Tourism in the Developing World is Unsustainable Essay Example

  • Category:
  • Document type:
  • Level:
  • Page:
  • Words:

Given environmental concerns, tourism in the developing world is unsustainable


According to Holden (2008), tourism is a human activity that entails the use of resources, human activities and the interactions between people, economy and the environment. It is focussed on natural and social aspects of the world. On the other hand, the definition of environment in the perspective of tourism is the atmosphere of a destination constituting of mountains, water resources, parks, safaris, heritage sites, waterfalls, etc. Tourism industry is one of the leading sectors in the world with high growth rate (Holden, 2008). It has contributed to the economic, cultural and social growth of a country. Nevertheless, despite its significance, it has been associated with numerous sustainability issues. According to some scholars, tourism is developing unsustainably in developing countries and has failed to deliver economic gains (Larkin and Kahler, 2011; Buckley, 2011). Although tourism industry is a valuable source of economic growth for poor nations, it has created environmental challenges that did not exist before. Some of the developing countries are rich in natural beauty which has attracted tourists from different countries. Unfortunately, this activity has corroded the natural resources and cultural heritage. Sustainable tourism is therefore paramount to the enhancement of developing countries.

This report will review different literature to establish whether tourism in the developing nations is unsustainable. It will describe the relationship between tourism and the environment, and highlight how it operates today in the developing countries. In addition, it will describe the negative and positive impacts of tourism on the environment. It will finally offer a number of recommendations that would assist in enhancing environmental conservation in the developing countries.

Tourism and the Environment

Tourism is very important due in part to the number of travellers, huge number of employees and the amount of revenue it brings to a country. Tourism brings about positive impacts such as economic growth, cultural development and access to transport ion systems. However, it has been linked to environmental degradation. According to Buckley (2011), tourism and environment are interdependent. And as such, tourism has devoured the natural resources. For instance, one of the simplest forms of tourism like visiting animal orphanage often consumes the environmental elements like plants and animals. Also, to make it possible for people to visit a zoo, it is paramount for animals to be captured and kept in one place. Human involvement with the environment often results in the usage of resources. Since tourism involves human activities, it alters the natural environment such as vegetarian, wildlife, beaches and air. Therefore, it is right to conclude that tourism is an environmentally dependent entity (Larkin and Kahler, 2011).

The development of tourism depends on an environment that is free from hazards and pollutions. The needs to preserve the environment have led to a new concept of responsible tourism. Font and Sallows (2002) argues that tourism depends on a conserved environment. The scenic beauty in different countries and the preserved natural environment are considered important aspects of the tourism industry. Consequently, for tourism industry to thrive, these natural environments need to become prerequisite. In addition, offering amenities such as transportation, potable water transportation and other infrastructures to tourists is one of the main causes of environmental degradation (Holden, 2008). Furthermore, unrestricted commercialization in the tourism industry has destroyed numerous fragile ecosystems. The relationship between tourism and the environment has led to the emergence of sustainable tourism. According to Budeanu (2007), sustainable tourism involves tourist activities that do not harm the environment and all aspects of a country. Sustainable tourism is based on a good environment is concerned with its protection, development and preservation.

Tourism in the Developing World

Developing countries are rich in natural resources that attract tourists from around the world. In 2007, these countries yielded more than $319 billion in tourism revenue. Unfortunately, the sector has failed to deliver environmental and cultural gains (Huybers, 2007). Tourism industry is known for generating source of income in developing countries, but it has lagged behind when it comes to offering better infrastructure and improvement in the environmental conservation. An example is Lake Sukhatal, a lake near Himalayas that acts as a tourist attraction in India. The lake has led to an increase in revenue generated from the visitors which is beneficial t the economy of the country (Sunlu, 2003). Nevertheless, today, the lake has halved in size since 2007 as a result of pumping and irrigation. The local tourism revenue has not been used to put the lake into conservation which has the potential to save it. According to Huybers (2007), tourism activities generate revenue for the 40 top poorest countries in the world. However, research shows that it directly and indirectly harms the environment especially y emitting high levels of greenhouse gas.

Research conducted by Ghobadi and Verdian (2016) highlight that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from tourism activities will quadruple by 2100 which will contribute to significant climate change especially in the developing countries. Tourism industry makes up about 5% of the greenhouse gas emission in the developing countries. This amount threatens the well-being of developing nations. However, Holden and Fennell (2012) argue that tourism has done more good than harm which contradicts to evidences from research work of different scholars. In his view, due to pressure from governmental and governmental organizations to reduce environmental impacts, tourism industry in the developing countries has cut emissions and reduced depletion of natural resources. Tourism industry has made a contribution in being sustainable by minimizing air and car travel and reducing waste from hotels and restaurants (Gossling, 2002). Although the sectors has contributed significantly in enhancing sustainability, it has acted as a powerful tool in harming developing countries by corroding the environment through poor resources usage, pollution, and depletion of natural resources. Developing countries have suffered from tourism when the number of tourists is higher that the ability of the environment to cope with their use (Huybers, 2007). Due to numerous tourist attraction sites, developing countries received huge number of visitors every year. The uncontrolled number of visitors poses serious threat to the natural resources in the countries. Mass tourism puts pressure on the environment, leading to negative challenges such as soil erosion, loss of natural habitat, forest fires and increased pollution among others.

Impacts of Tourism on the Environment

Negative Impacts

Depletion of Natural Resources

Evidences suggests that tourism activities often put pressure on natural resources especially in developing countries where consumption is greater that the resources availability. The main natural resource that has been affected by tourism is water resources. Water is the most important natural resources in developing countries. Research conducted by Lee, Jan and Yang (2013) suggests that tourism industry overuses water which is evident in restaurants, swimming pools, golf courses, etc. For instance, in dryer regions in Africa, water scarcity is an issue of concern. As a result of the hot weather and the trend of consuming a lot of water by tourists has led to the use of about 440 litres a day. In addition, golf course maintenance depletes water resources since excessive extraction leads to saline intrusion into groundwater (Sunlu, 2003).

Apart from water, tourism puts pressure on local resources such as food and energy which are already scarce in supply (Sunlu, 2003). As a result of the seasonal characteristic of tourism industry, many developing countries often host ten times more inhabitants than other countries. The high number of visitors over-exploits the available local resources. In addition, other important natural resources that are affected by tourism activities include wetland, wildlife, fossil fuels, etc. The increased construction of recreational facilities in the developing countries has negatively impacted scenic landscapes and caused land degradation (Woodside and Martin, 2007). Also, the impacts of tourism on renewable and non-renewable resources come in form of the use of land for constructing recreational facilities and other infrastructure provision.


Tourism industry is also a huge cause of pollution due to the high level of air emission, waste removal and sewage release (Gladstone, Curley and Shokri, 2012). Transport by air and road has increased as a result of the rising number of international travellers. Research suggests that the amount of tourists in developing countries rose from 88 million in 1972 to 340 million in 1994. This number has doubled since then and has accounted for about 60% of air transportation causing high levels of emissions. Emission of greenhouse gas from transportation media is associated with acid rain and global warming (Shaw and Williams, 2002). Tourist transportation has contributed to severe pollution in the developing countries especially in countries like Egypt, South Africa and Zimbabwe among others. Pollution levels are specific to specific activities. For instance, in developing countries, tour buses often run for hours when visitors go for excursion. This causes high emission levels which contribute to global warming and climate change (Gossling, 2002). In addition, noise pollution from airplanes and recreational buses also contribute to ever-growing problem in the developing countries.

Solid Waste and Littering

In countries with high number of tourists as a result of appealing natural attractions, waste disposal is a huge challenge which negatively affects the natural resources such as rivers, scenic areas, wildlife, etc. Solid waste from tourist activities can degrade the appearance of shoreline and even cause death of water creatures (Hall, 2001). Furthermore, trekking tourists produce high levels of waste in the mountain areas. In many regions, visitors often leave their waste, oxygen cylinders and other camping materials that are major despoilers of natural environment. Developing countries suffer a lot from solid waste and littering due to limited number of garbage collection facilities (Lee, Jan and Yang, 2013).

One country that has suffered from solid waste and littering is Cambodia. The Angkor monument in Cambodia is among the most visited attraction site in the world. It has generated exceptional economic and cultural opportunities for the local community. Nevertheless, due to mass tourism, the monument has been affected by high level of improper waste disposal which can degrade the archaeological monument and natural resources (Ghobadi and Verdian, 2016). The limiting factor affecting Angkor monument is the number of tourists who surpass the carry capacity of the park. In addition, construction of restaurants and recreational facilities in developing countries has increased sewage pollution. The increased sewage runoff has polluted water bodies that surround tourist attractions, damaging marine life. Wastewater also damages coral reefs due to their ability to stimulate the growth of algae that cover corals and limit their survival (Sunlu, 2003). In addition to their effect of flora and fauna, sewage runoffs also threaten the health of human beings in the community.

Positive Impacts

According to Font and Sallows (2002), although tourism has had negative impacts on the environment, we can ignore the positive contribution it has brought in regards to the environment. Tourism is shifting its course to a sustainable side as a result of the efforts made to preserve the natural resources for the future generation. Developing countries today have implemented strict plans and legislations for conserving the environment and protecting the natural resources. Buckley (2011) argues that we should not only focus on the dark side of tourism since it pays back as well.

For instance, in countries like India, before a destination is selected as a tourism attraction site, the government often put efforts to regenerate the area and beautify the local environment. It also focuses attention on the nearby natural resources and educate tourist developers how to value these resources in order to prevent any misuse or damage (Holden, 2008). Due to the rise in sustainable tourism, tourism can no longer be viewed as a harmful activity since many developing countries have benefited from it and conservations are taking place in this regard. Tourist consumption today revolves around environmental quality and conservation of natural resources. Numerous examples are available to illustrate the ability of tourism to yield environmental benefits (Gossling, 2002). For instance, Asian countries such as Thailand, India, and Cambodia have benefited immensely from tourism activities. Due to the growing number of international visitors, the countries have implemented legislations to minimize environmental impacts. In India, hotels and recreational facilities are expected to adhere to environmental laws that prevent improper waste disposal and exploitation of energy and water.

Recommendation to Enhance Environmental Conservation

If tourism activities can have negative impacts on the environment, it can also play a huge role in preserving the natural resources. Tourism companies should be morally responsible for conserving and preserving the natural environment from which they get benefits (Gossling, 2002). A number of strategies can be used in developing countries to reduce the impacts of tourism on the environment.

Appropriate use of Earned Revenue

Since tourism industry generates high revenues, it can use them in the efforts to preserve the environment. In developing countries, although tourism is a valuable source of revenue, it is not used in creating better infrastructure or conserving the environment. Therefore, the revenue earned from tourist activities can be directed towards conservational efforts. According to Budeanu (2007), environmental preservation requires monetary capital. Therefore, efforts must be taken to ensure that relevant authority allocate enough capital to address the issue of increased environmental exploitation. If this persuasion is disregarded, the conservation efforts will not be possible and the environmental will suffer more.

Developing Eco-Tourism

Eco-tourism involves visiting fragile and uninterrupted natural areas that have not suffered from environmental impacts as an alternative for mass tourism. It also entails responsible travel that ensures the environment is protected and the well-being of people is improved (Larkin and Kahler, 2011). Eco-tourism has the ability to bring change to the conventional tourism. The implementation of eco-tourism will play a fundamental role in preserving the natural environment. Developing countries should aim at eco-tourism principles which involve reducing the ill effects of tourist activities without necessarily conceding the quality of experience of the visitors (Larkin and Kahler, 2011).

Developing Awareness among Visitors

In order to ensure sustainable tourism in the developing countries, it is important for tourism to be aware of the importance of conserving the natural resources (Budeanu, 2007). Relevant authority can encourage visitors to take part in maintaining environmental balance. Tourists can take part in conservation work by adopting appropriate strategies to deal with pollution such as minimal energy and water use and proper waste disposal. Educating tourists on the diverse aspects of the environment will result in their understanding of their contribution towards sustainable tourism (Budeanu, 2007). In addition, adoption of visitation limits, appropriate tourism regulations and regular education on environmental issues can imply a huge difference in the efforts to conserve the environment.


Based on the argument presented in the report, it is evident that tourism in the developing countries yield both positive and negative results. The environment is considered a major concern of tourism industry. All the negative and positive impacts of tourism on the environment can bring the conclusion that tourism affects developing countries both positively and negatively. For the above argument, numerous environmental challenges are associated with tourism activities in the developing countries. For instance, tourism contributes to high level of pollutions, depletion of natural resources and improper waste disposal. It is therefore correct to conclude that tourism in the developing world is unsustainable due to the impacts it has on the environment. However, there are many initiatives that can be employed by developing countries to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment such as developing awareness, developing eco-tourism and appropriate use of revenue.


Buckley, R 2011,««Tourism and Environment. Annual Review of Environment and Resources. Annual Reviews, 36(1), pp. 397–416.

Budeanu 2007, Sustainable tourist behaviour?. a discussion of opportunities for change. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 31 (5) (2007), pp. 499-508

Font, X. and Sallows, M 2002, Setting global sustainability standards: The Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council. Tourism Recreation Research, 27(1), pp. 21–31.

Ghobadi, J.G. & Verdian, S.M. (2016). The Environmental Effects of Tourism Development in Noushahr. Open Journal of Ecology, 6(1), p. 529-536.

Gladstone, W., Curley, B. & Shokri, M.R 2012, Environmental impacts of tourism in the Gulf and the Red Sea. Marine pollution bulletin. 34 (3), pp. 335-362.

Gössling, S 2002, Global environmental consequences of tourism. Global Environmental Change, 12(4) (2002), pp. 283-302.

Hall, M.C 2001, Trends in Ocean And Coastal Tourism: The End of The Last Frontier?. Ocean & Coastal Management, 44, pp. 601-618.

Holden, A. & Fennell, D.A 2012, The Routledge Handbook of Tourism and the Environment, Routledge, London.

Holden, A 2008, Environment and Tourism (2nd edition), Routledge, London.

Huybers, T 2007, Tourism in developing countries, Cheltenham, UK Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

larkin, T and K. N. Kähler. 2011, «Ecotourism.» Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues. Rev. ed. Pasadena: Salem Press. Vol. 2, pp. 421–424.

Lee, T.H., Jan, F. & Yang, C 2013, Environmentally responsible behaviour of nature-based tourists: A review, 2(1), pp. 1-16

Shaw, G and Williams, A.M 2002, Critical issues in tourism: a geographical perspective, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sunlu, U 2003, Environmental impacts of tourism. In: Camarda D. (ed.), Grassini L. (ed.). Local resources and global trades: Environments and agriculture in the Mediterranean region. Bari: CIHEAM, 2003. pp. 263-270.

Woodside, A. & Martin, D 2007, Tourism management : analysis, behaviour, and strategy. Wallingford, Oxfordshire Cambridge, MA: CABI Pub.