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The Environmental Issues and Unsustainable Tourism Report

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Updated: Dec 27th, 2019


Environmental concerns have taken the centre stage in economic debates since the late 1960. In many cases, the economic debates focus on productive and exhaustible resources. Moreover, the current debates touch on natural resources, and try to determine the economic benefits of the environment and impacts of its overuse, pollution, and degradation.

Environment, quality of life, and economic activities are interdependent. To lead a quality life and to engage in productive economic activities, we need to have a sustainable environment. One of the economic activities that depend on the environment is tourism. Natural resources like lakes, mountains, beaches, rivers, and cities are the main sources of tourism attraction.

Any exhaustion of these assets might slow down the development of tourism business. Tourism exerts pressure to natural and synthetic resources and poses a threat to the environment. Cooper et al. posit, “In view of the fact that tourists have to visit the place of production in order to consume the output, it is inevitable that tourism activity is associated with environmental impacts” (1998, p. 149).

Apart from exerting pressure on the natural environment, tourism also exerts pressure on the cultural environment leading to ruin of cultural practices and values of the communities living in the developing countries.

Because of scarce financial and knowledge resources, developing countries are unable to meet the required environmental standards. Given the modern level of environmental concerns, tourism in the developing world is unsustainable. This paper will focus on some of the environmental issues that make tourism in developing countries unsustainable.

Sustainable tourism

The world Tourism Organization (WTO) describes sustainable tourism as “Tourism which leads to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be filled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems” (2002, p. 7).

Since natural resources make up the main source of tourist attraction, states should factor in sustainability when developing their tourism industries. In addition, as many residents and tourists become aware of the importance of sustainable tourism, they are forcing the government and tourism firms to engage in activities that guarantee sustainability. Currently, countries and tourism firms are adopting the idea of ‘viable tourism’ to enhance sustainability.

The main snag that is affecting tourism in developing countries is environmental depletion. Government and tourism firms are working hard to see that they come up with environmentally friendly tourism activities (Williams & Shaw 2003).

Today, developing countries have established environmental regulations that the tourism industry ought to follow. Nevertheless, complexity and fragmentation of the tourism industry make it hard for countries to enforce the regulations.

How environmental concerns affect tourism

Indisputably, tourism is a leading source of revenue and employment, particularly in the developing countries. Nevertheless, tourism is a business that depends on the frailest cultural and natural environments. Any innocent and trivial human action might cause problems to the existing environmental resources. This challenges sustainable tourism in the majority of the developing countries.

Philippines are one of the developing states that depend on tourism (Alampay 2007). The country considers tourism as one of its crucial economic weapons. Nevertheless, the tourism industry, together with the Philippines’ tourist markets has become more conscious of the depressing environmental costs that result from tourism development.

This has made it hard for the country to achieve sustainable tourism since it requires adopting novel development techniques, which would yield environmentally sensitive tourism products. Such techniques are extremely expensive for a developing country like Philippines.

Williams and Shaw (2003) allege that the growth of tourism in the developing countries has led to the countries experiencing immense environmental problems. For these countries to attain sustainable tourism, they should address the environmental concerns facing them. Tourism has resulted in depletion of numerous natural resources, environmental pollution, and has endangered a number of natural resources.

Efforts by the developing countries to address these challenges bear no substantial results since the countries lack adequate financial capital and technological expertise (Williams & Shaw 2003). It becomes hard for the countries to attain sustainable tourism as tourists stop visiting the countries gradually as resources are depleted.

Because of the environmental challenges that tourism poses to the majority of countries across the globe, countries came together to formulate policies that would help to mitigate poor exploitation of natural resources.

Presently, numerous international conventions and protocols that aim to help in environmental conservation are in place. In 1992, countries assembled in Rio Brazil and came up with guidelines that all countries ought to follow to attain sustainable tourism and environmental conservation (Wong 2000).

Currently, institutions bestowed with the responsibility of conserving the environment, like United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) call for all countries to be conscious of the environment when developing their tourism industries. In many developing countries, tourism development is highly polarised leading to environmental challenges.

The countries are unable to improve the quality of life for the visiting tourists as well as the local people. This threatens the sustainability of the tourism industry (Williams & Shaw 2003). Besides the depletion of natural resources, tourism imposes pressure on resources like water, food, and energy. Moreover, it contributes to littering of the environment with solid waste.

In countries like South Africa, tourism has triggered deforestation as investors construct tourism facilities. This has led to UNEP commanding the South African government to stop further depletion of environment in the name of tourism development. With the current emphasis on environmental conservation, it would be extremely hard for South Africa to attain sustainable tourism.

In South Africa, the tourism industry is already posing a serious threat to water resources in the coastal region as well as leading to pollution of the natural beaches. The pollution is posing a threat to marine life and as well as to the community, that lives around the ocean. The cost of maintaining these beaches is high relative to revenues obtained from the tourism industry.

Consequently, as South Africa is under pressure to conserve the environment, it would be hard for the country to strike a balance between environmental conservation and sustainable tourism (Cooper et al. 1998). The same tourists that contribute to environmental degradation consider environmental factors when identifying the place to visit. South Africa struggles to maintain its natural beaches, which suffer from pollution.

Failure to maintain the beaches would lead to the country losing many tourists. Unfortunately, the same tourists that are particularly concerned about the environment are responsible for beach pollution.

The country faces challenges in striking a balance between tourism and environmental conservation along the coast. If this trend continues, it will be hard for the South African government and private investors to sustain tourism activities at the coastal areas (Brierton 2003).

In a majority of the developing countries, tourism industry is facing a serious threat due to climatic changes. Currently, global warming is high in the majority of the developing countries. Areas that were once tourist attraction sites, now suffer from perennial floods and diseases. Many people opt to tour certain countries hoping to enjoy a comfortable environment and beautiful sceneries (Hashimoto 1999).

Nevertheless, the situation is changing in the majority of the developing countries. Environmental concerns are leading to some countries slowing down their endeavour to develop the tourism industry.

For instance, in Maldives Island, environmental challenges are frustrating the effort to achieve sustainable tourism. Tourism activities have contributed to increase in sea level within the island. In return, it has become hard to sustain tourism industry in Maldives Island.

Hall (2008) and Scott, McBoyle and Schwartzentruber (2008) allege that developing countries in Africa, South America and the Caribbean do not understand the precise effects of environmental concerns on the tourism industry. Scott et al. Posit, “Tourists have the greatest capacity to adapt to the impacts of environmental changes, with relative freedom to avoid destinations impacted by environmental changes” (2008, p. 106).

Personal safety, climate, travel cost, and natural environment are some of the factors that tourists consider when deciding which country to visit. One of the challenges that developing countries encounter is the inability to predict and deal with environmental changes (Hall 2008). Tourism industry in Kenya suffers from unpredictable weather changes, which pose a threat to tourists.

As individuals and institutions wishing to invest in the tourism industry continue to emphasize on environmental conservation, developing countries like Kenya, which do not have the capacity to deal with natural catastrophes that affect the environment are unlikely to attain sustainable tourism.

Since the majority of the developing countries lack long-term strategies for addressing environmental changes, majority of the investors are likely to direct their investments to developed countries.

Majority of the developing countries depends on natural resources and cultural values as their main sources of tourist attraction. As tourists visit certain regions, these resources become scarce (Middleton & Hawkins 2004). Moreover, they neutralize cultural values depriving the region its sole source of tourist attraction.

Paradoxically, when natural resources and local culture begin to die away, tourists feel robbed of their genuine experiences. Majority of the developing countries encourage mass arrival of tourists because it leads to increase in revenue. However, they do not understand that the influx leads to degradation of the cultural environment, which eventually renders some regions unattractive.

As more tourists continue visiting African countries like South Africa and Kenya, many of the local communities continue adopting the western culture and abandoning their cultures, which act as the main sources of tourist attraction (Mihalic 2000).

Hence, with time, it would be hard for developing countries like Kenya to continue witnessing large number of tourists who visit the country to share in its cultural environment. This underlines the reason why the Kenyan government encourages communities like the Maasai to uphold their cultures (Akama 2007).


Tourism industry is one of the industries that support economic development in many developing countries. The countries invest heavily in the industry. However, increase in environmental concerns is frustrating the effort by developing countries to attain sustainable tourism. Majority of the tourist activities contributes to depletion of natural resources and cultural environment.

Today, developing countries are under immense pressure to lower their rate of environmental pollution. These environmental concerns put the developing countries in a dilemma of conserving the environment and sacrificing the tourism industry or doing the opposite.

Currently, the world countries have come up with regulations that outline the measures that both the developed and developing countries ought to take to conserve the environment. These measures prohibit the developing countries from engaging in activities that contribute to environmental pollution. Consequently, developing countries are unable to attain sustainable tourism, as they are unable to satisfy all the environmental standards.


Tourism development contributes to environmental degradation, thus altering natural resources that act as the prime tourist attraction sites. Developing countries need to strike a balance between environmental conservation and tourism. In light of the current need to attain a balance between environmental conservation and tourism growth in the developing countries, the countries should ecolabel the tourism products.

Ecolabeling refers to portraying tourism products and firms in a way that encourages tourists to be environmental conscious in all their actions. Besides, through ecolabeling, tourism companies educate tourists concerning the effects of their actions to the environment, in so doing making them adopt environmentally friendly actions.

Developing countries may implement ecolabeling in tourism firms such as resorts, hotels and marinas to promote sustainable tourism. The countries can assign ecolabels to tourism enterprises they find to have limited effects on the environment. This would give the companies the responsibility of furnishing tourists with information concerning environmental policies they ought to observe when in their countries.

This would help the tourists to make informed decisions when selecting the tourism products and services to use when in a country. Moreover, ecolabels would discourage tourists from relating with tourism firms that are not environmentally friendly. Hence, ecolabeling would help developing countries to conserve their environment and at the same time attain sustainable tourism.

Reference List

Akama, J 2007, ‘Marginalization of the Maasai in Kenya’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 26 no. 1, pp. 716–718.

Alampay, R 2007, . Web.

Brierton, U 2003, ‘Tourism and the environment’, Contours, vol. 5 no. 1, pp. 18–19.

Cooper, C, Fletcher, J, Gilbert, D & Wanhill, S 1998, Tourism Principles & Practice, Longman, London.

Hall, C 2008, ‘Tourism and climate change: Knowledge gaps and issues’, Tourism Recreation Research, vol. 33 no. 1, pp. 339-350.

Hashimoto, A 1999, ‘Comparative evolutionary trends in environmental policy: Reflections on tourism development’, International Journal of Tourism Research, vol. 1 no. 1, pp. 195–216.

Middleton, V & Hawkins, R 2004, Sustainable tourism: A marketing perspective, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.

Mihalic, T 2000, ‘Environmental management of a tourist destination: A factor of tourism competitiveness’, Tourism Management, vol. 21 no. 1, pp. 65–78.

Scott, D, McBoyle, G & Schwartzentruber, M 2008, ‘Climate change and the distribution of climatic resources for tourism in North America’, Climate Research, vol. 27 no. 2, pp. 105-117.

Williams, A & Shaw, G 2003, Tourism, and Economic Development, Belhaven Press, London.

Wong, P 2000, Tourism vs. environment: The case for coastal areas, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston.

World Tourism Organization 2002, Contributions of the World Tourism Organization to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, World Trade Organization, Johannesburg.

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