Sustainable tourism lady of lourdes college

Tourism and sustainable development: A Special Relationship

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1.3 Tourism and sustainable development: A Special Relationship

Tourism is in a special position in the contribution it can make to sustainable development and the challenges it presents. Firstly, this is because of the dynamism and growth of the sector, and the major contribution that it makes to the economies of many countries and local destinations. Secondly, it is because tourism is an activity which involves a special relationship between consumers (visitors), the industry, the environment and local communities.

This special relationship arises because, unlike most other sectors, the consumer of tourism (the tourist) travels to the producer and the product. This leads to three important and unique aspects of the relationship between tourism and sustainable development:

  1. Interaction: The nature of tourism, as a service industry that is based on delivering an experience of new places, means that it involves a considerable amount of interaction, both direct and indirect, between visitors, host communities and their local environments.

  1. Awareness: Tourism makes people (visitors and hosts) become far more conscious of environmental issues and differences between nations and cultures. This can affect attitudes and concerns for sustainability issues not only while travelling but throughout People’s lives.

  1. Dependency: Much of tourism is based on visitors seeking to experience intact and clean environments, attractive natural areas, authentic historic and cultural traditions, and welcoming hosts with whom they have a good relationship. The industry depends on these attributes being in place.

This close and direct relationship creates a sensitive situation, whereby tourism can be both very damaging but also very positive for sustainable development.

On the positive side, tourism can:

  • Provide a growing source of opportunities for enterprise development and employment creation as well as stimulating investment and support for local services, even in quite remote communities.

  • Bring tangible economic value to natural and cultural resources. This can result in direct income from visitor spending for their conservation, and an increase in support for conservation from local communities.

  • Be a force for inter-cultural understanding and peace.

Conversely, tourism can:

  • Place direct pressure on fragile ecosystems causing degradation of the physical environment and disruption to wildlife.

  • Exert considerable pressure on host communities and lead to dislocation of traditional societies.

  • Compete for the use of scarce resources, notably land and water.

  • Be a significant contributor to local and global pollution.

  • Be a vulnerable and unstable source of income, as it is often very sensitive to actual or perceived changes to the environmental and social conditions of destinations.

The net result is that all those involved in tourism have a huge responsibility to recognize the importance of its sustainable development. Tourism has immense power to do good. Yet it can also be the vector for the very pressures that may destroy the assets on which it relies. Developed without concern for sustainability, tourism can not only damage societies and the environment, it could also contain the seeds of its own destruction.

For governments, tourism policies that address economic, social and environmental issues, and which are developed with an awareness of the potential both for harm and for benefit, can channel the forces resulting from the sector’s dynamic growth in a positive direction. For the tourism industry, accepting this responsibility is not only about good citizenship, it should also be fuelled by a strong element of self interest, since any harm that is inflicted to the natural, cultural or social environment of destinations can lead to their eventual destruction or loss of value as a tourism product. In economic terms, sustainability can guarantee that crucial factor already mentioned: ‘the viability of enterprises and activities and their ability to be maintained in the long term’.

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