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Tourist numbers around the world have escalated to an excess of six hundred million per year and the number is still expected to rise. This is according to a report by World Tourism Organization (WTO). This can be attributed to the improved infrastructure and transport systems worldwide, as well as changing perceptions that tourism is no longer a lifestyle for the rich, but rather a past time activity or hobby. People have realized that the activity does not necessarily have to be expensive. Revenue from this sector goes a long way in financing the yearly budgets of some nations and any interruption would significantly cripple their treasuries. Massive employment opportunities in sectors such as hospitality and aviation have also come up as tourist numbers continue to soar.
The United States of America for instance generated US$ 110 million in the year 2009. There is therefore no dispute that tourism is a significant sector in any economy, with the potential of earning any nation great amounts of revenue. It also plays a major role in the foreign exchange sector. The nature of tourism allows people from different backgrounds and cultures to mingle and interact with each other, exposing them to the various cultures and customs of different communities. It enables people to appreciate cultural diversity and actually respect each other’s customs and way of life.
In as much as tourism positively contributes to the financial sector of any nation, the challenges associated with it cannot be ignored. These challenges can be categorized into two major categories; social and environmental. Social challenges include erosion of the pre-existing culture or conflict between cultures and increase in product and property prices such that the locals cannot avoid. Environmental challenges are mainly limited to wildlife/national parks where human presence spells a number of problems for the wildlife population. One such problem arises when tourists use migration corridors to drive around the parks, interrupting the wildlife’s migratory patterns. Migratory animals such as wilder beasts would be severely affected if their migratory corridors are encroached into and could even result in a reduction in their number. The littering of parks has also raised concerns among the relevant authorities as it interferes with the natural lifestyle of wildlife by introducing foreign objects into their territories. It is as a result of such concerns that sustainable tourism emerged as the only way to create a balance between benefits of tourism and its shortcomings. It is therefore evident that if proper controls are put in place, a balance can be found between a flourishing tourism industry and a safe environment.
Sustainable tourism can simply be described as the practice of protecting the environmental aspects and culture of a particular community, while at the same time ensuring the benefits of tourism are enjoyed presently and in future. An example of a success story is how the Welsh Assembly Government’s destination marketing organization helped the tourism industry to combat unsustainable tourism practices. Managers of the Welsh tourism industry made use of marketing and awareness campaigns to reach out to all participants in a bid to encourage the use of sustainable tourism approaches. The Welsh Assembly has so far been successful in encouraging tourists to contribute the social and environmental wellbeing of Wales. The same applies to the region’s economy and culture. This proves that any government has the power to positively impact tourism and steer it towards sustainability. Another body that concerns itself with sustainable tourism is the United Nations Commission on the Environment and Development (UNCED). It was in 1983 when the commission advocated for practices that allow the present generation to satisfy their needs without necessarily having to interfere with the resource base of future generations.
Case study of Koh Phi Phi and Gili Trawangan Islands
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, and Gili Trawangan, Indonesia are two Asian islands famous for their scenic beauty and rich culture that have attracted a great number of tourists from all over the world. They are both found within a marine park and boast an array of natural resources which need to be conserved. Due to their popularity, the number of tourists that visit the islands has been quite overwhelming, exerting pressure on the environment and existing infrastructure. In the year 2010, a study done by Professors Rachel Dodds and Sonya Graci on the two islands, was aimed to investigate accountability and responsibility on the part of the tourists, and to determine their willingness to financially contribute to the preservation of the island. The target population mostly comprised young individuals from English speaking countries such as England, America, Australia and Canada.
The tourists sampled had high incomes and had no problem making financial contributions to the sustainable practices. There was however differences in their responses when asked what authority should be tasked with implementing the sustainability practices. Most of the tourists were drawn to the islands because of the fun and adventure offered there. Their experiences could be made more memorable by making sure the islands are preserved in their natural state and overcrowding is avoided. Some of the environmental issues noted by the tourists included rapid infrastructural development, creating a strain on existing services such as sewerage and sanitation, as well as congestion by the tourists themselves. When asked who should pay taxes, 68% of the respondents named tourists, 67% named the federal government and 54% named provincial government. It would however be in the best interests of both islands if all stakeholders participated in ensuring a clean and healthy environment instead of pointing fingers at each other.
Last chance tourism
This term refers to a current phenomenon whereby certain natural and/or historical sites or social heritages become popular for the simple reason that they may not be around for long. They disappear or vanish for one reason or another, prompting tourists to inadvertently rush to have the last look. An example is the disappearing snow cap on Mt. Kilimanjaro in East Africa. It is precisely for this reason that the polar bears of Northern Canada are in duress. Tourists rushing to watch the endangered species engage in activities such as camping, and eventually end up destroying the species’ habitats.
This essay looked at the reasons why the practice of sustainable tourism has been slow to implement and found that the government has most power to keep its tourism practices in check so that the environment does not suffer at the expense of unsustainable practices. However, tourists are also expected to account for their actions and contribute towards safe tourism practices. Examples can be borrowed from governments that have succeeded in promoting sustainable tourism and at the same time giving tourists memorable experiences at their travel destinations.