Tourism impacts
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Tourism impacts

The Impacts ofTourism

By Glenn Kreag

For a tourism-based economy to sustain itself in local communities, the

residents must be willing partners in the process. Their attitudes

toward tourism and perceptions of its impact on community life must

be continually assessed. (Allen et al. 1988)

The long-term sustainability of tourism rests on the ability of community leaders and

tourism professionals to maximize its benefits and minimize its costs.

This fact sheet tabulates 87 tourism impacts within seven categories

and divides the sources of tourism impacts into tourist-based

causes and destination-based causes. This information, which

was distilled from recent tourism research, provides a

framework for discussions, directions, and development

regarding tourism. Formally addressing the impacts of

tourism facilitates planning that helps a community

create a sustainable tourism industry.



For decades tourism industry growth has been a

major contributor to increased economic activity

throughout the U.S. and the world. It has created

jobs in both large and small communities and is a

major industry in many places. It is the dominant

economic activity in some communities. Yet, the

impacts of tourism to a community are not widely

understood – even where tourism is growing

dramatically and should be of the greatest interest

or concern.

Most people think of tourism in terms of economic

impacts, jobs, and taxes. However, the range of

impacts from tourism is broad and often influences

areas beyond those commonly associated with tourism.

Leaders as well as residents who understand the potential

impacts of tourism can integrate this industry into their

community in the most positive way.


Understanding Tourism Conf licts

Different groups are often concerned about different tourism impacts. To generalize,

where one group embraces the e c o n o m i c impacts of tourism, another group experiences

social and cultural i m p a c t s , while another is affected by tourism’s e n v i r o n m e n t a l

impacts. In theory, the interests of each group could be completely separate, as in

Figure 1a. For example, Group A could include the business community and people

who are in need of the jobs offered by tourism. Group B might include residents who

feel displaced by an influx of visitors. Group C could be local outdoor enthusiasts

concerned about changes in natural resources. In such a case, each group would have

The impacts of tourism can be sorted into seven general categories:

1. Economic

2. Environmental

3. Social and cultural

4. Crowding and congestion

5. Services

6. Taxes

7. Community attitude

Each category includes positive and negative impacts. Not all impacts are applicable to

every community because conditions or resources differ. Community and tourism

leaders must balance an array of impacts that may either improve or negatively affect

communities and their residents. Leaders must be sensitive and visionary, and must

avoid the temptation of glossing over certain difficulties tourism development creates.

Tourism leaders must also balance the opportunities and concerns of all community

sectors by working against conditions where positive impacts benefit one part of the

community (geographic or social) and negative impacts hurt another.

Conversely, community sensitivity to tourism means avoiding undue burdens on the

industry that could thwart its success. Local leaders should not expect tourism to solve

all community problems. Tourism is just one element of a community. While creative

strategic development of tourism amenities and services can enhance the community

or correct local deficiencies, tourism, like all business development, must assure that

its products (attractions and services) attract customers. Overbearing rules and

restrictions, and overburdening taxes can make tourism businesses less attractive or



completely different outlooks

on tourism. Ideally, all groups

could be positively affected and

would support the community’s

tourism efforts. However, when

group interests are divergent,

differing perspectives can

make consensus on tourism

development difficult.

In most cases, groups with

interests in one area of tourism

will also have interests or

concerns about other tourism

impacts as diagramed in Figure

1b. In these situations, there

are common areas of interest

and a greater likelihood that

each group will show more

appreciation for the concerns of

the other groups. Finding

commonality provides a starting

point for resolving tourism


Specific plans and actions can

increase tourism’s benefits or

decrease the gravity of a negative impact. It is important for communities to understand

the wide scope of impacts and endeavor to agree on what positive impacts to

emphasize. It is wise to acknowledge and identify possible negative impacts so actions

can be taken to minimize or prevent them. A clear statement of the community’s vision

of tourism should be an integral part of a community’s comprehensive plan. Active

planning directs tourism toward the goals of the community, clarifying tourism’s role

and uniting multiple interests.

The Role of Planning

Figure 1. Interest in Tourism Impacts

Group C





Social & Cultural






Social &



Group A


Group B Group A

Group B


Tourism Impacts

A goal of developing the tourism industry in a community is maximizing

selected positive impacts while minimizing potential negative impacts.

First, it is essential to identify the possible impacts. To u r i s m

researchers have identified a large number of impacts. Grouping

the impacts into categories shows the types of impacts that could

result from developing tourism in a community. The following

tables list a range of important tourism impacts in a concise

format. Readers needing additional information about specific

impacts should contact appropriate professionals or consult

tourism texts and research papers.

A community will not experience every impact. Some are

dependent on particular natural resource features (mountains,

coral reefs) or development and spatial patterns (special

„tourist zones“). Others relate to the social condition of the

c o m m u n i t y, particularly the ability to culturally or socially connect

with tourists. Still others relate to types and intensity of tourism

developments, i.e., approval or hostility toward tourist activities.

The following tables are extensive but not all-inclusive.

Planning is not enough. Active implementation and management of plans and prompt

attention to emerging tourism issues will maximize positive and minimize negative

impacts. Monitoring and addressing community attitudes should be an ongoing part

of the management effort. Good monitoring efforts can identify trouble areas and give

leaders an opportunity to defuse community reactions and make timely changes before

a crisis occurs. Unfortunately, few communities are so proactive.


Understanding that tourism development may result in many and complex impacts

suggests that local elected officials, the tourism industry, and community residents

need to work cooperatively and carefully to plan for its growth and development.

Planning can help create an industry that enhances a community with minimal costs

and disruptions in other aspects of community life. Having broad community

involvement and embracing different perspectives during planning helps identify and

resolve concerns that would otherwise create problems later.


Tourism increases employment opportunities. Additional jobs, ranging from low-wage

entry-level to high-paying professional positions in management and technical fields,

generate income and raise standards of living. Particularly in rural areas, the

diversification created by tourism helps communities that are possibly dependent on

only one industry. As tourism grows, additional opportunities are created for investment,

development, and infrastructure spending. Tourism often induces improvements

Elaboration of Tourism Impacts


w Increases price of goods and services

w Increases price of land and housing

w Increases cost of living

w Increases potential for imported labor

w Cost for additional infrastructure

(water, sewer, power, fuel, medical, etc.)

w Increases road maintenance and

transportation systems costs

w Seasonal tourism creates high-risk,

under- or unemployment issues

w Competition for land with other (highervalue)

economic uses

w Profits may be exported by non-local


w Jobs may pay low wages

w Contributes to income and standard of


w Improves local economy

w Increases employment opportunities

w Improves investment, development, and

infrastructure spending

w Increases tax revenues

w Improves public utilities infrastructure

w Improves transport infrastructure

w Increases opportunities for shopping

w Economic impact (direct, indirect,

induced spending) is widespread in the


w Creates new business opportunities


in public utilities such as water, sewer, sidewalks, lighting, parking, public restrooms,

litter control, and landscaping. Such improvements benefit tourists and residents

alike. Likewise, tourism encourages improvements in transport infrastructure

resulting in upgraded roads, airports, public transportation, and non-traditional

transportation (e.g., trails). Tourism encourages new elements to join the retail mix,

increasing opportunities for shopping and adding healthy competitiveness. It often

increases a community’s tax revenues. Lodging and sales taxes most notably

increase but additional tax revenues include air travel and other transportation

taxes, business taxes, and fuel taxes. New jobs generate more income tax


When considering the economic impacts of tourism, it is essential to

understand that tourism businesses often include a significant

number of low-paying jobs, often at minimum wage or less. T h e s e

jobs are often seasonal, causing under-employment or unemployment

during off-seasons. Labor may be imported, rather than

hired locally, especially if particular skills or expertise is required,

or if local labor is unavailable. Some tourism-related businesses

are volatile and high-risk ventures that are unsustainable.

Greater demand for goods, services, land, and housing may

increase prices that in turn will increase the cost of living.

Tourism businesses may claim land that could have higher- v a l u e

or other uses. Additionally, non-local owners and corporations

may export profits out of the community. The community may

have to generate funds (possibly through increased taxes) to

maintain roads and transportation systems that have become

more heavily used.
Similarly, if additional infrastructure (water,

s e w e r, power, fuel, medical, etc.) is required, additional taxes may

also be needed to pay for them.


Areas with high-value natural resources, like oceans, lakes, waterfalls,

mountains, unique flora and fauna, and great scenic beauty attract

tourists and new residents (in-migrants) who seek emotional and spiritual

connections with nature. Because these people value nature, selected natural

environments are preserved, protected, and kept from further ecological decline.

Lands that could be developed can generate income by accommodating the recreational

activities of visitors. Tourist income often makes it possible to preserve and restore

historic buildings and monuments. Improvements in the area’s appearance through

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