The current global recession is impacting the tourist industry worldwide and few places are immune. Countries, such as the UAE, which boasted about its immunity in April 2008, saw massive lay-offs in construction in its capital Dubai, only a few months later due to fewer tourist dollars. While international travel is down, local and regional travel is doing relatively better as people decide to travel closer to home.
Tourism is one of the largest industries worldwide, accounting for ten percent of the world GDP ($7-8 trillion) and ten percent of the US GDP ($1.2 trillion dollars). For many countries, such as the Bahamas and other island economies, it is the main source of income and employment. About 240 million people worldwide are employed in travel and tourism.1
This analysis will address the impacts of tourism on culture, development, and the environment and will provide and in-depth case study of the impact tourism on the Polar Regions.
Tourism and Culture
Culture influences and is influenced by tourism. Many people choose to travel to learn about different cultures. Heritage travel allows visitors to historic and culturally-significant sites. Heritage travelers often gain opportunities to meet with local members of the community and learn about their customs and ways of life. Promotion of the heritage sites and the provision of translation and related educational services increases the likelihood that tourists will visit the heritage sites.2 Local cultures are often impacted by tourists and many fear that contact changes the local culture. In response, many institutions promote sustainable tourism in which local cultures are preserved.
Tourism and Development
The U.N. World Tourism Organization states that tourism is one of the best ways for poor countries to earn foreign currency.3 Tourism is the second largest source of foreign dollars (after petroleum) for the world’s 40 poorest countries.4
Government and multilateral policies directly impact tourist activities. Government can encourage tourism through regulations, official statements, collaborations, and incentives across multiple governmental bodies. The United Nations World Tourist Organization (UNWTO) serves as a global forum for tourism policy issues. The UNWTO focuses on helping developing countries with sustainable tourism policies and provides technical and financial assistance to countries seeking to attract foreign tourists and educate tourism specialists.
There are different strategies for communities to use tourism to strengthen the economy. Community-based tourism is usually run by local residents who invite tourists to visit their local communities, including offering overnight accommodations.5 Sustainable Travel International notes that “Community-based tourism is socially sustainable tourism which is initiated and almost always operated exclusively by local people. Shared leadership emphasizing community well-being over individual profit, balances power within communities, and fosters traditional culture, conservation, and responsible stewardship of the land.”6
Others disagree with its effectiveness, J. Mitchell and P. Muckosy note that community-based tourism is not the answer to poverty alleviation since it does not reduce poverty on a large scale; they note that locals should connect to mainstream tourism whose benefits are well-documented (rather than develop alternative tourist options).7 In another article, J. Mitchell notes that governments should focus on strategies that increase the pie and increase the portion allotted to the poor and that governments should not neglect domestic tourism by the local middle class.8
Tourism and the Environment
Increased ease of travel and disposable income has lead to increased tourism around the world, especially to locations that were once remote and unreachable. A Washington Post article by Elizabeth Becker, “Don’t Go There,” discusses how tourism is harming the environment. Becker notes:
Global tourism today is not only a major industry — it’s nothing short of a planet-threatening plague. It’s polluting land and sea, destroying wildlife and natural habitat and depleting energy and natural resources. From Asia to Africa, look-alike resorts and spas are replacing and undermining local culture, and the international quest for vacation houses is forcing local residents out of their homes. It’s giving rise to official corruption, wealth inequities and heedless competition. It’s even contributing to human rights violations, especially through the scourge of sex tourism.9
Becker offers the example of Cambodia’s Ankor Temples, which has become a major tourist destination for Asian tourists, bringing in nearly a million tourists and $1 billion dollar in 2007. The Temples are sinking and the area’s water tables are being stressed from the quantity of tourists. Other examples include the damage to the Caribbean’s ocean ecosystem caused by cruise ships.10
The International Ecotourism Society (IES) provides statistics that agree with Becker’s assertion, such as the fact that 90 out of the 109 countries with coral reefs have reefs that have been damaged by cruise ship anchors and sewage, as well as by tourists breaking off the coral as a souvenir.
Sustainable tourism and ecotourism are two possible routes to address the myriad of environmental and social problems associated with tourism. The UNEP and the UNWTO list 12 principles of sustainable tourism: economic viability, local prosperity, employment quality, social equity, visitor fulfillment, local control, community well-being, cultural richness, physical integrity, biological diversity, resource efficiency, and environmental purity.11 Ecotourism has been growing 20 -34 percent annually and has become a priority of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
An article on Mediterranean policy and sustainable tourism notes how different government policies can affect sustainability. Rejuvenation policies that try to make an area more competitive in the international market, but usually only address the economic aspects of sustainable tourism. Quality Improvement policies can attract more high spenders, but are costly and may not improve the environmental aspects of sustainable tourism and can hurt the economy if the policies discourage mass tourism. Diversification strategies that create niche markets can be helpful, but should not be used if they require large-scale changes in the cultural and natural environment.12
One challenge that specifically impacts the Mediterranean markets is the overdependence on tour operators that minimize the profits of local entrepreneurs. Tour operators can be beneficial as they help with marketing and are perceived as helping with enhance services and facilities. Some believe that these benefits can be better achieved by directly offering the services to the tourists; technology can help facilitate the shift. Others prefer collaboration with the tour operators to achieve sustainability.13
While widely-touted as beneficial, a recent study by Minority Rights Group International notes that in certain areas, indigenous populations have been evicted to create ecotourism spaces; for example, 50 per cent of indigenous communities in Kenya have lost land in the name of ecotourism or other development initiatives. Minority Rights Group International calls for the following rights for indigenous peoples: “a recognition of indigenous collective land rights, the right to participation and development, the right to prior and informed consent.”14 While offering many potential positive outcomes, ecotourism and sustainable tourism must make sure to keep in mind the needs of all local communities.
Case Study: Polar Regions
A UNEP report “Tourism in the Polar Regions: The Sustainability Challenge,”15 highlights the impacts of tourism on the Polar Regions (Arctic areas and Antarctica). In Antarctica, ship-borne tourists increased 344 percent in the past 13 years and land-based tourists increased 917 percent in the past nine years. Visitors to the Arctic have grown tremendously as well. There are five tourist markets for the Polar Regions: 1) mass market, 2) sport fishing and hunting market, 3) ecotourism market, 4) adventure tourism market, and 5) culture and heritage tourism market.
Increased tourism has impacted the polar environment. The Polar Regions hold most of the world’s ice and snow and serve as a crucial habitat for migrating land, bird, and marine species, whose survival is dependent on the availability of food and nesting areas found only in these regions.
Global warming is changing the environment and making it easier for tourists to come. For example, the sea ice cover is being reduced for longer periods of time, which lengthens the tourist season and makes it easier for tourists to visit. Wildlife viewing and sports fishing are being impacted by decreasing wildlife habitat boundaries and changing migratory routes.
Other tourist impacts on the environment include: trampling of vegetation and forest tundra in accessible and highly trafficked spots; noise pollution from helicopter flights that scares local birds and could lead to dropped eggs; garbage, waste, and pollution from cruise ships and land-visitors; and disturbance of cetaceans, specifically in Antarctica.
Tourism provides both negative and positive outcomes for native Arctic people (there are no indigenous communities in Antarctica). Positive outcomes include much-needed income and jobs in the tourist industry, tax revenue from tourist fees, as well as opportunities to showcase and perpetuate local languages, traditional ceremonies, and artwork. Negative outcomes include the the costs to upkeep of the tourism infrastructure, potential loss of lives associated with carrying out rescue operations, and violation of traditional customs.
Addressing the multiple of environmental, cultural, and economic impacts are difficult due to the scarcity of resources. There are not enough personnel to monitor the natural resources and the tourists, to collect and dispose of waste, to respond to emergency calls, and to implement appropriate sustainable, environmental measures. One tool that has been used effectively by the Arctic regions, and is being considered for Antarctica, is the use of licensed guides and special permits for recreation activities such as rafting, mountaineering and wildlife photograph, which benefi the recipient as well as the community, since many native peoples are employed as guides.
Policy decisions concerning the Arctic can be made by 1) supranational organizations, such as the United Nations; 2) Native peoples who have increasingly gained autonomy and self-rule, and 3) eight nations who lay claim to the lands (Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the United States.)
Policy decisions for Antarctica are made only by supranational organizations, such as the Antarctic Treaty in 1966 and, more recently the May 2007 resolution that discouraged cruise ships with a capacity larger than 500 persons, required increased coordination amongst tour operators, and set passenger-to-guide ratios. For the most part the Antarctic is self-regulated, which requires the cooperation of scientists, tourists, and international organizations.
Tourism is inexplicably linked to global economic, social, environmental, and political trends. Both the public and private sphere set policies that impact global trends in tourism. Many look to sustainable tourism as the “end-all-and-be-all” to address all tourism-based challenges, but others note that mass tourism should not be neglected. Since the fate of the tourist industry is so interconnected with most global issues, managing tourism should be addressed by governments and international governance organizations.
1 “Global tourism worth eight trillion dollars this year.” India Times. March 6, 2008.
2 Apostolakis, Alexandros and Shabbar Jaffry. “The effect of cultural capital on the probability to visit cultural heritage attractions.” Int. J. Tourism Policy, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2007.
3 Becker, Elizabeth. “Don’t Go There.” Washington Post. August 31, 2008.
5 What is community based tourism?
7 Mitchell, J. and P. Muckosy. “A misguided quest: community-based tourism in Latin America.” Overseas Development Institute, London, 2008
9 Becker, Elizabeth. “Don’t Go There.” Washington Post. August 31, 2008.
11 “Tourism in the Polar Regions: The Sustainability Challenge.” United Nations Environment Programme, 2007.
12 Farsari, Yianna and Richard Butler and Poulicos Prastacos “Sustainable tourism policy for Mediterranean destinations: issues and interrelationships.” Int. J. Tourism Policy, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2007
14 “Trouble in paradise: tourism and indigenous land rights – together towards ethical solutions.” Minority Rights Group International. 2007.
15 “Tourism in the Polar Regions: The Sustainability Challenge.” United Nations Environment Programme, 2007.
* Picture 1: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danorbit/377465084/
Picture 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbangarden/2688388960/
Picture 3: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharkbait/1360918672/
Picture 4: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenyai/54090518/