Tourism isn’t just about holidays and new adventures to different destinations. The industry makes the world go round, quite literally. From supporting local businesses to making trillions of dollars of the global GDP, the importance of tourism on the economy is simply enormous. However, the industry also has contributed to several environmental and social problems and the damage has been felt across the world.
Studying the impacts of tourism is very important for the following reasons:
1. Conservation Efforts
Conservation can be achieved if we show the positive and negative impacts of economic, socio-cultural and environmental determinants of the impacts of tourism. To arrive at the right conservation efforts, we can ask these questions: does tourism development help in the protection of wildlife? Does it promote the culture of people? Does it exploit natural resources and culture of the local populace?
One way to help decision makers create plans and strategies that will support conservation is through measuring tourism impacts in the environment. One tool that can be used to evaluate the tourism impact in local communities, cultural heritage and environment is the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC). From the result of the GSTC evaluation, decision makers, especially DMOs, can now establish and implement stronger controls, support, initiatives and correct practices.
To illustrate this, we take the case of Bhutan.
Bhutan is a state located east of the Himalayas is known as the country that uses gross domestic happiness instead of gross domestic product. Bhutan is an example of how conservation efforts mitigate the impacts of tourism and at the same time spurring economic development. Bhutan remains untouched by colonialism which has ensured the country’s sustainable way of life has remained the same for centuries.
Bhutan’s tourism campaign operates on the principle of “high value, low impact” tourism. This is being achieved by strictly enforcing entry requirements and daily tour fee. The daily tariff which is about 200USD/day includes all necessary expenses for the visit such as accommodation, meals, hiking equipment, and local guide. A huge portion of the daily fixed tour fee is used to maintain and develop the country’s infrastructure as well as fund Bhutan’s health and education programs.
2. Spurs Investments
Knowing the positive and negative impacts of tourism can lead to tourism investments. In practice, sustainable tourism development initiatives often start from government plans and programs which then are followed by investments from the private sector. To rationalize these investments, which most often than not are big ticket infrastructure projects, the government and the private sector need numbers or data from the tourism sector. The data needed can range from asking how many jobs does tourism create both directly and indirectly. How much of the gross domestic product (GDP) say for instance, comes from tourism? What other economic activities are available in the community? And such other data needed in tourism investments. By measuring these important tourism metrics, investors will get the information and encouragement that they need to continue supporting sustainable tourism development. The UNWTO, in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO) released a report on the best practices of measuring the impact of tourism on employment. This could be a helpful resource for those who want to increase employment in their communities.
To illustrate this, we take the case of Dead Sea Development Zone in Jordan.
The Dead Sea Development Zone attracts over 200 investment opportunities in the following sectors: construction and development of 3-star local hotels, construction and development of 4-star and 5-star international hotels based on limited plot of land, service villas and hotel apartments, therapeutic and spa resorts, health clubs, treatment and rehabilitation centers, restaurants and cafés, multi-use projects, stores, and other leisure facilities. Incentive offer for investment in the zone includes reducing the annual rent allowance up to 50% in addition to facilities regarding payment terms.
“The tourism development zones in Jordan provide an excellent opportunity for international investors to join the establishment of global tourism destinations in the country, in light of the lucrative investment incentives provided by the government,” says Arwa Hyari, CEO of Jordan Free & Development Zones Group.
I personally had the opportunity to stay in one of the resorts in the Dead Sea Development Zone and certainly the area was built to protect the surrounding landscape and seascape. Foreign investors are coming because to a certain extent, the development master plan includes protection of the Dead Sea while allowing tourism development to happen.
3. Educates Tourists
Prior to the pandemic that has paralyzed the travel and tourism industry across the globe, we were seeing at least one billion travelers annually in the leisure sector. This means that we have one billion opportunities to educate people on how tourism affects the world and how people can create more positive impacts on local communities and the environment.
In educating the people, perhaps we focus on the basic questions such as: how much of tourists expenditures go to local economies? How can tourists reduce negative impacts on protected areas and heritage sites? How can tourists get involved in the preservation efforts after visiting an attraction? By measuring the impacts of tourism and sharing the results with tourists, we can encourage them to support and advocate sustainable tourism development.
To illustrate this, we take the case of Nakatsugawa-Ena area in the central region of Japan.
The Nakatsugawa-Ena area is known for its forests and famous for producing chestnut sweets. As a heritage site, it used to accommodate travelers who walked on the historical trail which is about 530 kilometers long between Tokyo and Kyoto. In recent years, the area has become an attractive destination for foreign independent travelers who visit the area for hiking along the trail and visiting the hot spring resorts nearby. The rapid increase in the number of inbound tourists has partially contributed to the economic growth of the area, but the locals seek for a more balanced development with the natural environment and their traditional lifestyles preserved in a sustainable manner.
To promote a more balanced development of tourism, the Tourism Council has identified that as the first step is education and awareness-raising program. The purpose of which is for the local and regional policy-makers, as well as other industry stakeholders to have a better understanding of the concept of sustainable tourism and its importance and relevance.
Knowing tourism impacts go beyond conservation, investment and education. Knowing how to measure tourism impacts is also crucial to sustainable tourism development. Furthermore, tourism is a very important industry not only for a country’s economy but also the impact it can influence the world.