The quality of the environment, both natural and man-made, is essential to tourism. However, the relationship of tourism with the environment is complex. It involves many activities that can have adverse environmental effects. Many of these impacts are linked with the construction of general infrastructure such as roads and airports, and of tourism facilities, including resorts, hotels, restaurants, shops, golf courses and marinas. The negative impacts of tourism development can gradually destroy environmental resources on which it depends. On the other hand, tourism has the potential to create beneficial effects on the environment by contributing to environmental protection and conservation. It is a way to raise awareness of environmental values and it can serve as a tool to finance protection of natural areas and increase their economic importance.
Negative impacts from tourism occur when the level of visitor use is greater than the environment’s ability to cope with this use within acceptable limits of change. Uncontrolled conventional tourism poses potential threats to many natural areas around the world. It can put enormous pressure on an area and lead to impacts such as soil erosion, increased pollution, discharges into the sea, natural habitat loss, increased pressure on endangered species and heightened vulnerability to forest fires. It often puts a strain on water resources, and it can force local populations to compete for the use of critical resources.
Significance of Resources for Tourism Development in Africa
The environmental resources form the key pillars that makes tourism. Without environmental resources tourism cannot take place e.g., water, forests, mountains and wildlife.
Environmental resources play a crucial role of being home to most flora and fauna in Africa which in most cases are tourist attractions by themselves.
Tourism has been dependent on environmental resources for its success as it attracts tourist who experience diverse products related to the different resources. They play a major role in the satisfaction of visitor needs leading to huge tourism development.
The natural resources add to the beauty of a destination and can be a pull factor in promoting tourism since the aesthetic value makes a destination to be serene and pristine hence attracting more tourists. The quality of the environment, both natural and man-made, is essential and significant to tourism development across Africa.
Environmental resources also play a key role in attracting investors who develop tourism in certain destinations for example in a forested area eco-lodges can be developed.
Environmental resources also help in creating new tourism markets since in some destinations, environmental resources are the core of attractions, and can target new markets, or help rejuvenate a product past maturity stage in its life cycle for instance the humpback whale migration boosted Watamu tourism.
Environmental resources support every stakeholder to come up with rational decisions towards the implementation of strategies and policies for tourism development.
Environmental resources support communities in tourism destinations. tourism cannot happen without these communities.
Finally, most of these resources act as an indicator of progress or failure/drop of tourism success for example the recent rise in water in lake Baringo, lake Bogoria and lake Nakuru mean less access to the area by visitors.
Successes tourism has made for environmental protection in Africa
Destinations have developed responsible forms of tourism, that help in environmental protection e.g., ecotourism and sustainable forms of nature-based tourism
Through tourism, local communities have learnt the importance of the environment and its resources hence this has facilitated its protection and conservation.
Tourism also generates the revenues being used for environmental protection trough donor funding and taxation and also by creating opportunities for direct funding towards conservation and value addition to environment resources.
Tourism has adapted to ecotourism strategy which is helping in cultural heritage management, environmental conservation, social and economic development of local as well as national level.
Tourism has improved the quality of natural resources through value addition hence increasing the revenues which goes for environmental protection for example Karura forest and Maasai Mara national reserve.
There have been regulating measures such as control of visiting no of tourists, identifying and limiting accessibility within protected areas and setting up restrictive legislation directed to conserving the environment like carbon offsets programs.
Tourism has increased public appreciation of the environment while spreading awareness on possible environmental problems when people are in close contact with nature. this improves awareness on the value of the environment.
Tourism has promoted environmentally conscious behavior and activities to preserve environment through their code of conduct requirements for prospective tourist for instance through their strategy of not allowing non reusable plastics in the parks.
There has also been an increase in sensitization campaigns that advocate for sustainability practices for example the STTA seminars and programmers that emphasizes on environmental importance in line with tourism.
Challenges tourism in Africa has posed for environmental conservation
There has been an increased natural resource depletion and biodiversity loss that results from development of less sustainable forms of tourism, for example mining of corals for resort building, results to damage of fragile coral reefs and depletion of fisheries, extraction of mangroves also leads to destruction of habitats
There has also been increased pollution and inefficient waste management by tourism facilities, especially where developments are in sensitive environments. Tourism may contribute to environment degradation from pollution, over consumption of finite resources and emission of greenhouse gases. Social economic displacements by tourism may also lead to mismanagement and negative attitudes towards the environment.
There has also been an unethical interaction between humans and wildlife for instance caging of animals for recreation and entertainment in some destinations.
Little being done towards implementing environmental policies, little community engagements regarding environmental conservation, lack of education and awareness regarding to environmental conservation, overexploitation of natural resources, has threatened the environmental protection.
Unsustainable tourism or unequitable sharing of resources accrued from tourism would lead us back to destroying natural resources, also most firms begin to see tourism from the economic angle alone as soon as money comes thereby forgetting about protection.
Uncontrolled conventional tourism poses potential threats to natural environment since it put enormous pressure especially for areas with mass tourism. This is normally associated with local people competing for critical resources.
Over prioritization of profits over sustainability has been a contributing factor to unsustainable practices hence affecting natural resources protection and conservation.
Finally, tourism puts enormous stress on local land use, and can lead to soil erosion, increased pollution, natural habitat loss, and more pressure on endangered species. these effects gradually destroy the environmental resources on which tourism itself depends.
How tourism in Africa should be designed for environmental protection.
There should be more of stakeholder’s participation that is the local communities, travel agents, local governments and national government in formulating of policies that will foresee sustainable practices
Have in place ways of monitoring environmental changes in a destination, in order to take proactive action.
For us to control climate change effects from environmental degradation in tourism, the industry should be featured in the nationally determined contribution (NDCs) in every country for a push. investors should also be made aware that they have a responsibility.
Sustainable development should be the leading guiding principle in tourism, tourism should be of the people by the people and for the people by introducing ethical vices.
Africa’s tourism should be designed to minimize negative environmental impacts, promote accountability and foster creation of shared value for all near and far tourism stakeholders. this will require application of responsible sustainable management approaches.
Land policies need to be emphasized before setting up of tourism facilities there should be proper land use and allocation to avoid encroachment especially in protected areas.
Careful tourism planning and management make destinations to succeed. if done properly, we can ensure longevity of the tourism industry on our continent, take good care of our environment, bring positive economic outcomes and benefits to our communities.
Environmental protection is a collective responsibility for all travelers, host communities and authorities we should curb ignorance about environmental protection, especially to local tourist who feel it’s not their obligation to take care of such spaces dependent on the environment. the “on-lookers” watching by the sidelines with no action to help in the least.
Most frequently social media portals have been used by individual countries to promote tourism globally, the same technology should be used increasingly to promote and protect nature, natural resources and biodiversity.
Tourism has mostly been considered to be a great contributor of environmental hazard in the globe. Considering its association with mass number of tourists in a destination, tourism has greatly contributed in environmental pollution and degradation. However, the other good side of tourism is more valuable than the bad side. As noted in this discussion, it is noteworthy that tourism is essential contributor and destroyer of the environment. Tourism can both kill and modify the environment.
Summary done by Collins Atieno and Davis Kiplangat of Chuka University