Among some travel circles, the word tourism has received an unfairly tarnished reputation. At TropicsGourmet, we’ve seen first hand the positive side of tourism for both travelers and tourist destinations alike. We would like to inspire you to learn more with a series on the positive impacts of tourism. To kick it off, part one will focus on the positive impacts of tourism on the environment.
When properly managed, the communities and the people who host the millions of globetrotters benefit from being a “tourist destination.” The most obvious ways that host countries benefit from the economic impact of tourism are through the creation of jobs and the money. Through direct and indirect means, tourism is advantageous for local economies and communities in a variety of other ways. One of the main positive impacts is to the environment.
Armed with knowledge about the positive effects of tourism on the environment, you can responsibly contribute to sustainable tourism initiatives and support the people who live in the country you’re visiting.
Environmental tourism is one of the main reasons travelers fly around the world. We engage in types of activities that may not be possible in our home countries — exploring ancient ruins, hiking to lost cities, navigating through tropical rainforests, and getting up-close-and-personal with the most amazing natural wonders in the world. In order to prevent harming the local ecology and to ensure the preservation of the land, governments are often pushed to enforce laws and regulations that promote sustainable tourism.
This can be anything from allowing only a certain number of visitors to access the sight of interest per day (or week, or year); to improving infrastructure such as building washrooms or garbage disposals; not allowing visitors to get too close to a protected landmark; working with local communities to discuss environmentally-friendly tourism practices; and limiting access to overcrowded or naturally-rich areas. It’s important to remember that unsustainable tourism — and even sustainable tourism to an extent — has direct impacts on flora and fauna, air quality, and water quality.
Supporting Preservation Efforts
The preservation of the environment takes many forms to reduce negative impacts of tourism.
Costa Rica Boardwalks
Costa Rica, for example, is a worldwide leader in preservation efforts and ecotourism — necessary as this tiny Central American country is home to five percent of the world’s known biodiversity, and cloud forest covers 50 percent of the land.
In Costa Rica, they have built boardwalks throughout many of the country’s natural parks — like Manuel Antonio — to offer tourists controlled access to natural wonders. This both generates an income for the area and protects much of the plants and wildlife from free roaming-tourists.
A new trend in preservation efforts is to limit the number of visitors to a sight. Machu Picchu in Peru, for example, has set the daily tourist quota at 2,500 in order to prevent damage and overcrowding. The rules were not always strictly enforced but the government has since created a new policy, where visitors can chose from one of two time slots (morning or afternoon) to prevent people from staying all day.
Entire cities have taken similar stances. Italy has just announced that it will limit the number of annual visitors to Cinque Terre to 1.5 million. Sure, that’s still a lot, but it’s a lot less considering 2.5 million people visited in 2015. The city of Dubrovnik in Croatia has done the same thing, imposing a cap of 4,000 visitors a day.
In Vietnam, visitors can enter the vast and famous Phong Nha cave, but they must stick to a well-built walking path and refrain from physically touching anything in the cave. Other famous sights have taken more drastic measures, such as Ayer’s Rock in Australia, which will cease allowing visitors to climb the giant red mythical rock starting in 2019. In Belize, tourists must pay a $3.75USD departure tax which goes directly to the Protected Area Conservation Trust.
Renewable Energy Initiatives
Costa Rica is also a world leader in renewable energy.
In 2017, this ecologically-rich country generated renewable energy for 300 days, mostly from hydropower. It plans to get all of its electricity from renewable energy within the next few years. Tourism helps to support the economy enough to execute these renewable energy initiatives.
Cities all over the world are going green — some for altruistic reasons, while other recognize that tourists are often attracted to clean, green cities. Nordic countries, in particular, are leaders of the green and renewable energy movement. Norway has steadily been tackling climate change, and plans to cut emissions in half by 2020. In Iceland, the country’s volcanoes have created the biggest geothermal heating system in the world, providing locals — and visitors — with clean electricity and renewable energy.
Many global cities are maintaining large urban green spaces, incorporating pedestrian-only areas, building safe bicycle infrastructure, raising awareness about recycling, and building with green materials. These cities want to be eco-friendly destinations, and tourism undeniably pushes this.
Inspiring Environmental Protection Laws
Environmental protection laws are crucial for the survival of uncountable plant and animal species, and also for the preservation of ancient landmarks and ruins. Tourism may not always positively impact the environment directly, but rather indirectly through legislation, protection laws, and conservation efforts, which may have never been put in place if it weren’t for tourism.
Costa Rica Protects the Rainforest
In Costa Rica, 160 different areas have been dedicated to protect the environment and the country’s natural beauty. Costa Rica has 28 protected National Parks which cover a significant amount of land all across the country. It’s because of tourism that Costa Rica’s tropical rainforest have remained intact.
Hawaii Protects Coral Life
In 2018, Hawaii passed a bill banning sunscreen that can harm coral reefs. The law prohibits the distribution of sunscreen that has two toxic chemicals, which are damaging to coral life. Visitors on some of Hawaii’s beaches range in numbers from 2–5,000 swimmers per day, contributing to the estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen that has been deposited in the oceans. Even though tourism is often to blame for harming the environment, at the same time it is responsible for inspiring environmental protection laws.
Establishing Nature Reserves
Tourism has helped establish nature reserves globally.
Botswana Wildlife Preservation
This is common throughout Africa, where reserves protect much of the continent’s endangered wildlife. In Botswana, the government has kept visitor numbers lower than what they can handle in order to manage the environment, much of which is protected in nature reserves. By establishing wildlife preserves, species will be protected from hunting (unless trophy hunting is allowed) and from unfriendly tourism practices. In many instances where reserves have been established, endangered species have begin to thrive again in their natural habitats. The reserves allow for tourists to learn about local wildlife from a distance and to support the well-being of their habitat.
Namiba Restores Wildlife Populations
Africa’s mega-fauna are of great economic value to the countries where the animals are found, particularly in areas where safaris are popular. Namibia was the first African country to add the protection of the environment to its constitution. Since then, it has been restoring populations of cheetahs, lions, and other tourist-favorites. Some countries have taken drastic measures to ensure wildlife preservation. In Kaziranga National Park in India, for example, park rangers have resorted to shooting rhino poachers in order to protect the species.
The Positive Impacts of Tourism are Far-Reaching
A little goes a long way in the environmental tourism industry. The ultimately necessary act of protecting a biologically-rich area can have numerous lasting positive effects. A trail may be built through the forest to allow tourists to visit the area, which will bring in income in a variety of ways. Laborers need to be hired to build trail infrastructure, waste disposal and waste management facilities, signage, and other infrastructure. Guides may be hired to offer tours of the protected area, teaching about local flora and fauna and raising environmental awareness. Workers will be hired for the upkeep of trails. Transportation, accommodation, and restaurant infrastructure may be created nearby; the list goes on. Every extra day a tourist spends in a host country can directly translate into jobs and growth.
When visiting any new country — particularly areas of natural wonder that are vulnerable and at risk — one good tip to keep in mind is to take only pictures and leave only footprint.