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Ethical implications of tourism in developing countries
Emily McIntyre
September 26, 2006
Sonya Graci

Tourism is instituted in ad hoc fashion, with little regard to appropriate socio-ecological planning. This paper outlines the ethical implications of tourism in terms of the social and political, environmental and economical issues in developing countries. All resolutions for these implications, follow the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET) which is a set of principles whose purpose is to guide stakeholders in tourism development: central and local governments, local communities, the tourism industry and its professionals, as well as visitors both international and local (UNWTO, n.d.).

Background on the industry:
In general, tourism occurs in developing countries, because businesses have adopted a development-oriented perspective. The emphasis is on development (use) in order to reach optimal economic gain by extractive use of resources rather than protection and preservation (Fennell, 2002). There has been a trend in humans, to take on the role of being bad rules, by trying to exploit and dominate for short-term personal gain at any expense (Peterson, 1996). It is a harsh reality that there are a significant lack of resources for effective management of visitors and the environment (Fennell, 2002). Therefore, resource management is a critical issue that needs to be dealt with, and not defined by the primary stakeholder, the industries, but rather shared interests.

Functional management aspects:
Social & Political:
There are many social and political implications as to how tourism operations are run in developing countries. There are many tourism operations that ignore the interests of the local community and do not allow them to partake in the decisions of any operations. Not only this, but there is also no consideration of the degree of tolerance that the locals have towards the tourists before becoming annoyed, which is termed as social crowding (Saveriades, 2000). Some tourism operations will even dislocate human communities or band the locals from being allowed on certain parts of the land, such as beaches where resorts are located (Fennell, 2002). Tourism development, in some cases, has disrupted community structures, and has led to conflicts among local communities, developers, governments and tourists (Sweening, Bruner & Rosenfeld, 1999). Social changes can sometimes be harder to measure than environmental changes, but these impacts are often linked together.


Tourism has consistently been shown to have an impact on air and water quality, erode soils, create noise pollution, expand the built environment, increase transport networks and disrupt species behaviour in a number of ways (Fennell & Ebert, 2004). These natural resources have been defined by human perception and are used up for money. Trees, fish, gold, recreational spaces and so on are simply viewed as ‘neutral stuff’ that exist within the environment until they are perceived by humans and recognized as able to satisfy the human need (Fennell & Ebert, 2004). No consideration is placed upon how resource usage affects the species lifestyle and the changes that occur in these species habituation, and territorial behaviour, such as the interference with the essential processes of securing a mate and ensuring access to adequate sources of food (Fennell 2002). The infrastructure and facilities for these destinations usually require large expanses of land, such as airport facilities, especially for international aircraft, connection facilities and runways, highways and accommodations (Sweening, et al. 1999). These forms of development and degradation of natural resources continue to harm the environment and lead to irreversible damage as well as the species and social processes surrounding it.

There is a constant failure for economic systems to see the whole picture and to consider social and environmental aspects, as well as allowing other stakeholders partake in the decision making process. Stakeholders need to view the concept of satisfaction as multidimensional, and not only see the tourist’s experience and the amount of profit as satisfaction, but also they need to consider the environmental quality and how the locals view these tourism processes. Another issue is that many countries now rely on tourism as a key source of economic development especially in the tropics, and there are other countries that are seeking to significantly increase the scale of their tourism industry, for they have no other source of income, and not enough money to properly implement environmentally-friendly tourism infrastructure (Sweening et al. 1999). Stakeholders need to implement responsible development strategies to help ensure conservation, rather than just economical gain in the short-term.

Discussion and Analysis of best practices of sustainable management:
Sustainable development is a future focused planning and regulatory mechanism, which mandates that to protect against threats of serious and irreversible damage; precaution should be exercised even before harm can be scientifically demonstrated (Fennell & Ebert 2004). Therefore it is very important to consider cause and affect relationships. For example, The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica, has steadily increased in size and popularity to the point where a new entrance fee structure has been required, along with more naturalists and guides, limit on numbers of entrants and restrictions to well-marked trails (Honey, 1999). The have implemented a very good strategy, for they know if do not consider carrying capacity and are not strict as to where the tourists can walk in the forest, they will not have a business operation that is feasible in the long term, because they will use their resources poorly and not be protecting the fragile ecology. This operation also revolves around and employs the local community, and their culture is a main aspect for the tourist experience. This is not the only eco-tourism based destination in Costa Rica, it has in fact, established itself as a world-class nature tourism destination, gaining impressive economic and environmental benefits from tourism (Sweening et al. 1999). Costa Ricans, have great sustainable tourism practise, with their environmentally sensitive eco-lodges, sustainable adventure tourist activities and an emphasis on their culture.

Resource conservation is also a critical problem in tourism in developing countries that operators need to come up with a solution to sustain their resources. For example, in Galapagos, tourists are restricted to areas (trails) of high carrying capacity only, thus eliminating them altogether in most areas of the park (Steeles, 1993). Although, this is not a complete solution because there are still disturbances in high traffic areas, it is a viable way to still gain an economic benefit through which the locals are part of, while limiting tourists and leaving the majority of the land untouched.

An initiative that can be undertaken by stakeholders is to help the environment by having direct revenues, investments, donations or other sources of income channelled to protected areas. An example of this is in the Philippines, in the province of Palawana, which is considered to be the country’s last natural frontier (Sweening et al. 1999). Large-scale tourism development can provide alternative sources of income and employment, for this heavily populated area, and in this land-use planning, they are taking the initiative to put significant investments in the planning and management of the social and environmental impacts of future tourism development (Sweening et al. 1999).


Stakeholders should consider forming a symbiotic relationship by constructing complimentary and cooperative relations between people and other beings (Peterson 1996). Through the consideration of all resources being treated as equals, this approach can mutually benefit the environment, humans and other species for it has life, support benefits, aesthetic benefits, scientific benefits, endangered species benefits and philosophical benefits (Fennell, 2002). Through cooperation of stakeholders and government, they can work together to create development plans and implement environmental and social strategies which in addition would also work with other stakeholders, including NGO’s, local communities and development agencies to ensure all parties are considered and represented (Sweening et al., 1999). This is particularly important in places such as Cancun, Mexico, where uncontrolled development has led to extensive environmental and social damage. Their improper sewage management has polluted beaches, natural habitat has been reduced, local residents infrequently experience economic benefits, changes in lifestyles and traditions occur and increased competition for resources exists (Daltabuit, M. & Pi-Sunyer, O., 1990). Although environmental and social impacts were considered in the development plan for Cancun, they were given secondary importance and now much of the environment around Cancun has been destroyed (Sweening et al., 1999).

Government need to play a role in helping out to raise awareness of the benefits that people get from participating in nature based activities such as managing stress, social aspects, economic in the sense that good physical fitness leads to higher job efficiency, and environmental awareness. It is not only the government’s role, but should be the role of the stakeholders both public and private, and other human beings to raise awareness of how the environment can be sustained and conserved. By doing this, ideas of how to minimize negative effects should be stated as well as ways to promote positive contribution to conservation and the community’s well being. These can be untaken in ways such as limiting water and energy use, forms of waste disposal and sewage treatment, forms of transportation and ways of interaction with local people (Sweening et al., 1999). This will also directly benefit resorts financially by reducing energy, water and disposal costs and minimizing conflicts with local communities. This is also a great marketing tool, for the growing market of environmentally conscious consumers, and a way to raise awareness on how to take environmental and social initiatives.

In conclusion, developing countries need to solve ethical implications of tourism by making their practises more environmentally and socially responsible. Developers need to see the environment as the heart of the problem, as well as allowing more equality in the decision making process among stakeholders. Long-term sustainability goals and risk assessments need to be undertaken, to protect resources for the future, which as well can result in significant economic benefits for the developer.


Daltabuit, M. & Pi-Sunyer, O. (1990). Tourism development in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Cultural Survival Quarterly, 14(1), 9-13.

Fennell, D.A. (2002). Ecotourism Programme Planning. New York, NY: CABI Publishing.

Fennell, D.A. & Ebert, K. (2004). Tourism and the Precautionary Principle. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 12(6), 461-479.

Gossling, S. (1999). Ecotourism: a means to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem functions? Ecological Economics 29, 303-320.

Honey, M. (1999). Ecotourism and Sustainable development: Who Owns Paradise? Washington, DC: Island Press.

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Sweeting, J.E.N., Bruner, A.G. & Rosenfeld, A.B. (1999). The Green Host Effect: An Integrated Approach to Sustainable tourism and Resort Development. Washington, DC: Conservation International

UNWTO’s Ethics in Tourism (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2006, from

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