March 29, 2014

Environmental Impacts of Tourism

Wallaby feeding at a private reserve in Granite Gorge, Australia.
© Marcela Torres

by Marcela Torres

All tourism can have positive or negative economic, environmental and social impacts on the destination involved. The Cape Town Declaration (2002) includes as one of its principles for responsible tourism that it should minimize negative impacts. But what are some of these impacts? Let’s start by analyzing the environmental benefits and costs.

Some environmental benefits of tourism include building awareness of the need to protect natural environments and restore damaged habitats. Tourists can also be watchdogs, letting responsible authorities know each time they observe harmful practices in the places they visit.

However, there can also be environmental costs such as the increase of buildings for visitors, generation of wastes, and some impacts of tourist activities. For instance, wildlife observation can interfere with animal populations if certain standards are not applied and feeding wild animals can make them depend on humans.

Hiking can also damage the soil if visitors do not stick to established trails. Also, occasionally visitors can introduce exotic species, such as domestic animals or grasses that can become invasive and compete with native plants and animals.

How can these environmental costs be avoided? By adequate planning in the tourism destinations and through environmental interpretation and education to visitors following, at least, the Code of Ethics for the Responsible Tourist and Traveler prepared by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

This entry was originally posted by the author on June 30, 2011.

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