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Environmental impacts of tourism

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Aicha from Vision Factory

Author: Aicha Bakayoko

Date of Publication: 01/05/2023

Tourism: a significant sector of the economy

Nowadays, tourism is an important part of our culture. It allows us to explore different parts of the world and meet people from different backgrounds. But it also makes us enjoy, learn and experience new traditions and activities.

Between 1990 and 2018, the number of tourists rocketed from 435 million foreign tourists to 1.442 billion. Because of its growth, tourism has emerged as a crucial contributor to socioeconomic advancement. In fact, the sector of travel and tourism represented 10.3% of total jobs (333 million) and 10.3% of global GDP (US$9.6 trillion) in 2019.

Even though tourism has a positive impact on the global economy the same cannot be said regarding the environment. The main problem is that tourism has turned into mass tourism leading to environmental issues.

Tourism  is a significant sector of the economy

What are the main environmental impacts of tourism?

There are 3 main negative impacts of tourism on the environment.

1) The depletion of natural resources:

The development of tourism has caused a depletion of natural resources, such as water resources, local resources and land degradation.

Water resources: The high tourism season goes against the natural water cycle of an area, creating problems for residents and small farmers. Zanzibar, Bali, India, and even Greece are suffering from water shortages.

●Local resources (food, energy, raw materials…): Tourist attractions and accommodations are heavily reliant on local resources which follow the same pattern as water consumption. Imagine a town like Venice, where the number of tourists has increased from 2.75 million in 2003 to 5.5 million in 2019.

● Land degradation ( forests, minerals, fossil fuels, wetlands and wildlife, fertile soil…): The tourism industry consumes resources such as minerals, metals, and biomass resources. This industry burns higher amounts of fossil fuels and produces greenhouse gases. This affects the health of fertile soils and hurts the whole ecosystem. So, for example, when trees are used for creating materials or for fuel, land resources such as forests are harmed.

the main environmental impacts of tourism

2) The physical degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity

When we think about holidays, we think about tourist places, good food, drinks, and activities. However, tourists usually waste more in a day than long-term residents. This improper waste management is a form of resource consumption and land pollution. Apart from that, it harms marine life, and degrades ecosystems. Therefore, damaging ecosystems makes it difficult for native plants and animals to survive causing a loss of biodiversity.

3) Pollution

Tourism can cause various types of pollution. For instance, we have air emissions, noise and light pollution, solid waste, and litter. There is also sewage, oil and chemical discharges, and even visual pollution. In particular, artificial lights on coastlines can confuse sea turtle babies, while noise pollution can disturb and distress wildlife.

What’s more, cruise ships are among the top polluters. They make extra noise in deep waters and release raw sewage as well as the waste of passengers directly into the water. They also burn fossil fuels and release pollutants into the air. So, tourism accounts for more than 8% of global emissions of CO2. Specifically, flights and cars are the most polluting forms of travel. Thus we can see that tourism contributes a lot to climate change and other environmental issues.

What could be the solutions to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment?

Don’t worry! We don’t need to stop traveling if we want to protect the environment. We can reduce the impact of tourism by simply avoiding mass tourism. Moreover, we must practice more environmentally friendly tourism alternatives. Since Covid-19, more and more people have decided to opt for these alternatives, which is a great thing.

Sustainable development goals

● Sustainable Tourism

Economic, social, and environmental implications are all considered in sustainable tourism. In fact, it aims to offer travel possibilities that have a low environmental impact. Also, at the same time it benefits tourist destinations and local people. In particular, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) gives us the different focuses of sustainable tourism:

- Protecting the environment.

- Providing socioeconomic benefits for the destinations and locals.

- Conserving cultural heritage.

We can give as an example The Six Senses Resort in Fiji which uses solar energy and rain capture to reduce plastic use.

● Ecotourism

Ecotourism is a form of sustainable tourism. Specifically, it focuses on educating tourists about nature and the environment. So, in this tourism, travelers are taking part in conservation, and cultural activities.

Examples :

- Camping

- Wildlife viewing

- Hiking

● Responsible Tourism

Responsible tourism is tourism that respects the community, culture, and environment of the destination.

Examples :

- Do not participate in mass tourism

- Do not take the plane for short trips

- Do not leave any goods behind

- Do not make noise

- Visit local markets, restaurants...

- Preserve the surrounding nature

All in all, I strongly believe that the environmental situation should be a concern for everyone. I hope you won’t forget the environmental impacts of tourism when you consider traveling. And as you can see there are many things to do to preserve the environment without having to stop traveling. So next time you plan to do a trip, try to protect the environment!


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