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Tourism is a thriving sector in the Caribbean thanks to the appealing waters, beaches, warm climate and its scenic environment. However, this economic sector has brought about both a negative and positive impact affecting the region economically, socially, and even ecologically. Even though the sector is doing very well and expanding every day, the environmental harm it brings is enough for concern. With increased environmental problems in the world today such as: pollution, decreased bio-diversity, and climate change it is important to establish how this booming sector is impacting the environment as well as its people. Therefore, the objective in this research was to establish the environmental and economic impact of tourism in the Caribbean. The paper addresses the background information pertaining to the sector, the existing information on the sector in the form of literature review and the findings of the research.
For tourism to exist there must be the existence of unique resources such as beautiful sandy beaches and unpolluted waters. Tourists in the Caribbean have long been faulted for the wastage of such resources such as freshwater and energy, which are limited in supply and need economical usage. The appetite for extravagant luxuries of the tourists and the effort to put forward to meet these options is compromising the ecosystem, due to the fact that facilities for tourists are built in environmentally sensitive areas along the coastline. Construction of hotels near the waters is affecting coral reefs and the species that depend on them for homes and breeding grounds, but allow hotels to raise room prices due to spectacular views overlooking the waters and the horizon. The environmental impact and the economic benefits of tourism have raised concerns.
Some of the positive effects of tourism is that it is the backbone of many economies in the world today, and that is no different in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries. Tourism can be described as one of the biggest contributors to the gross domestic product of many countries. In 2013 alone, tourism contributed to 14% of the Caribbean’s GDP (Rochelle, p.12). High GDP translates to economic improvement, better living standards and accelerated development in terms of industry.
In response to growth associated with tourism and tourist activities, the infrastructure aiding it has also drastically increased and improved over time. This is in terms of both technical infrastructure and other supporting industries. Some of the infrastructural changes that have been witnessed are in aviation, railway, hospitality, and production industries. Some other established benefits of tourism include job creation, and raised living standards through availability of income and an active concern for the conservation of natural habitats.
It is a source of employment for a good portion of the local population. A total of 11.3% of the Caribbean jobs depend on tourism either directly or indirectly (Rochelle, p. 25). It is well known that the Caribbean economy is the most tourist dependent in the world today. Some of the leading tourist regions include Barbuda, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Antigua.
On the other hand, tourism has been established to be one of the leading causes of environmental degradation. According to the Caribbean Environment Program, the tourists are thought to be producing up to four times more waste than the local residents. Also, according to the CEP, roughly 54,100 tonnes of waste are generated daily that are not destined to end up in any sort of landfills or legal dumping sites. Their littering and little concern or lack of knowledge on the environment leads to the accumulation of waste in the shores and even in the waters surrounding the islands, largely affecting the quality of life for the marine animals and ecosystem. Tourism is one of the largest causes of marine pollution. This is caused by such issues as: spillages by ships ferrying tourists, and the high amounts of emissions, as well as general lack of understanding the people have for properly caring for the land. One single cruise ship produces on average 210,000 gallons of sewage, of which 125 gallons is toxic chemicals hazardous to the environment (Duval 2004). This is in addition to 8 tons of garbage and 25,000 gallons of oily water left in the wake of the ships. According to Netburn (n.d), studies established that approximately 8% of all green-house emissions are due to transport emissions and marine littering has damaged the environment and the marine life contributing to death of coral reefs by 14%. Tourism has been associated also with a wastage of resources (Dixon, p.9). Tourists usually use more resources compared to the local residents. This is in terms of such resources as freshwater, energy, and lumber. All of these are used to produce shelter and a pleasant experience for tourists, to encourage them to spend more and return again.
Impacts of Tourism on Environment.
Some of the established negative effects of tourism in the region include increased greenhouse gases which arise out of the travelling and transportation involved. This has also been confirmed by the Caribbean Environment Program. Tourism also causes a disturbance and stress to the flora and fauna in their natural habitat. It affects the efforts directed towards conservation and alters the ecosystem balance. With some of the biggest causes of this being littering which ultimately leads to the many different forms of pollution such as water pollution. Tourism has been directly linked as one of the causes of marine pollution and degradation of the ecosystem.
Waste and cleaning services in the Caribbean countries cannot cope with the large number of waste produced by tourists. This has lead to the accumulation of solid waste in the environment which not only creates ugly sites and insect breeding areas but also breaks down the environment. As mentioned before, the tourists are generating more solid waste than the residents. The Caribbean Environment Program has also confirmed the solid waste and marine litter management in tourism sector is inefficient.
In terms of transportation, although a lot of investment and efforts have been made by cruise ships to manage their waste through better sewage systems, recycling programs, and use of bio-friendly alternatives, the damage caused over time has reduced slightly, but the quantity discharged is still high and still compromises the marine life quality.
Tourism leads to the destruction of the environment and the resources it provides. With increased demand for water, energy and high-end facilities in tourism, increased wastage and depletion of resources is seen. Some of the facilities are built on narrow coastlines, to give tourists those breath taking island views. These coastlines are ecologically sensitive areas and important for breeding purposes of local wildlife, and construction of these facilities leads to the destruction of these breeding grounds and areas important for nesting, which may endanger the long-term existence of some species. The encroachment of virgin water ecosystems has also caused destruction of coral reefs. The recreational facilities sometimes encroach on the ecological zones and causes a loss in biodiversity while at the same time disturbing the normal life of the organisms still in these areas.
On a positive note, preservation of historical attractions has been achieved through tourism. This is because these places are of big interest to tourists, they typically want to visit these sites and take photographs (and are willing to pay more money to do so.) Their patronage has allowed these areas to be protected with security which ensures its long-term preservation, which gives the government the ability to capitalize on an investment made to clean up and care for the land.
The Impact of Tourism on the Economy
As mentioned above, tourism is the backbone to many Caribbean countries and greatly impacts the economy positively. A large source of income for the Caribbean governments is the taxes sourced from large businesses and corporations, as well as travel fees and taxes paid directly by the tourists themselves (Dixon, pg. 19) Tourism leads to job creation through expansion of the job market. The facilities necessary for tourism to run smoothly such as hotels, recreation areas, entertainment, food production, and maintenance needs human capital which encourages employment opportunities for the people on the island. Some of the most common jobs locals get included in are: tour guides, life guards, and chefs or short order cooks.
Tourism is a source of foreign exchange, in a sense that tourists from different parts of the world tend to “escape” their realities in the form of a Caribbean getaway, spending much more money than they typically would at home. A marine area in Cancun is viewed by roughly 250,000 people within one year, with rates typically ranging from $35-45 per person, which, when calculated, creates a revenue of roughly 8.7-11.2 million dollars (USD). Although, according to Dixon, tourists may be far less likely to spend their money on premium rates for stunning views if the water they see from their room is murky and, or the beach has been covered in trash. Through tourist’s expenditures, businesses accelerate, consequently boosting the economy. It is through the foresight to set up support activities and intent to meet the tourist’s wants that local industries have grown, including retail trading, food and beverage production, and resource harvesting. In response to this growth though, proper sanitation and clean up must be readily available and invested in, in order sustain this income. To combat the expenses of caring for and maintaining the land and oceans which are so highly coveted in the Caribbean, “user fees” are being instituted which allows businesses and individual tourists to help invest in the preservation of the land and resources they are using.
Due to tourism, property and real estate values have grown with increased demand in predominantly tourist heavy locations. This negatively affects the island residents as that the prices have skyrocketed to record highs, making these areas typically unapproachable for locals or small businesses to purchase and capitalize on. According to the CEP, the rapidly expanding cities built around these tourist traps are not properly planned out, resulting in less than satisfactory sewage treatment plans. In a study from 2005, they found that close to 85% of the waste water that was sent back in to the Caribbean Sea was left untreated, which is detrimental to the marine environment that thrives in the area. On the other hand, this is a positive aspect for one industry. Since real estate prices have increased dramatically, local real estate agents and agencies have been able to make a huge profit selling lands off to large corporations to build hotels and/or other industries on.
In the Caribbean region, economic performance is highly influenced by tourism. This largely contributes to the stabilization of the economy. Tourism is then for mutual benefit of both the private individuals and the administrative government. Unfortunately, much as the positive outlook of tourism is seemingly overshadowing the negative side effects the ecological systems see, as they are continuously being destroyed to make room for the ever growing number of tourists that visit the region. The governments are therefore collaborating closely with tourism sectors to ensure the environment is protected for both economic, ethical and environmental reasons.
- Turner, Rochelle. “World travel and Courism Council,(2014).” Travel & Tourism Economic Impact (2014).
- Duval, David Timothy, ed. Tourism in the Caribbean: Trends, development, prospects. Routledge, 2004.
- Dixon, John, et al. “Tourism and the Environment in the Caribbean: an Economic Framework.” (2001).
- Netburn, Deborah. “Global Travel May Be Good for the Soul, but Its Huge Carbon Footprint Means It’s Bad for the Planet.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 7 May 2018, www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-global-tourism-carbon-footprint-20180507-story.html.
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