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Tourism Is, Perhaps, An Impossible Dream Essay

Tourism is considered as a very important sector for most developing countries. It has been viewed as a source of both foreign currency and income for the natives. In this essay I will discuss the importance of tourism and whether it can be sustained, by first trying to represent how important tourism is to developing countries and then making a point how sustainable development can be different to sustainable tourism. I will discuss the problems of modern day tourism and will conclude whether sustainable tourism is possible.

The tourism industry has shown to be very important to most developing countries as a source of government revenue and therefore a chance to achieve economic growth and development. A successful tourism industry might mean, that the country’s unemployment rate will fall, as now there will be more job opportunities available. Therefore standards of living are likely to increase due to the fact that more jobs are provided, which indicates that the native population will have more disposable income available for spending. Therefore on the second Earth Summit in 1997 “Earth summit II” tourism was debated as a recognised economic sector (Holden, (2008).

Countries such as Jamaica, who continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, have remittances equivalent to tourism revenues accounting for nearly 20% of GDP (CIA, (2009)). This is an example of how important tourism can be to a developing country, which poses great physical natural beauty. Therefore the aim of its government should be to protect and sustain this habitat in order to keep the tourism industry alive. However, today’s situation of global recession for example threatens the country with an increase in unemployment as a decline in consumer confidence is expected during 2009, which will take its toll on demand for tourism (WTO, (2009)). Therefore the need to attract tourists brings us to the concept of sustainable development.

Sustainable development is a term that has been raised accompanying the heightened awareness of environmental problems (Holden, (2008)). Development cannot take place upon a deteriorating environmental resource base and neither can the environment be protected when the development excludes the costs of its destruction. However, the need for economic growth often does not take in consideration the need for sustainable development.

Tourism in developing countries can be viewed as a way of achieving development. Therefore sustainable development and sustainable tourism are linked together but are not the same. Sustainable tourism places the emphasis on the customer and marketing considerations of tourism to sustain the tourism industry and sustainable development emphasises on developing tourism as a means to achieve wider social and environmental goals (Holden, (2008)). “Since the early 1990s, the sustainable tourism debate has become more holistic to cover not just environmental issues but also socio-cultural, economic and political dimensions” (Holden, (2008), p158). There are some traditions through which sustainability has been injected into tourism. The first one is the resource based tradition, which emphasises conservation and the need to protect the nature and culture of the country from the potential threats of tourism activities (Holden, (2008)).

This brings us to the next tradition, which is the “activity-based” tradition, which accepts that tourism development can contribute to sustainability. “This is a position that is strongly advocated by the tourism industry in a desire to sustain tourism and its resource base for future development, aiming to sustain the capital investment in tourism” (Holden, (2008), p161). The third “community based” tradition focuses on the political economy by advocating the wider involvement of stakeholders. The difference between the resource based traditions is that it views sustainability in a physical way, whereas the other two have a bias towards social construction of sustainability, in which decisions are made about acceptable levels of trade-off between economic and social gains against natural resource losses (Holden, (2008)). The key difference between the two is the important relationship between the stakeholders and those parties who hold the absolute power of decision making (Holden, (2008)).

These traditions however are affected by political forces, which determine which stakeholders have access to and management of natural resources. Therefore a huge threat to the country’s tourism is the desire of local government and hotel owners to maximise their profits from the increased foreign interest in their natural country’s beauty, by building more and more hotels. This leads to the destruction of a big part of the surrounding natural habitat, which will not only harm the country’s nature but also will chase away the tourist, who coming with the idea to escape one metropolis is put into a different one, or as from my own personal experience – a half-ready metropolis, meaning that some of the hotels are still in construction. Therefore it is necessary to realise that sustainable tourism is not merely connected with conservation or preparation of the physical environment but incorporates cultural, economic and political dimensions (Holden, (2008)).

A common definition for sustainable tourism is “tourism development that avoids damage to the environment, economy and cultures of the locations where it takes place” (Forsyth, (2000)). It aims to ensure that the development is a positive experience for local people and tourists themselves. Despite this, sustainable tourism is not widely understood, as it is sometimes compared to ecotourism. Ecotourism is “a form of tourism that focuses exclusively on wildlife, nature, or “exotic” cultures” (Forsyth, (2000)). Such tourism has been show not to be good for environment, or for the people who experience this attention. Therefore, sustainable tourism is “an attempt to improve the impacts of all types of tourism, and this implies seeking ways to build partnerships between tourism companies and local governments or managers of resorts” (Forsyth, (2000)). However to what extent is sustainable tourism achievable?

Sustainable tourism requires co-operation between companies and the managers of destinations. It does not, however, require a marked interest from consumers as it is believed. Sustainable tourism does not have to be advertised as environmentally or culturally sensitive in order to succeed, rather:”profits may be increased simply by adopting some general environmental principles, such as recycling waste, planning for long-term sustainability, and seeking local partnerships for resort management. If these actions result in cleaner, less crowded, holiday resorts, then they are in effect sustainable tourism without being labelled so.” (Forsyth, (2000)).

One way of achieving this is to increase the vertical integration of tourism companies, so that individual companies have greater control over the marketing of holidays, transportation of tourists, and then management of resorts (Forsyth, (2000)). Another way of achieving sustainable tourism is by reducing competition from smaller companies, which may result in reducing the pressure for lower prices of holidays, as presence of competition leads to the rapid over-development of resorts and the reluctance of large companies to increase their costs by attending to the long-term sustainability of locations (Forsyth, (2000)).

However there are some aspects of tourism that might inhibit it to be sustainable. The first one is that the primary product of tourism is heritage, wealth, and expected legacy of the community that serves as the tourist destination, not something produced by the industry. If these business activities, promoting the “saleable” or appealing aspects, degrade the community’s heritage and wealth, then the community suffers more directly than the consumer, who can return to his or her own country without responsibility for or awareness of the impacts of his tourist activities (ICLEI, (1999)). This unfortunately is the situation for mass tourism. Mass tourism holds the threat of bringing large numbers of uninformed foreigners into local social systems that with their tourism activities can undermine and degrade pre-existing social relationships and values, as well as destroying the sights by leaving their mark or taking a “souvenir” (ICLEI, (1999)).

Also the intrusion of large numbers of foreigners with high consumption into natural areas can produce severe changes in those areas. This is going to be inevitable in the future, as the world population has been predicted to increase by 47% by the year 2050 (ICLEI, (1999)). Therefore the future of sustainable tourism might be in danger due to the high amount of resources that will have to be used in order to support the population and satisfy the needs of the tourists. More and more resorts are likely to become overcrowded and will lose their credibility as an attractive destination.

Solutions to most tourism impacts are found in the shared interest of local communities, tourism businesses, and tourism consumers to maintain the natural wealth and social heritage of the tourist destination (ICLEI, (1999)). Therefore to achieve sustainable tourism over the short-run, companies and resort managers must be provided with the right incentives to influence them to reduce the negative impacts of tourism. However over the long-run tourists and companies have to think more about how tourism can impact other people.

Marcel Proust once stated that most tourists seem to want to travel through one hundred countries with one pair of eyes, whereas the best journey would be to travel through one country with a hundred pair of eyes (Forsyth, (2000)). Providing more diversity of holiday destinations may help avoid some of the negative impacts and will assure a better experience. However, tourism will never be completely sustainable as every industry has impacts, but it can work towards becoming more sustainable.


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2009) “The World Factbook: Jamaica” available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/jm.html as at 21st April 2009

Forsyth T. (2000) “What is Sustainable Tourism?”, available at: http://www.fathom.com/course/21701788/session1.html as at 21st April 2009

Holden A. (2008) Environment and tourism, Second edition, Abingdon, Routledge, p150-162

Department of Economic and Social Affairs: International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) (1999) “Tourism and sustainable development: sustainable tourism: a local authority perspective”, available at: http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd/iclei.pdf as at 21st April 2009

Sustainabletourism (2009) “Sustainable tourism” available at: http://www.sustainabletourism.net/ as at 21st April 2009

World Tourism Organization (WTO) (2009) “World tourism barometer”, available
at: http://www.unwto.org/facts/eng/pdf/barometer/UNWTO_Barom09_1_en_excerpt.pdf as at 21st April 2009

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