Borocay, an island in the central Philippines, was known for their pristine beaches and clear water. However, the influx of tourists led to the worsening of sewage problems and deterioration of water conditions. It was closed for six months in 2019 for rehabilitation. Many tourist destinations are facing the same problem. With increasingly cheaper air travel and affluent middle class, travelling has become widely accessible. The number of international travellers a year has increased from 500 million to over a billion in this decade and is estimated to hit 1.4 billion by 2020. Tourism’s negative impacts include, and are not limited to, contributing to climate change, depletion of natural resources and degradation of natural habitats. However, government regulations and the rise of eco-tourism are mitigating these negative impacts.
Tourism has had negative impacts in climate change due to the large amounts of carbon pollution from aviation. Unregulated carbon pollution is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases and will only worsen as demand for air travel. One study estimated that a single transatlantic return flight emits almost half the CO2 emissions produced by all other sources (lighting, heating, car use, etc.) consumed by an average person yearly. Tour buses also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, especially when they leave the engine running for long periods of time so that tourists can return to an air-conditioned bus. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and thus increase the global temperature. Furthermore, growth of countries due to globalisation also led to its urbanisation. Great hectares of forests are lost through deforestation. Mass tourism has heightened pressures on forests in Turkey. Cambodia has lost 1.6 million hectares of forest between 2001 and 2014. With fewer trees, less carbon dioxide is absorbed. The increase in greenhouse gases is the primary for rising sea levels, freak weather events globally and the loss of habitats.
However, governments have realised this problem and are taking action against it. France is planning to introduce and eco-tax for all flights from French airports. Revenue from the tax will be invested in non-polluting forms of air travel. Several airlines are also beginning to test biofuels, which can be the replacement source of fuel in the future. There are also stricter regulations by governments on deforestation. In 2017, the clearing of forests in Borneo reached its lowest since 2003.
Tourism has also had negative impacts on the environment due to strain on infrastructure. With more tourists, development of facilities such as accommodation, water supplies, restaurants and entertainment facilities are required. Such construction activity involves sand mining, beach and sand dune erosion, soil erosion and extensive paving. In Yosemite National Park, the number of roads and facilities have been increased to keep pace with the growing visitor numbers and to supply amenities, infrastructure and parking lots for all these tourists. These actions have caused habitat loss in the park and are accompanied by various forms of pollution including air pollution from automobile emissions. Smog produced is harmful to all species and vegetation in the park. The popularity of Angkor Wat in Cambodia led to the development of nearby areas. Large volumes of water was being used to cater to tourists needs leading to shortage of groundwater that threatened the collapse of monuments. Since Myanmar opened up to tourism in 2010, its number of visitors grew 28% to hit 3.44 million in 2017. This has, however, endangered its fragile ecosystem as too many hotels have sprung up to accommodate the visitors. The situation got so severe that even water rationing exercises had to be carried out. What makes things worse is building of entertainment facilities such as golf courses and ski resorts. Golf courses are notorious for being a resource-intensive project. An average golf course in a tropical country would require around 150kg of chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, and as much water as what 6000 rural villagers use. Construction of ski resorts require clearing large pieces of land artificially and altering the landscape to allow for certain level ski runs. Trees are removed and terrain grading changed. Ponds and rivers may be tapped for water to generate artificial snow. Modern snowmaking equipment can easily require 100 gallons of water per minute for each snow gun, and resorts can have dozens or even hundreds in operation. At Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, a modest-size resort in Massachusetts, snowmaking can pull as much as 4,200 gallons of water a minute.
Tourists’ activity also directly impact the environment negatively. Waste disposal and sewage management has become a big problem. For instance, Mount Everest has been turned from a natural wonder to the “world’s highest garbage dump”. The colour of the snow has turned a darker colour and Sherpas reveal over 5000kg of trash have been left there. Cruise ships in the Carribean are estimated to produce over 70000 tons of waste annually. Sewage pollution has also increased, affecting many places from Maya Bay in Thailand to Santorini in Greece, causing the loss of balance in aquatic systems. Coral reefs are in danger because of their vulnerability to polluted waters, as well as marine activities. Tourist activities occur around these fragile ecosystems. Collection of corals, shells, and other marine souvenirs, either by individual tourists or local people, who then sell them as souvenirs to tourists, has a detrimental effect on the local environment. Anchoring, snorkeling, sport fishing and scuba diving, yachting, and cruising are some of the activities that can cause direct degradation of marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, and subsequent impacts on coastal protection and fisheries. It was discovered that most of the corals at Maya Bay have been damaged by boat anchors and the overall coral damage has reached critical levels. 93% of the reefs in Costa Rica are also in danger due to tourism.
However, all is not lost as more countries are beginning to put regulations on the number of visitors allowed and promoting environmental conservation. This lessens the overtourism in certain areas and mitigate those negative impacts on infrastructure and natural habitats. Santorini has started limiting the number of visitors by cruise ships to 8000 per day. During its peak season, over 10000 tourists arrive every day, putting significant strain on local resources. The Italian government also announced a limit of 1.5 million visitors per year to their picturesque villages in the mountain side, known as Cinque Terre.
Many tourist attractions are also closing for rehabilitation work. Indonesia’s Komodo National Park is announced to be closed temporarily for habitat restoration. This is to improve the current system of monitoring and controlling visitors over the area so that the Komodo dragon’s habitat will be well-maintained. Maya Bay will also be closed to tourists for two years for the coral rehabilitation efforts. More than 23000 new corals have been planted since its closure. The authorities are also planning to cap the number of visitors at 2000 per day, down from over 4000 tourists in the past. These show the increased action taken by governments to mitigate the negative impacts of tourism on the environment.
Individuals are also, on their own, becoming more aware of the issue and adopting eco-tourism. Eco-tourism is a sustainable form of travelling and involves travelling to areas that conserve the environment. It is growing 10-15% annually worldwide and is one of the fastest growing sectors in tourism. A famous advocate for environmental issues and eco-tourism is actor Leonardo DiCaprio who plans to build an eco-resort on Belizean private island of Blackadore Caye. Blackadore Caye has suffered from overfishing, an eroding coastline and deforestation of its mangrove trees for years but this eco resort aims to be energy efficient and restore the island. Zip-line canopy tours in Panama Thailand and Costa Rica, for example, also provide opportunities for responsible travellers to observe the flora and fauna of rainforests beneath them without leaving any carbon footprint. Resorts are also adopting green practices to cater to the tourists who have become more environmentally-friendly. Vail Resorts, is embracing wind power to run lifts, restaurants and hotels. Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont has initiatives that include wildlife and habitat protection, energy efficiency, recycling, and water conservation. Many places also educate people about fuel waste through idling and give tours of the wastewater treatment facility. In conclusion, tourism has had negative impacts on our environment due to the greenhouse gases, infrastructure strain and human activities. However, more people are becoming more aware and adopting green practices. Governments are also imposing more regulations. This mitigates negative impacts of tourists. Travel is ultimately to broaden our minds and for our leisure. It should not need to come at the expense of our environment.