Environmental and Social Impacts of Tourism as Shown on the Example of Cyprus

Categories: Tourism

Tourism’s economic benefits are well known, but concern has been rising over its environmental and social impacts. Using a destination of your choice as a case study, show how these impacts have changed in the past and how policy makers and managers have responded to these changes.

Tourism has had a profound and irreversible impact on many destinations worldwide. As the demand to travel to these destinations increases, there is an unrelenting pressure for development in order to satisfy the growth of this pervasive industry.

Between 1986 and 1996, revenues from tourism almost tripled and have expanded by over 50% since then, the highest growth rate of any mainstream economic activity. “Today tourism is regarded as an integral part of the society and economy in terms of contribution, and is widely regarded as the world’s largest industry.” (WTO, 1998)

“Tourism is the temporary movement of people to destinations outside their normal places of work and residence, the activities undertaken during their stay in those destinations, and the facilities created to cater to their needs.

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” (Mathieson & Wall, 1982, p.1). It is an important and sensitive industry and a principal element for economic development and growth. The economic impact of tourism has rendered the industry to be considered as one of the most highly significant and integral parts of every national economy.

International mass tourism came of age in the islands of the Mediterranean in the decades after the late 1950’s. Spain and Italy were among the first to become popular, then in the late 1960’s, Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Yugoslavia all began attracting unprecedented numbers of tourists.

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The Mediterranean has since become a byword for mass tourism in the summer months. Changes in tourism practice and policy around these regions are therefore of significant interest to coastal regions around the world. For this reason this essay will be analyzing the impact of the tourism industry on the island of Cyprus, specifically the Southern region populated by Greek Cypriots.

Map of Cyprus- Below the green line is the southern region populated by Greek Cypriots

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, situated in a prime position for the tourism industry to thrive. “Tourism is arguably the most important industry in Cyprus. Its activities affect Cypriot society in many different ways and impact greatly upon the social, economic and cultural life of the island.” (British Council website) These impacts on economic, social and environmental aspects of the country are not solely positive, and it is therefore necessary to study the negative effects that tourism has on these areas.

In Cyprus, hospitality forms an integral part of the culture, with the local citizens having a welcoming nature toward all tourists. Such is Cyprus’ heritage and strong culture, many tourists who visit, mainly from Britain, enjoy this attitude and are willing to embrace it. In certain areas, such as Ayia Napa, however, the influx of large numbers of tourists has influenced social behavior and social values, and caused a certain amount of antagonism. What has predominantly affected this is the difference in the type of tourist visiting Cyprus. Visitors to Ayia Napa, usually travel on “18-30” style holidays, and are less concerned with accepting local customs, and more anxious to find the local pub or club. The extreme concentration of tourists here has resulted in a modification of social attitudes among young people. This is part of the “demonstration effect”, which introduces foreign ideologies and ways of life into societies that have not previously been exposed to tourist lifestyles. The close and continued contact of Cypriot youth with young foreign tourists has resulted in them adopting different sets of values on morality, and style of dressing, in comparison with prevailing traditional attitudes, and as a result the bonds of closely knit families are in some cases being loosened. This can only be described as a loss of authenticity which is very noticeable if one visits the traditional, smaller villages further away from the main tourist destinations. Nevertheless, most people feel that the benefits of tourism outweigh the costs (Akis et al., 1996), an unsurprising finding given the high level of tourism-related employment and income.

Apart from the actual physical interaction of tourists with local citizens, the development of the tourism industry has also contributed to changes in the quality of life, social structure and social organization of residents. Retail habits of British tourists in particular have affected local behavior as shops and supermarkets have attempted to cater for the tastes of visitors. This is not just in effect in Ayia Napa, but also Paphos, Limassol and Nicosia where the emergence of the fashion conscious has certainly been accelerated by tourism. Family life still remains closely knit in Cyprus, however in recent years there has been an emergence of younger members of the family leaving the small villages to live in the larger and busier towns. English is now taught in Cypriot schools, and the staff working in hotels and restaurants are fluent in English, with some speaking German. It is difficult to call this a destructive consequence of tourism, but more a natural socio-cultural development. If anything, tourism has been a helpful development to the already strong Cypriot culture.

Improvements in infrastructure have occurred in Cyprus, mainly due to their accession to the EU. It is therefore difficult to say that infrastructure improvements have been solely for tourism; however they have been a factor and improved the quality of life for Cypriots.

As the majority of the emerging Cypriot generation are well educated and trained, much seasonal employment in the tourist towns is given to immigrant workers from Eastern Europe. In all the major towns most waiters, waitresses and lesser skilled workers are from these countries. This does cause some tension within communities as local citizens often hold them responsible for any increase in crime. Many Cypriot families live outside of the main tourist parts of town and this does reduce most potential conflict, if any. It is therefore possible to say that the tourism industry has had an impact on the Cypriot culture. Developments have occurred with particular respect to the women and younger members of the family who have become more mobile in a society still dominated by the older male population. Cyprus has kept the strongest feature of its culture that strongly revolves around a tightlyknit family. The main reason this has not been affected is due to the fact that most families still live outside the tourist areas and very rarely visit them.

The younger family members can take advantage of the social aspects of the tourist devoted town centres, which still maintain many aspects of the pre-tourism days such as the architecture and small “local” cafes. The Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO) with the government have made a distinct attempt not to remove any cultural features in the expanding towns, which has been successful in not making the social changes too great.

Cyprus enjoys a wide range of natural resources in terms of landscape, traditional folklore, gastronomy, culture and a pleasant climate. The responsibility for environmental policy lies mainly at the Environment Service of the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment. “At this moment, environmental policy in Cyprus is focused on the harmonization with the EU Acquis and the incorporation of EU directives into the legislation of Cyprus.” (Loizidou, X, 2003, internet)

Negative effects of tourism on the environment are however unavoidable, and do occur, specifically in the coastal resorts of Paphos, Limassol and Ayia Napa. The areas are characterized by rapid population growth, urban development and rapid coastal tourism development, however they were once characterized by fairly traditional societies, and they often also have fragile natural coastal environments.” (Bramwell, B, 2003, Journal of sustainable tourism) This comment displays the cultural and environmental changes that tourism has brought about. A major characteristic of the coastal development of the last two decades is that formerly agricultural and natural zones at the coastline are being converted into tourist development zones. It is expected that by this summer (2006), tourist zones along the coastline will still be increasing, with agricultural coastal zones becoming smaller. Given Cyprus’ extensive culture, there is a fear among many that ancient monuments and customs will be lost and replaced with skyscrapers, hotels and shopping malls. Although Cyprus has welcomed modernization the government has been very careful not to destroy the culture, which the local citizens are so proud of.

“there has been unprecedented pressure on the natural environments of the island due to the uncontrolled expansion of tourism”

The most commonly cited resource problem is lack of water-the island has long suffered water shortages-and it is widely believed that tourism has significantly exacerbated the problem. However interestingly enough surveys taken by the Department of Water Development found that 77% of metered consumption is used by the agricultural industry, 21% by domestic services and a mere 2% is used by the tourism industry (Richard Sharpley, 2003).

Tourist sites such as the Tomb of the Kings and the Mosaics are well protected, with the government and CTO doing there best to preserve the natural beauty of these sites. It is impossible however, with the vast number of tourists who visit these places of interest, to completely guard them from disrepair.

The ancient Tombs of the Kings have seen much erosion over the last two decades as swarms of tourists come every year and gradually ware down the already decrepit rock faces. Tourists are unrestricted in their exploration and this can further increase the speed at which erosion occurs. The famous mosaics have also come under much tourist attention and have visibly faded over the years.

Litter problems have also been tackled, especially on Cyprus’ extensive line of beaches. Over 40 beaches in Cyprus have been awarded the “Blue Flag”, based on the cleanliness of the water, beach area safety and management, and environmental information and education. This has not stopped problems in Ayia Napa however, where the litter problem is far more severe. This is in main due to the extensive nightlife found on this part of the island, which has seen increases in littering and vandalism in the town centre and on the beaches.

To ensure the sustainability of the tourist industry in Cyprus, it has been recommended that a strategy of protection of infrastructure combined with planned retreat would be effective and appropriate to local circumstances. The overall goal would be to maintain the limited beach area to sustain the vital tourist industry, specifically by erecting hard structures, enforcing building set-backs, and use of artificial nourishment, although the latter measure may require external sources of sand (Robert J Nicholls, 1999).

The biggest question to ask now is how policy makers and managers are (and have in the past) responding to the problems which these environmental and social impacts of tourism bring to Cyprus. Given the strength of the Cypriot culture and history, it is unlikely that Cyprus will expand into an ungainly collection of hotels and tourist sites. This is corroborated in certain policies planned for the future, which focus on maintaining Cyprus’ extensive environment and culture, whilst still attempting to build the ever growing economy. This will certainly come with negative aspects; however it is up to the government to decide whether the policies will be more effective than they are disruptive.

A number of measures have been introduced since the early 1980s, in Cyprus focused on limiting the development of mass tourism on the coast, with the highest attention being paid to the protection and enhancement of the environment’ (Andronikou, 1986). These include a variety of financial incentives to encourage hotel and other tourism-related development in the hinterland and the controlled development of luxury hotels in selected coastal areas. At the same time marketing policy re-focused on attracting the higher spending, ‘quality’ tourists, the purpose being to increase the value, rather than the scale of the tourism. In an attempt to reduce the density of tourism to Cyprus, the CTO is attempting to change tourists’ perceptions of the country as a “Sun, Sea and Sand” destination. The government would like to attract fewer, more affluent tourists in efforts to protect the environment and boost the economy. Golf tourism has taken off in Cyprus thanks to the creation of two golf courses in the Paphos region (although some may argue that this is inappropriate when taking into consideration the water shortages). A further three golf developments are under construction. The development of six marinas has been authorized, laying the foundation for developing a potentially lucrative yachtbased tourism. Some 60 traditional rural properties have been converted into tourism accommodation. These developments will hopefully spread the influx of tourism away from the coast.

The 1980s as a whole witnessed a dramatic increase in annual arrivals, which from 1986 onwards was only increased by the arrival of charter flights. Between 1985 and 1990 the supply of accommodation on the island almost doubled.

Attempts have also been made to limit the environmental impacts of excessive development. For example, a moratorium on new hotel building was imposed in 1989 (though this proved ineffectual given the large number of applications approved prior to its imposition). Also, in 1990 a Town and Country Planning Law was enforced which required all municipalities to submit local development plans for approval and, in particular, major hotel developments costing over CY million had to undergo an Environmental Impact Assessment. These policies have experienced a certain level of success over the last decade.

It seems the Cypriot government is already underway in implementing tourism policies for the future, which do not compromise the Cypriot economy, culture or environment. The travel foundation, along with the UK’s leading tour operators, First Choice, Thomas Cook, My Travel and Thomson, have cooperated with the support of the UK government and Cypriot partners to create a “Discover the Real Cyprus” excursion which is making a positive contribution to the livelihoods of rural Cypriot villagers.

The result is the SAVE excursion – Support Abandoned Villages and their Environments. The tour helps visitors to understand the traditional Cypriot lifestyle, and takes them to areas they would otherwise never have experience. Visitors are helped to understand more about the island and to make a real contribution to the economic livelihoods of Cypriot villagers, helping them to maintain their communities and way of life now, and for future generations. The SAVE excursion has explicitly set out to increase the benefits of tourism to small producers and created a positive economic impact on the village producers by increasing the demand for their produce and services.

Cyprus has also undergone an extensive expansion of its water supply, electric grid and introduction of solar panel technology to cope with the growing demands, which the tourist industry places on these utilities. Cyprus’ Coastal Zone Management policies attempt to protect the expansive coastlines of the island. One of Cyprus’ major policies for the current tourism schedule is its award winning Agrotourism program, which brings tourists to the countryside instead of over populating Cyprus’ sun and sea attractions. It has been most effective in smoothing out the seasonality pattern of Cyprus tourism. In order to counter this, the Cyprus Tourist Board has launched a campaign on television adverts and in magazines, marketing Cyprus as the “Island of All Seasons”.

Sharpley (2003) raised an interesting argument regarding the commonly accepted idea that sustainable tourism development is a solution to the problem of island tourism. He argues that Cyprus, despite its inherent dependency, tourism has proved to be an effective vehicle of development. It is the development of mass tourism as a modernizing growth pole that has contributed to the remarkable socioeconomic development of the island since the mid-1970s. So perhaps the current policy for promoting sustainable tourism is inappropriate and hinders the further economic development of Cyprus.

The Cyprus Tourist Organization has drawn up a Strategic Plan for Tourism for the 2000 – 2010 period, which has now been in effect for 5 years. As a marketing plan, it addresses every conceivable aspect. The plan includes the following:

  • Real revenue must be doubled to CYP 1.8 billion in 2010.
  • Average spending per tourist must be increased from CYP 388 to CYP 512 in 2010.
  • The extent of the tourism sector’s dependence on the season must be lessened.
  • The number of tourist arrivals must be increased from 2.5 million in 2000, to 4 million in2010.
  • The share of return visits must be increased to 35% in 2010.

These figures do not reflect the wish of the CTO to decrease the number of tourists yet increase the number of high-spending tourists. This is because in order to change the profile of tourists coming to the island it would potentially take a considerable amount of time. For the time being the CTO is more concerned with increasing revenue by sheer numbers of tourists in order to achieve greater economic development.

The tourism industry has therefore had an irreversible impact on Cypriot culture, the environment and its economy. In analysing these impacts I have displayed the advantages and disadvantages which the tourism industry brings to the island, and the effect this has had on local communities. What becomes clear about this special country is despite its dependence on tourism and the expansion of tourist areas, its culture has remained prominent. This is an important factor in countries such as Cyprus, as the expansion of the tourism industry has damaged many other countries in this way. Since the early 1980s Cyprus has emerged as relatively expensive (owing to its distance from the main markets), yet mass market summer sun destination, highly dependent on traditional markets. At the same time, the islands economy as a whole has become increasingly dependent upon the tourism sector which, in recent years, has suffered erratic demand, low profit margins and dependence on dominant overseas tour operators. In short, Cyprus, in common with many other island tourism destinations, appears to be following the unsustainable, ‘centre-periphery’ model of development although the island has achieved a remarkable rate and level of employment. Policy makers and managers are becoming increasingly aware of the ‘ecotourism’ potential and are making efforts to protect the environmental and social characteristics of the island. Even if the underlying reality is that a short term influx to the economy is more appealing to the government than long term policies which make tourism more sustainable.


  1. J. Christopher Holloway, The Business of Tourism, 6th edition, Financial Times/Prentice Hall, Harlow, 2002.
  2. Stephen J. Page, Paul Brunt, Graham Busby and Jo Connell, Tourism: a modern synthesis, Thomson Learning, 2001.
  3. Regina Scheyvens, Tourism for development: empowering communities’ Harlow: Prentice Hall, 2002.
  4. D.J. Jeffries, Government and Tourism, Butterworth/Heinemann, 2001
  5. Nigel Evans, David Campbell and George Stonehouse, Strategic management for travel and tourism, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003.
  6. Robert J Nicholls. Coastal Zones [online]. Enfield, London: Middlesex Univeristy, 28/08/1999. Available at: http://www.pikpotsam.de/avec/pey/resq2003/talks/0915/nicholls/background_literaturelacacia_chapter14.pdf
  7. http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/serv_e/job01_22_cyprus.do
  8. Richard Sharpley, Tourism, Modernisation and Development on the Island of Cyprus: Challenges and Policy Responses, (University of Northumbria, 2003)
  9. http://www.world-tourism.org/facts/tmt.html

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Environmental and Social Impacts of Tourism as Shown on the Example of Cyprus. (2021, Sep 30). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/environmental-and-social-impacts-of-tourism-as-shown-on-the-example-of-cyprus-essay

Environmental and Social Impacts of Tourism as Shown on the Example of Cyprus

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