Analysing the Impact of Mass Tourism
Tourism, as one of the biggest global industries, has a profound impact on our environment, culture and economy. Exploring new places and cultures is perceived as universally positive, and a desirable experience. But, when thousands or millions of people travel and congregate in one place, we can become, unintentionally, a destructive influence.
The effects of mass tourism upon local services, amenities and landscapes, is generating a backlash from local populations, businesses and governments.
Cultural & Environmental Issues
Underestimating the practical impact of mass tourism is a costly mistake which many countries have made.
The more culturally unique a location is, the more attention it attracts from businesses seeking to package and sell new experiences to tourists.
In Venice, the massive influx of tourists has left local populations marginalised, and has directly contributed to a declining resident population. The daily influx of visitors (60,000) is more than the current resident Venetian population (55,000). This is a significant drop from the recorded >100,000 Venetians in the 1970s.
Luxury brands, 5-star hotels and high-end restaurants are prepared to invest significant amounts for the chance to establish branches in the most popular tourist areas, often forcing local businesses to shut down or relocate to less profitable areas.
Property speculators will also gladly target areas popular with the tourism industry, causing property prices to rocket, driving out residents who can no longer pay the increased rent.
According to Elizabeth Becker, an award-winning journalist, in some cases the problem of mass tourism is complicated by political involvement, which further complicates any concerted effort to tackle the negative effects tourism can bring to an area.
In Barcelona, the big tourism boom began with the 1992 Olympic Games which, some speculate, were staged as part of a strategy to manipulate the property market. The recent public protests and hostility in Barcelona to mass tourism have been well documented in the press.
In Southeast Asia we’re seeing the pattern repeat itself. This region is blessed with temples of mesmerising beauty, perfect tropical beaches, beautiful landscapes and vast green valleys. However, in Cambodia, the government is accused of failing to protecting these assets, instead permitting the demolition of some of the most stunning buildings to allow their replacement by modern hotels.
In Peru, the mysterious Machu Picchu city atop its Andean peak attracts millions of visitors every year. The nearest village to the site, Aguas Calientes, has been used as a drop-off point for years and was swiftly transformed into a sanitised, modern town full of hotels and restaurants, devoid of much of the genuine character it possessed.
Remote islands are not immune to the impact of tourism either. Authorities of Santorini, Mallorca and the Galapagos islands (and of many others) regularly blame mass tourism for the production of enormous quantities of litter. It’s association with Leonardo DiCaprio has given Phi Phi Island cult status, and visitors there are responsible for bringing in 25 tons of litter a day. The figure rises to 40 tons during the high season.
Even naturally pristine places such as Everest, Antarctica, and the Great Barrier Reef are vulnerable to mass tourism, with volunteers regularly reporting the discovery of abandoned equipment, litter, and even human faeces.
Until authorities take meaningful measures to address mass tourism, we continue to risk destroying the very beauty which makes these unique destinations attractive to visitors.
The Impact of Mass Tourism on the Hospitality Industry
The influx of tourists is a huge opportunity for well-placed hoteliers and property investors who rush to meet demand by quickly introducing plans for new construction. Overdevelopment of central tourist areas pushes residents further from their previous neighbourhoods. This results in hotels and developers attracting as much criticism as tourists themselves from locals.
The front-runner in the race to shield its native population from mass tourism is the city of Amsterdam.
Realising that the city’s fate could become that of Venice or Barcelona, authorities acted to protect historic areas from ambitious hoteliers by issuing a ban on the development of new hotels in most parts of the city. Venice has followed suit.
Amsterdam’s authorities also took the brave step of slashing its national marketing bureau’s advertising budget from €4.6 to €3.8 million.
Existing hoteliers would not have suffered from the ban (unless they had planned an expansion) and it was thought that Amsterdam may have found a balance between tourists and local concerns, had it not been for the rapid development of Airbnb and similar rental services.
These disruptive businesses have taken a significant chunk out of hotelier’s market share. As well as increasing competition for guests, they bring more people into the city, once again driving up demand for properties.
Authorities of some cities have attempted to address the news influx by confining locals to offering their rentals on the website during the high tourism season. In Berlin, anyone who violates this law will be subject to a fine of 100,000 euros.
Amsterdam set up a digital unit that gathers and analyses information on booking websites and identifies those home-owners who no longer live in their homes, rent out multiple homes to tourists, rent out their home for more than 60 days, or rent it out to more than four people at a time.
The crackdown on illegal properties may create a dilemma by reducing tourist interest in certain countries. Many European states attract foreign investors by offering the right of residence and citizenship within immigration investor programs, aka golden visas, for a sum. A significant chunk of that foreign investment goes into the property market.
In Athens, Greece, there has been an increase in Chinese tourists buying, renovating and renting out new properties.
The Positive Side of Tourism
Tourism has a tremendous positive impact on the world’s economy in direct and indirect ways.
In 2016 the direct contribution of tourism and travel to the world’s GDP was $2,306.0bn. The indirect contribution was $7.613.3bn. Both are forecast to grow in 2017.
The direct contribution comes from the personal interaction of the tourist with tourist attractions (products designed specifically for this purpose) such as staying in a hotel, joining a sightseeing tour, or buying a souvenir, etc.
Countries which invest in the development of their tourist attractions become more appealing to most travel companies. They offer more choice and a better customer experience, and are considered better value for money.
However, extreme tourism in developing countries is on the rise too.
Different cultures and traditions, unique architecture, historic sites and natural wonders are all popular attractions which require regular maintenance, investment and promotion to keep visitors coming.
Historical palaces, castles, monuments, and ancient temples receive high-class maintenance and protection. Museums, galleries and libraries receive extra investment to acquire new exhibits and carry out necessary research activities.
It’s not only landmarks and attractions which undergo palpable improvements, the nearest city usually receives a facelift too. Outdoor social areas such as central parks and gardens are expanded and beautified to provide more comfort for visitors and locals alike. More trees are planted and new benches, arbours and fountains are built.
Many find successful employment in the tourism industry. In 2016 Travel & Tourism directly supported 108,741,000 jobs (3.6% of total employment). This is expected to rise by 2.1% in 2017 and by 2.2% pa to 138,086,000 jobs (4.0% of total employment) in 2027.
Those employed by establishments serving tourists, benefit from regular contact with representatives of other cultures, which paves the way for the emergence of a more cosmopolitan society.
Infrastructure, which is one of the five decision-making factors when people choose their next holiday destination, gets a significant boost too, thanks to indirect tourism.
Authorities invest in new roads, improved communication technology, and plan more effective public transport, expand airports, etc. This work is usually carried out by a local business & work force, adding further economic value to an area.
Tourism could be called a true “double-edged sword” since it can be a cause of social dissatisfaction, environmental damage etc. and yet it creates huge opportunities.
There are scores of extreme examples of uncontrolled tourism causing population decline, excessive littering and damage to landmarks.
Equally, there are examples of regulated tourism significantly increasing the economic reserves of a country, with the funds gained going to the improvement of public services and infrastructure. Tourism also creates the incentive to preserve cultural history, local heritage sites and customs in host communities.
The impact of tourism on a country largely depends on a government’s approach; either constructive and balanced strategic support of a burgeoning tourism industry, or a short-term, poorly considered, and inconsistent line on tourism.
Hoteliers should always seek to work in a positive way with governments and local administrations; all the while being aware of the potential problems they bring to an area, as well as the significant financial upsides.