As you can already see, the impacts of the global tourism industry today are impressive and far reaching. Let’s have a closer look at some of these outcomes.
Tourism can generate positive or negative impacts under three main categories: economic, social, and environmental. These impacts are analyzed using data gathered by businesses, governments, and industry organizations.
According to the 2019 edition of the UNWTO International Tourism Highlights report, international tourist arrivals reached 1.4 billion, a 5% increase in 2018. UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stated that the sheer growth of the industry was driven by a strong global economy, surge of the travel-ready middle class from emerging economies, technological advances, and more affordable travel costs among others (UNWTO, 2019). At the same time, the UNWTO (2019) reported export earnings from tourism, or the sum of international tourism receipts and passenger transport, reached a staggering USD 1.7 trillion. This demonstrates that the industry is a major economic engine of growth and development.
Europe has traditionally been the region with the highest tourism dollar spending with USD 570 billion, followed by Asia and the Pacific (USD 435 billion), the Americas (USD 334 billion), Middle East (USD 73 billion), and Africa (USD 38 billion). Asia has shown to have the strongest growths in both arrivals (+7%) and spending (+7%). Africa equally shared a +7% growth in arrivals, suggesting a new interest in travelling to the continent.
What are the trends that are motivating people to travel? The six consumer travel trends, according to the UNWTO (2019) include:
- Travel “to change” or focusing on more authentic travel, transformation, and living like a local.
- Travel “to show” or capturing “instagramable” moments, experiences, and visiting selfie-worthy destinations.
- Pursuit of a healthy life or engaging into active travel that involves walking, wellness, and sports tourism.
- Rise of the “access” economy.
- Solo travel and multigenerational travel as a result of single households and an aging population.
- Rising awareness on travel with sustainable advocacies, thoughtful consideration about climate change impacts, and plastic-free travel.
Because tourism experiences also involve human interaction, certain impacts may occur. Generally, social impacts in tourism are related to guest-to-host or host-to-guest influences and changes. Studies of these encounters often relate to the Social Exchange Theory, which describe how tourists and hosts’ behaviours change as a result of the perceived benefits and threats they create during interaction (Nunkoo, 2015).
Positive social impacts in tourism include learning about different cultures, increasing tolerance and inclusion through LGBTQ+ travel, increasing amenities (e.g., parks, recreation facilities), investment in arts and culture, celebration of Indigenous peoples, and community pride. When developed conscientiously, tourism can, and does, contribute to a positive quality of life for residents and a deeper learning and appreciation for tourists.
Unfortunately, tourism also has its shortcomings and is culpable for some detrimental impacts. However, as identified by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, 2003a), negative social impacts of tourism can include:
- Change or loss of indigenous identity and values
- Culture clashes
- Physical causes of social stress (increased demand for resources)
- Ethical issues (such as an increase in sex tourism or the exploitation of child workers)
Some of these issues are explored in further detail in Chapter 12, which examines the development of Indigenous tourism in British Columbia.
Tourism relies on, and greatly impacts, the natural environment in which it operates. In many cases, the environment is an essential resource that outdoor recreation and ecotourism cannot exist without. Even though many areas of the world are conserved in the form of parks and protected areas, tourism development can still have severe negative impacts from misuse, overuse, and neglect. According to UNEP (2003b), these can include:
- Depletion of natural resources (water, forests, etc.)
- Pollution (air pollution, noise, sewage, waste and littering)
- Physical impacts (construction activities, marina development, trampling, loss of biodiversity)
The environmental impacts of tourism knows no boundaries and can reach outside local areas and have detrimental effects on the global ecosystem. One example is increased emissions from necessary tourism elements such as transportation. Air travel for instance, is a major contributor to climate change. Chapter 10 looks at the environmental impacts of tourism in more detail.
Whether positive or negative, tourism is a force for change around the world that is capable of transforming the environment from micro- to macro-scales at a staggering rate.