Mass Tourism and Sustainability

By Lawrence Adams Principal, ForrestPerkins | July 08, 2018

Tourism is as old as travel itself. Characterized as recreational and educational travel, tourism can be traced back to 1500 BC in Egypt where elite groups journeyed to the great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx to experience the relics of ancient Egyptian culture. Later an extensive network of roadways in the Roman Empire promoted "bathing holidays" by wealthy Roman travelers who sought relaxation at seaside resorts on the beaches of Greece and Egypt. Tourism in antiquity was exclusive to the leisure classes who traveled for pleasure and sought the experience of new cultures in the form of art, architecture, cuisine, entertainment, geography and languages.

Eventually expansion of railroads in Europe in the 19th century along with growing economic prosperity ushered in the Modern Era of tourism. Following World War II, increased car ownership, affordable air travel, disposable income of the middle class and paid vacation time continued to prompt tourism businesses to develop vacation destinations with new elaborate hotels and resorts, restaurants, theme parks, casinos, marinas, entertainment venues and other tourist attractions. Global tourism has continued its rapid growth to the point where today the tourism industry and related enterprises, by some metrics, is the largest industry in the world.

In 1872 Thomas Cook, an English businessman, founded the first travel agency offering all-inclusive travel packages for group travel. As they still exist today, package vacations by professional tour operators, through economy of scale, are able to offer chartered transportation and accommodations at below market prices to large numbers of travelers. By developing a system of inexpensive travel, in many ways Cook can be credited with introducing the phenomena of Mass Tourism, whereby large numbers of tourist visit the same location often at the same time of year.

Mass tourism, where thousands of tourists converge on a single destination, has both positive and negative impacts on its local culture and environments.

Positive impacts might include the following:

  • Creation of employment for local citizens in hotels, restaurants, retail and other attractions. Locals learn new skills as companies provide employee training. Tourism companies bring improved employment standards such as fixed hours and paid leave.
  • Modernization of infrastructure including roads, bridges, utilities, airports, railways and telecommunication.
  • Economic growth including an increase in per capita wealth, new tax dollars and foreign investment in local economy.
  • Local retail growth that benefits local agriculture and manufacturing sectors with an increase in demand for souvenirs, cultural handicrafts, clothing and food.
  • Restoration of indigenous performing arts and rituals as entertainment for tourists.
Millions of visitors trample the Angkor Wat ruins each year, with thousands climbing ancient staircases each day wearing away precious sandstone carvings
Disney World, Magic Kingdom hosts 56,000 visitors per day. Disney's commitment to sustainable tourism is fundamental to its operations
The Philippine government is on the right track with shutting down Boracay Island to focus on restoration
Urbanization with construction of dozens of high-rise hotels and holiday apartment blocks has degraded the once pristine ecology of Benidorm, Spain
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