Impact of tourism
This article aims to examine the impact of tourism on a destination’s culture, economy, and environment. Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. It contributed 7.6% to the world GDP in 2022 (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2023).
Certainly, tourism is a significant industry that has the power to shape economies, cultures, and environments across the globe. It generates trillions of dollars in revenue every year and provides employment for millions of people worldwide. However, its impact is not always positive. It sometimes impacts on the environment and social fabrics negatively that must be addressed to ensure its long-term sustainability.
Economic impact of tourism
Historically, developed countries reaped the economic harvests of tourism very well. However, in the last two decades, several developing nations came forward and started catering to the needs of tourists as well. Thailand, Uganda, India, Maldives, Iran, Madagascar, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Papua New Guinea are some good examples in this regard.
The economic impact of tourism on some of these tourist destinations is massive. For example, tourism’s current contribution to the Indian GDP is around $215 billion. Likewise, its contribution to Thailand’s GDP is around 883 billion Thai baht (Statista, 2023).
USA, UK, and France are some of the top tourism destinations in the world. Tourism has greatly contributed to the economies of these countries. For instance, its worth in the UK is forecast to be around £257 billion by 2025 (VisitBritain, 2023).
Tourism industry generates significant revenue through direct spending by tourists on accommodation, food, transportation, and other services. This multiplier effect of spending further contributes to economic growth, as businesses invest in new facilities and infrastructure, creating more jobs and income opportunities for local residents.
Tourism can also help diversify a country’s economy, reducing its reliance on a single industry or resource. For example, countries that depend heavily on agriculture or natural resource extraction may benefit from the growth of the tourism sector, providing a more stable source of income and employment. Saudi Arabia has recently relaxed and simplified visa systems to attract global tourists in order to diversify its economy.
However, it is worth mentioning that many host nations often fail to reap the economic benefits of tourism due to leakages. According to the UN cited in Eastern Kentucky University (2023), of each $100 spent by a tourist from a developed nation, only around $5 actually stays in the local economy of a developing country destination. Tourism leakage refers to when significant amount of the money spent by tourists ‘leaks’ out of the destinations.
Finally, the growth of the tourism industry can lead to increased competition for resources and infrastructure, driving up costs for local residents. For example, the influx of tourists may result in higher prices for housing, food, and transportation, making it more challenging for locals to afford essential goods and services.
Social impact of tourism
Tourism can also impact on the socio-cultural environment of a country. As tourists visit different countries, they meet local people. This gives both tourists and hosts an opportunity to get to know each other’s cultures. Consequently, this interaction leads to a greater understanding of diversity.
Tourism industry supports a wide range of cultural entertainment activities. This not only promotes cultural understanding, but also contributes to the economy. Another important issue to note is social inclusion. Many women and youngsters are engaged in both full-time and part-time employment in tourism industry. This contributes to social mobility to a great extent.
In addition to fostering cultural exchange, tourism can also help preserve and promote local culture and heritage. The demand for authentic cultural experiences encourages local communities to preserve traditional arts, crafts, and practices, ensuring that these cultural assets are passed down to future generations.
However, tourism can impact on culture and society negatively as well. For instance, the influx of tourists can exacerbate social tensions and inequalities within host communities. As tourism development often prioritises the needs of visitors over those of local residents, this can lead to resentment and conflict between the two groups.
Environmental impact of tourism
Tourism can play a vital role in promoting environmental conservation and awareness. Many tourists seek out destinations with pristine natural environments and unique ecosystems, creating an incentive for governments and local communities to invest in the protection and preservation of these areas.
As tourism industry grows, both public and private sector organisations start focusing on conservation and preservation of some aspects of the environment. This is further enhanced by the sustainable tourism development practices.
While tourism brings about a lot of socio-economic and environmental benefits, it also has some negative impacts on the environment. Waste, deforestation, and environmental damage are some of the challenges to name but a few. Many countries face the environment challenges of tourism on a daily basis.
For example, tourism has negatively impacted on the environment of Nicaragua. Landscape degradation and erosion have resulted from the development of visitor attractions in the country and some tourists’ desire to collect shells, rocks, and fossils.
Ericson (2023) has identified 15 places where the environmental impact of tourism has been damaging. These are Caño Cristales (Colombia), Maya Beach (Thailand), Maya Beach (Thailand), Machu Picchu (Peru), Venice (Italy), Cozumel (Mexico), Raja Ampat Islands (Indonesia), Antarctica, Bhutan, Pig Beach (The Bahamas), Cinque Terre (Italy), The Isle of Skye (Scotland), Mallorca (Spain), Santorini (Greece), and Mount Everest.
Summary of the impact of tourism
It is evident from the above analysis that both positive and negative impact of tourism on the economy, culture, and environment of a country is often massive. Therefore, it is extremely important for the stakeholders to play their part so that the negative impacts are minimised, and the positives impacts are further enhanced.
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Last date: 13 May 2023
Eastern Kentucky University (2023) Impact of Tourism Leakage and How to Prevent It, available at: https://ekuonline.eku.edu/blog/global-hospitality-blog/impact-of-tourism-leakage-and-how-to-prevent-it/ (accessed 01 May 2023)
Erickson, A. (2023) 15 places that have been ruined by tourism, available at: https://www.readersdigest.com.au/travel/15-places-have-been-ruined-tourism (accessed 01 May 2023)
Statista (2023) Value of tourism GDP Thailand, available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1143427/thailand-value-of-tourism-gdp/ (accessed 01 May 2023)
Visit Britain (2023) Britain’s visitor economy facts, available at https://www.visitbritain.org/visitor-economy-facts (Accessed 02 May 2023)
World Travel and Tourism Council (2023) Economic Impact Analysis, available at https://www.wttc.org/research/economic-research/economic-impact-analysis/(Accessed 02 May 2023)
Author: M Rahman
M Rahman writes extensively online and offline with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.