Sustainable Tourism: Navigating the Environmental Impact

Tourists generate a significant amount of waste, including plastic bottles, plastic bags, wrappers, and food containers, which can end up in rivers and streams, harming aquatic life.

Sustainable Tourism: Navigating the Environmental Impact

Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, with millions of people traveling to different destinations every year to enjoy the beauty of our planet, experience the diverse cultures of the world, or push their boundaries through thrilling adventures. But this industry, like any other, has a significant impact on the environment, which we have to deal with on a war footing to make the tourism industry sustainable.

On one hand, we get several benefits from tourism: local community members get employment, and it contributes to the economic growth of Pakistan. But in addition to this, there are also some negative impacts from tourism. The tourism sector involves excessive transportation, including planes, cars, trains, and buses.

It significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions; increased traffic and traffic jams in tourist places contribute to the release of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere, which ultimately affects the environment and causes climate change.

One of the most visible impacts of tourism is the litter and waste left behind by visitors. From plastic water bottles to discarded food containers, the amount of trash generated by tourists can quickly devastate local waste management systems.

The increased tourism in Pakistan has also brought us some great challenges, and the biggest challenge regarding tourism management is how we can clean up the garbage produced by tourists in mountains, lakes, and glaciers. No doubt, it’s a difficult task to deal with.

Wildlife is another area impacted by tourism in aquatic, forest, and mountain ecologies. The increase in human activity can lead to habitat fragmentation and the displacement of wildlife. Additionally, tourists may disturb animals through noise and direct interaction, leading to changes in behaviour and the disruption of breeding and migration patterns. The worst damage to wildlife is caused by illegal hunting.

The global market for tourism is about six billion US dollars, and it employs around 32 million people. The tourism industry is also a significant contributor to environmental degradation, and the main factor is single-use plastic.

Water pollution by single use plastic is another significant issue associated with tourism in different environments. Tourists generate a significant amount of waste, including plastic bottles, plastic straws, plastic bags, wrappers, and food containers, which can end up in rivers and streams, harming aquatic life. No doubt, plastic is the biggest challenge to our environment, and uncontrolled and irresponsible tourism is playing a significant role in its spread.

Evenings, lit up by bonfires, create precious moments for tourists but can also have several impacts on the environment. Bonfires often require firewood. Trees and plants are cut down to provide fuel for the fires, disrupting ecosystems and causing long-term damage to the natural environment.

Noise and activity associated with bonfires can disturb wildlife in the area. For example, when 500 to 1000 tourists visit Fairy Meadows every day, they have a bonfire the whole night and make noise.

By now, the precious forest at Fairy Meadows has been cut down to make tourist huts, which will impact the environment and melt the glacier as well. The smoke from bonfires can contain harmful substances. These pollutants can degrade air quality, harm human health, and negatively impact local wildlife.

If not properly managed, bonfires can pose significant fire hazards, causing forest fires and endangering the surrounding ecosystem, wildlife, and even human lives.

Additionally, the use of chemicals like detergents and soaps in mountain streams can also be harmful to the ecosystem. Marine wildlife is particularly vulnerable to the effects of tourism, with many species threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, and overfishing. Our rivers, our mountains, our glaciers, and our oceans are all polluted with plastic. Very soon, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

Tourism can also have a significant impact on local communities and natural resources, from overfishing to deforestation.

The demands of the tourism sector can put a strain on fragile ecosystems. Despite the challenges, there are many examples of sustainable tourism, like projects that aim to minimise the impact on the environment and support communities by purchasing local products.

While the impact of tourism on the environment can be significant, there are many ways to mitigate these effects. The impact of tourism on the environment is a complex issue, but by working together, we can create a more sustainable and responsible tourism industry.

What can we do as tourists to minimise our impact on the environment? Here are a few tips for tourists to follow:

  • Stay on designated trails to minimise erosion and habitat loss.
  • Respect wildlife and their habitats, and follow local regulations and guidelines.
  • Use eco-friendly transportation options like electric vehicles or public transportation.
  • Choose sustainable lodging options that prioritise conservation and responsible tourism practices.
  • Reduce waste by bringing reusable items like water bottles, bags, and utensils and avoiding disposable items.
  • Do not spread litter.
  • Tourists should either hand over their garbage, plastic bags, or baby diapers to hotel management or take them back and dispose of them properly.
  • Above all, take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints.

We need to be really careful. Tourism has the power to connect people and cultures, inspire and educate, and bring joy and wonder to our lives, but it’s up to all of us to make sure that our travels don’t come at the expense of the planet. So let’s explore the world with care and respect and leave a positive impact wherever we go.

By Nasir Mahmood

Working as Principal Scientific Officer at Pakistan Science Foundation Islamabad. Tourism and Environmental enthusiast, digital creator