s application in the WHS of Cappadocia’s Goreme National Park.

The rest paper is structured as follows: In section 2, a brief introduction to SWB in Turkey and the country’s relationship with World Heritage is provided. Section 3 focuses on the research approach, followed by the characteristics of the research area in section 4. The localization process and integration of additional domains and items to the HI are presented in section 5. Subsequently, the results of the modified-HI implementation in Cappadocia are introduced. Sections 7 provides the discussion of our results and the final section our concluding remarks, implications and research limitations.

Tourism, Heritage, and SWB in Turkey’s Context

In Turkey, SWB is generally investigated from an economics perspective (Eren and Aşıcı 2016) with numerous research conducted on the Turkish Statistical Institute’s (TSI) Life Satisfaction Survey (LSS) (TSI 2018). While a clear-cut influence of demographic parameters on SWB is not established for Turkish community, one’s hopefulness for the future is determined to be the most important indicator for happiness (Eren and Aşıcı 2016). The political trajectory of Turkey is an influential component of citizens’ SWB, in which institutional trust, satisfaction with democracy, and religiosity exert influence on life satisfaction (Ekici and Koydemir 2013). However, in Turkey, SWB research predominantly focuses on the national scale and does not specifically include the peculiarities of living in a protected area or a tourism region. While the determination of life satisfaction and happiness parameters as part of Turkish cultural code and interpreting its relationship with social policy on a national level is surely important, it also needs to be acknowledged that there are region-specific differences within national contexts, one example to which are WHSs.

Turkey’s debut at UNESCO’s World Heritage List occurred in 1985. ‘Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia’ is among the first three areas inscribed as a WHS in Turkey. Over time, both the number of WHSs and the number of potential WHSs skyrocketed. As of the end of 2018, there are 18 WHSs and 77 areas in the tentative list (UNESCO 2018a, b). Despite the profound engagement of the national government to introducing the cultural heritage in Turkey to an international audience, heritage designation and management in Turkey is more connected to politics than to the communities inhabiting them (Human 2015). Being a WHS does not necessarily inflict an increase in tourism (Poria et al. 2013; Jimura 2011). While it is often marketed by administrators as such, negative social impacts that may be amplified through tourism are commonly addressed ex post facto. In a similar fashion, community members’ perception of actual and potential effects of WHS status is not reflected in the managerial aspects of protected areas.

The absence of the resident community throughout the inscription procedure and the failure to integrate social issues that may arise from living in or around a WHS represent a weakness in terms of the area’s future trajectory when social concerns are evaluated in a top-down manner. As it can be seen in the site management plan of Istanbul’s WHS areas, this approach confines the assessment of resident well-being to objective indicators, such as the availability of green space, transportation infrastructure, cultural and educational facilities (Istanbul Site Directorate 2018). In an effort to assess the impact exerted on resident community through inscription as a WHS and the related conservation efforts in its aftermath, this research has residents’ perceptions of WHS status and tourism activity as primary foci to develop a construct that would better inform local administrators and national policymakers in strategic decision-making processes. In this context, we outline the methodological approach employed in developing a survey instrument composed of SWB, residents’ perception of conservation and tourism. The findings obtained through its first implementation in Cappadocia are used to assess the reliability and validity of the localized survey instrument, as well as the items pertaining to tourism and conservation domains.

Operationalizing a SWB Index: Case of Turkey’s WHSs

This research uses Happiness Alliance’s HI, which examines twelve different domains of SWB (i.e., Cantril ladder; satisfaction with life; psychological well-being; health; time balance; community; social support; education, arts, and culture; environment; governance; material well-being; and work). In its original structure, HI combines these domains consecutively and it is, essentially, optimized for self-administration. As an inevitable outcome of utilizing numerous academic, professional, and governmental sources in the creation of the HI (e.g., World Health Organization and Gallup) (Musikanski et al. 2017a), various scales are embedded in the index (e.g., 11-point scale, 5-point Likert scale, frequency scales).

According to Sung and Phillips (2018), a thorough understanding of community well-being requires a broader perspective that would link well-being with other investigated domains. Cappadocia is a WHS and a prominent cultural tourism destination (Tucker and Emge 2010), hence our research not only requires an adaptation of the HI but would also benefit from integrating tourism and conservation as intrinsic factors for residents living in the WHS. Prior to addressing the adaptation of and modification in the HI, an overview of Cappadocia WHS is essential to introduce.

Research Area: Cappadocia

The earliest signs of settlement in Cappadocia date back to the Neolithic Age (8000-5000 BCE) and the area hosted numerous civilizations thereafter. In addition to the diverse cultural heritage portfolio, such as churches and underground cities, Cappadocia has a unique natural landscape thanks to the area’s geographic peculiarities, culminating in area’s inscription as a mixed WHS. The fairy chimneys, which were formed through prehistoric volcanic eruptions approximately 60 million years ago, are a distinctive aspect of Cappadocia, and are particularly difficult to conserve as they are in a state of perpetual change due to soil erosion with some cultural assets embedded in fairy chimneys regarded to be in danger (UNESCO 2014). These natural and cultural attributes have been instrumental in the growth of tourism activity in Cappadocia, and the concerns over its sustainability prospects due to political and developmental concerns is proposed by Tosun (1998). Tourism in Cappadocia, among the most prominent tourism destinations in Turkey, continues to grow (Tucker and Emge 2010), drawing more than 1.8 million visitors in 2018 according to official accommodation statistics (Ministry of Culture and Tourism 2019) – an eight-fold increase over three decades (Tosun 1998). In its current status, tourism represents an important component of local economy, and the economic benefits mask the socio-cultural and environmental problems brought about by increasing tourism activity (Özel and Kozak 2017).

Balancing conservation and tourism is especially difficult to implement in Cappadocia due to the juxtaposition of natural protected sites, archaeological sites, a culture and tourism conservation and development area, and a national park. The different governmental entities overseeing these designations (UNESCO 2014) are integral to conflicts of power and responsibility (Somuncu and Yiğit 2007). While Goreme National Park is the largest part of Cappadocia, the subterranean cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, as well as the villages of Karain, Karlik, Yesiloz in Nevsehir and Soganli in Kayseri are also parts of the WHS (for the geographical distribution of WHS components in Cappadocia, see UNESCO 2012). These administrative and geographical characteristics of Cappadocia influence the case study sampling framework, which are explained in the Methodology section.


Our approach to HI’s adaptation for Cappadocia uses a case study method, which is appropriate to generate insights on context and concept specific dimensions of HI’s adaptation (Yin 2009). The case study approach will also ensure transferability to other settings (Patton 2015). The preparation of the survey instrument is realized in two stages: (1) Survey translation and localization and (2) integration of conservation and tourism for Cappadocia.

The HI is initially developed in English and is translated into different languages for application in various countries (Musikanski et al. 2017b). In the initial stage of the translation from English to Turkish language, Brislin (1970)‘s back-translation process for cross-cultural research was used in which two independent translations were conducted. These were then independently back translated into English. In a panel that consists of three researchers, the differences between these translations were identified. These discrepancies were reviewed by a panel of six researchers with expertise on survey design in Turkey to check for colloquial language, to identify cultural nuances, and to adapt them for a better understanding of the questions. The researchers in this panel independently reviewed and revised each item. Since the localization of the HI also requires an update of the demographics section, semi-structured interviews were conducted with the managers of a polling company based in Istanbul. A panel of three researchers reviewed the final list of items in order to finalize the HI for Turkey. Subsequently, the Turkish version of the HI was tested for clarity and timing with 15 participants chosen via convenience sampling.

Extant literature on the interrelations between SWB, conservation, and tourism guided our quest to determine relevant domains for integration with the HI. Furthermore, through semi-structured interviews with UNESCO specialists working in various WHS in Turkey, country-specific social dimensions of living in and around WHS were inquired. During this stage, our focus remained on Cappadocia, which is among Turkey’s first WHS inscriptions. The scope of the additional domains is determined based on the mixed WHS attributes of Cappadocia and its scattered nature of its settlements. Due to the massive size of Cappadocia and the concentration of the settlement to the national park area, the present research takes the residents of Goreme National Park as unit of analysis and includes four largest districts (i.e., Goreme, Ortahisar, Uchisar, and Urgup) in its sampling framework. The application of the modified version of the HI is conducted in Cappadocia with 178 residents of four districts of the Goreme National Park, chosen via convenience sampling with the aim of reflecting the population of the districts in the sample distribution. The population and respondent number in each district is provided in Table 1.

Table 1 Sample distribution

Data collection took place between March 17–31, 2019. One of the authors of this paper administered the modified HI in face-to-face settings and provided clarifications to respondents if needed. The first question in the survey instrument is chosen to inquire where the respondent lived in order to ensure that the resident is living in one of the four districts in the sampling framework. The average survey lasted 18 minutes for the respondents to complete. In addition to the observational data from the survey administration process, descriptive statistical procedures are conducted for HI items and domains. As an important parameter in cross-cultural studies (Lee et al. 2017) and survey development (de Leeuw et al. 2003), patterns of item nonresponse are analyzed alongside distribution patterns and bivariate correlations on the item basis. A principle components analysis on the data is conducted and Cronbach’s alpha reliability scores are calculated for HI’s domains following Tavakol and Dennic (2011), the latter is used to assess domain relevance for the given context. Although domain-based aggregations in the original reporting format of the HI are on a percentage scale, in this research the arithmetic mean of the responses to the items are used in their respective scales (i.e., 5-point and 11-point). Prior to turning our attention to the results from Cappadocia, the outcomes of our conceptual multi-method approach to translation and localization of, and tourism and conservation’s integration to the HI for administration in Turkey’s WHSs are addressed in the following sections.

Survey Translation and Localization

Previous research on SWB in Turkey indicate that the most important indicators of happiness are one’s hopes about future, satisfaction with housing conditions, individuals’ social circle and the inquiries on the relationship between demographic parameters and happiness remain inconclusive (Eren and Aşıcı 2016). While the LSS from different years provide an important dataset for researchers (Eren and Aşıcı 2016; Caner 2014; Dumludag et al. 2015), international databases, such as the European Values Survey, are also used in Turkish SWB studies (e.g., Ekici and Koydemir 2013). As this research focuses on the localization of an international survey instrument, an initial screening of the items for potentially incompatible items for Turkey’s cultural characteristics. In the first stage of the back-translation process, four items are regarded as such, namely (1) self-evaluation of one’s health, (2) satisfaction with quality of exercise, (3) volunteering time for an organization, and (4) donation to charitable organizations.

In general, the items in the HI are primarily considered to reflect on issues and lifestyles in developed countries. Thus, its adaptation into local settings of developing and underdeveloped countries is a challenging task, first and foremost because of the disparities between national contexts of where the HI originates from. Furthermore, some HI items, particularly those involving money, necessitates a localization to better reflect the socio-economic portfolio in Cappadocia. In the panel discussion with six researchers, several items in the first round of translation are marked as being too complicated, both in wording and context, for the average person in Turkey to comprehend. Apart from the previously mentioned four items of the HI, the existence of multiple independent variables in some HI items are noted. The perceived level of corruption was also a subject of debate for inclusion in the survey as well in light of the political climate in Turkey and the timing of data collection, which may lead some community members to refrain from answering. Following the first round of revisions, different versions of the translation were reviewed by the final panel on an item-by-item basis.

Apart from the items assessing the aforementioned subdomains of SWB, the demographics section is regarded to require specific localization procedures. Three items in the demographics section are identified as such: Ethnicity, household income, and marital status. Since salaries are negotiated on a daily or monthly basis in Turkey, the household income item was revised to inquire about the monthly income. Yet, true income levels are difficult to obtain in Turkey for various reasons, including a cultural code deeming talking and asking about money as inappropriate behavior. While marital status is a central demographic parameter for SWB studies in Turkey, the marital status options in the HI are too detailed for Turkey’s context. These three demographic questions are included in the survey on an open-ended basis.

Integration of Tourism and Conservation Domains to the HI

Notwithstanding the HI’s role as a cross-culturally applicable SWB assessment instrument (Musikanski et al. 2017b), an additional domain to assess the residents’ perception of tourism activity derived from international institutions’ sustainability frameworks has recently been proposed (Musikanski et al. 2019). In this research, however, we focus predominantly on academic sources positioning WHSs at the nexus of tourism and conservation.

The results of our literature review for tourism and conservation’s impact on residents point towards the inclusion of the following three dimensions for SWB assessment in Cappadocia in addition to two demographic items, i.e., birthplace (Lankford and Howard 1994) and length of residence (Florek 2011): (1) Heritage awareness; (2) impacts and perception of conservation; and (3) interaction with and perception of tourism industry. Since our ultimate aim is to develop a modular construct that can be customized to the attributes and needs of different WHSs, we refrained from including pre-tested scale instruments for tourism and conservation domains. The scope of the data collected through these additional dimensions would help us to gain a deeper understanding to the interrelations between SWB and other factors that influence community members. In WHSs with small populations relative to visitor numbers, proliferation of tourism may eventually culminate into over-tourism, which is experienced by many heritage cities, e.g., Venice (Seraphin et al. 2018), and Planet Happiness aims to address this possibility (Musikanski et al. 2019). Planning initiatives are rarely a concerted effort, and expectations of residents or specific community subgroups are not always included in the decision-making processes (Corburn 2003). The case of Cappadocia becomes even more complicated to address due to the number of governmental institutions involved in its management. The present research primarily considers Cappadocia as a prominent cultural tourism destination in central Turkey when determining the additional questions of the above-mentioned domains.

The inscription of heritage assets as a WHS is, arguably, a more critical ordeal for rural areas. An analysis of the promotional framework of WHS destinations reveals that rural areas are more proactive in leveraging their WHS status which is attributed to the higher level of risk visitors face when planning their travels and being home to a WHS is a factor that decreases the perceived risk of dissatisfaction and uncertainty (Wuepper and Patry 2016). Thus, it is likely that residents of rural WHS destinations are more knowledgeable in terms of their city’s recognition by the UNESCO. In this context, it is imperative to understand whether residents are informed about the WHS status of their neighborhood (You et al. 2014). Additionally, the importance residents attach to their city’s heritage assets is critical to understand as their continued presence and protection for future generations is of paramount importance in the context of WHSs (UNESCO 1972).

A recurring theme in the authors’ interviews with UNESCO specialists working in different WHSs in Turkey is the impact of conservation framework on the daily lives of residents. Since residents are not integral to heritage management in Turkey (Human 2015) and nomination for inscription as a WHS is decided upon according to the readiness of the conservation aspects, in its immediate aftermath, there are direct and indirect effects of becoming a WHS on community members unbeknownst to them. For instance, the designation of a protected cultural heritage asset may be tied to certain restrictions on privately-owned properties, such as limitations of renovations and refurbishments, and their approved methodology in alignment with the conservation framework may become an eventual barrier to residents’ quality-of-life and economic livelihood (e.g., Joy 2016). In this context, the perceived value of conservation in connection with the existing and potential tourism activity (Vareiro et al. 2013) and its impact on the daily lives of the residents (Firth 2011) are determined to be essential parameters in the formation of SWB.

The continuous transformation of resident expectations in tourism destinations, especially concerning in cities experiencing pressure exerted through over-tourism points towards a new paradigm, in which planning development is centered around increasing life satisfaction instead of focusing on economic benefits (Seraphin et al. 2018). The underlying mechanisms of tourism development correspond with economic conditions’ limited influence on increasing life satisfaction (Diener et al. 2010; Kahneman and Deaton 2010). Tourism activity exerts influence on various domains of well-being and life satisfaction in general (Kim et al. 2013). The additional items to the HI with regard to Cappadocia as a tourism destination revolves around how the resident community perceives tourism. In this context, residents’ interaction with visitors (Andereck et al. 2005; Teye et al. 2002; Lawson et al. 1998), whether they generate income through tourism (Milman and Pizam 1988), and the satisfaction with the number of visitors (Wang and Pfister 2008) are instrumental to understanding how tourism and SWB interrelate. Early conceptualizations of tourism development indicate that a destination transitions into a tourism-dominated or tourism-dependent economy which may surface as negative social impacts, such as migration and increasing crime rate (Buhalis 2000). Although such parameters are commonly assessed using objective indicators (Buhalis 2000), they inevitably feed into residents’ SWB.

Although a definitive causal relationship between the two parameters does not exist (e.g., Poria et al. 2013; Jimura 2011), becoming a WHS is associated with increased tourism activity, and, thus, with increased economic benefits to national economies. However, understanding tourism’s influence on resident SWB would better inform tourism planning and social policy mechanisms, which, in turn, would reinforce sustainable development of destinations and ensure long-term attractiveness for tourism purposes. In line with this reasoning, we propose the addition of the following eleven items under their respective domains to the HI for assessing SWB’s interrelations with tourism and conservation in Cappadocia.

  1. (1)

    Heritage awareness

    1. a.

      Do you know that Cappadocia is inscribed as a WHS?

    2. b.

      I feel that the cultural assets in Cappadocia should be preserved for the benefit of future generations.

  2. (2)

    Impacts and perception of conservation

    1. a.

      How satisfied are you with the conservation efforts in your neighborhood?

    2. b.

      All things considered, I feel conservation efforts in Cappadocia increased my quality-of-life.

    3. c.

      Prospects of tourism help the conservation and restoration of historic buildings.

  3. (3)

    Interaction with and perceptions of tourism industry

    1. a.

      In the last 12 months, how frequently did you interact with tourists in your neighborhood?

    2. b.

      In the last 12 months, how frequently did you interact with tourists as part of your job?

    3. c.

      How satisfied are you with the number of tourists in Cappadocia?

    4. d.

      Do you realize financial income through tourism?

    5. e.

      More tourists should visit Cappadocia.

    6. f.

      I feel personally responsible for helping the conservation of heritage assets in Cappadocia.

Results of Modified HI’s Application

The respondent profile in the initial application of HI in Goreme National Park, as it may be observed in the demographic breakdown of the respondents in Table 2, has a balanced distribution according to gender, however, younger respondents are overrepresented in our sample which is also reflected in the high proportion of single respondents. A relatively lower portion of the respondents attended tertiary education and beyond, which, however, is higher than the national average. The answers provided to the open-ended demographic questions (i.e., marital status, household income, and ethnicity) display diverse responses with the exception of item pertaining to the ethnicity, which surfaced as an unfamiliar term during the data collection process. The mean monthly household income of 5200 Turkish Liras is equivalent roughly to 900 USD at the time of data collection. Income item registers the highest number of nonresponse in the demographics section.

Table 2 Demographic distribution of respondents

When we turn our attention to the domains of the HI (for the descriptive statistics of HI domains, see Table 3) the highest number of item nonresponses are in health and work domains. While the latter may be attributed to the irrelevance of the domain for not-working respondents at the time of data collection, the former stems from the nonresponse to the item pertaining to the satisfaction with the quality of one’s exercise, which was among the items with questionable cultural relevance in the initial screening process. When one compares the Cronbach’s alpha reliability scores for individual domains, health domain registers the lowest value (0.55).

Table 3 Descriptive statistics for HI domains

In the community domain, sense of belonging and satisfaction with personal safety has the highest mean values (3.70 and 3.47, respectively). Reflecting our expectations, the volunteering and the donation behavior to charitable organizations were clustered in the lower end of the scale (mean values 1.41 and 1.84, respectively), casting a shadow on the relevance of the items for people in Turkey. Furthermore, the Cronbach’s alpha value for community domain increases to 0.77 when volunteering and donation items are excluded.

An unexpected result of the first application of the HI in Turkey is the realization that the components of the lifelong learning, arts, and culture domain are prone to be misunderstood in Turkey’s context. Based on the observations during the survey administration, the questions regarding the accessibility to arts, sports and lifelong learning facilities are revealed to be understood as the existence of the infrastructure supporting these activities to be sufficient in determining accessibility as opposed to the actual use of these amenities. In this context, the items of this domain resemble a proxy for satisfaction with municipal services provided both by local and national governments. The results of Principal Components Analysis with varimax rotation suggest that this domain explain higher variance than any other factor except personal finances. It should also be noted that trust in local and national governments have a strong significant correlation (0.78).

Tourism is generally perceived positively by the respondents. Our respondents are satisfied with the current number of tourists and are willing to accommodate more tourists. They also think increasing tourism activity in Cappadocia will increase their quality of life. While 28 percent of the respondents are working in tourism industry, 25 percent report not to have any interaction with tourists at all. Compared to the perception of tourism items in the survey, items on residents’ perception of conservation have lower values, with most clustered around the point of neutrality. One exception to this is the conservation for the benefit of future generations and an overwhelming majority of the respondents agrees with the statement. In this domain, satisfaction with conservation efforts has the lowest mean value. Perception of tourism and conservation does not differ among different demographic groups. However, perception of tourism is more positive for respondents that interact with tourists and for the respondents aware of the WHS status of Cappadocia. In a similar fashion, the latter group also has more positive perceptions of conservation efforts in Cappadocia.

Drawing on composite scores of SWB, perception of tourism and of conservation, there are significant but weak bivariate correlations between the constructs. When one focuses on the interrelations between HI domains and the perception of tourism activity and conservation efforts on a descriptive level, the time balance domain of the HI has a weak but significant negative correlation (−.182, p < 0.05) with the perception of tourism. Except health, time balance, and governance domains, all domains of the HI have significant positive correlations with the perception of conservation. Perceptions of both tourism and conservation are found to be connected to the respondents’ awareness of the WHS status of the area, i.e., the knowledge of the international recognition of their cultural heritage assets is instrumental to their perception of the appreciation of these resources by visitors.


The application of the modified HI inclusive of tourism and conservation domains indicate some of the items to be difficult to apply in Turkey’s context. The findings of this research not only have implications for administering HI in different parts of Turkey but also shed light on how to approach tourism and conservation in the pursuit to determine their impact on SWB of residents living in and around WHSs. In this context, we interpret our results first for the HI before moving on to our additional domains.

HI’s Application in Turkish Context

When designing the application of an international index for specific geographies, the cultural codes and the general characteristics of these regions become imperative to address, as incompatibilities may lead to off-based interpretations that may pose a threat to the comparisons. While the Cappadocian application of the HI indicates certain tendencies for the community’s SWB parameters, more importantly, it highlights certain items and domains which would benefit from being modified to capture Turkey’s cultural codes to a better extent. Combining this with Sung and Phillips’ (2018) argument to employ a broader perspective when evaluating SWB in relation to specific domains of interest, our findings suggest that for specific SWB studies, such as the present research, replacing the culturally incompatible items with domain-specific new items would better address the research purpose. In other words, SWB studies would benefit from not being constrained by rigid constructs in seemingly comparable settings, and WHSs represent only one example where such possible misconceptions may occur.

Based on our results in Cappadocia, three domains of HI, namely, health, community, and lifelong learning, arts and culture require modifications for application in Turkey. Self-evaluation of health may considered to be influenced by religious superstitions and is prone to personal bias, thus, it may be beneficial to instead focus on individuals’ satisfaction with their health, similar to the formulation used by Turkish LSS (TSI 2018). For Turkey’s context, one’s satisfaction with daily exercise may be omitted in SWB assessments. The volunteering and donation behavior are not regarded to be relevant, and the scale choices provided for them in the HI are difficult to relate to. However, given the rising centrality of religion in the everyday lives of Turkey’s citizens, retaining the donation item in different settings may prove to be useful, since donation to religious institutions constitute an important social support mechanism in Turkey. In line with our findings regarding the lifelong learning, arts and culture domain, the fact that the first three items of this domain (i.e., satisfaction with access to artistic, cultural, sports activities and continuous education facilities) are understood primarily as satisfaction with the availability of municipal services, they should be carefully evaluated as these may also be interpreted as the performance evaluation of local administrations.

In Turkey’s governance structure, the perspective of national government often resonates in local administrations, especially in regions where the local administration is politically aligned with the central government, such as in Cappadocia. As is also indicated by the high correlation between trust in national and local governments, discrepancies in the local and national governments may be suggested to be included in the SWB assessments, especially in areas where local and national governments have competing political agendas.

Integration of Tourism and Conservation Domains

The second aim of this research is to integrate perceptions of tourism and conservation into the SWB assessment. An additional domain of tourism perception based on the criteria promoted by international institutions has already been proposed for the Planet Happiness project (Musikanski et al. 2019) and this research complements this proposition by investigating theoretical approaches and region-specific studies in scholarly literature and applying this perspective in Cappadocia WHS, one of the most prominent tourism destinations in Turkey.

While affiliation with tourism activity (Teye et al. 2002; Andereck et al. 2005; Lawson et al. 1998) and having monetary income from tourism (Milman and Pizam 1988) influence community members’ perception of tourism, our choice to separate interaction with tourists in different settings (general vs. at work) is found to make residents’ interaction with tourists difficult to categorize. The interpretation of our results indicates an overarching item that would in itself categorize the nature of this interaction would be better suited to assess the relationship between visitors and residents. While increasing tourist numbers in Cappadocia was agreeable to the majority of the respondents, the comparatively higher level of satisfaction with current visitor numbers indicate former to be a more suitable item for assessing the support for tourism development. Moreover, previous tourism research suggests that increasing tourism may be culpable in increasing crime rates (Buhalis 2000) which would inevitably decrease residents’ perception of safety. While the HI has an item on satisfaction with safety, an additional item that would integrate this with the tourism’s impact on perceptions of personal safety would better inform tourism planning initiatives.

As mentioned previously, Cappadocia is a mixed WHS, indicating a two-fold conservation status of the region – natural and cultural, overseen by different governmental entities. HI items in environment domain ask respondents’ perception on natural preservation, and hence additional items regarding conservation are chosen primarily for evaluating overall perception of conservation efforts. However, given the scope and the co-existence of natural and cultural heritage assets in Cappadocia, inclusion of items on specific assets would arguably be more suitable to assess how different governmental institutions are perceived by local communities and would build a more coherent picture of the conservation efforts as evaluated by its residents.

In our research area, i.e., Goreme National Park, the conservation status is more homogenous when compared to Cappadocia WHS-as-a-whole. Given that the national park area may be interpreted as the central heritage area (Harrill and Potts 2003) in Cappadocia, the extent to which the residents are personally impacted by conservation mechanisms is not included as an additional item. Yet, in different parts of Cappadocia, as well as in different WHSs in Turkey, the differentiation of central and peripheral impact zones is likely to exert influence on residents’ SWB to varying extents. In this context, property ownership and property’s conservation status are suggested for SWB assessments in WHSs, not only to reinforce HI itself but also to integrate conservation’s influence on residents’ daily lives.

While the findings of this research provide an insight to approaching the interrelations of WHS status, tourism, and SWB, they also point towards further investigations of this triad in different settings in order to examine the socio-cultural dimensions of the HI. SWB is intimately connected with cultural and contextual differences. We argue that appropriate context-specific modifications to international indices, such as those proposed here, would best address such differences, which leads us to our concluding remarks.

Conclusion and Limitations

Conceptually, happiness indices are multi-dimensional constructs that assess the composition of SWB of communities. Yet, one needs to question how well-being is formed, as it is often influenced by external contingencies and by geographical and context-specific peculiarities (Sung and Phillips 2018). In this research, the focus lies on the WHS status of the area and the administrative issues surrounding conservation management and tourism activity. Our findings reaffirm that SWB assessments would benefit from integrating national, regional, and local socio-political perspectives. The adaptation of international indices, in this perspective, may be limited to incorporate these differences for the purposes of comparing SWB data from different regions. The methodology provided in this research to localize an international SWB index and to incorporate additional domains that may influence SWB is essentially a roadmap for assessing SWB in varying contexts in Turkey and other countries.

In essence, we propose that well-being indices need to be flexible in the sense that they capture the interrelations of SWB with other contributing factors. With this modularity, the SWB indices would better inform social policy-making mechanisms and heritage governance and management, especially in centralized governance structures such as Turkey, where decision-making process takes place in a different geopolitical area and is undertaken by central authorities (Human 2015). In this line of reasoning, investigations of SWB may be utilized to understand policy failures and positioned to work in tandem with objective indicators, such as economic growth, and, in the context of tourism planning, number of visitors.

Despite our contribution to the evaluation of SWB and its adaptation to conservation-focused areas, future studies would benefit from employing a similar methodology to put site characteristics and socio-cultural peculiarities in scope. Not only do the WHSs in Turkey exhibit a high degree of variance in terms of their population, but the general characteristics of the people living in these areas are also extremely diverse. For instance, our adaptation of HI into Turkish may not be useful if one were to conduct a similar research in an area where ethnic Turks represent the minority, in which both language and cultural differences may become effective barriers into assessing SWB. However, in such settings, the proposed methodological approach for translation and localization would offer guidance to the researchers. Another example would be WHSs located in urban settings, which have different developmental agendas that cater to a substantially larger population. In this context, employing a modular construct makes survey administration more accurate and feasible. While providing a thorough analysis of each item for specific circumstances is beyond the scope of this research, a few examples from WHS areas can be useful to illustrate this point. Returning to our previous example of urban areas, the residents living in the same neighborhood may be subject to different conservation frameworks, which would require an additional item to assess the impact of conservation. Furthermore, the integration of different constructs that are identified in the literature on happiness in Turkey may be useful to identify how they relate to perceptions of tourism. An example to this is the increasing centrality of religion for Turkish community (Ekici and Koydemir 2013).

Each WHS is unique, and when focusing on the SWB of its residents, they need to be acknowledged as such. Scholarly research on SWB needs to reflect the peculiarities of research areas in the survey design, and this research provides a methodological approach to achieve this in the case of WHSs. In addition to WHSs, Turkey’s tourism offerings rely on a diverse portfolio of natural and cultural resources, and the well-being of the residents in each of these destinations is an important parameter for their sustainable development. A thorough assessment of resident well-being as a precursor of the social pillar of sustainability is a sine qua non for adequate governance mechanisms that would not only foster economic growth but also increase life satisfaction. Inquiries into SWB in WHSs, thus, are integral to assessing the ramifications of tourism and conservation on the livelihoods of the residents. This way, SWB may be positioned as a proxy monitoring mechanism to ensure that heritage conservation does not exclude residents and that communities around WHSs are placed at the center of tourism development.


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The authors express their gratitude to their colleagues Nevra Ersari and Kivanc Inelmen, as well as Bekir Agirdir and Ali Karakas of Konda for their insightful contributions to the survey localization process, and Yuksel Dincer for his guidance on survey administration in Cappadocia. The authors would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their invaluable comments on the earlier version of this article, and Laura Musikanski and Paul Rogers for their leadership in the Planet Happiness project.

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Kuzuoglu, S., Ata, S., Hatipoglu, B. et al. Subjective Well-Being in World Heritage Sites: Localization and Thematic Integration of the Happiness Index for Turkey. Int. Journal of Com. WB 3, 223–240 (2020).

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  • Subjective well-being
  • Happiness
  • World Heritage Sites
  • Tourism
  • Localization