Tourism Now: Impacts on People and Places
Most people love exploring new places, and escaping the routine of day-to-day life. Travel has become more accessible over time, with more people on the planet with a greater ability to take an international journey. Due to this, the tourism industry has seen massive growth over the past few decades. To give you some perspective on the matter, in 1950 there were just 25 million international travelers. By 2012 that number had risen to 1.035 billion. This doesn’t even count domestic travelers, or people that are staying in their own countries. So, what does future tourism look like?
Recently, it has come to light that these crowds of visitors are wearing on the patience of local people in tourism hotspots such as Iceland and Italy. No one appreciates the traffic and crowds of popular attractions. Culture clash can also be a major problem for local people when visitors take over their home. But as you might guess, it isn’t just people that tourism can have negative impacts on. This expanding industry has considerable effects on the environment. Most of those impacts are negative (although we cover some of the potential benefits in our article about ecotourism).
In order to understand just how much of an impact global tourism is having on the planet, Stefan Gössling and Paul Peeters used historic information to build a model. They used data from 1900-2014 to predict the impact that tourism might have onwards, into 2050. The resources that they looked at included energy, water, land, and food. Due to its importance to climate change, the scientists also gathered information on tourism’s contribution to CO2 levels. When examining the potential future of tourism, the scientists compared three different scenarios. One in which there was a “economic slowdown,” status quo, and “global growth.”
Water, Food, Energy, and Greenhouse Gases
In regards to greenhouse gas emissions, the study’s findings were shocking. When including emissions from transportation, accommodations, and activities in a destination, it was found that 5% of the world’s total CO2 emissions came from the tourism sector. Nearly half of this came from air travel alone. Since these numbers don’t include any CO2 released by the production of food, and construction of buildings they are conservative estimates at best.
Tourism research has also shown that the industry increases water and food use. Golf is one particularly water-hungry form of tourism, but many activities have unforeseen water consumption. For example, it takes about 10 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of fuel, which is concerning for the air traveler and roadtripper among us. Gössling and Peeters suggest that the average traveler on an average trip will use or cause to be used 27,800 L of water.
For food consumption, when compared to what people used at home, travelers tended to eat at least 0.5 kg extra food per day. Many of us love splurging while on the road as well, so these foods tend to include more meats and high protein treats. Scientists generally considered these to have a worse impact on the environment.
Finally, the pair looked at land use by tourism, found that resorts were the most wasteful in terms of this resource. In fact, one study that they cite found that a five star hotel with a golf course could use up to 4580 sq. meters (or 15,026 sq. ft) per bed. For reference, the US Census Bureau found that the average American home was around 2,600 sq. feet in 2014.
The Future of Tourism
Gössling and Peeters discovered that even with increase fuel, food production, and construction efficiencies, the tourism industry would see a massive increase in resource use in the future. In the Slowdown scenario their calculations indicated that there would be over 7 billion international tourists, and in the Growth scenario over 15 billion by 2050!
Despite better technology, they then estimated that this would result in a 164% growth in energy use and CO2 emissions, 92% increase in water use, 189% increase in land use, and 108% growth in food consumption. Of course, the problem with this is that our favorite hobby is going to have a hard impact on the finite resources of the planet. It seems that potential improvements in technology aren’t going to make these problems go away.
We Are the Solution
It is up to us as travelers and citizens of this shared planet, to make sure that our choices lessen our impact. This may mean opting for slow travel (e.g. biking or walking rather than taking motorized transportation). We might also consider paying for carbon offsets when traveling by plane. And staying in smaller, local-run businesses that use less resources overall can also be helpful. Whatever it is, there is no denying that tourism can be just as negative as it can be good, and we are part of the solution.
Want to Learn More?
Read the original paper here.