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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Tourism

Since completing university, Paul has worked as a librarian, teacher, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he currently lives in Florida.

Does tourism have a negative or positive impact on a travel destination?

Does tourism have a negative or positive impact on a travel destination?

Weighing the Good and Bad of Tourism

Many places in the world rely heavily on tourism as a key source of income and employment. Unfortunately, tourism can also be a source of problems, especially if it is not managed well.

A huge influx of visitors can gradually deplete the beauty, uniqueness, character, environment, resources, and social coherence of a tourist destination over time.

It is easy to underestimate the scale of tourism. Every year, about a billion tourists take trips: That makes 30 tourists arriving at their destinations every second. There were around 79.26 million tourists visiting the United States in 2019.

That number of travelers can easily present huge challenges for many destinations. Transporting, providing places to stay, feeding, entertaining, policing, and cleaning up after that many additional people is not a simple or straightforward task. Is it worth it?

This article lists the main advantages and disadvantages of tourism.

The Advantages of Tourism

  • Economic. It brings in money. This is probably the main advantage of tourism and the reason why it has been promoted so much, especially in developing countries. The income generated can make up a significant proportion of both private, local, and national incomes.
  • Opportunities. It provides jobs. Hotels, bars, transport, activities, shops, and restaurants all need staffing. Tourism can provide much-needed employment for people.
  • Infrastructural. It provides a means and an incentive for investment in infrastructure such as roads, rail networks, and local medical and education facilities.
  • Environmental. It can provide economic incentives for a place to preserve, maintain, and regenerate the environment in both urban and rural settings.
  • Cross-Cultural. It promotes international connections which can bring more business and cultural collaborations in the long term. It also promotes cross-cultural awareness for both locals and tourists and builds bridges of understanding between cultures.
  • Promotional. It can "put a place on the map." Tourism gives the locality a chance to show itself off and raise its profile in the world.

Did You Know?

° The money generated by tourism accounts for 5% of global GDP.

° For every job created in the core tourism industry, around 1.5 extra, indirect jobs are created in the wider tourism-related economies.

° Tourism provides jobs for 1 out of every 12 workers in advanced and emerging economies.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans usually draws about 1.4 million people... and their garbage. It takes weeks for the city to recover.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans usually draws about 1.4 million people... and their garbage. It takes weeks for the city to recover.

The Disadvantages of Tourism

  • Environmental. Tourism can often cause environmental damage with risks like erosion, pollution, loss of natural habitats, and forest fires. Even if tourists behave responsibly, the sheer number of them can cause damage. Ancient buildings, monuments, and temples often struggle to cope with increased traffic and suffer inevitable wear-and-tear. Reefs and other natural tourist attractions can suffer permanent damage.
  • Cultural. The commercialization of culture can undermine the soul of a tourist destination. Local traditions that have a rich cultural heritage are reduced to wearing costumes and putting on acts for the tourists in return for money.
  • Culture Clashes. Tourists often lack respect for local traditions and culture, refuse to follow local dress standards, get drunk in public, or behave rudely or inappropriately towards locals.
  • Service Economy. Although jobs are created by tourism, most are relatively low-level such as bar work, hotel service, restaurant serving, and so forth. These low-wage, low-skill workers have little prospect for advancement or promotion.
  • Seasonal Fluctuations. Tourism jobs are quite commonly seasonal and insecure, with no extra benefits such as pensions, sick pay, or healthcare. Some areas can be inundated with visitors during busy times, and then virtually deserted for many months.
  • Imbalanced Funding. Money can end up being directed to tourist areas when it could be used more effectively elsewhere in a country. The locals who don’t live in specific tourist areas miss out and suffer relative decline.
  • Foreign Poaching. Oftentimes, most of the tourism industry in a developing country is owned by big foreign companies. They make the major profits, leaving local businesses with relatively little benefit.
  • Tourism Dependence. Sometimes tourism becomes so focal that other forms of income-generation are neglected and an economic dependence on tourism forms. This is fine in good times, but it can leave the country vulnerable to economic ruin in the long run and can contribute to political upheaval or natural disasters.
Even when tourists behave responsibly, their sheer number can cause damage.

Even when tourists behave responsibly, their sheer number can cause damage.

Economic Pros and Cons of Tourism


Tourism-generated income can be hugely beneficial both private and public concerns.

Money can end up being spent only on touristed areas while other places and industries suffer.

It can provide employment opportunities for people who can work in tourism-related industries.

Most tourism jobs are relatively low-level and low-skilled, and these jobs may have drastic seasonal fluctuations.

Tourism promotes international connections which can increase business opportunities.

Attracted by opportunity, foreign companies begin poaching business away from local businesses.

The area may become dependent on tourists' dollars and risk loss and damage as a result.

Bangkok is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Approximately 27.7 million international tourists visit the city each year and they contribute to the Thai capital's air pollution.

Bangkok is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Approximately 27.7 million international tourists visit the city each year and they contribute to the Thai capital's air pollution.

Negative Environmental Impacts of Tourism

Although tourist money might be put to good use in preserving environments, tourism does put burdens on natural resources and often promotes overconsumption and unfair allocations of resources in places where resources are already limited.

When tourism becomes unsustainable, it can permanently damage the environment. Tourism impacts the wildlife, vegetation, air quality, the quality and supply of water, and natural phenomena.

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Pollution. When huge numbers of people visit, they invariably burden the transportation system and contribute to pollution—locally and globally. Flying one mile in a plane produces about 53 pounds of carbon dioxide, and tourists account for almost 60% of air travel. Some estimate that cruise ships to the Caribbean create over 70,000 tons of annual waste.

Environmental Damage. Many tourist activities have negative ecological impacts. Snorkeling, hiking, and fishing all affect and deplete the local scenery. There's a trail in the Himalayas that's nicknamed the "toilet paper trail.” A tropical golf course requires the amount of water that would feed 60,000 locals... plus over 3,000 pounds of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides per annum.

"Ecotourism." Oftentimes, even environmentally savvy travelers have a negative impact. By traveling to witness remote natural sites like rainforests and other dwindling and at-risk spots, tourists often damage the things they came to see.

Invasive Organisms. Tourism can spread non-native species. The increased human presence from many diverse geographical regions has a detrimental effect on native plants and introduces non-native species in these areas.

Negative Effects of Human Interaction With Wildlife. Increased human presence can severely damage the delicate balance of the food webs, ecological communities, and keystone species of an area.

Depletion of Natural Resources. Tourism can put pressure on natural resources and encourages over-consumption. This is particularly damaging in spots where resources like food and water are already scarce.

Environmental Pros and Cons of Tourism


If managed properly, it can provide economic incentives for a place to preserve, maintain, and regenerate the local history, infrastructure, and environment.

Tourism often causes environmental damage to both the local infrastructure and the flora, fauna, and historical sites in a location.

Ecotourism might promote environmental awareness and activism.

Tourism depletes natural resources, which can be dangerous in areas where resources are scarce.

Tourism contributes to pollution.

The fact that television and tourism have made the whole world accessible has created the illusion that we enjoy intimate knowledge of other places, when we barely scratch their surface. For the vast majority, the knowledge of Thailand or Sri Lanka acquired through tourism consists of little more than the whereabouts of the beach.

— Martin Jacques

Cultural Benefits of Traveling

The Opportunity to Challenge Stereotypes

When you visit another culture, you have the opportunity to be exposed to unfamiliar traditions and perspectives and to gain a broader, more informed, and kinder view of both the people and places you encounter, as well as of humanity and the world in general. Preconceptions and stereotypes might be replaced by complexity, empathy, and first-hand knowledge.

On the other hand, those that travel with a group and don't interact with locals or merely visit tourist sites and never wander off the beaten path may not enjoy this benefit at all. Merely visiting a place is not enough to expose a person to culture. Learning about people takes effort.

Gaining Cultural Sensitivity

An important part of understanding a culture is getting to know its unique social manners and etiquette. Things that you think are normal or benign might be interpreted as offensive, and vice versa. Wearing shoes indoors, showing skin, pointing with your index finger, and making certain sounds might be considered rude in some places, so it's wise to do your research on the local customs and morays ahead of time.

An Authentic Experience of Culture

Experiencing a community's traditions, rituals, festivals, celebrations, and rites can be a wonderful way to gain insight into a culture. When the local people get together to observe a tradition that has been performed for many generations, it is a great opportunity to understand that culture more deeply.

However in many touristed places, you'll find traditional dance, music, and other rites performed merely for entertainment and profit. For example when staged for tourists, the Hawaiian luau, Spanish flamenco dances, and Balinese ceremonies may lose their original meaning, energy, and purpose and become merely spectacle.

Cultural Pros and Cons of Tourism


It promotes cross-cultural connections, appreciation, and understanding.

When tourists don't understand or respect local culture and traditions, culture clashes result.

The commercialization of a culture can undermine its meaning and detract from tradition.

Top 10 Tourist Destinations (Cities)

According to MasterCard's Global Destination Cities Index, the top 10 tourist cities for 2018 were:

  1. Bangkok, Thailand: 20.05 million tourists
  2. London, England: 19.83 million visitors
  3. Paris, France: 17.44 million people visiting
  4. Singapore: 13.91 million tourists
  5. New York, USA: 13.13 million visitors
  6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: 12.58 million visitors
  7. Tokyo, Japan: 11.93 million tourists
  8. Istanbul, Turkey: 10.7 million visitors
  9. Seoul, South Korea: 9.54 million visitors
Cheap air travel has made it much easier for lots of people to travel to different parts of the world. The subsequent boom in tourism has pros and cons.

Cheap air travel has made it much easier for lots of people to travel to different parts of the world. The subsequent boom in tourism has pros and cons.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are the benefits of tourism?

Answer: Tourism can bring with it economic gains, jobs, investment, improvements to travel infrastructure, as well as an increase in a location's international visibility and standing.

Question: What are the disadvantages for the host of a tourist destination, that is, if tourists don't respect the locals?

Answer: In some tourist destinations, there can be problems with tourists not respecting local customs and laws. For instance, drunken or lewd behavior, dressing inappropriately in a conservative country, illegal drug use, or child prostitution can cause issues. As well as causing public upset and opening up wider social problems, it can lead to issues regarding the policing and control of such behavior. In extreme cases, some destinations have opted to either limit or even curtail tourism altogether, rather than endure its negatives.

Question: What are the challenges of relying on tourism as the primary economic activity?

Answer: Being overly reliant on tourism might result in a number of problems such as:

1. Broad economic difficulties if there is a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or some other event which diminishes the number of visitors.

2. Damage and wear to cultural sites due to too many visitors.

3. Local employment becoming seasonal and mainly low paid service industry positions.

4. Social problems such as crime, drunkenness, and sex tourism may increase.

Question: What makes a country a good tourist destination?

Answer: Common features of a popular destination might include: desirable climate, cultural and historical sites of interest, entertainment and leisure facilities, iconic architecture or landscape, a safe environment, good value for money, friendliness towards visitors, relaxed atmosphere, developed infrastructure for travel and hospitality.

Question: What benefits do emerging destinations bring in terms of tourism?

Answer: Emerging destinations generate excitement and attract the more adventurous and experienced tourists who are looking for a new experience. They are great for introducing visitors to a particular city, region, or country that has previously been neglected. If successful, emerging destinations bring development, economic growth, and employment to the area.

Question: What are the environmental advantages of tourism?

Answer: Environmental advantages of tourism might include the funding of environmental projects or maintenance of wildlife protection and habitats. Travel infrastructure can be developed that benefits both tourists and the environment. As tourism expands, less environmentally friendly industries can be phased out, and local eco-friendly crafts can be promoted. Workers who might otherwise be tempted to earn their money from things like logging, poaching, and other potentially environmentally damaging roles can be employed in tourism. Tourism also provides an incentive for beaches and areas of natural beauty to be maintained.

Question: Is tourism a good thing for the economy?

Answer: In a narrow financial sense, a well-organized tourism industry is almost always effective at bringing in money. Success can bring an over-reliance on tourism, however, which can be problematic in the event of such things as a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack, which tends to deter tourists. Tourism can also distort a local economy, creating lots of low paid service industry jobs, sometimes at the expense of potentially more skilled and lucrative industries, such as high-tech or manufacturing.

Question: What is Swaziland's appeal for tourists?

Answer: Swaziland offers many experiences that make it an attractive destination, including: wildlife, a lively and colorful local culture, rafting and mountain biking, stunning scenery, and a variety of accommodation options for travelers.

© 2012 Paul Goodman

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