French English

AF Vervet CybellePlanete 3

Tourism and Biodiversity

Tourism impact

There is currently a loss of biodiversity on a global scale. A large part of this decrease is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity: exploitation of natural resources, climate change, pollution, introduction of species ...

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, in terms of the number of jobs and customers. Tourism alone accounts for 11% of the world's gross national product, employs 200 million people and moves some 700 million travelers a year, a number that is expected to double by 2020. It is considered one of the most important, if not the most important, global industries. Given its importance, it seems obvious to assess the impact on biodiversity.

The tourism industry has a lot of arguments for biodiversity. Indeed, the impacts of tourism on the environment are often much lower than those generated by other industries; moreover, the cultural and natural environment presenting the main attraction, it seems logical to want to preserve them.
Yet tourism can have a negative impact on biodiversity, especially when tourism development is not an ethic for local development. The current trend and future projections are not very optimistic about the tourism / biodiversity relationship. If we take stock of the development of tourism in recent decades, we find that:

  • Northern hemisphere tourism destinations are located in biodiversity "hotspots", a zone rich in biodiversity but also recognized as extremely fragile. For example, the Mediterranean basin already hosts 200 million tourists each year and forecasts for 2025 amount to 325 million. The infrastructures and the frequentation generate visual pollution and degradation of the environment. The weakened natural environments therefore lose their attractiveness.

  • More than 50% of the most biodiverse southern countries receive between 1 and 2 million international tourists a year.

  • More than half of the world's poorest 15 countries are biodiversity hotspots. These countries are facing growing tourism, and biodiversity is a major attraction.

Every year, nearly 1 billion people go on holidays around the world. In recent decades, there has been a staggering growth of tourism activities in some regions: 2000% increase in Cambodia and Laos, close to 500% in South Africa, more than 300% in Brazil, Nicaragua and El Salvador and more than 128% in the Dominican Republic.
This generates pollution and environmental degradation. On average, tourists travel 1900 km each, thus causing more than 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 3 at 4% attributable to the aircraft.

Some sites very popular for their beauty welcome a large number of tourists each year. The impact of the large number of visitors on the local flora and fauna is currently being observed: disturbance of the animals, modification of the eating habits due to the presence of bins (restoration) where some species have quickly learned to use, modification of the movements and Migration ... Despite the recommendations of researchers in the countries concerned, infrastructure continues to be built and the number of annual visitors continues to grow.
In addition, the needs of tourists (water, food ...) are often greater than local opportunities; sometimes, there is an excessive demand from hotels leading to overfishing (the case of the southern coast of Madagascar, for lobsters). It is known, for example, that 15000m3 water can irrigate one hectare of paddy field, or provide for 100 rural families for 3 years, or 100 urban families for two years, or for those of 100 tourists in a hotel during 55 days! Unreasonable water withdrawal in the water table in Marrakech to supply golf courses, villas have had consequences on the palm groves whose date palms have dried out, and weakened have been decimated by the bayoud (date tree disease).

The wild urbanization of tourist regions (eg coastlines) can affect the beauty of a site. In Reunion, we must remember the small size of the territory and the human concentration on the coast (82% of the population lives on the coast). The lagoon represents only 0,8% of the coastline. The installation of campsites, tourist sites and recreation causes seepage of wastewater and soil directly in the sand and a few meters from the lagoon (west coast).

The trafficking of wild animals and plants, 3eme because of its importance after drugs and weapons, is one of the first causes of species extinction. Parrots, orchids, precious wood objects or tortoiseshell, ivory jewelry, bring back memories can kill!

A more environmentally friendly tourism

Despite the negative aspects mentioned above, tourism can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and the reduction of poverty. Well-managed and ethical tourism supports nature conservation and benefits local communities. For this, a strong upstream reflection, as well as the establishment of local and national partnerships is essential. It is therefore a question of reconciling economic, social and cultural development, while preserving resources for future generations.
More and more tourism activities are helping to financially support local ecodevelopment and nature conservation projects. Tourism can also offer an alternative solution to biodiversity-destroying activities such as overexploitation of natural resources. Sustainable tourism is the result of continuous efforts and requires constant monitoring of the effects of this activity on the environment, which implies the adoption, whenever appropriate, of the necessary preventive and / or corrective measures.
Few concrete measures, at a governmental level, have been taken so far to limit or offset the impact of air transport on the environment (greenhouse gas emissions). Individual tools have developed. It is now possible to offset its emissions by financing projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a price of about one euro per thousand kilometers driven. Individuals concerned about their climate impact therefore have an original financial tool. They can thus participate in the financing of renewable energy production facilities, tree planting, etc. It is also recommended to leave in the long term and to avoid increasing air travel.

The concept of sustainable tourism is opposed to that of classic tourism, which generally offers an unethical reality:

  • reduced benefits for the local population

  • significant ecological impacts

  • unbalanced and artificial relationship between tourists and natives.

Thus, we are now seeing the emergence of a ethical tourism :

  • based on the principle of fair trade, it benefits the local population

  • a direct exchange between the traveler and local actors

  • sustainable activity that limits the impact on the environment

  • limited travel and increased length of stay.

There is therefore a choice for users to limit the impact of their holidays on biodiversity. Among the different forms that sustainable tourism can take are:

  • Sustainable tourism : Sustainable tourism (or responsible) contributes to the development of populations and receiving territories in both North and South while contributing to current challenges: fight against climate change, protection of biodiversity and fragile environments and fight against attacks human rights.

  • Ecotourism : It is about sustainable journey in nature, to discover it.

  • Fair and solidarity tourism: Fair tourism enables local people to reap more socio-economic benefits from tourism. Solidarity tourism brings together forms of alternative tourism that put people and encounters at the center of the journey and which are part of a logic of territorial development. The involvement of local populations in the various phases of the tourism project, respect for the individual, cultures and nature and a more equitable distribution of the resources generated are the foundations of this type of tourism.

  • eco-volunteering : This type of tourism consists of the direct contribution of participants to a nature protection program. The aim is to support research and environmental protection actions, directly in the field, in the presence of professionals (botanists, oceanologists, etc.).


Sustainable Tourism - From utopia to reality. 2019. JP Lamic. Kalo Taxidi Editions

10 years of sustainable tourism. 2018. Let's travel differently