The Downsides of Tourism and How to Travel Better

Traveling is the thing to do at the moment. If we believe the pictures on Instagram everyone is traveling all the time and to the most exotic places. Influencers and travel blogger are telling you that you need to travel far away and which ten best places to visit next. Being able to travel constantly is the ultimate goal and many blogs teach you how to achieve it (Iovino, 2013). But is this lifestyle something we should strive to achieve or is there a downside to it? 

The first negative thing that comes to mind is the increase in air travel and thus pollution of the environment that comes from flying all around the world (IATA – International Air Transport Association, 2018). But this is only the obvious flaw of tourism. Others are not that easy to see. 

If tourists start to visit a region this generates an inflow of money. Yet this money often does not stay with the local population but rather leaves the country again towards big companies that own the hotels and travel agencies. Tourism is a very seasonal business and thus only provides job security for part of the year (UNESCO Office Bangkok et al., 2008). It also creates a dependence on tourists to come again every year especially if a region solely focus on this sector (Smith, 2018). 

In addition, tourism drives the destruction of bio-diversity. (UNESCO Office Bangkok et al., 2008). One of the consequences of mass tourism is an overuse of nature that has no chance to recover. In the recent past this has led to the shout down of the most beautiful beaches like the ones on Boracay Island on the Philippines (Morris, 2018). All around the world places reach their limits due to over tourism. With an expansion of tourism there comes also an increase in pollution of the environment, a degradation of land and a rising shortage of water. Industrial as well as household waste in rivers and landsite intensifies. Often natural resources are used for the tourism industry rather than for local needs. The rice terraces in Banaue, Philippines, for example face a water shortage because hotels use most of it and thus the water no longer reaches the terraces. The construction of streets and houses destroys landscape and nature and takes landsite away from the residents. Due to unrestrained developments for the tourism industry whole regions become less attractive (UNESCO Office Bangkok et al., 2008).

There is also a negative impact on the culture and heritage of the region. Socio-cultural changes are bound to happen when tourists from all over the world start visiting. In many places ancient rituals are performed for the enjoyment of tourists while there true meaning is lost. Tourists also often behave ignorant towards local customs and don’t show respect to the privacy of the host population (UNESCO Office Bangkok et al., 2008). 

Is there a way to avoid these negative consequences and still see the world? The UN World Tourism Organization defines sustainable traveling as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities” (UN World Travel Organization, 2019). The negative impact on the local environment, social culture and economy should thus be minimized while the benefits for the local population should be maximized (Sofronov, 2017). It is important that the growth and changes induced by tourism are long-term. If this is fulfilled tourism can actually be a chance for a region. Tourism leads to the creation of jobs and following to an increase in income. Infrastructure that is built for tourist can also be used by the population and is an improvement of the transportation system. Overall this can lead to a higher living standard of the residents (UNESCO Office Bangkok et al., 2008). Important for these positive changes is that the local population is included in the development and the process. 

With this in mind, how do we achieve a more sustainable way of traveling? Travel bloggers and travel Instagrammers play a huge role in the way people are traveling. Many are searching for tips on blogs or seek inspiration for their next trip on Instagram. In behavioral economics this is called a reference network. By showing a more sustainable way of traveling people see that this is also a viable option. A great example of blogs that show a way of sustainable traveling is‘’ (Sustainable Travel International, 2019)or Greta Thunberg who decided to no longer travel by airplane (Thunberg, 2019). They are demonstrating that there is a way of getting around and seeing the world without causing damage to the environment or the culture of the countries they visit. By showing better ways to travel they also change what is called the factual beliefs of people and the social norm of what is expected and accepted. 

But it’s not only the people who travel that need to change but also the industry itself. The World Travel and Tourism Council initiated the Tourism of Tomorrow Awards that honours different field of sustainable traveling following the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2019)and Sustainable Travel International (2019) started a campaign with the goal to improve 10 Million lives in the tourism industry in the next 10 years. With awards, labels and campaigns for being sustainable like this travel agencies, hotels etc. business get encouraged to offer sustainable travel options. 

As we can see the industry is slowly changing. More and more tourists are choosing a more sustainable way of traveling. And governments are starting to put the needs of nature and their people above the needs of the tourism sector as seen by closing down beaches or putting caps on daily visitors. Are you going to be part of it?


IATA – International Air Transport Association. 2018. ‘Annual Review 2018’. International Air Transport Association Annual Review 2018.

Iovino, Sabrina. 2013. ‘I Want to Travel for the Rest of My Life – 15 Travel Bloggers Tell How to Do It’. Lifestyle & Travel Blog.

Morris, Hugh. 2018. ‘What’s Happening in Boracay, the Island Paradise Ruined by Tourism?’ The Telegraph.

Smith, Oliver. 2018. ‘Paradise Lost: Beautiful Islands Ruined by Tourism’. The Telegraph.

Sofronov, Bogdan. 2017. ‘Impact of Sustainable Tourism in the Travel Industry’. Annals of Spiru Haret University. Economic Series17 (4): 85–94. doi:10.26458/1747.

Sustainable Travel International. 2019. ‘Leave the World a Better Place’. Sustainable Travel International.

Sustainable Travel International. 2019. ‘10 Million Better’. Sustainable Travel International.

Thunberg, Greta. 2019. ‘Greta Thunberg (@gretathunberg) • Instagram-Fotos und -Videos’.

UN World Travel Organization. 2019. ‘Definition | Sustainable Development of Tourism’.

UNESCO Office Bangkok, Regional Bureau for Education in Asia and the Pacific, Save the Ifugao Rice Terraces Movement (Philippines), and Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education. 2008. IMPACT: The Effects of Tourism on Culture and the Environment in Asia and the Pacific: Sustainable Tourism and the Preservation of the World Heritage Site of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, Philippines. Bangkok: UNESCO Bangkok.World Travel and Tourism Council. 2019. ‘Tourism For Tomorrow Awards’. WTTC.

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