Background of the study
The tourism industry is one of the largest and most dynamic industries in the world that drives the economies of many countries. Generally, the industry has largest economic output compared to the agricultural, forestry, fishing, mining, and the communication industries.
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In this regard, it has the highest growth rates and relatively high volumes of foreign currency. It has also recorded growth in terms of fresh administration and enlightening experiences in the last few decades. All these changes have made the industry to contribute positively to the economic, cultural and social development of many countries.
This has been mostly experienced in western countries such as Austria, France, and Switzerland. Recent studies indicate that, the industry contributes to about 10% of the world’s revenue, besides employing one out of ten workers in the world (Dwyer et al. 2003, p. 1). Despite many countries tending to consider the positive aspects of the industry, many studies indicate that it has both positive and negative effects on the economy, society, culture and the environment.
The tourism industry has a range of economic effects. It has both primary and secondary benefits on many sectors. The primary effects of tourism are felt by the restaurants, lodgings, the retail trade, and the transportation sectors. On the other hand, the secondary effects affect the employment rates, incomes, and sales in many economic sectors of a country.
For instance, in the 2000/01 tourism economic impact analysis in Australia, it is indicated that the industry created $ 23.3 billion in revenues for the New South Wales State. Of the total incomes, $ 6.4 billion were from the international visitors. In the same state, the industry employs about 5.3% of workers, besides being larger than the agricultural, electricity, Government Administration, and recreational industries among many more (Dwyer et al. 2003, p. 1).
Generally, the industry leads to changes in prices, the quality and quantities of goods and services, and property taxes among other taxes. On the other hand, the negative economic effects of tourism are also numerous. Due to the economic interdependencies created by the industry, it influences the economic costs of the local communities in terms of tourism infrastructure, tourism businesses, congestion, and the increased taxes meant to generate more revenue for planning, growth and development of tourism.
As with the economic activities, the tourism industry exerts many cultural effects on many communities. The cultural benefits of tourism are dependent on the native communities because their perception of tourism development will impact the way a community values and sustain its cultural activities or otherwise (Dwyer et al. 2003, p. 3).
Tourism development should encourage the development of the community’s existing characteristics instead of striving to attain standards of other tourism destinations. In this way, the industry contributes to development of a sense of cultural pride when visitors tour the local communities; create an interface for cultural exchange both internationally and locally in addition to creating awareness and generating funds for preservation, conservation and transmission of the local traditions and cultural identity.
On the other hand, tourism can lead to unrestrained, untenable and massed activities that erode the cultural diversity of many communities. These include thrashing of privacy and interruption of the daily lives of the locals, which eventually lead to loss of cultural identities (Honey 2008, p. 23).
Further, tourism can influence the social activities and relations of many communities in different ways. The social benefits of tourism arise from those activities that promote understanding, appreciation, awareness, tolerance, and learning among other activities.
These activities include, promoting self-respect among the locals and visitors, limiting the cultural stereotypes and unconstructive perceptions amongst the two groups, and development of constructive attitudes towards one another, among other activities. However, tourism activities may give rise to many negative outcomes such as distrust, increased tension, and unfriendliness between the visitors and the local communities or between the local communities themselves (Honey 2008, p. 27).
Another relatively important aspect of tourism involves its impact on the environment. This is because the interaction between tourism and the environment can be very complex. The perceived benefits of tourism include construction of aesthetic constructions such as airports, resorts, restaurants, shops, hotels, and other general infrastructure.
On the other hand, tourism can affect the environment negatively when the level of environmental utilization exceeds its ability and sustainability. Therefore, the tourist activities can lead to pollution and depletion of natural resources such as water resources, energy, land, and food resources among others. However, with the emergence of ecotourism, there has been increased awareness on the importance of environmental conservation relative to tourism development (Buckley 2000, p.661).
Sustainable or Eco/nature tourism involves responsible tourist activities in destinations that are easily destroyable, untouched and preserved so as to lower the impact of traditional tourism (Buckley 2000, p. 661). Through Ecotourism, the tourists are educated on the importance of conserving the environment in addition to providing funds for conservation of the local tourist destinations.
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This essay critically evaluates the emerging issues in sustainable tourism or eco/nature tourism in Sydney, Australia, which has proven to be one of the top ten most visited tourist destinations. It further looks at the problems facing the development of the tourism industry in addition to giving the most probable solutions to these problems. It also provides recommendations on the most probable ways of curtailing the rising barriers and issues in tourism development.
Sustainable Tourism or Ecotourism in Sydney, Australia
Sustainable tourism aims at promoting personal growth and education, local cultures, volunteering, and wilderness explorations through traveling to tourist destinations that are preserved and where the local heritage and cultures are the main focus of tourism development (Buckley 2000, p. 665). In this regard, sustainable tourism leads to reduction of the negative impacts of traditional tourism, conservation, and transmission of the cultural identity of the natives.
The initiatives of this form of tourism are undertaken by a variety of stakeholders notably, the hospitability providers, who are involved in the process of evaluating the ecological and cultural factors related to the tourism industry. In addition, the stakeholders are involved in other activities that are aimed at promoting waste recycling, energy efficiency in most of the tourism-related activities, and re-use of water (Barkin 2002, p. 245).
Further, the industry is centered at creating economic environments that sustain the financial needs of the local communities affected by the tourist activities. Formulation and implementation of the policies of ecotourism are undertaken by professionals from a variety of fields such as marine biology, environmental sciences, historians, wildlife management, archaeology, and oceanography among others.
Furthermore, the ecotourism sector is regarded as one of the most growing sectors within the tourism business making Sydney one of the fast growing green cities in the world. According to a study conducted by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), the ecotourism sector experiences a growth rate of 5% annually thereby, generating about 6% of the world revenues and about 11.4% of the total customer spending (Dwyer et al. 2003, p. 3).
The significance of Sustainable Tourism in Sydney, Australia
With the ever-changing and toughening environmental regulations and demands from both the government and the communities, there is the need to move from the conventional forms of tourism to a more sustainable form such as ecotourism.
Besides, there is the need for the tourism industry to provide its consumers with avenues where they can benefit from and discover the innate, chronological, and the artistic attributes of various exceptional destinations. In addition, the industry will need to safeguard the integrity of these unique destinations on top of promoting the economic growth and development of the local communities (Tuohino and Hynonen 2001, p. 21).
Through making such observations, the city council of Sydney and the Australian government has developed programs such as Tourism Australia (TA), Indigenous Tourism Australia (ITA), and Business Events Australia (BEA), which aim at providing guidance and ground-breaking strategies for the sustainable development of ecotourism. Implementation of these programs has made Sydney the first city in Australia to achieve carbon neutrality.
The programs draw professionals from many fields and sectors such as the tourism operators, state and government regulatory agencies, and the associations affiliated to the tourism industry. These professionals have come up with a strategic plan known as Sustainable Sydney 2030, which lays down the principles that should be enacted by the industry players in developing ecotourism, besides attracting huge numbers of foreign and local tourists (Discussion paper 2007, p. 1).
The strategic plan recognizes the uniqueness of the local communities’ connection with the land to be used for tourism development, the history, and culture of the local communities.
Therefore, there is the need to incorporate the city residents in planning for tourism development through involving them in mutual ventures, ownership of projects, and their active involvement in the implementation of policies (Discussion paper 2007, p. 2). This can be achieved through programs that encourage employment, training and involvement of the natives in the management of the tourism development projects.
In the same line, it was imperative that the plan provided avenues whereby the residents could observe promote and preserve their cultural uniqueness and legacy in order to diversify the city’s tourism practices. Through this program, the future of the city residents is brought to the present in that, those affected by the tourist activities are given the opportunity to establish expertise, industry appreciativeness, and industry capacities for future economic development (Discussion paper 2007, p. 4).
Furthermore, the plan is designed to provide equal benefits for the locals relative to visitors and other industry players. These benefits are considered in terms of social interactions meant to promote cross-cultural appreciation, tolerance and enlightenment.
Finally, through incorporation of the city residents, committed partnerships, NGOs, the government agencies, and other stakeholders in the tourism industry, the program is projected to bear numerous benefits, in terms of promoting the welfare of the residents and the city in general. Therefore, it is important that the tourism industry respects and upholds the cultural, land, and environmental attributes of the tourist sites before implementing any plans on tourism development.
Problems facing the Development of Ecotourism in Sydney, Australia
Despite that the sector of ecotourism promises a variety of long term cultural, environmental and economic benefits, a number of activities perceived to be problems affect the transformation from conventional tourism to ecotourism. For instance, the city of Sydney and most South Australian cities are facing numerous problems related to development and management of programs aimed at promoting the implementation of ecotourism policies among a host others.
Some of these problems are related to the divergence in perceptions of the whole program (Discussion Paper 2002, p. 1). Many environmentalists are of the idea that ecotourism should involve programs that are nature-oriented, managed sustainably, conservation-based and environmentally sensitive. On the other hand, the government and other industry players are focused at the end product of the implemented policies thereby, making ecotourism equivalent to any other form of tourism such as conventional tourism.
In that respect, ecotourism presents new negative effects relative to conventional tourism thereby slowing its development in many aspects. For instance, ecotourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the tourism industry projecting a growth rate of about 10-15% per annum in most Australian cities (Discussion Paper 2002, p. 1).
The standards that define this sector include its advocacy for low impact tourist activities, education-oriented, cultural and ecological sensitivity, and the equal distribution of resources between all industry players. Many of these standards are not fulfilled or they are totally ignored in some cases.
Some of the negative effects of ecotourism include the mass displacement of people from their native land without compensation, violation of human rights, and increased environmental degradation associated with the increased number of tourist activities.
A lot of capital and human resource is being wasted in the development of ecotourism, which has shown unsuccessful returns over the years. Additionally, other critics of the program have noted that a lot of public funds are being injected into campaigns meant to derail the general public from the negative outcomes and criticism linked to ecotourism (Wight 2009, p. 3).
Furthermore, ecotourism contributes to a variety of environmental effects directly. In many parts of Sydney and the world where the ecotourism programs have been implemented, the conservation ideals associated to its operations have failed to take effect. Many critics argue that the operations have been more of consumer-based rather than environment-oriented.
They further argue that the conservation claims are meant to encourage further economic gains (Discussion Paper 2002, p.2). Some of the problems cited in this case are those related to the increased number of visitors and activities that demand the expansion of the general infrastructure thereby leading to pollution and degradation of natural resources and population pressures.
The increased number of people also leaves behind large quantities of garbage, besides consuming large quantities of non-renewable energy resources in ferrying the ecotourists to various locations. The ecotourism activities also lead to disturbance of the flora and fauna of tourist sites in that the nature hikes created by the tourists are detrimental to the ecosystem. Therefore, Ecotourism just like conventional tourism leads to depletion of environmental resources, displacement of people, and disruption of cultures.
Furthermore, ecotourism has suffered low city resident’s support and mismanagement in Sydney and many South Australian cities. In a study conducted to measure the level of acceptance for tourism activities in Sydney, many residents felt that tourism development could only be accepted if it was genuine and if it mirrored the local people’s values.
The management of ecotourism is entrusted on the government, which like in any other environment-oriented projects has failed to implement the conservation ideals that are provided by the proponents and policies of ecotourism (Discussion Paper 2002, p. 3).
Solutions to the Problems facing the Development of Sustainable Tourism
Since the implementation of ecotourism policies by key industry players have failed to uphold environmental conservation standards, there is the need to create regulatory and accreditation bodies to check the activities of ecotourism companies.
The regulation and accreditation standards should be based on the need to categorize and discriminate companies on the basis of their commitment to sustaining and preserving the environment (Buckley 2000, p. 668). In this respect, the accreditation and regulatory agencies should be committed towards developing procedures that govern the regulatory process.
The bodies need to draw membership from different fields such as the government, travel agencies, airlines, tour guide agencies, and local authorities among others. The criterion for assessment of the company’s conformity with the standards should be based on the environmental management plan in place, the accrued economic benefits for the natives, the extent of community education and training, and the environmental impact created by the company.
Other solutions to the problems identified include provision of guidance and educational programs to ecotourists and the local community at large. This can be achieved through considering the root causes of their activities on the environment such as littering and nature hikes.
Finally, since most of the ecotourism projects are owned and run by large-scale international companies that cause many problems to the locals and the environment, there is the need to encourage development of small-scale, slow growth and local-based corporations to manage ecotourism activities (Barkin 2002, p. 248).
The Suitability of the Proposed Solutions
The above mentioned solutions and sustainability programs are suitable for addressing the existing problems. For instance, the accreditation and regulatory bodies will serve to control the level of activities of the global companies owning business interests on the land owned by the locals.
The education and guidance programs will in turn create awareness amongst the ecotourists on the importance of conserving the environments and sites that they visit in order to safeguard the interests of the local communities and the environment at large. Finally, through limitation of the activities of large-scale external or international corporations that engage in environmentally unsustainable activities, the local communities will be given an opportunity to safeguard their environment, besides obtaining benefits of tourism within their locales.
Ecotourism, as it can be noted from the above discussions is a crucial program/initiative that can benefit the local communities affected by tourist activities and the nation in general. However, it can lead to detrimental effects on the environment and the local communities if poorly implemented and mismanaged.
Therefore, in order to ensure positive benefits from the development of ecotourism, there is the need to develop and implement policies that work in line with the principles that underlie ecotourism. In line with the principles of ecotourism, it is hereby recommended that:
- The importance or the uniqueness of land and other natural resources to the local communities should come first in planning for ecotourism development projects.
- Project-planning should encourage the incorporation of the local communities in joint ventures, business ownership, and business management
- The local communities should be given the opportunity to establish their skills, industry know-how, and business opportunities relative to the development of ecotourism to allow for their future economic empowerment
- The importance of the environment to the natives and the nation should not be overlooked or ignored during the project-planning and implementation stages
Summary and Conclusions
The essay has provided an in-depth account of conventional tourism and its impact on the economy, culture, society and the environment. As noted from the above discussions, tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, accounting for most of the world revenues and employment when compared to other sectors such as agriculture, electricity, and mining.
The economic positive impacts of tourism can be divided into primary benefits and secondary benefits. The primary benefits are felt directly by the hotels, restaurants, retail businesses, travel agencies among others. On the other hand, the secondary benefits go to the governments, local authorities, and other regulatory agencies in terms of taxes.
However, tourism can also have negative impacts on the economy through increased taxes and costs that are incurred in developing businesses and general infrastructure to cater for the interests of tourists. The cultural impact of tourism can be both positive and negative in that it affects the culture of the local communities positively through preservation, conservation, and transmission of the cultural identity from one generation to another.
On the other hand, tourism affects culture negatively through activities meant to attain international standards of catering, which erode the local cultural attributes. Further, tourism affects the society both positively and negatively. The positive benefits of tourism on the society include promotion of cross-cultural interactions, tolerance and self-respect amongst the visitors and the natives.
However, tourism can also lead to hostility, aggression and distrust amongst the visitors and the natives. The environmental effects of tourism are numerous in that it contributes to construction of aesthetic general infrastructures, which also contributes to economic gains on one hand or negative effects on the other. The negative effects of tourism on the environment include pollution and degradation of the natural resources among others.
Furthermore, the essay looks at the emerging issues in sustainable tourism or ecotourism in the city of Sydney. Additionally, it looks at the significance of the sustainability of ecotourism in the city. Further discussions provide the barriers/problems that are facing the current development of ecotourism in Sydney and the world in general.
In the same line, the possible solutions to these problems are provided in addition to evaluating their suitability in dealing with the current problems. From the discussions, it can be noted that ecotourism is a fast growing sector in the tourism industry, with the aim of providing aesthetic cultural and environmental features to visitors, while preserving the environment and the cultural identity of the locals, besides giving back to the community the benefits accrued from tourist activities on their land.
Sydney has taken a foot forward in encouraging the sustainability of ecotourism through implementing strategic plans such as the Sustainable Sydney 2030, which is aimed at promoting and protecting local interests in tourism, in addition to ensuring that the greatest benefits obtained from tourist activities go to the city residents.
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