“Too much of anything is bad” the adage came to my mind as I tried to respond to this week’s Indispire prompt asking “if too much tourism creates environmental problems?” I certainly feel as more and more people take to travel, they inadvertently bring about damage to environment.
Those who manage government, probably looks at tourism industry as a hen that lays golden egg. There is no doubt that tourism industry contributes to local economy. Tourists bring in money. Money is pumped in the local economy. Infrastructure like hotel, road, hospitals come up, where locals get employment. As an intangible benefit of tourism industry, culturebarrier falls apart. People from distant lands and distinct cultures meet.
Data further support arguments made in favor of a robust tourism industry in India and abroad. In 2018, tourism generated US$240 billion (9.2% of India’s GDP) in India and supported 42.7 million jobs (8.1% of total employment). Other countries have seen good revenue generation as a result of tourist footfall. For example, Thailand had seen 35 million tourists generating 45 billion dollars in revenue.The US had seen as many as 74 million travellers in 2017 and a revenue generation of around 200 billion US dollars. In Europe, collectively, in 2017 France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy and Spain had seen 300 million plus tourists that generated a revenue fo USD 229 billion dollars.
Despite many positive benefits, perceived and real, of tourism industry, in many places local population have shown their displeasure at increased influx of tourists, despite benefits accruing to their life and livelihoods. For example, in Ibiza, Spain and in Venice, Italy posters had come up against tourists that urged
- “Tourists, go home”
- “Tourists, you terrorists!”
- “Tourists leave! You destroy this city”
We must ask why people are not welcoming tourists anymore. There may not be easy answers. But there is no doubt increased influx of tourists definitely causes depletion of precious resources, overwhelming of local infrastructure, and damage to fragile eco systems.
Damage environment : To understand the effect on environment one must understand that lifestyle we pursue contributes to global warming and depletes local resources. For example,
- Trees are chopped or a forest cover is depleted to erect a hotel or a resort or to built road and rail infrastructure.
- Burning of fossil fuel as a result of travel by road or by air depeletes a precious resource and contributes to global warming and environment pollution.
- Dairy, poultry and meat industry gets a boost as a result of tourism. At the same time raising cows and cattles increases emission of methane.
Depletion and/or pollution of water resource
- Golf resorts in countries such as Cyprus consume water that could be enough for 60 thousand villagers.
- According to the tourism department of Ibiza, Spain, tourist tend to consume more water and deplete existing resource.
- Closer to home in Nepal, despite a positive economic impact Everest climbing brings to Nepal, there is a catastrophe looming on the horizon. Over the years, a huge quantity of human waste is left on the mountain to slowly decay. At the base camp, shallow excavated areas, alongside a riverine outlet, is used to dump waste. During monsoon season, water flowing into the watershed system has the potential of risking downstream drinking water.
Tourists overwhelming city infrastructure : No city can accommodate more visitor than the number of hotel rooms. But due to Airbnb, local households can rent out their homes to guests. According to estimates, Spain with a population of 47 million received 67 million tourists. And around 60000 tourists per day visiting Venice exceeded the local population. Shown below is a picture of climbers queuing up to climb Mount Everest. So many people, leaving their waste and damaging fragile ecology. How much can a mountain take?
Clash of cultures: Though promoted as great mixer of different cultural identities, it is emerging that in many places locals may find behavior of a tourist odd, if not irritating. Sometimes this may lead to conflict
- A man and woman kissing openly in public may appear odd in rural India.
- A scantily clad woman walking down road of Goa, India, is not always appreciated.
- A tourist swimming in the Grand Canal of Venice, a prohibited activity, may be resented.
- Change of local culture and identity due to influx of tourists is a cause of resentment among community elders and conservatives.
Financial Benefits not trickling down: Bulk of the money spent by tourists in developing countries eventually goes into the pocket of international companies – airlines, hotels, importers of beverages and food, not to local businesses. Many a time, jump in prices of commodities connected to tourism inflow may not be proportional to income of local population.
Misplaced Development Priorities: Funds for the development of airports, roads, but neglect more important areas and issues.
All the eggs in one basket: Over-reliance on tourism entails significant risks. For example, natural disasters, or a structural change in tourism can have a devastating impact on the local economy of the travel destinations and leave a large number of people unemployed.
In an open society it may be difficult to stop a tourist that wants to bring money and spend it on local economy. Yet given the potential consequences, people should be discouraged by making the visit more expensive. For example,
- In Berlin residents are forbidden to offer their apartments on Airbnb. A high penalty awaits anyone who violates the measure – a thousand euros.
- In Ibiza, as well as on other Balearic Islands (Mallorca and Menorca), a tourist tax of around 2 euros per day, has been introduced.
- Greek authorities have imposed restrictions on the arrival of tourists to Santorini by water. So now the number of passengers arriving to the island is limited to 8 thousand per day from 10 thousand people per day.
- In Nepal, a permit to climb Mount Everest costs between 25000 – 50000 USD, depending upon nationality.
In summary, despite a positive economic impact of tourism industry, too many tourists definitely have an effect on finite resources and contribute to warming of this planet. Definitely tourism industry and people’s desire to travel is not going to go away. Question is how does governments manage influx of tourists? In this era of open society it may be possible to discourage a tourist by increasing a tourists cost of travel? We have seen in Greece number of tourists that can visit a city has been reduced. In India, the number of visitors to a reserve forest is restricted. May be days are not far when governments may have to put a limit to number of tourist visas they will grant.
Note : This post is written in response to Indispire prompt. More posts on the topic may be found here.
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