What are the benefits of sustainable tourism

Positive and negative effects of tourism on sustainability

Tourism clearly shows positive and negative effects on sustainability. Which ones are they and can one evaluate which ones predominate?


What positive effects does tourism have on sustainability?

Travel more popular than ever

Since 2050, international trips have increased more than 50 times worldwide. While 25 million people traveled internationally in 1950, there were more than 1,400 million people in 2018. It is exciting that domestic tourism exceeds these numbers many times over. Estimates assume that domestic tourism is around 5-10 times as large as international travel. The boom in the travel market is also evident in Germany. In an international comparison, Germany is at the top and ranks third in terms of total spending on tourism. This is only surpassed by the USA (2) and China (1). (UNWTO - World Tourism Barometer, 2019, Our World in data)

Tourism is the engine for the global economy

So travel is becoming an increasingly popular leisure activity and this is also reflected in economic data. Tourism is one of the most important industries in the world. Measured in terms of global export sales, this cross-sectional sector ranks third after 1st fuels and 2nd chemicals. As a branch of the economy, tourism ranks ahead of 4th food and 5th motor vehicle. (UNWTO, 2019)

Tourism is a major contributor to GDP

He does it globally 10% of economic output out. In specific countries, the economy as a whole is even more dependent on tourism. (Statista, 2018) Tourism is an indispensable industry in many island towns and countries in the global south. The Seychelles and Maldives are heavily dependent on tourism with almost 70% of tourism as a percentage of GDP. Cambodia ranks at 30%. In these countries tourism is often the main source of foreign currency and therefore a prerequisite for participation in world market events. But tourism is also very important for the economy in Europe, e.g. in Iceland with a share of> 30% or Croatia and Greece with> 20% of GDP. Even in rapidly growing economies such as China (11%) or established industrial countries such as Germany (8.6%) and France (9.5%), the importance of tourism for the economy is essential. (WTTC, World Travel and Tourism Council)

Tourism creates prosperity

As a service-intensive and thus labor-intensive industry, tourism creates hundreds of millions of jobs worldwide and thus also provides employment opportunities in less developed regions or socially disadvantaged regions. Every 10th job is in tourism and thus secures livelihoods and livelihoods. It is not only industries that are directly related to tourism that are important. Numerous indirectly linked economic sectors ensure the livelihood of countless families. (Tourism Watch Educational Material Responsible Travel, 2019) In Germany, tourism even contributes 12% to employment. (Statista, 2019) However, especially in structurally weak developing and emerging countries, the improved income levels brought about by the travel industry are a driver of prosperity. That is precisely why Covid-19 is not just a shock in these countries, but a tragedy that is driving hundreds of millions of people to the edge of existence. (various articles from Tourism Watch, e.g. India, 2020)

Tourism promotes dialogue and tolerance and education

In addition to the positive economic and social effects, tourism can also make a contribution to education. Intercultural encounters can strengthen acceptance and tolerance and make a valuable contribution to inclusion. In addition, global learning takes place, for example by exchanging valuable business practices. How are cultural goods preserved? How is agriculture practiced? This happens in both directions, on the one hand with travelers who spread their experiences in the source market. On the other hand, local residents can learn from travelers. Tourism thus promotes exchange and learning from one another far beyond the tourist sector.

Tourism promotes the protection of natural and cultural assets

Reasons for travel are mostly the nice weather, relaxation, but also nature and culture. Tourism is therefore particularly dependent on their preservation and can have a positive effect on the creation of nature reserves or the preservation of cultural assets through restoration, etc.

What negative effects does tourism have on sustainability?

Ecological effects

Climate impact of travel fuels climate change

However, tourism also shows negative effects. Tourism, for example, leads to significant CO2 emissions worldwide. The arrival and departure as well as the local movement in a tourist region cause greenhouse gases, especially air traffic. The high consumption of fossil fuels during take-off and landing makes short-haul flights particularly harmful to the climate. Individual traffic by car also leads to a comparatively high footprint. Overall, you can 5-8% of global emissions attributed to tourism. (UBA, 2020)

“According to projections, tourism-related emissions will increase by 130 percent between 2005 and 2035, that is, they will more than double. […] 95% of emissions are due to traffic and buildings. ”(Core results IPCC, 2016) Of this, almost 45% are air traffic, although only 17% of the trips were made by plane. Accordingly, it is clear that savings in (flight) traffic and building efficiencies are decisive for the Climate protection potential of the industry.

Travelers consume scarce resources

Travelers consume scarce resources. The main travel times usually fall in dry seasons with little rain, when water is scarce and is important for supplying the population and securing agriculture. If these resources are also used by tourists with an often higher per capita consumption, there is a double shortage. One example of this is Zanzibar. In the arid period, a particularly large number of tourists flock to this African country. If you look at the water per capita consumption in luxury hotels, it is 35 times as large as in a private household. In addition to water consumption, tourists can also reduce other vital resources on site, such as wood, living space, etc.

Dream vacation = garbage paradise?

Dealing with rubbish is no less problematic. Due to the lack of disposal systems, the garbage is mainly incinerated in the open air. The result is the creation of greenhouse gases and highly toxic micro-particles and their distribution in the soil, water and air. A common practice in the past was also tilting in the sea. If travelers also generate extra garbage, possibly encouraged by the consumption of imported goods and disposable products instead of unpacked regional goods, this puts a strain on the already fragile system. In the Maldives, for example, 3.5 kg of garbage per guest is generated every day, which adds up to 500 t per day. There is currently no disposal system. Therefore, an entire island was released as a garbage dump, Thilafushi, where the incineration takes place in the open air every day. (The Maldives - a garbage paradise?)

Tourist infrastructure pollutes nature

Tourist infrastructures pollute nature and seal surfaces. In Asia, for example, the national park was sold to China. In addition to the airport and the five-lane motorway, golf courses and luxury resorts are being built there. The focus is on economic interests instead of the protection of endangered species living there. In Europe, infrastructural environmental damage occurs, for example, in the Mediterranean. Fundamental hotel buildings and concrete strongholds aimed to accommodate a particularly large number of guests. These are seldom integrated into a local construction method and seal large areas of the floor. In addition, maritime ecosystems are enormously polluted by sewage and garbage pollution. (Mediterranean, 2020) The hotspots in the Alps are also heavily polluted. (Alps, 2020)

Problems of mass tourism

Mass tourism causes environmental damage

If a destination takes in more tourists than it can handle, this damages nature and culture in the long term. You surely know the dream beaches of this world? For example Maya Bay on the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi, also known as "The Beach"? The overload with mass tourist flows and ship arrivals led to massive environmental damage in the water and on the beach. An extensive renovation is essential. Authorities have also recognized this and initiated the closure. Since 2018 the beach has been closed for an unknown time until today. (Maya Bay, 2018) There are a number of such cases, e.g. Komodo Island, where a fivefold increase in the number of visitors results in a drastic disturbance of biodiversity. (Komodo, 2019).

Tourism mono-economy is risky

In addition to environmental damage, the impact on the local population can also be negative. Especially when a healthy ratio of holidaymakers and locals is exceeded, on-site conditions can be permanently disrupted. Original industries are dying outbecause they are no longer attractive, e.g. local handicrafts and agriculture. The development away from self-sufficiency towards the purchase of imported goods, but especially the general focus on one or a few branches of the economy, creates dangerous situations Dependencies and risks, as the corona pandemic shows particularly well.

Social and cultural effects

Import reduces local prosperity

Dependencies are also created through the import of services, e.g. construction of tourism infrastructure or international (hotel) chains. Corresponding companies skim off profits on site. Well-paid jobs go to foreign workers. This significantly reduces local added value and local social development opportunities. There is little positive effect. A rise in the price level can even reduce the level of prosperity and displace residents. In Germany, too, effects such as an increase in the cost of living, a shortage of living space and rising rents are perceived as a result of rising tourism figures. (Statista, 2019)

Bad working conditions

A major benefit is that tourism employment opportunities are accessible to many people. Jobs usually only require low qualifications. However, this also means that workers can be exchanged quickly and that social factors such as fair wages are usually poorly developed. This is particularly serious in the informal sector, which is characterized by a lack of social security and poor working conditions, in which unfortunately around 50% of jobs in tourism are located. However, even in a highly regulated country like Germany, the Hans Böckler Foundation assumes that the hospitality industry is the sector in which the minimum wage is most often circumvented. (see Tourism Watch educational material Responsible Travel, 2019)

Loss of culture and tradition

Another problem with mass tourism is that local culture and tradition are lost through the permanent excessive presence of other cultures. Often this happens in the sense of a westernization. Western products, services and food will be more in demand than local ones. But even behaviors and traditions that extend into everyday life can be irretrievably changed.

Create tourism with a future now!

Sustainability is self-preservation

Tourism has positive, but also negative effects on a large number of ecological, social, cultural and economic resources. Ecological and cultural damage in particular can be serious and trigger negative feedback on the economy and society. This alone is reason enough to promote sustainable development in tourism and thus guarantee the industry's self-sufficiency.

  • Sustainable tourism should aim to take into account the needs of travelers as well as the population in the destination area and to use resources in such a way that economic and social needs can be secured in the long term while at the same time preserving culture and the environment. (based on the definition of the UNWTO)

Tourism and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN

To achieve this you need goals. The ideal is to classify goals in an already existing framework. For example, the Sustainable Development Goals, the sustainability goals of the United Nations, are suitable. Tourism with all upstream and downstream industries can positively support the achievement of the global sustainability goals and contribute directly or indirectly to all of these 17 goals. The World Tourism Organization UNWTO explicitly mentions the responsibility of tourism in goals 8 - decent work and inclusive, sustainable growth, 12 - sustainable consumption and production and 17 - strong partnerships to achieve the goals. There are also obvious links to goal number 13 - climate protection measures based on the climate impact of travel. Because tourism employs so many people around the world, it also has a special role to play in goals 1 to 4, less poverty, no hunger, health and education (tourism and the SDGs)

Take responsibility

The tourism industry, but also travelers themselves, can and must make their contribution and maximize their positive effects and minimize their negative ones. Developments in the market should provide a boost: Growing demand creates great potential if you make sustainability part of your business - better now than too late - and is groundbreaking for risk management and resilience to crises.

Sustainability is risk and crisis management

You can read about how to convert the risks of climate change into opportunities in our blog post Climate Change and Tourism: Which Regions Are Affected and What Can Be Done ?. You can read more about climate protection in tourism in our blog articles Climate protection in tourism: 4 strategies that help along the way and implement climate protection in tourism: 40 valuable measures.

Are you planning the next steps towards sustainability?

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I am ready with advice and joy.

Franziska Kramer
Sustainable tourism topic

01520-6208119 | [email protected]

How can you travel more sustainably yourself?

Have you got wanderlust too? Do you like to travel and do you like to discover the world? Then here are a few tips, tricks and tricks on how you can travel more sustainably. We all determine positive and negative effects on culture and nature with our personal behavior.

Tourism or travel?
Here is a conceptual classification: Tourism denotes and comprises the entirety of all activities and relationships that are related to getting around and staying at a travel destination outside of the usual center of life or work. While travel rather reflects the activity itself, the term tourism focuses on the economic classification as an industry. In linguistic usage, both terms are sometimes used synonymously.

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