Tourism is undoubtedly the single largest industry in the world and contributes vast amounts of revenue into any given country. In New Zealand alone, tourism accounted for 10.2% of Gross Domestic Product in 1996 or in dollar terms $11.78 billion (Collier, 1999). In 1999, half a billion people traveled worldwide which indicates the huge scale of the tourism industry. And the speed of tourism growth is also outstanding – airplane numbers have increased thirty times since 1960 and in the last fifteen years the number has doubled. And the amount of international tourists is also increasing rapidly. In 1939 there were only one million tourists worldwide whereas in 1999 there were more than one million international tourists from New Zealand alone (Otago University Resource, 2001).
After understanding how large the tourism industry is and the speed it is growing at, it is necessary to then learn about the associated impacts from tourism. The impacts are divided into three categories: economic, socio-cultural and environmental and each impact can create either a positive or negative outcome. Obviously the most important impacts that need to be dealt with are the negative ones. Throughout this essay each different impact will be explained and an example provided. It will also indicate how important it is for a tourism manager to be aware of these impacts and how they could possibly minimise or eliminate any of these adverse effects.
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Socio-cultural impacts are concerned with the effects tourism has on host communities and the residents. Travelers can have either a positive or negative impact on a host community but in this particular example the negative socio-cultural impacts on Queenstown will be examined.
Queenstown is a vastly growing, popular tourist destination in the Southern Island of New Zealand. Labeled as the ‘Adventure Capital of the World,’ attractions range from jet boating to snowboarding to parapenting hiking. Although one may assume the city is reaping the economic benefits from tourism, it is also suffering from negative socio cultural impacts. Tourists from Europe, the United States, Scandinavia, Australia and Asia outnumber the 9,000 residents two to one (Sunday Star Times, 2000). Due to the high tourist to resident ratio it is inevitable that residents are feeling the disruption in their everyday lives. Locals are feeling as though their town has been taken over by tourists. A specific example of this ‘take over’ is the congestion caused by tourists in Queenstown. Suppose a Queenstown resident wants to make a trip into town to do some shopping. Extra caution must be taken when driving into town due to the number of vehicles on the road. Also a lot of the drivers are foreign and unfamiliar to New Zealand’s road rules which adds to the danger. Getting around Queenstown can take a lot longer due to vehicles like buses and campervans slowing down the traffic and since there are limited passing lanes driving can be quite frustrating for residents. Once the resident gets to town they find the streets crowded with tourists and queues at the counters. Prices on necessity goods have been inflated and some locals probably would not even consider buying luxury goods in Queenstown due to the augmented ‘tourist’ prices (Sunday Star Times, 2000). Signs on the windows of shops are starting to appear in foreign languages, typically Japanese. Even some of the shops are owned and operated by foreigners and the shop assistants cannot speak fluent English.
This example of a Queenstown resident’s trip to the shops highlights the gradual disruption of a local community and culture. Therefore it is necessary for Queenstown tourism mangers to become aware of these negative socio cultural impacts and do something to either minimise or eliminate the effects. All of the tourist attractions are going to be more successful if they get full support from the residents.
There are various tools tourism managers could use to help manage these socio cultural impacts. The first step is to assess the carrying capacity of the city. There are only so many beds in Queenstown that can accommodate visitors. In terms of an accommodation carrying capacity, the figure could be worked out by surveying how many beds there are at every form of accommodation in the region.
The second step would be to look at how many tourists are visiting the Queenstown district and see how essential it is to create more accommodation or attractions. One must remember that the authenticity of a destination can be ruined if it is overdeveloped. By visiting Queenstown right now it is possible to see how much of a mess the town is in due to tourism development.
In order to reduce the congestion on the roads there are two steps that could be taken. Firstly a heavy traffic by-pass could be created to stop people travelling through town centres unnecessarily. The second solution would be to create more passing lanes where possible to keep the traffic flowing smoothly.
And finally the last tool that could be used to help the host community is by actually involving them in tourism planning and development. If tourism managers respect and listen to the resident’s opinions it may help reduce future negative impacts. After all without the locals there would be no ‘kiwi’ culture in the town and there would be no one to help operate the tourist attractions.
The most arguable aspect of tourism today is the impact it has on the environment, with most comments suggesting that it does more harm than good. Environmental impacts are concerned with the disruption and destruction of floral and faunal species, pollution, litter, erosion and any changes to the natural and built environments of a community due to tourism activity.
In Australia there are many natural environments that are under threat due to large numbers of tourists visiting them. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland is a prime example of a natural environment being ruined by tourism. Coral reefs are delicate, vulnerable ecosystems that live and grow below sea level. The Great Barrier Reef has been under sustained attack from development, tourism and natural factors. It is slowly eroding due to human activity, such as boats and anchors hitting it and thousands of snorkellers and scuba divers breaking off huge chunks for jewelry and souvenirs (Anderton, 1995). Considering the vast amounts of tourists who visit the reef every year, there is possible risk that parts of the reef could be completely destroyed if the impacts are not managed properly.
And it is not just the destruction of the idyllic reef settings at risk but also the extensive range of wildlife living in the reef. Tourism is causing disruption to breeding habitats, changes in vegetation and extinction of species due to water pollution (Anderton, 1995). And if tourism in the reef continues to escalate and no restrictions are enforced, then there is a possibility that there will be no beautiful coral or fish to see in the near future. One can now understand how important environmental impacts are and why responsible tourism managers should be aware.
The approach a tourism manager should take to fixing or minimsing any negative impacts is a ‘Sustainable Approach.’ From a 1987 report ‘Our Common Future,’ sustainable development was defined as "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." There are four possible solutions to managing the latter environmental impacts.
The first solution is to place a limit on the amount of tourism operators in the Great Barrier Reef region. If there are too many tourism operators at the reef, it is creating overcrowding and pressure on the reef. Also having a limitation of visitors on each vessel would reduce the pressure. Operations like snorkeling and scuba diving should have to be registered and undergo specific training programmes that educate people on reef protection.
Legislation should be introduced reflecting the collection of coral souvenirs. It should become illegal to break off pieces of coral from the reef. Since visitor numbers are relatively high one can imagine there would be no coral left if every visitor took home a chunk.
The third solution would be to build or create specific reef viewing areas. It would be like land zoning and therefore some areas would be ‘out of bounds.’ This would help protect certain endangered areas and allow for future generation’s use.
Finally education is an important and effective management tool. Education could be included in tourist activity pamphlets, distributed through travel agents and information centres, to illustrate how important it is to care for the reef.
Tourists then have a chance to understand the appropriate behaviour expected by the operators before arriving to the activity. The expected behaviour would then be repeated verbally upon arrival to the activity to signify the importance of protecting the reef. Glen Burns is an employee of a Great Barrier Reef scuba diving operation and he believes that educating tourists is very successful. On a recent television programme ‘Assignment: The Tourism Trap’ he said: "Once people become aware of the fact that these corals are living animals, living organisms and that by standing on them they will crush and kill them, then you’d be amazed. People really do want to look after (the Great Barrier Reef); they don’t want to do any damage. They want to see it stay (pristine) and they will do their utmost to make sure it stays that way (Assignment, 2001)." The quote simply excentuates how effective education is for minimising environmental impacts.
The last example is about the economic impacts caused by tourism. Typically concerned with the monetary costs and benefits created by tourism development and operation, people generally associate high revenue to popular tourist attractions. And one can understand their opinions since tourism contributes greatly to New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product, Foreign Exchange earnings and it also supports a significant number of jobs (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1997). But in the following example the issues of sustainability and weather reliance will illustrate just how tourism attractions can suffer economically.
In late 2000 Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (also the owner of Whakapapa skifield) bought Turoa Ski Resort due to Turoa’s poor financial status. Turoa ended up in receivership early last year, resulting from poor snowfalls and the issue of seasonality. A ski resort is typically a winter-orientated operation and a season can be as short as three months. So with huge set-up and operational costs and the addition of hiring and training mainly seasonal staff, it can be seen that it is a pricey attraction to run. For any tourism operator receivership would undoubtedly be the worst economic impact of tourism.
The first problem Turoa Ski Resort faced was the issue of seasonality, which contributed to the negative economic impacts. The mountain would be packed in the winter season but as soon as the winter season ended the tourists would disappear. Even though the resort is open during summer for sightseeing, the visitor numbers are significantly low (Turoa Staff Handguide, 2000).
In order to even out the seasonal peaks and troughs it is necessary for the tourism managers to work out ways to attract more people in the off peak season. Offering reduced chairlift rates might attract more tourists and the resort could work in conjunction with local accommodation outlets to provide cheap packages. Advertising may need to be increased, as people may be unaware of the summer activities at the resort. Maybe the option of complete closure over the summer could be the most feasible solution.
The second problem that caused negative economic impacts on Turoa was the reliance on weather. Unfortunately for the last five years there has been a series of poor snowfalls. The lack of snow resulted in many closed days and with the addition of the 1995 volcanic eruption Turoa suffered financially – big time.
The first important prerequisite to buying a ski resort would be to have experience in how the resort operates or to have done substantial background research. Since the weather determines greatly how many visitors the resort receives, tourism managers should be aware of ways to cope with bad seasons.
A new idea bought in by Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (now known as Mt Ruapehu) this year is an ‘Activity Pass.’ International tourists purchase an Activity Pass that entitles them to a day skiing or if the weather is poor they can transfer it to money value at selected tourist attractions within the region (for example 4WD motorbiking). It is a great of retaining prospective customers until the weather clears.
Since the main economic problem in operating a ski resort is the possibility of financial hardship, the most effective management tool would be to have excellent accounting skills. If managers know where the money is being spent and areas where it could be saved they find themselves financially stable. This also included selecting the right employees and making sure they are being as productive as possible.
Having looked at three examples of socio-cultural, environmental and economic impacts of tourism, the message is clear – in order to continue to operate and develop tourist attractions tourism managers must have huge interest in all of the impacts, essentially the negative effects. If tourism managers do not make an effort to even consider these tourism impacts, it is possible that their individual businesses could in the future suffer. And these managers must also understand that not one impact is more important than the others are. In order for a tourism manager to be considered a ‘responsible’ manager these tourism impacts must be dealt with, otherwise there could be some serious outcomes, potentially jeopardising their businesses.
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