Tourism and nature:
a complex relationship
Being in nature is a very nice way to escape everyday life and is therefore a key attraction factor for tourism. The numbers of tourists are increasing worldwide, and many of them do have a desire to visit beautiful places in nature. The consequences of the growing numbers of travellers in nature became very clear in the week I wrote this article, in which over ten people died on the Mount Everest because of overcrowding. This made me wonder how nature and travelling relates to each other. In this article, I would like to address the impact of tourism on nature by showing how tourism can both cause problems but can also contributes to nature conservation.
Tourism can have negative impact on its environment..
Tourism can have major impact on nature due to pollution (like air and water pollution, noise and littering) and by putting pressures on natural resources (for example, water and land resources, energy and food). Additionally, ecosystems are degraded by both tourism facilities (such as accommodations and infrastructure) and tourist activities (for example by damaging vegetation and soil by not using the established trial and other activities that cause direct degradation). Fragile ecosystems are most likely to be damaged, which are at the same time also the most attractive areas for tourists.
… and vice versa
On the other hand, natural catastrophes like floods, earthquakes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions can affect tourism. Additionally, while tourism contributes to climate change, tourism is also affected by climate change. Global warming may cause less snowfall, more intense heat or drought. Due to the rise of sea temperature coral reefs are bleaching and due to the rising sea levels, beaches and islands which are major tourist attractions may be the first areas to be affected. These impacts keep tourists away from affected destinations.
Another issue in tourism and its relationship with nature is the ethical debate on the interaction with wild animals. Think about riding elephants or camels, or swimming with sharks or dolphins. Wildlife tourism is thriving and social media is fuelling the desire to interact with wild animals and share these with the world.
One of the arguments to legitimate wildlife for tourism consumption is that it can contribute to nature conservation. For example, the income derived from gorilla tourism in Rwanda helps to sustain local economy and to protect the endangered species. Additionally, enabling tourists to see nature can lead to more awareness and involvement in nature conservation.
However, the interests of the people are often placed above the welfare of animals. Tourists are not always aware of the consequences when their actions disturb animals in their natural habitat, or when wild animals have been caught and trained to interact with tourists.
Natascha Daly and Kirsten Luce, a National Geographic journalist and photographer, travelled around the world to see how animals are used as touristic attractions. They went to Thailand to report about elephants in the tourism industry and found that many animals are being kept in miserable conditions. Natascha points out that in some cases, animal suffering is systematically concealed and that most tourists are unaware of these situations. Read more about their findings here or watch the video on youtube here.
Tourism and protected areas: a sustainable way of funding conservation?
But tourism does not only damage nature, it can have beneficial impacts as well.
Healthy ecosystems are crucial for humanity since they provide a wide variety of goods and services on which humans rely. These goods and services are important for many aspects in human well-being, including health, economy, cultural identity and political security. However, the loss of biodiversity due to human action is putting healthy ecosystems at risk. Therefore, preservation of biodiversity in ecosystems is required. To do so, protected areas have been established. Today, about 15% of the planet’s terrestrial and inland water areas are protected and the numbers of protected areas are increasing. However, one major problem to achieve the conservation goals is insufficient funding. The most popular approach to fund protected areas is by levying fees on visitors. The money is used for funding conservation activities, supporting local business opportunities, providing education, and managing visitor numbers. Despite the contribution of the protected areas to wildlife conservation, it is also important to mention that these areas do affect local people. For example, protected areas have displaced millions of local people around the world as a result of conservation projects.
The relation between tourism and its environment is complex and contradictory since tourism can both harm and contribute to the environment. By bringing people closer into contact with nature, tourism could potentially help to increase the public appreciation of the environment and awareness of environmental problems. As a tourist, it is important to keep questioning yourself whether your actions contribute or have a negative impact on nature, including animal welfare. Because when the benefits outweigh the negative impact, tourism can contribute to nature conservation.
Environmental impacts of tourism
Animals and Tourism: Understanding Diverse Relationships
Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism (National geographic)
Protected areas, conservation and tourism – financing the sustainable dream
Protected areas and human displacement: a conservation perspective