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Environmental Impacts of Tourism Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 14th, 2021


The sphere of tourism is reliant on the environment of the sites in which the visitors are interested. Therefore, the preservation of these territories is crucial to preserving their profitability and public appeal. Nevertheless, the growing tourist industry has been examined by scholars and found to be extremely damaging to plants, animals, and people of the visited regions. Throughout history, popular tourist activities have been disturbing the wildlife and affecting communities that cannot resist the pressure from businesses. The idea that tourism helps countries and cities to improve their economy also weakens people’s arguments against increasing the sphere of traveling and sightseeing.

One can provide innumerable examples of tourist activities disturbing the environment. Some of these influences are local, while others often reach a global scale. Wilson and Verlis, for example, explore the southern Great Barrier Reef – a place where thousands of tourists travel every year to look at one of the world’s wonders (239). However, what these people leave behind them damages the reef – marine debris near this and similar attractions lead to the depletion of wildlife and destruction of coral reefs.

As a result, the source of fascination (and, thus, profit) disappears as more tourists enter the region. The problem of pollution is not confined to such landmarks as the described coral reef. The effects are similar – people who enter new territories often exhibit behavior that produces waste, pollutes the air and the water, and changes wildlife’s natural order. Companies do not prevent this behavior and even contribute to it by expanding the tourism industry and virtually rebuilding environments to suit their need for profit.

Looking at the issues and results of tourism, the question of nature preservation arises. It is vital to determine what changes in policy and people’s knowledge about the environment have to be introduced in order to stop the industry from destroying what is left from sites affected by tourism. Moreover, one should also examine how these improvements can be implemented to provide successful results. Stefănica and Butnaru explore the beliefs of modern tourists towards environmental preservation, noting that most of these people can and should be taught about the dangers of naïve and neglectful tourist behavior (595).

Nonetheless, they also find that individual actions are infective – companies that enforce new regulations and operate in the industry should also adopt systems to preserve nature. The problem of environmental destruction is directly and indirectly influenced by tourists and companies that promote the tourist industry. A variety of solutions that incorporate social responsibility and public awareness should be complemented with policy restrictions in order to save the environment and protect the planet from consequences that are dangerous to all people.

The Relevance of the Problem

The issue of tourism being a source of environmental pollution and destruction is a topic that requires consideration right now. The industry of invasive tourism continues to grow – people are becoming more and more interested in traveling to the parts of nature that were previously untouched by humans or developed civilizations. This desire leads to multiple effects, most of which are detrimental to the environment and its inhabitants. Furthermore, as people discover new ways of traveling or exploring new areas, the industry requires additional resources to accommodate the growing rate of tourists. This ever increasing ability to engage new regions and communities in tourism further enhances the impact of destructive behaviors.

It is especially visible in the luxury segment of traveling where people are provided with extensive resources and are called to enjoy various activities which cause increased waste production or significant setting’s change. In this case, cruise tourism can be used as an example of a luxurious traveling vehicle being used without any with limited efforts of environmental sustainability (Lamers et al. 430). This and other ways of traveling do not contribute to wildlife preservation.

Another side of the problem is concerned with the businesses’ contemporary measures to save the environment while retaining the attractiveness of tourist sights. Some modern tools do not provide any actual protection to nature, becoming a way to promote specific areas instead. This issue is explored by Klein and Dodds who find that Blue Flag beach certification, although being introduced as a way to award sustainable beaches, does not operate as such (43).

As a contrast, the companies that compete for this certification perceive this project as a strategic step towards making their beaches more attractive to tourists. Thus, the problem of tourism affecting the environment is pressing – the industry grows while the modern ways of preservation are not working or being implemented efficiently.


Tourism had been popular among many communities for centuries since it is in line with people’s curiosity and desire to explore new territories and cultures. As Mowforth and Munt note, the western economic growth and prosperity resulted in these societies becoming interested in exploring new lands for profit (174).

In turn, the countries that were less fortunate in gaining independence or developing strong economics became the targets of tourism, especially if they also had a rich history and culture or nature. Another type of attraction that appeared with time is the territories that are not inhabited by humans or developed cultures. These range from areas with wildlife to regions with communities that are removed from the contemporary understanding of advanced civilizations.

The Eurocentric vision implored other countries to assimilate and mimic the dominant cultures at the risk of becoming entirely dependent on them. In regards to tourism, many communities have embraced the place of the tourism industry in their life and allowed businesses to affect their environments. The territories which did not have a governmental structure to protect or regulate the area were also utilized for industry expansion. Lamers et al. provide an example of Antarctica as a destination that became popular after the 1960s and was changed as a result of interventions (436). The emissions of greenhouse gasses increased greatly, endangering the climate of the region and significantly affecting its wildlife.

Moreover, water pollution also impacted the marine life forms of the area. Thus, the national governments had to develop the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) to limit tourism by introducing a ban on heavy marine fuel and other guidelines. Only such level of regulation was effective in limiting the effect of tourism on Antarctica, although this solution is only temporary.

Current Situation

Currently, all regions of the world are affected by tourism. The mentioned above example of Antarctica is one of many locations where people’s curiosity coupled with a disregard for environmental preservation has led to devastating results. Returning to the case of Wilson and Verlis, one may see that the marine pollution levels are extremely high in all oceans. The authors have recovered many samples of debris from beaches and waters in the Great Barrier Reef region, with more than four items being accumulated every day in some areas (Wilson and Verlis 241).

The most common type of waste was plastic – a material that cannot rot or disintegrate, thus becoming a permanent part of the environment. In fact, 68 to 92 percent of all debris was made out of plastic materials, thus putting animals and plants at risk of death or contamination (Wilson and Verlis 242). This example demonstrates how damaging the current tourism industry is to the environment.

Another place that is endangered by tourism is the Maldives. This region and other similar groups of small islands often become a destination for many tourist groups. Here, the problem of environmental destruction is closely tied to the territories’ reliance on tourism as an economic resource. Kapmeier and Gonçalves state that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as the Maldives are faced with an issue of finding a balance between the financial value of tourism and its environmental burden (175). The tropical paradise” of the Maldives constitutes a number of small islands with an extremely fragile ecosystem full of animals unique to the region.

The introduction of tourists after the 1970s changed the culture and the wildlife as well. First, more buildings started appearing on the islands to accommodate the arriving visitors. Thus, the construction began altering the landscape of the Maldives. As more and more tourists discovered the Maldives, the country was able to build additional hotels and introduce new methods of transportation such as seaplanes and boats (Kapmeier and Gonçalves 178). These developments, while stabilizing the growth of the local economy, also contributed to the islands’ pollution.

Similarly to the Great Barrier Reef, the waters of the Maldives have become filled with debris, and the country also suffers from increased waste generation. Kapmeier and Gonçalves estimate that the local population produces around 120 tons of waste every day, while each tourist generates an additional 3.5kg per day (180). This calculation implies that 1 million tourists can stay for eight days and add 33,600 tons of solid waste to the total number (Kapmeier and Gonçalves 180).

The additional amount of garbage is substantial leading to the country losing ways of garbage disposal that were effective before. As a result, locals leave waste outside or burn it, polluting the water, soil, and air with items that are often non-biodegradable.

Again, plastic constituted a large portion of all items examined by the scholars, but almost a half of all solid waste was food, and 90% of such products were discarded into the sea (Kapmeier and Gonçalves 181). Thus, it becomes clear that many resorts cannot handle the number of tourists that arrive each year. While the expansion of tourist zones leads to the creation of new housing and service opportunities, the majority of all visitors try to enter into popular areas, placing more pressure on historically and environmentally essential regions.

Although such types of waste as food and some plastics can be recycled, the actual situation shows that they are either burned or thrown into the ocean (Kapmeier and Gonçalves 182). Tourism does not assist countries in creating new paths for non-harmful disposal, and the islands face pressure to clear out the trash utilizing unethical methods.

The discussed above problem of cruise tourism is highlighted as one of the issues that are more tied to the mode of transportation rather than a particular destination point. Carić and Mackelworth argue that, during each cruise trip, the environment suffers outcomes of three types of pollution – transportation, docking, and activities on the board of the ship (350). First of all, people consume water and food during their stay on the vehicle, being usually more wasteful than they would be on land since resources have to be stored on the ship.

Second, the movement of the boat requires fuel, leading to air pollution with emission gasses and water pollution with oil spills and other products of the working engine. Finally, as the ship arrives at some territories, tourists may leave waste on land as well as disturb the soil, animals, or plants. Therefore, apart from targeting particular nations and regions, tourism introduces global risks through promoting transportation dangerous to the environment.

Future Outcomes

The current state of tourism and its continuous expansion may lead to a myriad of negative consequences. The pollution of water and air can significantly alter flora and fauna of the planet, causing the elimination of whole species. Furthermore, some animals adapt to humans’ presence and change their behavior and eating habits. Carić and Mackelworth find that the disposal of plastics into the ocean results in the death of sea turtles that get caught in debris (353).

Some mammals ingest granules of plastic and die from poisoning. This can also affect human health – if a person consumes an animal ingested with plastic, the former can succumb to intoxication as well. Thus, tourism can impact human health indirectly through animals in addition to exposing numbers of tourists to polluted air, food, and water.

The indigenous people living in or near popular traveling destinations also suffer from the outcomes of tourism. Their economy becomes dependent on the industry as it is happening in the Maldives. Otherwise, they are impacted by pollution and waste accumulating in the area. They are also more likely to introduce new habits into their cultural system under the influence of arriving individuals. As one can see, tourism does not have an exclusively positive effect on impoverished nations or those people who lack technological advancement. Tourism creates settings that are challenged by consumerism and unethical behavior of people who enter the region for a short period of time but leave a considerable imprint.

Possible Solutions

One separate action cannot solve the problem of unethical tourism since the industry is large and it attracts millions of people every year. Countries, companies, and individuals need to make a conscious effort to change their policies and beliefs in order to start lowering the impact of traveling on the environment. First of all, it should be remarked that the improvement of waste disposal is not an effective strategy by itself.

Kapmeier and Gonçalves argue that by introducing a new system of waste management, the Maldives and similar locations will make their area more appealing to tourists (172). As a result, such countries will only encounter the challenge of increasing waste accumulation and pressure from companies to accommodate more people. The authors suggest that legal policies curbing tourism demand may be a practical addition to better waste control.

The legal restrictions are difficult to discuss on the international level since many countries depend on tourism as a source of profit. States should base their ideologies on environmentally-friendly policies that will protect peoples and species without closing the borders to people. Perhaps, a limitation on tourist capacity and the decrease in luxury or wasteful practices is necessary to lower the pressure on the environment. Another option is the introduction and development of ecotourism – a set of mindful practices that are focused on the reduction of harm to nature.

Gavrilović and Maksimović discuss green innovations that may improve the influence of the tourism industry. They note that “greening” the sector requires efforts from businesses which should be motivated by maintaining their place and profitability by restoring and managing the environment to attract customers. The scholars highlight the adverse outcomes of pollution and point out that by damaging the ecosystems, the companies may lose their auditory and economic stability as well (Gavrilović and Maksimović 41). Environmental awareness can create a cycle that will be beneficial to customers, firms, and nature.

The role of individual understanding of tourism’s impact is also vital to preserving nature. Chiu et al. argue that ecotourism can become a popular way of traveling, especially if people understand its purpose (327). This approach is focused on enjoying natural resources and choosing activities that do not adversely impact the environment. For example, such people control their waste, engage in recycling and cleaning (trash sorting, use of organic materials), do not enter protected areas, and try not to interfere with local flora and fauna.

The problem with raising awareness and changing people’s behaviors may lie in the fact that modern tourism is more focused on luxury and experiences than on thinking about the future of these territories. The introduction of ecotourism should start with education about the harms of unethical behavior. Moreover, individuals should understand the ecotourism can make them feel content with themselves and make a good impression on others, further changing the system of tourism.

Each contributing factor, including tourist actions, governmental policies, and businesses operations can positively influence the state of ecotourism and benefit the environment. Stefănica and Butnaru offer a number of changes such as the use of transportation which produces less waste than others and an effort to lower energy and water consumption as well as waste production (600). Moreover, tourists and firms should participate in recycling and proper disposal, while preserving flora and fauna. Some may even contribute to the restoration of the environment – people can plant trees, use renewable energy sources, clean water, and collect waste. Finally, on the state level, nations should discuss the possibility of adding taxes for environmental protection that would be used for innovative ways of managing the tourism industry.


Tourism is an activity that allows people to see the world and learn about other cultures and the environment. However, tourists and involved companies often exhibit behavior that damages the planet and leads to its destruction. It is especially visible in regions where tourism is a part of the national economy – people, animals, and plants suffer from extensive use of resources and waste brought and left by visitors.

Countries dependent on other nations and corporate needs for profit cannot adequately deal with the abundance of incoming products that harm flora and fauna. Plastic and other materials pollute the soil and the ocean, causing the disappearance of whole species and changing the behaviors of animals. There exists no sole answer to the problem of unethical tourism. Instead, individuals, companies, and governments should cooperate to develop a set of green policies that will raise awareness and allow people to take action to preserve the planet’s environment.

Works Cited

Carić, Hrvoje, and Peter Mackelworth. “Cruise Tourism Environmental Impacts–The Perspective from the Adriatic Sea.” Ocean & Coastal Management, vol.102, 2014, pp. 350-363.

Chiu, Yen-Ting Helena, et al. “Environmentally Responsible Behavior in Ecotourism: Antecedents and Implications.” Tourism Management, vol. 40, 2014, pp. 321-329.

Gavrilović, Zvjezdana, and Mirjana Maksimović. “Green Innovations in the Tourism Sector.” Strategic Management, vol. 23, no. 1, 2018, pp. 36-42.

Kapmeier, Florian, and Paulo Gonçalves. “Wasted Paradise? Policies for Small Island States to Manage Tourism-Driven Growth While Controlling Waste Generation: The Case of the Maldives.” System Dynamics Review, vol. 34, no. 1-2, 2018, pp. 172-221.

Klein, Laura, and Rachel Dodds. “Blue Flag Beach Certification: An Environmental Management Tool or Tourism Promotional Tool?” Tourism Recreation Research, vol. 43, no. 1, 2018, pp. 39-51.

Lamers, Machiel, et al. “The Environmental Challenges of Cruise Tourism.” The Routledge Handbook of Tourism and Sustainability, edited by Daniel Scott et al., Routledge, 2015, pp. 430-439.

Mowforth, Martin, and Ian Munt. Tourism and Sustainability: Development, Globalisation and New Tourism in the Third World. 4th ed., Routledge, 2016.

Stefănica, Mirela, and Gina Ionela Butnaru. “Research on Tourists’ Perception of the Relationship Between Tourism and Environment.” Procedia Economics and Finance, vol. 20, 2015, pp. 595-600.

Wilson, Scott P., and Krista M. Verlis. “The Ugly Face of Tourism: Marine Debris Pollution Linked to Visitation in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 117, no. 1-2, 2017, pp. 239-246.

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