McIntosh and Goeldner describe tourism as the sum of phenomena and relationships arising from the interaction of tourists, business suppliers, host governments and host communities in the process of attracting and hosting these tourists and other visitors. From the supply side point of view, tourism is a composite product made from various components known as attractions, accommodations, tour and travel, and other supporting services or amenities. Its wide-ranging components indicate its possible wide-ranging impact on the environment. 

The presence of tourists and provision of services for them may affect the environment quality of an area. Excessive and uncontrolled tourist visitation to relatively undisturbed or protected areas may disturb wildlife activities, including hunting, mating or reproduction.  The consumption of local goods and services in addition to the development and operation of tourism-related infrastructure such as transportation, accommodation or other amenities, puts significant pressure on the culture of local communities and environments through the destruction of vegetation, improper disposal of waste, alteration of watercourses or other changes to the physical landscape.  

Although nature or the environment is not the only reason for tourists to visit an area, it is true that the quality of the environment, or some of its features, is frequently the primary attraction for tourists. This creates a tension in the tourism industry as today, more and more tourists are looking for nature-based wilderness experiences.  While this increased demand for pristine environments puts increasing pressure on these areas, tourists are also becoming more sensitive to unhealthy, polluted, degraded environment, which in turn could lead to the withdrawal of tourists and tourism businesses from the area.

In response to tourists concern for the quality of environment, tourism providers – businesses, governments, communities and other organizations – have started and supported various initiatives and efforts to reduce tourism’s negative impact on environment by applying more sustainable practices, including applying for eco label/certification for tourist attractions.  This includes PAN Parks for wilderness parks, Blue Flag for beaches, Green Key, Green Globe 21 and Destination 21 for hotel and resorts, as well as destination operation. Sustainability-minded tour operators have also started to look for partners such as airlines, accommodation and transport companies that use environment-friendly practices. 

These shifts towards sustainable tourism can have positive impact on the environment over the long term.  While these practices reduce or eliminate negative impacts on the natural environment, the income generated from tourism has been used to improve environmental conditions and conservation in some areas, thus benefiting local natural systems while improving the viability of the tourism industry at the same time. 

Tourism + The Environment

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Tourism is the largest business sector in the world economy.  The Travel and Tourism industry responsible for over 230 million jobs and over 10 % of the gross domestic product worldwide. (World Travel and Tourism Council)

There are 190 countries with coral reefs. In 90 of them reefs are being damaged by cruise ship anchors and sewage, by tourists breaking off chunks of coral, and by commercial harvesting for sale to tourists. (Earth Portal)

While 80% of money for all-inclusive package tours goes to airlines, hotels, and other international companies, Ecolodges hire and purchase locally and sometimes put as much as 95% of money into the local economy. (United Nations Environment Program)

Stats + Figures


Translator: Wiwien T. Wiyonoputri (Bandung, Indonesia). Co-founder of Jagaddhita; Associate Researcher planner and trainer at the Center for Tourism Planning and Development – Institut Teknologi Bandung