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The increased concerns regarding the environmental conservation particularly in the last few decades has resulted in a more intimate relationship between the tourism industry and the environment. In most developed, as well as developing countries, tourism has had several impacts on the environment in a number of ways (Bryant, 1997). For example, ecotourism has been known to significantly enhance the preservation of the natural beauty, as well as to raise the awareness of the environmental challenges particularly in the developing countries, such as Brazil. In other cases, Tourism is not only a major foreign exchange earner, but is also a major source of funds that are used in the environmental preservation, as well as the improvement of the local living conditions in an attempt to attract more tourists. Additionally, it is strongly believed that it has encouraged the preservation of a number of endangered species which, otherwise, would have become extinct.

Critics, however, argue that tourism has negative impacts on the environment. For example, they cite some of the challenges that come with eco-tourism, such as disturbance of the natural habitat, increased pollution and increased poaching. It is also argued that as more hotels and other infrastructural facilities are being built to cater for the needs of the tourists, the environment may be adversely affected. It is however worth noting that in both the developed and developing countries, tourism is being widely seen as an economic savior for both the region as and the countries in which it is practiced, and this is particularly with regards to its numerous environmental and economic benefits. This paper focuses on the environmental impacts of tourism, particularly with regards to the notion that tourism is the main economic lifeline for many towns and countries across the world.

Tourism and Environmental Conservation

According to Pigram (1999), there is a number of Ways through which tourism has contributed to the environmental conservation in several countries. For example, with regards to the financial contributions from the tourism industry, there are both direct and indirect financial benefits of tourism to the environmental conservation. Direct financial contributions of tourism to the conservation of the sensitive habitats include the revenues that are often obtained from the park entrance fees, as well as other related sources. In most countries, such as Brazil, these funds are often used to pay for the management and the protection of various environmentally sensitive localities in the country. There are also special conservation levies, such as park operation fees that are usually collected from the tourist operators or the tourists themselves to help in the conservation activities (Croall, 1995).

On the other hand, the indirect financial contribution of tourism to the environmental conservation processes include the huge sums of money that are usually collected, but are not linked to particular conservation areas or parks. Some of these revenues come in the form of income taxes on tourism facilities, such as recreational equipment, licensing of tourism-related activities, such as sport, fishing and hunting. Tourism has been known to significantly enhance the preservation of natural beauty, as well as raise the awareness of the environmental challenges, particularly in the developing countries, such as Latin America. Generally, tourism is not only a major foreign exchange earner, but is also a major source of funds that are used in the environmental preservation, as well as the improvement of the local living conditions in an attempt to attract more tourists. In both the developed and developing countries, tourism has significantly encouraged the preservation of a number of endangered species, which, otherwise, would have become extinct, and this also increases the number of revenues collected from the visitors who come to see such species.

All these funds are often employed in the environmental conservation programs and park maintenance, and this enables the governments of the particular countries and regions to effectively manage their natural resources. For example, in 1999, the Republic of Seychelles introduced a system of tax, which targeted tourists and travelers that entered the country. The tax was primarily meant to be used in the environmental conservation and preservation, as well as the improvement of the tourism facilities in the country. In the United States, a tax was introduced in Western Virginia on all the tourists participating in rafting, and part of the fees collected was meant to be used in the clean up of the rivers. Generally, tourism forms a major part of the monetary reserve, source of job opportunities, as well as a contributor of the GDP for several developed and developing countries.

Another way in which tourism has affected the environment is the fact that tourism has in most cases resulted in improved environmental planning and management. The proper management, the tourism facilities and resources, such as hotels, and sources of tourist attractions like rivers, forests and wildlife can significantly result in the increased benefits to the environment. This, however, demands, careful planning based on a comprehensive analysis of the environmental resources of a particular area. Through the implementation of proper planning, the environmentalists can effectively make choices regarding the conflicting uses of environmental resources. For example, the gradual damage to the environment can be prevented through the proper planning. The tourism industry is also increasingly using various clean production technologies in the operation of various tourism facilities, such as hotels. Some of these cleaner techniques include the use of non-polluting building materials and energy sources, such as photovoltaic cells. All these work towards reducing the negative impacts of tourism industry on the environment.

Environmental Awareness

The tourism industry has a great potential to enhance public awareness of the environment, as well as the appreciation of the various environmental problems. This is particularly because tourism often brings people closer to the environment and nature, and it results in environmentally-conscious activities that help preserve the environment. The sustainability of the tourism industry demands the incorporation of the practices and principles that are in line with sustainable consumption. Additionally, tourism activities often play a major role in the provision of critical environmental information particularly among the tourists. In this regard, the tourists may be made aware of the environmental consequences of their actions.

With regards to environmental preservation and protection, tourism contributes to the protection, restoration and conservation of the biodiversity in a number of ways. For example, the tourist attraction sites can be identified and developed into the wildlife and national parks. For example, various agencies in Hawaii have developed new regulations that are aimed at preserving the native species in the Hawaiian rain forests. Because of such efforts, Hawaii has developed to become one of the most recognized international centers for scientific research on various ecological systems. The primary motivation that led to this achievement is the need to preserve the tourism industry in the island. With regards to wildlife preservation, many countries particularly in Africa, South Pacific, Asia, Australia and South America have developed various wildlife protection and preservation efforts to help the survival of the endangered species and protect biodiversity.

Without these efforts, many of the plant and animal species would have been threatened with extinction. Some of the preservation efforts that have been put in place in these countries include enacting legislations to protect the endangered species, as well as establishing of the reserves where the conservation measures can effectively be put in place. Consequently, as a result of such measures, many of the endangered species are now beginning to thrive again in several countries. In this regards, tourism is a major economic lifeline for many regions and countries across the world. A good example is the successful conservation of mountain Gorillas in the great lakes region of Africa, particularly in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. Although, the mountain Gorillas remain to be one of the most endangered species in the world, their conservation has provided the countries with tourism-related revenues, and this has further led to close cooperation with regards to the protection of their habitat. On the other hand, tourism funds that have been realized as a result of such conservation projects have significantly contributed to the development of such areas, both at the local and at the national and regional levels.

Tourism as a Source of Alternative Employment and Development

Tourism is an important provider of alternative development, and this may consequently have the significant impacts on the environment. For example, in the UK, thousands of tourists continue to visit the vine yards in the rural areas, and this has proven to be a significant source of revenue and market for the rural farmers. In other places, however, some of the beneficiaries of the employment opportunities created by tourism may abandon their previous environmentally unfriendly practices, such as hunting, poaching and illegal lodging of timber (Wanhill, 1997). In some places, it has been observed that the level of environmentally unfair practices, such as slash and burn agriculture have significantly reduced, as a result of the alternative source of livelihood brought about by tourism. As more people begin to realize the benefits of conservation, private reserves may be created, and this will further help in the protection of the wildlife. For example, the conservation of the Orangutan is a major source of alternative employment in Indonesia. In fact, it has resulted in the promotion of a sustainable source of income for the locals, thus reducing the other environmental degrading economic activities, such as timber exploitation and poaching activities in the region.

On the other hand, Morrison and Selman,(1991), argue that the regulatory measures, such as controlling the number of tourism related activities in the conservation areas can significantly help reduce the negative impacts of tourism on the on the environment, as well as enhance the maintenance of the conservation sites. Additionally limits can be put in place after a careful analysis of the sustainable tourist capacity of a particular conservation area. This strategy ensures that the tourist visitors have minimized impact on the ecosystem as much as possible.

Negative Impacts of Tourism on the Environment

There are, however, a lot of negative impacts of tourism that have been witnessed in many parts of the world.  For example, some of the challenges that come with tourism activities include the disturbance of the natural habitat, poaching activities and increased pollution (Mathieson and Wall, 1992). Additionally, as more hotels and tourist resorts are being built to cater for the needs of the tourists, the environment may be adversely affected in a number of ways. The issue of solid waste disposal is a growing environmental challenge, particularly in areas where there are massive tourist resort operations. In other countries, huge heaps of garbage is a common site in many tourist cottages and this is not only environmentally degrading, but is unsightly as well. Additionally, the wastes may include biodegradable waste products in the tourist prone sites. According to Cater (1995), there have also been cases of some tourist resorts disposing their sewage wastes in environmentally unfriendly ways. These often have serious environmental implications as well as health consequences. For example, untreated sewage may enhance the growth of many aquatic plants and this significantly impacts on the aquatic life on such areas. In some cases, however, the ground water may be contaminated.

Another serious environmental challenge related to tourism is the destruction of coral reefs particularly by the divers who sometimes may deliberately remove the coral fauna as pa art of their souvenirs (Stabler, 1997). As earlier has been noted, most of these negative impacts of tourism can be effectively mitigated through regulatory measures, such as controlling the number of tourism related activities in the conservation areas can  help the conservationists to reduce the negative impacts of tourism on the on the environment. Such measures also enhance the maintenance of the conservation sites. In most cases, when the limits can be put in place after a comprehensive analysis of the sustainable tourist capacity of a particular conservation area, they are significantly effective (Cohen, 1998). All these strategies will help ensure that the tourism industry has minimized impact on the ecosystem as much as possible.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the relationship between the environment and tourism is relatively complex and tourism is linked to a number of activities that can directly or indirectly affect the environment in a number of ways. In both the developed and developing countries, tourism has often been regarded as an economic savior for both the region as and the countries in which  it is practiced and this is particularly with regard to its numerous environmental and economic benefits, such as source of revenue, as well as its contributions to the conservation of the natural beauty.

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