Tourism impacts

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The Impacts ofTourism

By Glenn Kreag

For a tourism-based economy to sustain itself in local communities, the

residents must be willing partners in the process. Their attitudes

toward tourism and perceptions of its impact on community life must

be continually assessed. (Allen et al. 1988)

The long-term sustainability of tourism rests on the ability of community leaders and

tourism professionals to maximize its benefits and minimize its costs.

This fact sheet tabulates 87 tourism impacts within seven categories

and divides the sources of tourism impacts into tourist-based

causes and destination-based causes. Thhis information, which

was distilled from recent tourism research, provides a

framework for discussions, directions, and development

regarding tourism. Formally addressing the impacts of

tourism facilitates planning that helps a community

create a sustainable tourism industry.



For decades tourism industry growth has been a

major contributor to increased economic activity

throughout the U.S. and the world. It has created

jobs in both large and small communities and is a

major industry in many places. It is the dominant

economic activity in some communities. Yet, the

impacts of tourism to a community are noot widely

understood – even where tourism is growing

dramatically and should be of the greatest interest

or concern.

Most people think of tourism in terms of economic

impacts, jobs, and taxes. However, the range of

impacts from tourism is broad and often influences

areas beyond those commonly as

ssociated with tourism.

Leaders as well as residents who understand the potential

impacts of tourism can integrate this industry into their

community in the most positive way.


Understanding Tourism Conf licts

Different groups are often concerned about different tourism impacts. To generalize,

where one group embraces the e c o n o m i c impacts of tourism, another group experiences

social and cultural i m p a c t s , while another is affected by tourism’s e n v i r o n m e n t a l

impacts. In theory, the interests of each group could be completely separate, as in

Figure 1a. For example, Group A could include the business community and people

who are in need of the jobs offered by tourism. Group B might innclude residents who

feel displaced by an influx of visitors. Group C could be local outdoor enthusiasts

concerned about changes in natural resources. In such a case, each group would have

The impacts of tourism can be sorted into seven general categories:

1. Economic

2. Environmental

3. Social and cultural

4. Crowding and congestion

5. Services

6. Taxes

7. Community attitude

Each category includes positive and negative impacts. Not all impacts are applicable to

every community because conditions or resources differ. Community and tourism

leaders must balance an array of impacts that may either improve or negatively affect

communities and their re
esidents. Leaders must be sensitive and visionary, and must

avoid the temptation of glossing over certain difficulties tourism development creates.

Tourism leaders must also balance the opportunities and concerns of all community

sectors by working against conditions where positive impacts benefit one part of the

community (geographic or social) and negative impacts hurt another.

Conversely, community sensitivity to tourism means avoiding undue burdens on the

industry that could thwart its success. Local leaders should not expect tourism to solve

all community problems. Tourism is just one element of a community. While creative

strategic development of tourism amenities and services can enhance the community

or correct local deficiencies, tourism, like all business development, must assure that

its products (attractions and services) attract customers. Overbearing rules and

restrictions, and overburdening taxes can make tourism businesses less attractive or



completely different outlooks

on tourism. Ideally, all groups

could be positively affected and

would support the community’s

tourism efforts. However, when

group interests are divergent,

differing perspectives can

make consensus on tourism

development difficult.

In most cases, groups with

interests in one area of tourism

will also have interests or

concerns about other tourism

impacts as diagramed in Figure

1b. In these situations, there

are common areas of interest

and a greater likelihood that

each group will show more

appreciation for the concerns of

the other groups. Finding

commonality provides a starting

point for resolving tourism


Specific plans an
nd actions can

increase tourism’s benefits or

decrease the gravity of a negative impact. It is important for communities to understand

the wide scope of impacts and endeavor to agree on what positive impacts to

emphasize. It is wise to acknowledge and identify possible negative impacts so actions

can be taken to minimize or prevent them. A clear statement of the community’s vision

of tourism should be an integral part of a community’s comprehensive plan. Active

planning directs tourism toward the goals of the community, clarifying tourism’s role

and uniting multiple interests.

The Role of Planning

Figure 1. Interest in Tourism Impacts

Group C





Social & Cultural






Social &



Group A

Group C

Group B Group A

Group B


Tourism Impacts

A goal of developing the tourism industry in a community is maximizing

selected positive impacts while minimizing potential negative impacts.

First, it is essential to identify the possible impacts. To u r i s m

researchers have identified a large number of impacts. Grouping

the impacts into categories shows the types of impacts that could

result from developing tourism in a community. The following

tables list a range of important tourism impacts in a concise

format. Readers needing additional information about specific

impacts should contact appropriate professionals or consult

tourism texts and research papers.

A community will not experience every impact. Some are

dependent on particular natural resource features (mountains,

coral re
eefs) or development and spatial patterns (special

“tourist zones”). Others relate to the social condition of the

c o m m u n i t y, particularly the ability to culturally or socially connect

with tourists. Still others relate to types and intensity of tourism

developments, i.e., approval or hostility toward tourist activities.

The following tables are extensive but not all-inclusive.

Planning is not enough. Active implementation and management of plans and prompt

attention to emerging tourism issues will maximize positive and minimize negative

impacts. Monitoring and addressing community attitudes should be an ongoing part

of the management effort. Good monitoring efforts can identify trouble areas and give

leaders an opportunity to defuse community reactions and make timely changes before

a crisis occurs. Unfortunately, few communities are so proactive.


Understanding that tourism development may result in many and complex impacts

suggests that local elected officials, the tourism industry, and community residents

need to work cooperatively and carefully to plan for its growth and development.

Planning can help create an industry that enhances a community with minimal costs

and disruptions in other aspects of community life. Having broad community

involvement and embracing different perspectives during planning helps identify and

resolve concerns that would otherwise create problems later.


Tourism increases employment opportunities. Additional jobs, ranging from low-wage

entry-level to high-paying professional positions in management and technical fields,

generate income and raise standards of living. Particularly in rural areas, the

diversification created by tourism helps communities that are possibly dependent on

only one industry. As tourism grows, additional opportunities are created for investment,

development, and infrastructure spending. Tourism often induces improvements

Elaboration of Tourism Impacts


w Increases price of goods and services

w Increases price of land and housing

w Increases cost of living

w Increases potential for imported labor

w Cost for additional infrastructure

(water, sewer, power, fuel, medical, etc.)

w Increases road maintenance and

transportation systems costs

w Seasonal tourism creates high-risk,

under- or unemployment issues

w Competition for land with other (highervalue)

economic uses

w Profits may be exported by non-local


w Jobs may pay low wages

w Contributes to income and standard of


w Improves local economy

w Increases employment opportunities

w Improves investment, development, and

infrastructure spending

w Increases tax revenues

w Improves public utilities infrastructure

w Improves transport infrastructure

w Increases opportunities for shopping

w Economic impact (direct, indirect,

induced spending) is widespread in the


w Creates new business opportunities


in public utilities such as water, sewer, sidewalks, lighting, parking, public restrooms,

litter control, and landscaping. Such improvements benefit tourists and residents

alike. Likewise, tourism encourages improvements in transport infrastructure

resulting in upgraded roads, airports, public transportation, and non-traditional

transportation (e.g., trails). Tourism encourages new elements to join the retail mix,

increasing opportunities for shopping and adding healthy competitiveness. It often

increases a community’s tax revenues. Lodging and sales taxes most notably

increase but additional tax revenues include air travel and other transportation

taxes, business taxes, and fuel taxes. New jobs generate more income tax


When considering the economic impacts of tourism, it is essential to

understand that tourism businesses often include a significant

number of low-paying jobs, often at minimum wage or less. T h e s e

jobs are often seasonal, causing under-employment or unemployment

during off-seasons. Labor may be imported, rather than

hired locally, especially if particular skills or expertise is required,

or if local labor is unavailable. Some tourism-related businesses

are volatile and high-risk ventures that are unsustainable.

Greater demand for goods, services, land, and housing may

increase prices that in turn will increase the cost of living.

Tourism businesses may claim land that could have higher- v a l u e

or other uses. Additionally, non-local owners and corporations

may export profits out of the community. The community may

have to generate funds (possibly through increased taxes) to

maintain roads and transportation systems that have become

more heavily used. Similarly, if additional infrastructure (water,

s e w e r, power, fuel, medical, etc.) is required, additional taxes may

also be needed to pay for them.


Areas with high-value natural resources, like oceans, lakes, waterfalls,

mountains, unique flora and fauna, and great scenic beauty attract

tourists and new residents (in-migrants) who seek emotional and spiritual

connections with nature. Because these people value nature, selected natural

environments are preserved, protected, and kept from further ecological decline.

Lands that could be developed can generate income by accommodating the recreational

activities of visitors. Tourist income often makes it possible to preserve and restore

historic buildings and monuments. Improvements in the area’s appearance through


cleanup or repairs and the addition of public art such as

murals, water fountains, and monuments (part of making a

community ready for tourism) benefit visitors and residents

alike. Tourism is generally considered a “clean” industry,

one that is based on hotels, restaurants, shops and

attractions, instead of factories.

Tourism can also degrade an environment. Visitors generate

waste and pollution (air, water, solid waste, noise, and

visual). Natural resource attractions can be jeopardized

through improper uses or overuse. Providing tourist

services can alter the landscape’s appearance. For instance,

visual pollution may occur from billboard proliferation. As

tourism develops, demand for land increases, especially for

prime locations like beachfronts, special views, and

mountains. Without forethought, natural landscape and

open space can be lost. The destruction or loss of flora and

fauna can happen when desirable plants and animals are

collected for sale or the land is trampled. Tourists or the

businesses that cater to them often remove plants, animals,

rocks, fossils, coral, and cultural or historical artifacts from

an area. Uncontrolled visitation or overuse by visitors can

degrade landscapes, historic sites, and monuments. Where

water is scarce, tourists can overwhelm the available supply.

Travelers can also inadvertently introduce nonindigenous

species, as can increases in the trade of animals and plants.

A constant stream of visitors and domestic pets may disrupt

wildlife by disturbing their breeding cycles and altering

natural behaviors.

Social and Cultural

The social and cultural ramifications of tourism warrant

careful consideration, as impacts can either become assets

or detriments to communities. Influxes of tourists bring

diverse values to the community and influence behaviors

and family life. Individuals and the collective community might try to please tourists

or adopt tourist behaviors. Interactions between residents and tourists can impact

creative expression by providing new opportunities (positive) or by stifling individuality


w Pollution (air, water, noise, solid waste,

and visual)

w Loss of natural landscape and

agricultural lands to tourism


w Loss of open space

w Destruction of flora and fauna

(including collection of plants, animals,

rocks, coral, or artifacts by or for


w Degradation of landscape, historic sites,

and monuments

w Water shortages

w Introduction of exotic species

w Disruption of wildlife breeding cycles

and behaviors

w Protection of selected natural

environments or prevention of further

ecological decline

w Preservation of historic buildings and


w Improvement of the area’s appearance

(visual and aesthetic)

w A “clean” industry (no smokestacks)


with new restrictions (negative). Increased tourism can push a community to adopt a

different moral conduct such as improved understanding between sexes (positive) or

increased illicit drug use (negative). Safety and health facilities and staffing tend to

increase at the same time safety problems such as crime and accidents increase. Tr a d i t i o n a l

ceremonies may be renewed and revived by tourist interest or lost in alternative activities.

Community organizations can be invigorated by facing the opportunities of tourism or

overwhelmed by its associated problems. Calamities such as natural disasters, energy

shortages, terrorism, political upheaval, disease outbreak, a chemical spill, or even

widespread negative publicity could shut down tourism abruptly but sometimes can

attract curious visitors.

Tourism can improve the quality of life in an area by increasing the number of attractions,

recreational opportunities, and services. Tourism offers residents opportunities to

meet interesting people, make friendships, learn about the world, and expose themselves

to new perspectives. Experiencing different cultural practices enriches experiences,

broadens horizons, and increases insight and appreciation for different approaches to

living. Often, dwindling interest in host cultures is revived by reawakening cultural

heritage as part of tourism development, which increases demand for historical and

cultural exhibits. This interest by tourists in local culture and history p r o v i d e s


w Excessive drinking, alcoholism, gambling

w Increased underage drinking

w Crime, drugs, prostitution

w Increased smuggling

w Language and cultural effects

w Unwanted lifestyle changes

w Displacement of residents for tourism


w Negative changes in values and customs

w Family disruption

w Exclusion of locals from natural


w New cliques modify social structure

w Natural, political, and public relations


w Improves quality of life

w Facilitates meeting visitors (educational


w Positive changes in values and customs

w Promotes cultural exchange

w Improves understanding of different


w Preserves cultural identity of host


w Increases demand for historical and

cultural exhibits

w Greater tolerance of social differences

w Satisfaction of psychological needs


opportunities to support preservation of historical artifacts and architecture. By learning

more about others, their differences become less threatening and more interesting. At

the same time, tourism often promotes higher levels of psychological satisfaction from

opportunities created by tourism development and through interactions with travelers.

Tourism can come to a community with a dark social and cultural side, too. Illegal

activities tend to increase in the relaxed atmosphere of tourist areas. Increased underage

drinking can become a problem especially in beach communities, areas with festivals

involving alcohol, and ski villages. It is easier to be anonymous where strangers are

taken for granted; bustling tourist traffic can increase the presence of smugglers and

buyers of smuggled products. Lifestyle changes such as alterations in local travel

patterns to avoid tourist congestion and the avoidance of downtown shopping can

damage a community socially and culturally. Hotels, restaurants, and shops can push

tourism development into residential areas, forcing changes in the physical structure

of a community. Development of tourist facilities in prime locations may cause locals

to be or feel excluded from those resources. As local ethnic culture alters to fit the needs

of tourism, language and cultural practices may change. In places where longer- t e r m

visitors tend to congregate, social cliques, such as condo tourists or RVers, may be at

odds with local interests and work to influence local issues. The “demonstration effect”

of tourists (residents adopting tourist behaviors) and the addition of tourist facilities

may alter customs, such as dating habits, especially those of a more structured or

traditional culture. The potential of meeting and marrying non-local mates may create

family stress.


Crowding and Congestion

People congregate in attractive places. Tourism often

develops around specific locations and concentrates

there, providing growth yet avoiding sprawl. Historic

buildings and grounds, which might otherwise slowly

deteriorate, have great appeal for tourism development

and can often be renovated to suit the industry.

As people congregate, congestion and crowding produces

stress, annoyance, anger, and other negative attitudes.

Hordes of visitors may impede local businesses, prevent

residents from accomplishing normal activities, and

compete for space. Tourism construction, especially

hotels, may be inappropriate in scale and style with

respect to other structures and the landscape. In some

areas, recreational second homes and condominium

developments create major crowding and congestion



Tourism creates opportunities to develop new amenities

and recreation facilities that would not otherwise be

viable in a community. Tourist expectations can

upgrade service by local shops, restaurants, and other

commerce operators. Tourist traffic in a community

creates an opportunity for upgraded fire, police, and

medical protection that also benefits residents.

Traditional services may be forced out or relocated due

to competition with tourist interests. Supply shortages

may occur, temporarily, seasonally, or chronically. Wa t e r,

p o w e r, fuel, and other shortages may be experienced with

increased pressure on the infrastructure.


Increased retail activity from restaurants and tourist

shopping will add state and local sales tax revenue.

Lodging tax revenue to the city (or state) should

increase since travelers account for virtually all lodging t a x


w Minimizes sprawl

w Concentrates tourist facilities

w Old buildings reused for tourism


w Neglect of non-tourist recreation


w Effects of competition

w Shortage of goods and services

w Increases pressure on infrastructure

w Increases availability of recreation

facilities and opportunities

w Better standard of services by shops,

restaurants, and other commerce

w Improves quality of fire protection

w Improves quality of police protection

w Congestion including interference with

other businesses

w Overcrowding – exceeding area capacity

w Conflict

w Overpowering building size and style


receipts. Increased tax burdens to expand infrastructure

and public services will be passed on to property owners

through increased property taxes.

Community Attitude

Visitor interest and satisfaction in the community is a

source of local pride. Seeing visitor interest makes local

residents more appreciative of local resources that are

often taken for granted. As tourism develops, local

residents will enjoy more facilities and a greater range

of choices. Tourism activities and events tend to make

living in a place more interesting and exciting.

H o w e v e r, heightened tension and community divisiveness

can occur over tourism development, pitting tourism

supporters against non-supporters. Also, tension

between residents and tourists can occur. People will

often feel stressed over the new, increasingly hectic

community and personal pace of life. They may claim

the result is no better than before or perhaps even

worse. Where culture is part of the tourist attractions,

over-amplification of cultural traits and creation of “new”

cultural traits to satisfy tourist tastes may create a phony

culture. Residents may experience a sense of exclusion

and alienation over planning and development concerns.

They may feel a loss of control over the community’s

future as “outsiders” take over establishments and new

development. Over-dependence on non-local developers

and an influx of outside businesses creates a sense that

the community is being manipulated and exploited by

outsiders for the sole benefit of those developers or

business people. Hotels built in monolithic cubes or

restaurants with standardized franchise designs might

clash with local standards and disrupt the aesthetic

appearance of the community, damage unique community

c h a r a c t e r, and spread “sameness.”


w Additional state and local sales tax


w Lodging tax revenue to city (or state)

w Increases property taxes


w Heightens community divisiveness

w Increasingly hectic community and

personal life

w Creates a phony folk culture

w Residents experience sense of exclusion

and alienation over planning and

development concerns

w Feeling of loss of control over

community future (caused by outsider


w New building styles fail to “fit”


w Heightens pride in community

w Greater appreciation of local r

. . .

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