Sustainable tourism, Responsible tourism or Ecotourism, were the terms which I was oblivious to, like millions of people in my country. I always knew that tourism is good and we need to promote it in our country (Pakistan), which is in dire need of foreign reserves. Not until now I have discovered that tourism has severe costs.
The memories are still fresh in my head of our summer vacations. Every year we visited a beautiful hill station at Himalayan foothills — Murree. It was an exhilarating experience to visit this beautiful lush green land. For us, this was an escape from the hustle-bustle of city life. This beautiful little town used to be peaceful and quiet, but not anymore. Everything we loved during our childhood in the nineties is slowly fading away including, these beautiful hill stations. All this is due to the tourism development activities that aim to encourage tourism but ultimately contribute towards environmental degradation.
So, sustainable tourism is the solution. It is the answer to climate change, deforestation, soil erosion, pollution, and other harmful impacts of development on mother nature.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines sustainable tourism as:
Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.
Sustainability is the new mantra that is the need of the hour. Sustainable development is now on everybody’s agenda. The world we know is now changing drastically. Climate changes pose a severe warning.
As Thomas Fuller once said: “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Therefore, it is not too late to change our approach before everything on our beautiful planet is lost forever.
Sustainable development is also as significant as economic growth. Sustainable development raises the question on how much the present generation inherits to the future generation in terms of ecology and environment.
The infographic above discusses in detail how excessive tourism development activities have deteriorated the environment. Also, we will elaborate how sustainable tourism can positively contribute to the development of emerging countries. Let us further elaborate everything on the infographic one by one.
Sustainable Tourism and Emerging Economies
Research shows sustainable tourism meets the needs of tourists and the tourism industry in the host country without disrupting the environment and lives of local communities. Tourism is one of the main contributors to the economy. Despite tourism being an economic generator in emerging economies, it also poses threats to the environment.
For emerging economies, tourism is a savior which generates foreign reserves for the country. In addition to enhancing foreign reserves, tourism also creates jobs for the locals, helps in infrastructure development and income generation. The developing countries are going an extra mile to expand tourism without considering its threats to the environment.
Unfortunately, tourists do not prioritize the environment while traveling to developing countries. This irresponsible behavior posed by tourists leads to grave repercussions, resulting in environmental degradation and pollution in these countries.
Tourism negatively impacts the environment in two ways — through the development of the area and the behavior of tourists.
Tourism development can put increasing pressures on natural resources including water, food, and others (fossil, fuel, forests, energy, and wildlife). This has resulted in deforestation in many beautiful places. Trees are chopped to collect woods for burning and other development purposes including the construction of hotels, restaurants, roads, and other recreational spots. Deforestation has not only caused the loss of scenic beauty but also has made living difficult for wildlife.
The tourists’ behavior also causes a rise in pollution. Air, noise, and water pollution are inevitable due to mass tourism in developing countries. Poor waste disposal and sanitation have soiled many beautiful mountains, lakes, and rivers.
Growing up in a developing country, Pakistan, I have witnessed all these negative impacts on my favorite hill stations due to the rise in tourist activities. Twenty years back, all I ever saw were tall trees, mesmerizing lush green mountains everywhere. The roads were small though, and it was very inconvenient to find a good hotel and restaurant at that time. The entire trip despite the difficulty was still so memorable.
Now, all you see are tourists everywhere. There are mass tourist activities in these areas. The roads once used to be shabby are now in good conditions but at the cost of hundred-year-old trees. Once that was all forest — now is the sea of hotels, cars, and people. Every day, 20,000 domestic tourists visit Murree; hence has led to rising pollution. The poor management of mass tourism has contributed towards environmental degradation due to overcrowding, poor sanitation, poor waste disposal, and pollution.
The rise in tourism can also lead to biological disruptions and risks to public health. It also strains the local resources including food supplies, woods, medicines, and energy.
Tourism affects the ecosystem and makes it weaker to withstand natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, etc. Tourism also impacts local culture and leads to cultural dislocation. The locals trying to copy the lifestyle of the foreigners can result in the loss of native customs and traditions. The criminal activities also may increase to get money from the tourists.
Such is the case of the once beautiful sunny beach town, Goa, in India. Once discovered by Hippies, this beautiful beach town now experiences high crime rates targeted at tourists. These crimes are severe as rapes, murders, random killings and other severe offence. Tourism will further deteriorate in this beautiful exotic beach town if criminal activities persist at the same rate.
The wildlife is also at risk of extinction due to the rise in tourism, as tourism and wildlife are interconnected.
Human actions threaten wildlife in two main ways: by destroying and damaging the places where species live, and by using them in ways that are unsustainable – Wildlife Pakistan.
How Tourism Can Contribute to the Growth of Developing Countries?
Again I will take an example of my country to elaborate on this point. The research indicates that Pakistan is the fifth most vulnerable country to climate changes. So, there is a need to bring complete green transformations in every sector in the country.
Tourism can promote diversity in the country. Pakistan has a rich culture. People of different beliefs and backgrounds live in this country. Tourism can pay the way of more inclusion of minorities and women that will uplift their economic and social status.
Similarly, Pakistan is the home of talented local artisans including women who produce some good quality artwork. These include carpets, pottery, wood carvings, calligraphy, garments, chappals (Khussa & Peshwari chappals are masterpieces). You can even get your hands on beautiful truck art that will surely make you awestruck. Make sure to buy original made in Pakistan, not mass-produced lookalikes made in China. Eventually, that will create more income for locals and encourage them to produce more quality products.
Additionally, tourists can also volunteer in many activities to boost the socio-economic status of people in developing countries. Through involvement in volunteering activities — charity and development programs — tourists can create more social and economic opportunities.
Lastly, tourists can contribute more to the economy by exploring more areas like local shops, restaurants, street hawkers, and other local spots. As Simon Reeve, a British author, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and adventurer, said in an article “How to be a responsible traveler“:
Try to explore the area beyond your hotel, chat with local people, and put some money into the community by eating in local restaurants and downing a few drinks in local bars. You’ll have a memorable experience, and you’ll be helping the wider economy.
Sustainable Tourism Is the Key
There is a common misconception that economic growth is the only solution to the world’s problems. We live in a society where growth and economic activities are the focus. Companies are developing newer products every day. It has always been a challenge for the society governed only by profit and loss to assign value to natural resources until the last few decades. The change in climate and global health crisis have made people realize how their actions contribute to environmental decay.
So sustainability is the key, therefore, sustainable tourism is the solution for environmental challenges faced by developing countries. Sustainable tourism has a low ecological impact. The concept of sustainable tourism advocates keeping the environment clean. And it also safeguards the local communities and wildlife.
Sustainable tourism creates more opportunities for everyone irrespective of their gender and social status, thereby reducing the vulnerability of the poor. It creates jobs for everyone and improves the lifestyle of people.
As a Native American Proverb stuck in my head which aptly applies to the entire theme of our article, says:
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it for our children.
The world is changing and is in dire need of our help. If we want our future generation to enjoy the forests, mountains, water, and other life on this earth, then we need to get responsible now. Bring changes in our ways and protect our surroundings first.