Sustainable tourism means a balance between economy, people and the environment. Tourism is an economic activity that should not come at the expense of those involved (travel industry, tourists, but also the local population) and nature and the environment. None of this is as obvious as it sounds. Because tourism generates a lot of money and can bring many people jobs, this is often the priority. There is nothing to slow down the development of tourism. Infrastructure, hotels and other facilities are being built non-stop. Nature has to make way for this unbridled growth. If there were limits to the number of roads or hotels, this would lead to a loss of income. And this should of course be avoided as well. Not to mention the environmental pollution caused by air traffic, waste and water pollution. By wanting to make a lot of profit in the short term, tourism is not possible in the long term. Tourism depends on beautiful nature, clean air and clean water.
Tourism and nature: friends or enemies?
Tourism and nature have a love-hate relationship: they cannot live without or with each other. Tourism therefore has many negative effects on nature and the environment, but fortunately it can also contribute to nature conservation. How? Tourism is one of the only industries that can keep a nature reserve in its original state. Industries such as agriculture, logging and oil extraction damage nature. Small-scale ecotourism, on the other hand, can preserve nature in its original state through entrance fees and permits, but also through activities in and around the area. Think of hotels or guest houses, restaurants, souvenir shops, bicycle or horse rental. Also think of guides, park managers, drivers and porters who earn money from tourism. You can conclude from this that nature can mainly generate money if the people who live in and around the area also benefit from it. If tourism generates money and work, support will also be created among local residents. People will be committed to preserving their source of income, nature.
So it is clear that tourism and nature are each other’s friends and at the same time each other’s enemies. This also characterizes the relationship between tourism and the local population at the destination. When we talk about sustainable development, most attention is often paid to nature & environmental aspects, which isn’t surprising because the effects on this are fairly easy to measure. Socio-cultural effects are much more difficult to measure and therefore less tangible. However, given that sustainable development involves a balance between the three Ps (people planet profit), attention to socio-cultural aspects is just as important as attention to the economy, nature & environment. On the one hand, the local population can suffer from tourism, on the other hand they can reap the benefits. When tourism is developed at a particular destination, it is often the governments, project developers and hotel chains that determine its course. Certainly in developing countries, the role of the local population in this process is minimal. For example, there are also no consultation rounds that we do have in the Netherlands. Locals are often not involved in tourism development planning. They only come into the picture much later, when work is needed in the hotels. This mainly concerns low-paid jobs as a cleaner and gardener. Management is brought in from abroad. Fortunately, there are more and more training and education programs that educate the local population to work at all levels within the tourism sector.
The Effects of Tourism
In destinations where tourism is rapidly growing and taking on massive forms, negative effects can arise that are difficult to resolve. Think of waste problems, water scarcity, noise pollution and general impoverishment. Locals suffer from this. Often no money is made available to solve these problems. Not only the destination is responsible for this, but also the tourist himself: “the polluter pays” principle. But this is still a new concept in the tourism sector. If visitor numbers fall because the destination is no longer beautiful and attractive, the government and the travel industry will only start thinking about repair work. By refurbishing the destination (cleaning up the mess, placing new facilities, designating green zones, etc.) a new image can be created to attract tourists. The introduction of an eco-tax to carry out remedial work would keep any destination attractive to tourists and also provide a healthy living environment for the locals.
Especially in developing countries, the contrast between “hosts” (local population) and “guests” (tourists) is very large. The tourist, hung with photo cameras and jewelery, is often seen as a walking money pouch. This can result in crime against tourists in poor countries. A city like Nairobi is called “Nairobbery” for a reason. Tourists can also encourage begging. How often does it happen that tourists throw candy and pens out of the bus during a tour? No wonder children start begging. It makes more money than going to school. If you want to give something as a tourist, it is best to do so through schools or other development projects.
Cultural expressions, such as dances and ceremonies, are often only performed for the benefit of the tourist. Often these traditions are no longer part of contemporary culture, but money can be made from tourism. This is called “staged authenticity”. A good example of staged authenticity is the cultural dances in Bali, Indonesia. For the dances, beautiful costumes are put on, which are then replaced by T-shirts and jeans. But also look closer to home: all foreigners who come to our country identify the Netherlands as a country full of tulips, cheese, windmills and clogs. Folk dances are still performed for tourists in Volendam. But does this represent our contemporary culture? Little, but that image yields millions of tourists a year. And what is wrong with certain cultural expressions being artificially preserved?
The arrival of community-based tourism
A successful form of tourism, in which tourists and local population interact with each other, is “community-based tourism”. This mainly takes place in small villages in rural areas, where tourists stay for a day or several days and experience the life of the local residents. Accommodations for tourists are built in the local style, resembling the houses or huts of local residents as much as possible. Tourists engage in local activities such as preparing food, hiking or fishing. And if there are special occasions, such as a wedding, tourists are also allowed to attend. Because tourists are very close to the local life of the population in this way, there is respect and awe for this way of life. In addition, tourists pay for their trip directly to the local population, who can use this money for social projects, such as a water pump, a hospital or a school. For example, tourism can contribute to poverty reduction.