Tourism and society

6. Influence of tourism on the environment, economy, culture, and social life

How does tourism fit in as a method of conservation? Tourism is the only industry that can spread its revenue over all (local) businesses and other layers of the economy while at the same time help with protecting the environment and societies. To be able to archive this we first need a better understanding of the influences tourism has on our environment and society.

6.1 In short: the environmental impact of tourism

Iguana watching tourists in Tulum MexicoTourism can have a positive and negative effect on the environment and sometimes even both at the same time. Environmental benefits include the creation of parks, nature preserves and ecological preservation supported as a necessity for nature-based tourism. The income from tourism can directly or indirectly raise money to protect the flora and fauna. Improved waste management and increased awareness and concern for the environment can be a result of nature-based tourism.

Environmental drawbacks consist in a negative change in the physical integrity of the area and rapid development or over-development. Overcrowding natural area’s can change the physical environment and ecosystems forever. Degradation of parks and nature preserves occur and of course there is our negative carbon footprint from traveling and consuming.

6.2 Economic impact of tourism

Tourism activities impact the general economy of the country as well as the local economy of the various touristic destinations within the country. Most eye-catching are of course the economic benefits. Tourism generates local employment, directly in the tourism sector and in support and resource management sectors. Domestic industries, hotels, and other lodging facilities, restaurants and food services, transportation systems, handicrafts, and guide services benefit from the tourist activity. Tourism injects capital and new money into the local and national economy in the form of taxes and foreign exchange. The local economy itself gets more diversified. Tourism motivates local and national governments to improve infrastructure.

The negative economic effects of tourism are the increase of the price of land and housing. Due to higher demand a range of commodities necessary for daily life will often become more expensive. This harms poor people who don’t work in tourism. During the tourist season there might be a higher demand on the health service, police supervision and other public services like maintenance of public areas and infrastructure. All this runs at cost of the local tax base.

6.3 Cultural impact of tourism

Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca in PeruThe arrival of tourists and their interaction with local people will influence local culture. To be able to reduce the negative effects and enhance the positive effects it is important to be able to identify these possible changes. Let’s take a look at the cultural benefits first. Tourism can enhance local cultural awareness. It also generates revenue that helps pay for the preservation of archaeological sites, historic buildings, and districts. Despite criticism about the alteration of traditions and cultures to unacceptable levels, the sharing of cultural knowledge and experience can be beneficial for hosts and guests of tourism destinations and can result in the revival of local traditions and crafts. A good example forms the floating reed islands of the Uros civilization in Lake Titicaca. As a tour leader I often received complaints from tourists who visited the Uros Islands. To them it looked fake and too touristic. However, explaining how tourism actually saved a part of the Uros traditions from disappearing forever, they were happy that they had still been able to visit those islands. Traditional life on these islands is harsh and after a heavy storm in the mid-1980s destroyed part of their floating islands, the Uros moved the islands that were left closer to the shore of the lake. They were about to abandon their islands completely, when the first curious tourists arrived. Their money brought new perspective to the Uros people. The income from tourism motivated part of the Uros people to continue living on their floating reed islands. Now their lifestyle is a mix of tradition, combined with being hosts for tourism. Their interaction can be improved, but it is a start and the arrival of tourism saved the ancient tradition of building reed islands.

If there are cultural benefits, there must be cultural costs. Local customs such as traditional costumes slowly disappear as the youth in the community begins to emulate the speech and attire of tourists. Historic sites can be damaged through tourism development and pressures. There can be long term damage to cultural traditions and the erosion of cultural values, resulting in cultural change beyond a level acceptable to the host destination.

6.4 Social impact of tourism

Tourist buses in Sacred Valley in PeruRelated to the cultural impact, tourism also has a direct influence on the social life of the host destination. Again this impact depends on how tourism is planned, received, and executed. Social benefits of tourism exists of improving the quality of life of a community by economic diversification through touristic activities. Local communities can make use of the recreational and cultural facilities created for the tourists. Public spaces may be developed and enhanced through tourism activity. Tourism can enhance the local community’s self-esteem. It provides an opportunity for greater understanding and communication among people of diverse backgrounds.

Negative influences of tourism occur when tourism growth is out of control which can result in the inability of local amenities and institutions to meet service demands. Without proper planning and management, litter, vandalism, drugs, and crime often accompany tourism development. Tourism can bring overcrowding and traffic congestion in small villages. Especially the youth is susceptible to the economic wealth they see with the tourists. This can result in disruption of the traditional community way of life in the host community. Especially when visiting indigenous and/ or poor local communities. The arrival of marijuana (or worse drugs) brought in by tourists, are causing problems in local societies. Tourism brings in new activities and a different source of income. This might change the community structure, e.g. community bonds, demographics, and institutions. The authenticity of the social and cultural environment might be changed to meet tourism demands. There is a fine balance between providing service and maintaining authentic, but if you can maintain this balance the benefits can be significant.