The Impact of Tourism on the Environment
Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the world. Many economies in the world depend on tourism as one of the biggest earners in different countries. This means that most countries would do anything to increase tourism in order to boost their economies. It is important to note that tourism depends on a healthy environment but it does not necessarily involve making the environment better. In fact, most of the tourism activities that take place in the world today have a negative impact on the environment. The relationship between tourism and the environment is not mutual at all. Tourism gains from the environments while the environment continues to be degraded. However, tourists have many alternatives to decrease the amount of damage done to the environment. Sustainable tourism and ecotourism is the solution for bringing a positive impact on the environment whether naturally, socially or economically.
The negative impact of tourism on the environment is mostly felt on the natural environment. In most areas where tourism is a major economic activity, air and land pollution can be felt heavily. Environmental resources like water and soil are continually depleted with the impact being felt by the animals living in such areas. In addition, attempts by human beings to design tourist attractions to fit the needs of tourists have had a negative impact on the environment (Beladi et al., 2009). The effects of modernization on the tourism industry, has led to attempts by governments to refurbish tourist attraction sites in a way that they are labeled as the best in the world. This competition has short-term positive effects but in the end, the environment is left bare. This shows that human beings are the major cause of the negative impact on the environment and are the only ones who can reverse this situation. Botswana is one of those countries that depend on tourism to fulfill the larger part of the economic budget. The Okavango Delta is renowned worldwide as a tourist destination especially for its diverse wildlife and natural environmental beauty (Mbaiwa, 2003). In this area, tourism has continually supported the development of infrastructure and other employment opportunities. In this view, it is notable that many hotels, lodges, airstrips and camps have sprung up with the increase of tourism. However, as noted by Mbaiwa, (2003), tourism has resulted in degradation of the environment with pollution on the increase and the destruction of natural resources. This is a perfect example of how tourism though considered positive has had a negative impact on the environment. However, this situation has been turned around with the introduction of ecotourism in the Okavango Delta. Ecotourism in this area has led to a more conscious type of tourism with people focusing on educating tourists and local communities on the importance of protecting the environment (Buckley, 2009). In addition, the involvement of indigenous communities in tourist activities has helped raise the economic status of the people who have lived in this area for many years. The second example is that of greenhouse gas intensity in Switzerland. Most environmentalists focus on assessing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by other industries without focusing on tourism. Research shows that in Switzerland, the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the tourism industry is four times more than that produced by the country’s other industries combined together (Perch-Nielsen et al., 2010). This is too high and has led to destruction of the environment with a notable change in climate. Road and rail transport are the highest producers and immediate action if the country’s environment is to be preserved. In order to achieve a more sustainable form of tourism, air transport should be encouraged (Perch-Nielsen, et al, 2010). This will significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, which are destructive to the environment.
Ecotourism enables the preservation of culture and traditions. In fact, some researchers define eco tourism as the travel to areas that protect the natural form of the environment while enhancing the livelihood of the local people (Taylor et al., 2003). Through ecotourism, the local people have a chance to be part of cultural centers that preserve culture. Such centers are usually a favorite for tourists with locals and tourists interacting freely (Budeanu, 2007). In addition, the creation of centers for tourists and locals to learn about the history, culture and traditions of the community is a great way to preserve culture. Ecotourism mostly involves understanding the way of life of the local residents and encouraging them to continue preserving their culture despite the influence of modernization. Ecotourism also gives an opportunity for the documentation of a people’s culture in form of books, video and tape recordings. Some copies of the recordings are left in the local cultural centers and act as a means of future reference to culture. However, it is important to note that tourism may also have a negative impact of culture with some traditions being washed down through the influence of the foreigners (Caldicott & Fuller, 2005). Ecotourism also gives tourists a better experience of the local culture. Through interaction forums organized by environmental organizations, tourists and natives interact giving the foreigner a feel of the local culture. This involves dances, food, clothing and other entertainment activities. These are usually different from what the tourists know making their experience in the tourist destination more interesting. In addition, by the time tourists leave the area, they usually have learnt some local skills like basket weaving and fishing, which are great ways to have fun too. The involvement in local activities creates a more homely feeling with fewer tourists complaining of being left alone or not having anything to do while visiting different areas. In summary, ecotourism makes the tourist’s experience not only fun but also an educative one. In addition, they leave knowing they contributed to the noble cause of preserving the environment.
Ecotourism creates more job opportunities for local people. Another great advantage of ecotourism is that it promotes the employment of natives in tourist ventures to improve their financial status. In the traditional form of tourism, it is common to find that there are very few local employees in businesses related to tourism. This is especially notable in foreign funded organizations who import labor from their home countries. This is detrimental to the financial status of the local people, as most of the funds gained from tourism do not benefit the local people. However, with the introduction of ecotourism, businesses are embracing the need to employ more locals in their businesses as they understand the area better (Mbaiwa, 2007). In addition, employees are trained in such a way that the erosion of their culture is minimal. In addition, ecotourism encourages local people to come together and start tourism enterprises that can generate funds used to improve the financial status of the local people. An example of such is the Sankuyo village in the Okavango Delta, which has many community owned tourism oriented businesses. The Bayei community with the help of the African Wildlife Foundation has started campsites and cultural villages that act as tourist destination sites (Zeppel, 2006). These enterprises have lifted the financial status of the people with the profits going to developing the area. Additionally, employers prefer to employ locals as tour guides as they understand the terrain of the area well as compared to other people. The income levels are also higher for locals in ecotourism as opposed to other methods of tourism. In the traditional mode of tourism, locals were only employed in low paying jobs with their lack of knowledge leading to their being taken advantage of. However, ecotourism promotes the well-being of the local people and they have a wider array of employment opportunities to choose from. Moreover, those who have academic qualifications can even be employed in managerial positions. Another advantage of ecotourism is that the total revenue gained by the country increases with a decrease in leaking income. The impact of tourism on the environment has led to an upsurge for money used in conserving the environment. In addition, countries spend more money trying to take the environment back to its original form. Moreover, depletion of natural resources leads to an increase for money used to purchase man-made resources. Other effects like pollution lead to climate changes responsible for famine and floods in different places. This leads to an increase for funds that countries use to deal with environmental catastrophes. With the advent of ecotourism, a country is able to earn money from tourism while protecting the environment (Wearing, 2009). Ecotourism increases the amount of money that a country makes due to the reduction in leaking income. At a global level, ecotourism reduces the amount of money that is used in preserving the environment because tourists are more conscious of what activities they undertake. In addition, tourism becomes more sustainable economically and environmentally.
As seen in the examples given above, ecotourism is the only way to achieving a more sustainable form of tourism in the world. This calls for a convergence of efforts in protecting the environment. The Okavango Delta is an example of a successful venture in ecotourism. What was once a show of a depleted environment is now full of life with the local residents taking the responsibility of improving their financial status. This should also be followed in Switzerland and other tourist areas to reduce the negative impact of tourism on the environment. In addition, ecotourism and sustainable tourism creates a better and memorable experience for the tourists. The interaction with natives is an important part of the tourism experience with tourists purchasing artifacts that are environment friendly. Sustainable tourism is a way for countries to improve their income from tourism. In summary, ecotourism helps preserve a country’s environment for future visits by other tourists or repeat tourists.
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