The consequences of unsustainable touristic growth in rural and urban tourism hotspots
Tourism has become very popular with an increase in the standards of living of many people around the world. Coupled with advancements in air transport and the growing power of the media, little-known tourism destinations have become popular with many tourists, leading to an increase in the number of visitors per year. This causes overcrowding, leading to the development of the concept of unsustainable tourism or over-tourism.
Unsustainable tourism is tourism that fails to consider the livelihood and culture of the local population and does little to protect the natural environment/resources.
The table below gives an idea of the unsustainable nature of tourism in some destinations:
The top 10 most visited tourist attractions in the world, counted by millions of visitors in 2017 (by Chilli and Churp, 2018)
10. Innercity of New York (U.S.) = 12.3 Million
9: Innercity of Istanbul (Turkey) = 12.6 M
8: Forbidden City, Beijing (China) = 15.3 M
7: Disneyland, Los Angeles (U.S.) = 16 M
6: Innercity of Paris (France) = 16 M
5: Disney World, Orlando (U.S.) = 17.5 M
4: Innercity of Bangkok (Thailand) = 18.2 M
3: Innercity of London (UK) = 18.8 M
2: Niagara Falls (Canada/U.S.) = 22.5 M
1: The Strip, Las Vegas (U.S.) = 39.7 M
Concept of carrying capacity
The concept of carrying capacity can be used to determine the extent of unsustainability in a particular tourist destination. It is defined as the maximum number of visitors a tourist destination can accommodate without destroying the natural environment or causing displeasure to the host population.
There are four types of carrying capacities:
- Environmental/physical carrying capacity-The limit of a site beyond which wear and tear will start taking place or environmental problems will arise.
- Perceptual / Psychological carrying capacity –The lowest degree of enjoyment tourists are prepared to accept before they start seeking alternative destinations.
- Economic carrying capacity –The ability of a tourist site to absorb tourism activities without displacing or disrupting desirable local activities.
- Social carrying capacity –The level of tolerance of the host population for the presence and behavior of tourists in the destination area, and/or the degree of crowding users (tourists) are prepared to accept by others (other tourists).
Remember: A hotspot is an area of intense leisure activity that attracts large numbers of visitors.
Factors affecting carrying capacity in a tourist destination
- The fragility of the landscape to development and change
Fragile landscapes are more likely to be destroyed by a large number of tourists. This implies that there must be a limit to the number of tourists who can visit such destinations, so as not to exceed the capacity.
- The level of tourism development and infrastructure.
If development is rapidly taking place in an area without any effort to sustainably maintain the vegetation, it could lead to deforestation. In this case, the carrying capacity has been exceeded.
- The level of organization of the destination’s management.
How well organized is the management style of a tourism destination?
- Existing level of exposure of cultures and communities to outside influences and lifestyles.
If the local people in the tourist destination are exposed to other cultures (dressing, music etc) they are more likely to accommodate the tourists without complaining. However, if they are less exposed to other cultures, then they are more likely to complain about it and their social carrying capacity will be excluded.
- Level of economic divergence and dependency upon tourism.
If the tourist destination depends heavily on tourism, then the carrying capacity is likely to be exceeded. However, if the destination has other sources of income, the local people are more likely to place strict rules on the number of tourists who can visit the destination.
- The level of employment and poverty.
If local people in the tourist destination are gainfully employed they are more likely to impose strict laws on tourist numbers. On the other hand, if the people are unemployed they are more likely to exceed the carrying capacity in order to cash in on large tourist numbers.
- The number of tourists.
- Type of tourists and their behaviour.
Case studies of unsustainable tourism in urban areas (carrying capacity)
Carrying Capacity in Venice, Italy
Where is Venice? Venice is located in Northern Italy. It consists of a series of islands on the Adriatic sea. Venice is known as the “City of Water”, “The floating city”, and “The city of canals”. This is because Venetian transportation is by canals and boats. This means one is either walking or using some means of water transport.
Venetian Population and tourist number
Venice has a population of about 60,000 people. It experiences about 50,000 day-trippers daily. This actually exceeds its physical carrying capacity, which is 20,000 people per day. Annually, it has 20 million tourists
Primary tourist resources
St Marks square and its famous Basilica
Doge’s palace, particularly its interior and its museum
Rialto market and bridge
Teatro la fernice (Famous opera house)
Gondola rides (The boats used on canals)
- Facilities that support and accommodate tourists. Hotels, restaurants. Tourists come to Venice mainly for the primary attractions. However, Italian food is also very mouth-watering. Tours to historical sites, and the occasional food tours.
Socio-political conflicts between locals and tourists
- Loss of local culture due to tourists’ culture: People only go to Venice for the purposes of tourism not to actually visit the city. Day trippers visit St. Marks Square and Basilica. They don’t actually experience all that Venice has to offer.
- View Large cruise ships as a pest: Locals say this blocks the city’s natural beauty and protested against this.
- Severe congestion and overcrowding (People): Venice is a small city with very little access within it. Mass tourism has caused roads, canals, and pavements to be congested.
- Tourists disrespect historical and heritage sites: Italians are devout Catholics. Seeing tourists sitting or lying down at the entrance to the St Marks Basilica, does not show respect to the local culture or to God.
- Congestion and overcrowding (Roads): Although there are a few roads in Venice, buses and coaches still arrive carrying large numbers of tourists. This causes traffic and delays for locals who have to go to work.
- Tourist Pigeon culture: Tourists are notorious for feeding pigeons around St Marks square. This has encouraged a lot of pigeons to visit the square. Unfortunately, the acidic droppings of the birds damage the brickwork and marble. They also peck at nooks and crevices on buildings, thereby destroying the architectural and cultural heritage of the city.
- Inflation: The average price for rent has increased by so much that there has been a lot of out-migration from the city. As Venice is a tourist destination there is an increase in the price of products like milk and bread.
- Economic problems: Local services are being overpriced: Services offered to locals like postal services, medical surgeries etc are becoming more and more expensive. This is because the service providers have to budget for the ever-increasing price of rent in the city. Pressure on services like electricity and water supplies is contributing to increasing services cost.
- Littering and pollution: Tourists litter all over the city. The architectural design of Venice causes tourists to walk long distances. As a result of thirst, they carry plastic water bottles and litter the city. This can enter the canals and become an eyesore.
Possible management strategies to increase site resilience or carrying capacity of Venice
- Venice is proposing a ban on day-trippers because they exceed the carrying capacity of the city and don’t contribute much economically to the city either. Thus, helping to reduce congestion. Additionally, to reduce congestion (people) all tourists are taxed up to 5 euros daily.
- Venice cruise ship size limit: Since 2014 the number of cruise ships was cut by 20% and ships of more than 96,000 tonnes were banned from the city centre. Large cruise ships are only allowed to enter Venice through the West end, therefore they don’t block the view of the city centre and the city’s beauty can still be admired by all.
- To reduce congestion on roads and canals during peak seasons the transport routes will become one-way.
- Stiff fines are imposed on revellers who ignore the rules. On-the-spot fines of 25 euros (£17) could rise to 500 euros (£340) for those who fail to pay up. Sitting or lying down in front of cathedrals is prohibited. To implement this, a fine of $56 is charged to all who break the rule in areas around Florence’s cathedral, the Duomo, and the Basilica of St Mark in St Mark’s.
- The lagoon city banned vendors who sold grain to tourists wanting to feed the birds.
- The government is trying to build more affordable housing so locals can still afford to live in Venice.
- Suggesting the compulsory need for tourists to have a Venetian hotel reservation. This will generate more revenue per person and will also help to reduce congestion. Additionally, this will help revive the city because tourists will actually explore the whole city and not just St Mark’s Square and the Basilica.
Strategies to avoid environmental damage
- Stewards patrol St Mark’s Square and other popular sites rebuking tourists who throw litter on the ground, dangle their feet in canals and fountains or walked around bare-chested.
- A corner of St Mark’s Square, the Piazzetta dei Leoncini, was blocked off to prevent it from being littered.
- Drinking fountains. Tourists are being encouraged to use drinking fountains to reduce plastic waste.
Case studies of unsustainable tourism in a rural area: Brecon Beacons in Wales
According to the Brandt Report, sustainable development is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
Sustainable tourism, therefore, is tourism that meets the needs of present tourists and the local population without compromising the ability of future tourists and locals to meet their needs. Sustainable tourism considers the livelihood of the local people, respects their culture and preserves the natural environment. It involves economic, social and environmental dimensions of development.
- The livelihood of the local people is maintained. With the development of tourism, the locals will benefit either through trade or by direct involvement in the industry.
- Tourist revenue is sufficient to cater for the cost of repairing the facilities in order to maintain their quality
- Tourism is managed such that tourists are encouraged to visit during off-peak periods in order to avoid excessive damage to the natural resources
- Resources used for the construction of buildings and infrastructure are obtained locally. They are used with care to avoid waste
- It involves undertaking effective research and development to obtain relevant data on tourists numbers and total revenues as well as new ways to improve the tourist facility
- It minimizes environmental damage to the ecosystem in order to maintain the flora and fauna of the tourist destination. For example, hunting and loud noise threaten the stability of the ecosystem and, therefore, are not permitted.
- Tourism converses with the natural environment through the creation of nature parks and game reserves.
- Waste is minimized and disposed of sustainably and traffic is managed in ways that minimize environmental pollution
- Tourist information bulletins and guidelines are published to stress the importance of sustainable practices in the tourist destination
- The staff are trained on issues of sustainable tourism management to enable them to embrace the concept of sustainable tourism
- The local community forms an integral part of tourism development and must benefit from tourists activities in the area
- Tourism supports local communities by providing opportunities for the local economy to benefit socially and economically.
Case studies of sustainable tourism:
UNESCO World Heritage site: Machu Picchu
The growth of ecotourism
Ecotourism is a form of sustainable tourism it is also called “green” or “alternative” tourism. It usually takes place in rural areas and involves a limited number of tourists visiting a destination at a given time; unlike mass tourism. Examples of ecotourism include Game Parks, Nature reserves, Forest parks etc. Thus, ecotourism is a form of tourism where the tourist enjoys the natural environment.
- The tourists visit to appreciate the natural environment (flora-plants and fauna-animals).
- The local people are involved in the development process which means that the purpose of ecotourism is to ensure that the local people benefit from it.
- Seeks to preserve and conserve the natural environment
- It involves an understanding of the culture of the local people
- Eco-tourists travel in small groups with a common interest; bird-watching, skiing, canoeing, etc.
- Eco-tourists live with the local people, where they have the opportunity to learn about the culture of the local population.
Even though ecotourism seeks to maximize the benefits of tourism from the perspective of the local population and the environment, conflicts sometimes arise in the process. Some of these conflicts include:
- The conflict between the local population and the tourist. Tourists influencing the local people with their way of life may become a complaint made by the locals.
- Conflict may arise because the local people may feel they do not benefit from the environment as much as the tourists.
- When the tourists engage in unhealthy practices that go against the culture of the local people, eg. Drumming and dancing at certain times of the year, sleeping with their women, etc.
- Masai Mara
Tourism in the Gambia
MonteVerde cloud forest in Costa Rica
One case study of sustainable tourism in one low-income country
Butler’s tourism model
1. Exploration: A new destination, with very few visitors. They are usually adventurous travellers that have minimal impact.
2. Involvement: If the tourists like the new destination and the destination is happy to receive tourists, then there may be an investment in tourist infrastructure and involvement by locals. Tourist numbers grow slowly.
3. Development: Tourism becomes a big business with further investment and involvement by TNCs. Holidays become more organised with package holidays arriving.
4. Consolidation: The area becomes reliant on tourism. Advertising and marketing attempt to maintain and increase tourism levels. Facilities like beaches, swimming pools and golf courses may become the domain of tourists causing some local resentment.
5. Stagnation: There is some local opposition to tourists, there is no new investment, tourists become tired of the same destination and growth stops.
6. Rejuvenation: Tourism is relaunched through advertising, tourist arrival from new markets increases, new transport links are opened or tourism becomes more sustainable with local involvement.
6. Decline: There is no relaunch, locals remove their support, TNCs leave and tourism begins to decline.
Factors influencing future international tourism
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) releases an annual report on global travel and tourism, and the 2018 edition has just come out. The report looks at tourism trends around the world and, among other measures, tracks increases and decreases in tourism activity across countries and regions. Here is what this year’s report found.
In total, international tourism arrivals grew to just over 1.3 billion in 2017, a 6.8% from 2016. That was the largest single-year percentage increase in this specific figure since 2009.
The two regions with the largest growth were Africa, with 9%, and Europe, with 8%. What’s stunning about those numbers, though, is that Europe received over half the world’s international tourism arrivals, 671 million, while Africa received less than a tenth of that amount, just 63 million.
European travellers accounted for 48% of outbound tourism followed by those from Asia-Pacific, with 25% of the total, the Americas at 17%, the Middle East with 3%, Africa with 3%, and 4% not reporting their origin.
International tourism spending was also up 5% globally and hit $1.34 billion. Nearly 40% of that figure came from spending in Europe, followed by Asia-Pacific with 29% and the Americas with 24%.
Who is spending all that money? The report found that Chinese outbound travellers spent nearly a fifth of it – $258 billion – while U.S. travellers came in second, with $135 billion. The report also noted that seven destinations ranked in the top 10 both in terms of arrival numbers and receipts (spending). adapted from forbes.com
The main mode of transport for all these arrivals was by air, at 57%, followed by road at 37%, water at 4% and rail at just 2%. Leisure accounted for 55% of visits while business came in at just 13%. The other visits were either not specified, or for a variety of reasons like visiting relatives, health needs, or religious observance.
Then, for contrast, here were the top 10 destinations in terms of overall visitor numbers for 2017:
- France: 86.9 million
- Spain: 81.8 million
- United States: 75.9 million
- China: 60.7 million
- Italy: 58.3 million
- Mexico: 39.3 million
- United Kingdom: 37.7 million
- Turkey: 37.6 million
- Germany: 37.5 million
- Thailand: 35.4 million
Finally, here is the list of countries with the top spenders on outbound tourism:
- China: $257.7 billion
- United States: $135 billion
- Germany: $89.1 billion
- United Kingdom: $71.4 billion
- France: $41.4 billion
- Australia: $34.2 billion
- Canada: $31.8 billion
- Russian Federation: $31.1 billion
- Republic of Korea: $30.6 billion
- Italy: $27.7 billion
One final takeaway: four out of five tourists travelled within their own region. So as regions like Asia and Africa further develop their tourism sectors and infrastructures, we should see their numbers balloon in the coming years, both in terms of visits and spending.
Factors accounting for the growth in tourism:
- Greater use of social media.
This is an important factor in determining the future of international tourism. Because many people who visit the tourist site would post pictures of their experience on one or more of the social media sites to show their friends the places they visited over the vacation period. The effect is the posting of pictures would serve as an advertisement of the tourist destination to their friends which would encourage them to want to go there as well.
Furthermore, websites such as TripAdvisor.com helps to promote tourism by allowing tourists to book hotels and other tourist destinations in advance and help in feeding tourists with information about the intended tourist destination through comments posted by other tourists.
- International security
Plays a crucial role in determining the extent to which a country’s tourism potential can be developed. Issues such as terrorist attacks, religious conflicts, civil war and other conflicts relating to the control of resources can affect the future growth of tourism. E.g. the September 11 attack in the United States of America, the number of tourists declined significantly because of the fear of further attacks. The 2015 bombing of the Russian airliner from Alexandria in Egypt to Russia. 224 passengers were killed and this limited the future growth of tourism in the Middle East. In 2016 a lone gunman visited a hotel resort in Tunisia and killed over 60 British tourists. All these examples show how international has become an important factor in tourism.
- Diaspora growth
A diaspora is a dispersion or scattered population that has migrated from its original homeland. Many Diasporas do not know their origins. E.g African Americans in the US and Irish Americans in the US. Diaspora tourism does not only rely on living family connections, the government can promote diaspora tourism as a way of promoting its growth. In Ghana, it is sometimes referred to as ‘Slavery tourism’ in an attempt to help descendants of African slaves now living in the US to understand the trials and tribulations endured by their ancestors.
The growing importance of political and cultural influences on international sports participation
- International agreements
International agreements such as FIFA, Olympic Games as well as Commonwealth Games, require members to sign treaties that promote peace and stability among member countries.
- Inclusion via changing gender roles:
Changing gender roles over the past two decades have helped to promote female participation in major sporting events. For instance, in 1896 no female athlete participated in the Olympic Games. However, by 2015 about half of the participants in Rio de Janeiro were females. This has come about as a result of the empowerment of women in most countries, where women can participate in male-dominated professions including sports.
In some Islamic countries, where women are not allowed to participate in any sporting event that exposes a significant part of their body, it negatively affects their participation in events such as swimming and 100m. However, in recent times some Islamic countries have relaxed their cultural rules and encouraged women to participate in professional sporting events. In Saudi Arabia, women are now allowed to watch sporting events in the sporting arena.
- the growing importance of the Paralympics
The Paralympics is organised immediately after every Olympics to give disabled people the opportunity of participating in international sporting events. This is to encourage diversity in the participation of athletes without being biased towards people with disabilities. Therefore, the Olympic Games have become more inclusive over time and it is expected to increase the categories of people who have been discriminated against on various grounds.