Positive Environmental Impacts of Tourism

What are the positive environmental impacts of tourism?

The negative environmental impacts of tourism are all pretty clear. We know that the transportation sector is a big part of the greenhouse gas emissions globally. And we also know that the tourism industry more or less has been growing every year since the early 1950s. The industry actually had a small decline in travelers after the horrible attacks on 9/11, but since then we have seen steep growth every year. This article is quite helpful in order to understand why tourism is bad for the environment and why some tourist spots/countries have to regulate the number of tourists. When we have reached that point in history, we know that we are in trouble.

But on the other side, is it actually possible to see any positive impact on the environment by people traveling?

Positive Environmental Impacts of Tourism

Table of Contents

Three ways that tourism can be eco-friendly

The travel industry is heavily researched. In other words: there are loads of scientific papers available that covers this topic. After reading a bunch of these papers, I started to get a nice overview of the positive environmental consequences of tourism.

There are mainly three positive elements that scientists believe in:

– Tourism can help people to get educated about the beautiful nature that we have. Going on a trip to the most beautiful nature in the world is like watching an episode of “Planet Earth”. You are much more likely to feel that we got something to loose.

– Increased revenue and economy might lead to better conservation of wildlife or protected natural areas.

– More tourism might force governments to develop more eco-friendly transportation methods. The high speed train between Shanghai and Beijing is a direct consequence of people traveling more frequently between these cities.

First: what is not good about tourism?

From an environmental perspective, there are loads of things that is wrong with the big tourist industry. You can either read the full article that I linked to previously in the article. Or you can read this summary:

– Tourism is equal to that people are moving. They are mainly doing so by using airplanes, trains, cars or buses. These transport methods have one thing in common: they pollute. Some more than others, but they all contribute to climate change through pollution.

– People tend to have a very different mindset when they are on holiday. Recycling does not seem to be very interesting. Tourists simply do not want to think about saving the environment when they are traveling.

Education and mindset

Beautiful landscape. And solid quote. Photo: Pixabay.

They say that “traveling broadens the mind”. .And that can absolutely be true. If you travel to other countries where the culture and language differ from your own, you can definitely learn something. From an environmental perspective, you will also possibly be able to see how people “live in one with nature”. Most people in Europe and the USA live close to cities. But there are people around the world that have never seen, or never will see, a skyscraper in their life. They simply live like Europeans lived 100 years ago, which is quite remarkable.

When you actually travel and see how dependent people are on fish and other sea creatures to survive, you better start to feel a bit bad. Not because they are considered “poor”. But because you probably at some point in your life have purchased unnecessary plastic items that end up in nature. And that is why 90 % of all fish in the sea now got fractions of plastic in their stomach.

In this sense, traveling can have the same effect as watching a good documentary. Many wildlife documentaries are made in order to force people to take action. And they work. As soon as people get educated in this way, they are more likely to act in order to fix that problem.

Helps small societies around the world

When we talk about “helping the environment”, we should not limit our thoughts to nature. Well, we should – but there are many factors involved. Let me try to explain.

If the economy grows in an area, chances are that this area will see an increased social environment. People simply have better jobs, a better economy and live better. There are some cities in this world that have 90 % of their income from tourists. That is not sustainable. But we know that 11 % of all jobs in this world is directly or indirectly related to tourism. That is quite a high number.

This is a small market that I visited when I was in Seoul, Korea. The buildings were apparently semi-famous as people walked around taking pictures of them, but it was the small, local shops with authentic souvenirs (not the “I LOVE SEOUL” t-shirt) that I really enjoyed:

Great small village in the middle of Seoul.

You see that me and my travel partner even were offered archery?! For free! 🙂 What a lovely place Seoul is.

In other words, tourism brings in an awful lot of money in certain areas. This money are often put towards maintaining small communities and their surrounding areas. Some national parks are more or less 100 % driven by the money spent by tourists.


I don’t think we can conclude that traveling or tourism got much positive impact on the environment. There are so much greenhouse gas emissions that can be directly linked with many of the elements of traveling. We just have to accept that.

What people could do instead is tend to more and more care about the environment when going to different places. For instance, I wrote this article about eco-conscious traveling. It is a quite handy guide for everyone who is going on holiday – especially for those of you that will travel a long way. It is a rather long article, so I would just summarize some main points:

– Use train or bus (public transport) instead of airplanes, taxis, etc. when that is possible.

– Do not support companies that hold animals in captive in exchange for some extra money for tourists. The “elephant rides in the Thailand Jungle” –companies springs to mind.

– Eat local instead of imported food. That should also be a huge part of the experience when traveling to new places.

I think we can summarize by saying that people are not going to stop traveling. In fact, all trends show that people want to see more and more of the world. And with increased availability, that is probably going to happen as well. But be careful about your carbon footprint when you are out traveling and please respect other cultures and religions.

Learn 10 ways to protect marine wildlife when diving.

5 thoughts on “What are the positive environmental impacts of tourism?”

  1. Avatar

    Hello, thanks for your article there. So about 11 % of all jobs in the world are somehow related to tourism?

    That is new information to me. I was also quite shocked to see that so many cities are 100 % dependent on tourists to even survive. There are loads of people that try not to travel too much simply because it leaves a huge carbon footprint. Especially if you want to travel to another continent. On the other side, I feel that this is something that maybe governments around the world need to figure out?

    How can they push people to travel in a more eco-friendly way?

  2. Avatar

    There are some things you really should NOT do when you are on holiday. For instance, supporting cruise ships or airplane companies. Every time I see huge cruise ships filled with Asian tourists driving into the beautiful fjord landscape of Norway, I feel sad. This is not how we should take care of our nature.

    There are so many reasons why we should not travel in the way we do right now. We need to stop the current madness.

    1. Avatar

      Hello Non-traveler, you are right. Cruise ships are actually among the worst when it comes to pollution. Luckily, EU have decided to put some quite heavy restrictions on the fuel they are allowed to use. I don’t think that will solve the problem, but it will definitely help quite a bit.

      I am concerned about the development in the travel industry. Yesterday I read an article saying that China will build 200 airports in 2019 alone. That’s not very good for the environment (to say at least).

  3. Avatar

    Traveling in general is not exactly very environmental friendly. If you can help someone that are struggling in the jungle by supporting them financially: great. But it does not take away the fact that mass tourism is a very bad thing for the environment.

    Greenhouse emissions that can be traced back to the TRAVEL INDUSTRY are massive.

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