Tourism, along with the actions and activities that surrounds the industry has been deemed unsustainable both environmentally and socially.
Many factors contribute to the negative environmental impacts, including the effects of large-scale tourism which requires mass transportation and is predominantly carried out by large aircrafts. According to The International Civil Aviation Organization (2019), aircraft emissions account for 2% of all global greenhouse gasses. However, tourism involves many forms of mass transportation from cruise ships to coaches, and due to the ever-expanding nature of the travel industry, this will inevitably put new destinations at risk. (Holloway. J, Humphreys. C, 2016).
As tourists in the twenty-first century are seeking to explore more remote areas of the globe, places such as Antarctica are put at risk. Antarctica is the coldest, highest and driest continent in the world and holds the smallest footprint of human exploration as a virtually untouched reserve (Holloway. J, Humphreys. C, 2016).
However, the continent has become a go-to destination for tourists today. Antarctica reached a height of 46,000 visitors in 2007, which is a massive increase compared to 16 years prior in 1991 which only recorded 4,800 (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators).
Due to the heavy fuel and oil consumption of large cruise ships and planes that fly over the continent, corporate social responsibility and regulations have been used to help minimize pollution that causes ice caps to melt. Tourists usually visit the continent for sports, camping, seal and penguin watching which may impact the animals’ behaviour and breeding patterns. Therefore, the morality of visiting Antarctica as a tourist destination needs to be called into question.
Antarctica is just one of many areas of the world that is under threat from the impacts of tourism. By raising awareness of the effects that tourism has on the environment people may stop to think about the impact of their actions. Environmental problems associated with the travel industry are not just for the tourists to deal with but are essentially problems that should be tackled through big commercial tour operators such as TUI and Kuoni.
In fact, Kuoni has implemented corporate social responsibility with their own code of conduct that lays down binding principles of ethical behaviour adhering to the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism of the UNWTO (2019). The principals are to behave with integrity and in compliance with the law, to recognize universal human rights principals, to respect other cultures and opinions, to care for the environment, and to demonstrate loyalty towards the Kuoni Group. This growing ethical awareness in the tourism industry maximises the positive economic, social and cultural effects of tourism while minimizing its negative environmental impacts.
Fundamentally, with an increased awareness of the problems that the environment is undergoing from many aspects of today’s world, tourism is one of the few that can make a difference.
As we live in an era of information, awareness is growing among the travel industry and tourists can now make their own personal decisions based off of moral assumptions. They can continue to travel mindlessly through the tourist gaze, consequently contributing to the growing environmental degradation or take responsibility for their own actions as to what is right or wrong. To finalise, a change in traveler and organisations’ moral and ethical principles will lead to a brighter future in tourism concerning environmental sustainability.
However, sustainability surrounding the locals and the communities is another matter and the question referring to ethical and moral awareness of the situation still remains a concern. It is one thing to manage your litter, carbon footprint and choice of destination in regard to environmental stability but naivety among travellers of their hosts’ culture is still a major issue. Thus, supporting the statement that positive guest-host relationships is on the decline.
Travelers have more power than they realise when it comes to their impacts on the hosts destination (positive or negative). To improve guest-host relationships, just a simple change in attitude can be made to improve the well being of the hosts.
Simple changes in behaviour such as reducing acts of public urination, littering and un-controllably publicly inebriated may enhance the guest-host relationships. A good relationship between the local hosts and tourists is fundamental for the development of a tourist destination.
So, if tourism brings in benefits rather than cost (destinations such as removing the IAmsterdam sign in the Netherlands) would lead to a more happy and civil relationship between the two parties rather than conflict and prejudice behaviour.
Furthermore, immoral behaviour from tourists and travel companies can disrupt local communities such as the development of hotels and all-inclusive complexes. This can cause changes to residents’ day to day life experiences as well as their values and intellectual or artistic products.
These socio-cultural impacts that tourism has on small local communities or even indigenous populations highly effects them, potentially putting them out of work and in some cases, stealing their land. If there are no ethical or moral principles implemented by tourist organisations, then the areas or local cultures can become commodified consequently selling traditional ethnic rites and religious rituals as a product.
An example is The Hawaiian hula dance. These rites and rituals are even reduced and sanitized to conform to predominantly western tourist expectations.
Despite that, organisations today are looking to bring economic benefits to locals. This involves the developers and authorities to consult with the locals at all levels during the process of development. They encourage local’s participation and ensures indigenous populations economically benefit from tourism which, of course, provides jobs for the communities.
Some hotel complexes are using the food from these communities instead of using standardized food that suits the westernised agenda thus supporting small community businesses. An example of a successful scheme to support local populations was in Hungary. This scheme involved tours of small groups where the travellers stayed in locally owned hotels, using local guides, therefor supporting and sustaining the local village. (Holloway. J, Humphreys. C, 2016).
A seminar was hosted by UNWTO in 2011 on tourism ethics. It discussed the extent of social and economic benefits of tourism reaching the local communities and indigenous populations. It concluded that tourism does in-fact create jobs and economic development among local communities but when tourism development is not managed properly It can bypass the local residents (Holloway. J, Humphreys. C, 2016).
For the past ten years UNWTO has actively encouraged the 10 principles of the Global Code of Ethics with article 5 specifically declaring that tourism should benefit host countries and communities. Article 5 also proposes that tourism should raise the standard of living in the receiving countries and should meet the locals needs and desires giving manpower to the people where ever possible (Holloway. J, Humphreys. C, 2016).
To conclude, by spreading awareness about the growing impacts of tourism not just environmentally, but the economic and socio-cultural elements too, can bring these negative factors to a halt and even reduce them.
Although growing awareness and changes in moral and ethical behaviour among travellers are rising, travel and tourism as an industry still has a long way to go before it is at the desired standard of sustainability both environmentally and socially. Nonetheless, a positive change in moral and ethical principles whether it be individually, as a society or the organisations themselves will fundamentally have a positive effect regarding sustainability in the future of tourism.
Credit: William Wand – The Figure Head