Impacts of tourism

The impacts of tourism include the effects of tourism on the environment and on destination communities, and its economic contributions. It has been part off the tourism discourse since the 1970s, with attention growing in recent years due to debates on overtourism[1]. Impacts are not easily categorized, having direct and indirect components.[2] Tourism is also often seasonal, and impacts only become apparent over time, with varying effects, and at different stages of development.[1][2][3]

Tourism impacts fall into three main categories. Environmental impacts affect the carrying capacity of the area, vegetation, air quality, bodies of water, the water table, wildlife, and natural phenomena. Sociocultural impacts are associated with interactions between people with differing cultural backgrounds, attitudes and behaviors, and relationships to material goods.[2] The introduction of tourists to sensitive areas can be detrimental, cause a loss of culture, or, alternatively, contribute to the preservation of culture and cultural sites through increased resources. Economic impacts are usually seen as positive, contributing to employment, better services, and social stability. Cultural education may also be improved, which can be overlooked.[4] Yet these impacts can also contribute to high living costs within the community, pushing out local businesses, and raising costs for local residents.[4][5]

Environmental impacts

Ecotourism, nature tourism, wildlife tourism, and adventure tourism take place in environments such as rain forests, high alpine, wilderness, lakes and rivers, coastlines and marine environments, as well as rural villages and coastline resorts. Peoples' desire for more authentic and challenging experiences results in their destinations becoming more remote, to the few remaining pristine and natural environments left on the planet. The positive impact of this can be an increased awareness of environmental stewardship.[6] The negative impact can be a destruction of the very experience that people are seeking. There are direct and indirect impacts, immediate and long-term impacts, and there are impacts that are both proximal and distal to the tourist destination. These impacts can be separated into three categories: facility impacts, tourist activities, and the transit effect.

Facility impacts

Facility impacts occur when a regional area evolves from "exploration" to "involvement" and then into the "development" stage of the tourist area life cycle.[7] During the latter phase there can be both direct and indirect environmental impacts through the construction of superstructure such as hotels, restaurants, and shops, and infrastructure such as roads and power supply. As the destination develops, more tourists seek out the experience. Their impacts increase accordingly. The requirement for water for washing, waste disposal, and drinking increases. Rivers can be altered, excessively extracted, and polluted by the demands of tourists. Noise pollution has the capacity to disturb wildlife and alter behavior, and light pollution can disrupt the feeding and reproductive behaviour of many creatures. When power is supplied by diesel or gasoline generators there is additional noise and pollution. General waste and garbage are also a result of the facilities. As more tourists arrive there is an increase in food and beverages consumed, which in turn creates waste plastic and non-biodegradable products.

Tourist activities

Practically all tourist activities have an ecological impact on the host destination. In rural destinations activities, such as hiking, trekking, kayaking, bird watching, wildlife safaris, surfing, snorkelling, and scuba-diving mostly affect the local ecology.

There are a range of impacts from hiking, trekking, and camping that directly affect the activity area. The most obvious is the erosion and compaction of trails through daily use. With the presence of obstacles such as fallen trees or puddles, trails becomes widened or informal trails are created to bypass the obstacle.[9] Other direct impacts include damage or removal of vegetation, loss of vegetation height, reduction in foliage cover, exposure of tree root systems, migration of trampled vegetation, and introduction of non-native species.[10] Indirect impacts on trails include changes in soil porosity, changes to microflora composition, problems with seed dispersion and germination, and degradation of soil nutrient composition.[11]

As many hikers and trekkers take multi-day trips, a large number will camp overnight either in formal or random campsites. There are similar impacts on campsites, such as soil compaction, erosion and composition, loss of vegetation and foliage, and the additional issues regarding campfires. Informal trails are created around the campsite in order to collect firewood and water, and trees and saplings can be trampled, damaged, or cut-down for fuel. The heat of campfires may damage tree-root systems.[12] In formal campgrounds, tent pad areas are normally devoid of vegetation, while random camping can damage sensitive plants and grasses during a single overnight stay.

As with most recreational activities, hiking and camping generate waste, including food scraps and human waste. Habituation of wildlife to human contact and to unusual food sources can have a detrimental effect on the wildlife and pose dangers for humans. Provision for deposit, collection, and removal of waste will also have a direct impact on the local environment.

Tourism can act as a vector in the spread of non-native species. With tourism comes an increase and concentration of human activity in specific localized regions of the landscape especially protected wildernesses and parks. Because of the increase in human visitation from many different geographical regions, non-native species are observed at a higher propagation rate in these areas. Typical recreation activities such as hiking, biking, and off-road driving can act as habitat disturbances which may increase the spread of aggressive invasive species, harming the natural ecosystem. Nature-based tourism (i.e., wildlife viewing and outdoor recreation) are thought to be increasing and often happen in more pristine habitats. With the disturbance from human activities, open niches may become available giving opportunity for aggressive non-native species to become established and take advantage of new resource availability. This can have dire consequences on local flora and fauna as invasives tend to be particularly successful in colonizing disturbed areas where the local biotic communities have been affected and potentially harmed.

Examples of invasive species spread by tourism:

  • Bigheaded ant (Pheidole megacephala): Is one of the worst invasives and classified under the “world's 100 worst” invasive species. Originally found in the Galapagos Islands in 2007 within ship cargo for tourist supplies. Ants can be spread with the movement of people from one island to another.
  • Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum): Spread fast, don’t allow native species to grow, can cause forest fires to spread rapidly. Can be carried by people through shoes and gear; pets and other animals can spread the seeds through their travel as well.
  • Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha): These are believed to have come from the Caspian Sea in Europe in a ship's ballast water. They are spread by uncleansed boats from one body of water to another as tourists move to different locations.

There are ways to decrease the spread of non-native species such as taking care in removing seeds from shoes and pants after hiking or biking. Thoroughly cleaning boats when moving from one body of water to another and creating designated pathway management plans are other ways in which one can decrease the impacts of invasive species on local habitats.[13][14][15]

Another activity that can have severe direct and indirect impacts on the environment is wildlife viewing. This happens in a range of formats, on land and in the ocean. Wildlife safaris in African countries such as Kenya, Botswana, and Tanzania have been popular for many years. Their focus are the big five game megafauna: the African lion, African elephant, African leopard, cape buffalo, and rhinoceros. As with every human-wildlife interaction, there is a change in the natural interaction of the species. The mere presence of humans can increase the heart rate and stress hormones of even the largest animal.[16] Other changes in behavior have been recognized. For example, baboons and hyenas have learnt to track tourist safari vehicles to lead them to cheetah kills, which they then steal.[17] This direct impact of can severely damage the delicate balance of the food webs and keystone species.

There is a small but significant number of tourists who pay considerable sums of money in order to trophy hunt lions, rhino, leopards, and even giraffes. It has been argued that there is a positive and negative, direct and indirect, environmental impact caused by trophy hunting. There is a continued discussion at federal and international government level as to the ethics of funding conservation efforts through hunting activities.[18]

Another tourism destination activity is scuba diving. There are many negative direct environmental impacts caused by recreational diving. The most apparent is the damage caused by poorly skilled divers standing on the reef itself or by accidentally hitting the fragile coral with their fins. Studies have shown that "naïve" divers who engage in underwater photography are considerably more likely to accidentally damage the reef.[19][20]As the cost of underwater photography equipment has declined and its availability increased, it is inevitable that there will be an increase of direct damage to reefs by divers. Other direct impacts include over-fishing for "marine curios", sedimentation, and in-fill.[21] There is also direct environmental impact due to disturbed and altered species behaviour from fish feeding, as well as import of invasive species and pollution caused by dive-boats. There are also indirect impacts such as shoreline construction of superstructure and infrastructure.

Transit effects

Since 2009 there has been a steady yearly increase in the number of tourist arrivals worldwide of approximately 4.4 percent. In 2015 there were 1.186 billion tourist arrivals worldwide, of which 54 percent arrived by air (640 million), 39 percent (462 million) by motor vehicle, 5 percent by water (59 million), and 2 percent by rail (23.7 million).[22] A seven-hour flight on a Boeing 747 produces 220 tonnes of CO2, which is the equivalent of driving an average size family saloon car for a year, or the energy requirement of an average family home for nearly 17 years.[23] With the ever-increasing number of tourist arrivals, there is an ever-increasing quantity of global greenhouse gasses (GHG) being produced by the tourism industry. In 2015 it is estimated that 5 percent of global GHG emissions was attributable to air travel alone.

As more eco-tourists seek remote, pristine, undeveloped regions, and practise low-impact, "leave no trace" adventure vacations, their GHG contributions have increased exponentially. As a result of the accumulation of GHGs the annual average global temperature is rising each year. New records were set in 2014, 2015 and it is predicted that 2016 will yet again exceed the previous highest average global temperature.[24][25] It is causing the oceans to warm and causing increased frequency of abnormal weather events such as floods and hurricanes. The increase in the amount of CO2 dissolved into the oceans is changing its chemical composition, leading to acidification of the oceans, which in turn has led to bleaching of coral reefs worldwide.

In 2016 it was determined that the world's largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, is so badly affected by bleaching that only 10 percent remained unspoiled and the remaining 90 percent has varying degrees of degradation[26] A recently discovered issue in the Pacific Northwest caused by acidification, is the decreased survival of pteropods, a key source of food for salmon. These microscopic invertebrates, known as sea butterflies, are unable to form their outer shells and die.[27] These tiny creatures make up a significant portion of the salmon diet. Without this nutrition available to the salmon, they may not grow to maturity to return to their spawning grounds to reproduce and provide food for bears. Bears cycle nutrients through the forest, where tourists come to view or hunt the bears. Thus the food web is disturbed. Anthropogenic climate change has both a direct and indirect impact on tourism.

Sociocultural impacts of tourism

An inherent aspect of tourism is the seeking of authenticity, the desire to experience a different cultural setting in its natural environment.[28][29] Although cultural tourism provides opportunities for understanding and education, there are serious impacts that arise as a result. It is not only the volume of tourism at work, but the types of social interactions that occur between tourist and host. There are three broad effects at the local level: the commodification of culture, the demonstration effect, and the acculturation of another culture.

Commodification of culture

Commodification of culture refers to the use of a cultural traditions and artifacts in order to sell and profit for the local economy. With the rise of tourism, authors argue that commodification is inevitable.[30] There are both positive and negative sociocultural impacts of commodification on a culture. One positive is the creation of business and jobs for local craftsmen, who are able to sell their goods to tourists. Rural tourism is seen as a "cure" for poverty and leads to the improvement of transportation and development of telecommunications in an area.[31] For the tourist, commodification creates an interest for traditional arts and social practices.[30] However, critics of commodification believe that tourists are not interested in cultural beliefs and traditions of the locals, but are rather obsessed with owning a part of it. The argument that by monetizing cultural artifacts locals lose the value to their culture also exists. It then leads to the belief that tours are no longer authentic experiences. However, development economists will argue that culture can be utilized just as any other natural resource.

Researchers look at the impact of tourists on a culture and in short, many argue that the contact with the secular West leads to the destruction of pre-tourist cultures.[30] In addition, the "development cure", the idea that increasing tourism will spur economic change while strengthening local culture, is claimed to lead to new diseases, such as "drug addiction, crime, pollution, prostitution, and a decline in social stability" as well as growth of capitalist values and a Consumer Culture.[30]

Demonstration effect

The demonstration effect was introduced to tourism when researchers were looking into the effects of social influences from tourism on local communities. The demonstration effect argues that local inhabitants copy the behavioral patterns of tourists.[32] There are a number of social, economic and behavioral reasons as to why the demonstration effect comes into play. One economic and social reason is that locals copy the consumption patterns of those higher up the social scale in order to improve their social status.[32] Tourism has also been accused of affecting social behavior of the younger members of a host community, who may imitate what tourists do, impacting traditional value systems.

Criticisms of the demonstration effect

There are many criticisms of the demonstration effect in tourism. Firstly, tourism is seen as only one aspect of change in society. Local people also see examples of foreign lifestyles and consumption in advertisements, magazines, television, and films, and therefore tourism is not the only influence on local culture.[32] In addition, the demonstration effect implies that a culture is "weak" and needs to be protected by outside influences. In many cases, the demonstrative effect is seen as a negative consequence, but it is argued that "all cultures are in a continual process of change", therefore tourism should not be considered destructive.[32]

Community participation

Community participation refers to the collaboration between community members for the purposes of achieving common goals, improving their local community and pursuing individual benefits.[33] Local community members are actively involved in tourism, rather than passively benefiting from it. Community participation strengthens communities and help to create a sense of belonging, trust and credibility among members.[33] By involving local community members, tourism can become more authentic. The community and the tourists both benefit from community participation, as it boosts their respect for the traditional lifestyle and values of the destination community. Most destination community members are also the ones most impacted by tourism, therefore there is an importance in their involvement in tourism planning. Some researchers will argue that some of the negative impacts of tourism might be avoided and the positive impacts maximized through community participation in the planning process.[33]


Acculturation is the process of modifying an existing culture through borrowing from the more dominant of cultures. Typically in tourism, the community being acculturated is the destination community, which then experiences dramatic shifts in social structure and world view. Societies adapt to acculturation in one of two ways. Innovation diffusion is when the community adopts practices that are developed by another group; whereas cultural adaptation is less adoption of a new culture and more the process of changing when the existing culture is changed.[34] Acculturation is often seen as a method of modernizing a community and there are many opposing views to the concept of modernization. One argument against modernization is that it contributes to the "homogenization of cultural differences and the decline of traditional societies".[34] This means that communities will advertise their modernity to attract tourists, and will disregard their traditional customs and values. On the other hand, others argue that acculturation and modernization will help traditional communities adjust in a modern world. The idea being that teaching people to adapt will save the community from future extinction.

Positive socio-cultural impacts

There are number of benefits for the host community as a result of tourism. This includes economic benefits such as opportunities for local businesses which allows for increased trade among the increased number of visitors and then develops a variety of local businesses. In addition, tourism also brings employment opportunities, enhances the economy of the region, and creates revenue for the local government. Tourists also use public services, creating funding for public services, such as health, the police and the fire department, as well as increasing the demand for public transport. Other public facilities, such as parks and benches are also well kept by the community for the tourists, improving the overall aesthetics of the host community. On a more social level, tourism leads to intercultural interaction. Tourists often engage and learn from the locals. Tourism can also increase pride in locals. They want to show off their community that tourists have chosen to visit. The increase in people also leads to creating more social venues and experiences where locals and tourists can interact in. Entertainment and recreational facilities will allow for more opportunity to socialize and engage with each other.[35] Tourism can be beneficial for the host community as it provides the financial means and the incentive to preserve cultural histories, local heritage sites, and customs. It stimulates interest in local crafts, traditional activities, songs, dance, and oral histories. It also opens up the community to the wider world, new ideas, new experiences, and new ways of thinking.[36][36]

Negative sociocultural impacts

There can be negative effects from cultural interactions.[37] In terms of economic disadvantages, local communities need to be able to fund the tourist demands, which leads to an increase of taxes. The overall price of living increases in tourist destinations in terms of rent and rates, as well as property values going up. This can be problematic for locals looking to buy property or others on a fixed income.[35] In addition, to balance out tourist destinations, the number of locals to tourists must be relatively equal. This can be more problematic for tourists as their access could be denied. Other negative sociocultural impacts are differences in social and moral values among the local host community and the visiting tourist. Outside of affecting the relationship between tourist and local, it can also cause friction between groups of the local population. In addition, it can cause drifts in the dynamics between the old and new generations. Tourism has also correlated to the rise of delinquent behaviors in local host communities. Crime rates have been seen to rise with the increase of tourists. Crimes are typically those of rowdy behavior, alcohol and illegal drug use, and loud noise. In addition, gambling and prostitution is increased due to tourists looking for a "good time".[35] Tourism has also caused more disruption in host communities. Crowding of locals and tourists may create a vibrant ambiance, it also causes frustration and leads to the withdrawal of local residents in many places. Increased tourists also results in increased traffic which can hinder daily life of the local residents.[35]

Economic impacts

Global tourism in 2014 contributed 3.7 percent (US$2.5 billion) to the world's GDP, with its total contribution rising to almost 10 percent of world GDP.[38] The GDP increase comes from the over one billion international tourists worldwide, a number that has been growing by 5 percent annually since 2012.[39][40] Visits and boosts to GDP are expected to continue to rise in the near future as falling oil prices contribute to reduced living costs and increased available income for households, as well as reduced costs for air travel.

Tourism can be divided into subcategories into which impacts fall: spending from visitors on tourism experiences like beach holidays and theme parks (domestic and international), spending on leisure items like bicycles, business spending, and capital investment.[38][41]

The economic contribution of tourism is felt in both direct and indirect ways, where direct economic impacts are created when commodities like the following are sold: accommodation and entertainment, food and beverages services, and retail opportunities. Residents, visitors, businesses, and various levels of governments (municipal to federal) all influence direct tourism impacts through their spending in or near a given tourism area.[38][39][42] The key component of direct economic impacts of tourism is that they occur within a country's borders and are implemented by "residents and non-residents for business and leisure purposes".[38]

In contrast, indirect economic impacts of tourism can be found in investment spending surrounding a tourism offering from private and governmental interests. This investment may not explicitly be related to tourism, but benefits the tourist and local stakeholders all the same.[38] Indirect impacts of tourism are exemplified by the purchase and sale of intermediary items like additional supplies for restaurants during the high tourism season, or widened sidewalks in busy downtown centres.[39] Indirect economic impacts (the supply chain, investment, and government collective) account for 50.7 percent of the total GDP contribution from travel and tourism in 2014.[38]

Induced spending, the re-circulation of a tourist dollar within a community, is another way that tourism indirectly has an impact on a community.[43] For example, a foreign tourist injects money into the local economy when he spends a dollar on a souvenir made by a local at the tourism destination. That individual goes on to spend that dollar on lunch from a local vendor, and that vendor goes on to spend it locally.[2][44]

Positive and negative economic impacts of tourism

There are both positive and negative effects on communities related to the economic impacts of tourism in their communities.[43][44] A positive impact can refer to the increase in jobs, a higher quality of life for locals, and an increase in wealth of an area. Tourism also has the advantage of rebuilding and restoring historic sites and encouraging the revitalization of cultures.[45] A positive impact is to increase or to make better either for the tourist, the host community and residence and/or the tourist destination. Positive impacts are related more to the materialistic well-being, rather than to the happiness of a host community or tourist.[46]

The tourist destination enjoys positive impacts, if there have been improvements to the natural environment such as protection, national parks, or man-made infrastructure, waste-treatment plants. Tourism provides the economic stimulus to allow for diversification of employment and income potential, and develop resources within the community. Improvements in infrastructure and services can benefit both the locals and the tourists.[28][29][2] Whereas, heritage tourism focuses on local history or historical events that occurred in the area, and tends to promote education.[47] Positive impacts begin when there is an increase in job opportunities for locals as the tourism industry becomes more developed. There is also an increase in average income that spreads throughout the community when tourism is capitalized on.[43] In addition, the local economy is stimulated and diversified, goods are manufactured more locally, and new markets open for local business owners to expand to.[43] Unfortunately, these benefits are not universal nor invulnerable. While more employment may be available, tourism-related jobs are often seasonal and low-paying.[43] Prices are known to fluctuate throughout the year. They rise in the high tourist season to take advantage of more tourist dollars, but have the side effect of pricing goods above the economic reach of local residents, effectively starving them out of a place that was once their home.[39][43]

Negative impacts are the effects, that are caused in most cases, at the tourist destination site with detrimental impacts to the social and cultural area, as well as the natural environment. As the population increases so do the impacts, resources become unsustainable and exhausted, the carrying capacity for tourists in a destination site may become depleted.[48] Often, when negative impacts occur, it is too late to impose restrictions and regulations. Tourist destinations seem to discover that many of the negative impacts are found in the development stage of the tourism area life cycle (TALC).[48]

Additionally, the economics of tourism have been shown to push out local tourism business owners in favour of strangers to the region.[43][2][44] Foreign ownership creates leakage (revenues leaving the host community for another nation or multinational business) which strips away the opportunity for locals to make meaningful profits.[43][49] Foreign companies are also known to hire non-resident seasonal workers because they can pay those individuals lower wages, which further contributes to economic leakage. Tourism can raise property values near the tourism area, effectively pushing out locals and encouraging businesses to migrate inwards to encourage and take advantage of more tourist spending.[43]


Employment, and both its availability and exclusivity, are subsets of economic impacts of tourism.[49] Travel and tourism create 10.7 percent of the total available jobs worldwide, in both the direct and indirect tourism sectors.[38][49] Direct tourism jobs, those that provide the visitor with their tourism experience include, but are not limited to: accommodation (building, cleaning, managing), food and drink services, entertainment, manufacturing, and shopping[43][44][49] Indirect tourism employment opportunities include the manufacturing of aircraft, boats, and other transportation, as well as the construction of additional superstructure and infrastructure necessary to accommodate these travel products (airports, harbours, etc.)[49]

Tourism satellite account

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) tourism satellite account (TSA) is a system of measurement recognized by the United Nations to define the extent of an economic sector that is not so easily defined as industries like forestry or oil and gas[49] Tourism does not fit neatly into a statistical model; because it is not so much dependent on the physical movement of products and services, as it is on the position of the consumer.[49][50] Therefore, TSAs were designed to standardize these many offerings for an international scale to facilitate better understanding of current tourism circumstances locally and abroad.[49] The standardization includes concepts, classifications, and definitions, and is meant to enable researchers, industry professionals, and the average tourism business owner to view international comparisons.[49]

Before TSAs were widely implemented, a gap existed in the available knowledge about tourism as an economic driver for GDP, employment, investment, and industry consumption; indicators were primarily approximations and therefore lacking in scientific and analytical viewpoints.[42][49][50] This gap meant missed opportunities for development, as tourism stakeholders were unable to understand where they might be able to better establish themselves in the tourism economy. For example, a TSA can measure tax revenues related to tourism, which is a key contributor to the level of enthusiasm any level of government might have towards potential tourism investment.[49] In addition, Tyrrell and Johnston[49] suggest that stakeholders in tourism benefit from the TSA because it:

  • provides credible data on the impact of tourism and the associated employment
  • is a framework for organizing statistical data on tourism
  • is an international standard endorsed by the UN Statistical Commission
  • is an instrument for designing economic policies related to tourism development
  • provides data on tourism's impact on a nation's balance of payments
  • provides information on tourism human resource characteristics

Through collection of more qualitative data and translating it into a more concise and effective form for tourism providers, TSAs are able to fill the previous knowledge gap.[50] Information delivered and measured by a TSA includes tax revenues, economic impact on national balances, human resources, employment, and "tourism's contribution to gross domestic product".[49]

Projections for 2020

Predictions for the extent to which impacts of tourism will impact the world's economic system appear to agree that the number of international tourist arrivals will reach approximately 1.6 billion by the year 2020.[39][49] Of those tourists, 1.18 billion are expected to be intra-regional, and 377 million to be long-haul.[49] Of these travelers, arrivals in developing countries are expected to continue growing from the recorded 47% of total arrivals recorded in 2011 as access to these more remote locations becomes easier[39][40][41] Direct contributions of travel and tourism to the world economy and GDP are expected to rise from 3.09 percent in 2015 to 3.3 percent in 2025, with most impacts found in the investment and supply chain sectors.[38] Employment is anticipated to rise parallel to GDP contributions; reaching 3.9 percent of world employment in 2025 (up from 3.6 percent in 2015).[38] Direct tourism employment in 2025 will be an estimated 3.9 percent of total world employment (up from approximately 3.6 percent in 2015), while indirect tourism employment will be at approximately 4.5 percent (up from 3.6 percent in 2015).[38]

See also


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