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Tourism involves temporary movement to destinations away from home and outside normal places of residence. It entails people going somewhere outside their home and/or using facilities that cater for their recreational needs during such periods. While tourism is a process of travelling to distant places from home, recreation involves activities done during the leisure time. It is necessary to understand the difference between these two related activities, because the paper focuses on both impacts of tourism, and of recreational activities. Different types of tourism have different extents of environmental impacts. The activities done during recreational tourism period have different intensity of use on the tourist site too. There are active and passive activities; active ones are snowmobiling or boating and they have more impacts on the environment than passive activities, e.g., bird watching. On the other hand, one tourist can spend just a day on tourism, while others may spend longer periods, e.g., summer season.. Therefore, there are many things that need consideration in the analysis of tourism and environment, for example, transportation to the desired destinations, tourist’s activities, and maintenance of facilities, such as hotels. This essay will focus on both positive and negative impacts of tourism on the environment.


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Negative Impacts of Tourism on Environment

Pollution from Transport

Air pollution

Air transport is one of the most common means of transport in the tourism industry. Most people like adventures and visit distant locations  to experience new things. For example, most people travel by air to the tropics during the cold winter seasons to enjoy the sun. Aircrafts emit carbon monoxide just like other automobiles used on the ground. The increasing number of people travelling has significantly increased the number of planes, flying in a given time subsequently, leading to increased level of air pollution. On the other hand, a tourist may use a ground automobile that releases carbon-containing gases. Exhausts from tourist’s cars pollute the air, affecting its quality, and vegetation on the roadsides. Other automobiles, usually used for recreation, for example, motorboats also contribute to the air pollution. The emissions from automobiles are highly related to acid rain, global warming and photochemical pollution  (Davies & Cahill 2000).

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Noise pollution

Just like other automobiles, aircrafts produce noise. The noise disrupts the animals while feeding, hunting or hiding, especially when planes fly over wildlife reserves. Cars also produce disturbing noise, which contributes to noise pollution. This pollution usually elicits immigration of animals away from areas of common noise pollution. The normal migratory patterns or grazing locations, thus, change. The migration of animals to new areas may increase competition for resources (Batta 2000).

Loss of Vegetation

A tourist attraction site needs to have controlled carrying capacity, since the violation of this policy has negative impacts on the environment. High population of people destroys green vegetation, such as green grass, thereby, exposing the soil to erosion. An overpopulated recreational site loses the aesthetic value. Driving off roads in the game reserves destroys vegetation too, leading to reduced food and destruction of the natural environment. A high number of tourists frequenting places cause hardening of soil, which became impervious. The soil structure changes increase surface runoff. Surface runoff contains nutrients, metals particles and other particle that end up in  water bodies. Excess nutrient input into the water bodies causes increased eutrophication, causing overgrowth of algae. When the number of algae increases, it uses up the dissolved water oxygen and releases toxic carbon dioxide; as the result, fish and other sea animals choke (Page & Connell 2006). Algal growth in swimming pools or coastlines, where people swim, may cause fungal skin infections.  In addition, pollution of water in tourist sites leads to foul smell from those waters.

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Direct Impacts of the Lodging Industry

Energy use

Most hotels utilize a lot of energy for cooking, heating and lighting. While some hotels have adopted the use of green energy sources, such as electricity, solar energy or wind energy, there are other hotels that still use non-renewable coal and firewood. Coal usage increases the emission of greenhouse gases that subsequently increase global warming. Smoke from hotels also pollutes the air that animals breathe, thereby, leading to the migration. Firewood usage in cooking or for putting up bonfires, common in recreation, consumes wood and releases smoke. Cutting down trees to get firewood consequently destroys the environment. Leaving dried trees to decompose make the nutrients return to the soil, as opposed to depletion, through the collection of firewood. Using pollutant energy source, lodges and hotels, therefore, contribute to environmental degradation.

Water use

Water is an essential resource in tourism because of its varied use. Water usage in lodging facilities for cleaning, cooking, drinking or recreational purposes demands large amounts of this resource. Large hotels utilize large amounts of water, as compared to small hotels. The inclusion of such amenities as swimming pool, extensive landscaping and chilled water plants in large hotels increases the expenditure of clean water. Most of the water supplies to the hotels end up to be dirty and unusable, thus, causing pollution in case of poor disposal. Increased number of tourists often leads to dysfunctional sewage systems because of overuse of disposal facilities. Some wastewater from hotels flow to water bodies; this leads to pollution of rivers and ocean. Maintenance of golf playing grounds also requires a lot of water, among other recreational facilities.

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Solid waste generation

Tourist hotels generate garbage and other wastes, which are hazardous to the environment. Lack of proper disposal system remains one of the commonest scenarios in most hotels. The worst affected areas are those of high tourist concentration. Different activities and a large number of tourists often lead to generation of solid waste materials. Improper disposal reflects in roadsides, scenic areas and rivers, where most of these solid wastes end up. Apart from being nuisance on land, solid waste pollution occurs in the sea too. Tourists cruise ships can generate more than 70,000 tons of solid waste annually. Camping equipments generate many waste materials, usually left behind by tourists.

Development and Land Use

Tourism industry has undergone significant development over years. The construction and development of advanced facilities, however, has impacts on the environment. The development of new facilities has both immediate and gradual impacts. Transport infrastructure involves the development of passable roads, used by tourists. Other associated developments include accommodations, retails stores, restaurants, improved water supply to the sites and waste disposal structures. Construction of these developmental facilities, however, has impacts on the environment.

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The construction of accommodation facilities affects the environment in different ways. Clearing of land in order to create space for building hotels, playing grounds or swimming pools, for example, destroys forests and animal habitats. Tourists also adversely influence the quality of water in the ecosystem. Hot spots in the tourist’s sites encourage production of large wastewater and, thus, need to be controlled by sewage systems. However, sometimes authorities may be sloppy in their job, allowing some wastes to leak to the natural water reservoirs. Sewage that flows to water bodies, poses health hazards to both humans and animals. Seasonal influxes of tourists further exacerbate the sewage problems in most tourists’ facilities, because sewage facilities may not withstand the pressure. In other instances, sewage effluent damages the beautiful coral reefs in the sea by encouraging growth of algae, which subsequently chokes the corals from feeding. Such damage is evident in Jamaican coastline, where a  160-kilometer stretch was damaged.

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Wetlands have also suffered because of the tourism sector development. Wetlands provide a significant role in the ecosystem, which includes providing homes to many reptiles, small animals, and even buffering pollutants in the water body. The construction of different tourism facilities has negatively influenced many wetlands in the world. Clearing of wetlands to pave the way for road, airports, and sewage treatment plants construction is common in different parts of the world. For example, the development of hotels nearly destroyed natural environment entirely in Cancun, Mexico in the late 20th century. In a similar way, Jamaica destroyed acres of land in order to improve tourism sector in 1960s. The construction of high-level road, aimed at increasing human accessibility in Rocky Mountain National Park, destroyed nearly 95% of vegetation in areas close to the road. The development of recreational and tourism facilities in Okavango Delta, Botswana has largely influenced the environment of the locality. In the recent past, the number of hotels, lodges and camping sites has increased in Okavango and Maun. Constructions of these facilities require a lot of land. These examples show how much environmental space is taken for the tourism sector development (Davies & Cahill 2000).

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Disruption of Wildlife Behaviour

Tourism affects greatly the behaviour of animals in their habitat or tourist sites. Tourism profoundly affects the breeding, feeding, hunting and migration of most animals in Africa. For example, according to the research, due to noise pollution and disruptions by tourists during the day leopards have resorted to night-time hunting. Sometimes, tour guides drive off the road into areas where tourists can see animals. This leads to scenarios when several vehicles surround one lion. Inadequate training of tour guides has also led to other disruptions of wildlife while they are grazing or browsing. Wildebeest breeding and migration between Tanzanian Serengeti and Kenyan Maasai Mara faces constant interruption by tourists. Normally, migration of wildebeest occurs around June - September, but in 2001 migration started only in mid-September. Researchers explain that now it is difficult to predict the migration, since it has been significantly influenced by climate change and tourism. In addition to the migration, the animals have also stopped breeding at Loita plains. A change is highly attributed to tourism and farming pressures. In other places, resort lighting and automobile headlights have contributed to the disorientation of sea turtles while migrating, due to the illumination of sea waters. Instead of heading inland, they migrate towards the sea. Antelopes in most wildlife reserves run away from vehicles, because of the noise and air pollution. The changes may lead to concentration of animals in only some areas and to reduction of wildlife along traffic lines. This shows how tourism influences the normal animals behaviour (Ikiara & Okech 2002).

Positive Impacts of Tourism on Environment

Preservation and Conservation

Tourism development has positive impacts to the environment too, since it gives motivation to preserve the sites that attract tourists. Governments decide to preserve many ecological sites and sensitive ecosystems, after they identify the significance of those natural phenomena, features or landscapes in tourism development. Therefore, tourism can significantly lead to environment protection through conservation and restoration of biologically diverse natural resources. Protection of valuable tourist sites leads to the creation of national parks and wildlife game reserves, subsequently preserving pristine sites. Such protected areas usually reduce the chances of extinction that are high in the natural ecosystem. Parc des Volcans in Rwanda is an excellent example of a preserved local watershed that has benefited the country. Rwanda enjoys ecological preservation of this site, since it brings revenue to the country from tourists. In Florida, the protection of Everglades National Park, a wetland and estuarine environment, has attracted many tourists.

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Tourism has become a new trend in the recent past, adopting the name “heritage and cultural tourism” This is one of the most fast growing developments, which focuses on historical and cultural resources in areas, that is why it received the name heritage or cultural tourism. It is imperative that this kind of tourism maintains the integrity of the site of interest and the surrounding environment. Therefore, rehabilitation of buildings, monuments, historic lighthouses, piers, museums and caves has flourished thanks to such tourism. An example is the transformation of 18th century Williamsburg, the capital of former British colony of Virginia. This historical site has since turned into thriving historical site with  enormous tourist attraction. Heritage tourism has also seen the transformation of an abandoned farm town of Fort Benton, Montana from rural level to the international site of interest for tourists: a contributing factor was the presence of several historic sites within the vicinity, such as Lewis and Clark memorial, Northern Great Plains Museum and Museum of Upper Missouri. The Malindi towns of Kenya are visited by many tourists as a historic site of attraction. There are beautiful beaches there, and many tourists from all parts of the world come there to enjoy the sun, especially during the winter periods.

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Appreciation and Understanding of Nature

Tourism also plays an important role in fostering appreciation and understanding of the nature. For proper management of the natural resources and, thus, tourist attraction sites, it is crucial to understand different factors that drive the dynamism of the ecosystem. The understanding of different animals and their favourable habitat also enhance the ability to conserve and protect them. Therefore, tourism facilitates increased awareness and appreciation of nature. Through developmental constructions of roads and other means of transport, many sites have been opened up, thus, increasing the number of visitors and their appreciation of the places. Tours into Canadian tundra have opened previously unknown areas to visitors.


Tourism has both positive and negative impacts on the environment. Tourism has considerably encouraged the growth of different developmental infrastructures in both developed and developing countries. The preservation of tourist’s sites is also crucial to the subsequent preservation of natural features, habitat or phenomenon.  On the other hand, tourism encourages dumping of waste, notwithstanding the increased air and noise pollution from automobiles and aircrafts. The increased movement of tourists has negative impacts on the wildlife whose feeding or migratory systems may change because of the interference. Finally, it is imperative to understand the relationship between environment and tourism in order to formulate appropriate preventive measures. 



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