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The tourist industry has grown rapidly over the last 50 years thanks to things like the cheaper air travel, increased leisure time and increased disposable income. It is now one of the largest industries in the world.
The growth in tourism has brought many benefits, but also has caused problems. Popular resorts and areas have grown rapidly, only to find that they are almost being over-run by tourism. Other areas that have relied on a natural resource to bring in tourists are suddenly finding that the huge numbers are beginning to threaten the very environment that attracted them there in the first place.
This section has three examples of places which have definitely benefited from increased tourism, but also have found that the numbers of people going there have caused problems and conflicts.
Dartmoor is one of the 12 designated National Parks in England and Wales. All but two (the Broads and the New Forest) were set up after the "National parks and Access to the Countryside Act" was passed in 1949. They had two main aims:
- To preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area.
- To promote the enjoyment of the area by the general public.
Since their designation, National Parks have been the subject of conflicting uses, which has only been increased by the rising numbers of tourists who visit the areas. Apart from the tourists, other people who have an interest in the parks include local farmers, local residents, the Army, the Forestry Commission, the National Trust and the Water Board. Dartmoor is an example of a national park where many of these users have some into conflict.
Dartmoor plays host to over 8 million visitors every year. In terms of some of the other National Parks, such as the Lake District or the Peak District, this is a relatively small number but it still has brought its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Most of these visitors come to walk or mountain bike on the moor, look around the picturesque villages or use the reservoirs for water sports.
Some of the problems encountered on Dartmoor include:
- Farmers use the moor for grazing their sheep, and quickly get very annoyed when they have flocks disturbed by dogs let loose by their owners out for a walk.
- There is an army camp near Okehampton, in the north of the moor. The northern half of the moor is a military firing range, where they practise with live ammunition, both bullets and shells. Obviously this can cause problems for tourists unaware of the firing days. Red flags designate the area, but there still have been times when people have found themselves in the middle of a training exercise. One advantage of the military use of the moor is that it does mean that less people go to that area, and so the natural environment is protected.
- The huge tourist numbers puts great pressures on the narrow roads found all over Dartmoor. The National parks Authority has introduced car parks and information centres to try to concentrate the visitors to certain areas, whilst protecting others. Car parks also prevent the problems found in some villages of tourists parking their cars on the grassy verges.
- "Honeypot" sites, such as Hay Tor, attract a disproportionate amount of visitors, creating problems of parking, footpath erosion and littering. The NPA has had to try to encourage people to go to other equally spectacular tors to try to take the pressure off the Hay Tor area.
- The increase in recreation activities such as mountain biking, water sports and hang-gliding has put pressure on the natural resources of the area. The facilities for tourists have also come under pressure as more and more people come to the area.
- Solutions have been attempted, such as promoting other parts of the moor, introducing more tourist facilities and restricting where people can and cannot walk. These have been reasonably successful in protecting the area.
In many developing countries tourism is seen to be the answer to their economic problems. The development of air travel has meant that many more people now have the opportunity to go to places such as Kenya and Tanzania. They have encouraged tourists to see their beautiful natural areas, in particular the big game parks.
However, as increasing numbers of people flood into places like Kenya, they are finding that tourism brings with it a range of environmental, cultural and social problems.
Kenya is attractive to foreign travellers as it provides them with an opportunity to experience different cultures and natural surroundings. Many people have grown tired of the overcrowded Mediterranean resorts, instead favouring a more exotic holiday that, until a few years ago, would have been out of most peoples budgets.
The attractions that Kenya offers include:
- The safari parks, with the chance to see animals such as lion, leopard and elephant.
- The chance to experience the culture of the tribes of Kenya, such as the Masai.
- The Indian Ocean coast offers fabulous beaches, a tropical climate, and some of the best scuba diving in the world.
- A relatively safe place for tourists to travel.
The increase in tourism has led to economic growth and the creation of many jobs for local people. The influx of foreign money has helped to pay for much-needed developments throughout the country (although primarily in the main tourist areas). These have included improving roads, the airports and the water supply.
As most people travelling to Kenya go there to look at the animals on safari,the Government were forced to protect the natural environment by designating many areas as National Parks. Despite this there are still many problems caused by the massive numbers of tourists:
- The huge numbers of visitors is damaging the coral reefs and safari parks. Vehicles in the parks are causing soil erosion, whilst boats and divers themselves can damage the fragile coral very easily.
- The wildlife of the National Parks is constantly being disturbed by the throngs of tourists descending upon them to take their photos before heading off again.
- The Masai and other farmers have found that their land is now part of a National Park and therefore cannot be farmed. This has caused them great problems, and pushed them into joining the tourist industry. Many people feel that by putting on "cultural shows" for the tourists they are actually destroying their own culture, as the visitors look upon it as some kind of freak show.
- The massive tourist developments on the Indian Ocean coastline have caused an increase in house prices in the area, meaning that the locals are priced out of the market.
- Much of the new infrastructure developments have been completed primarily for the tourists, and do not really benefit the local community as much as some other projects might have done.
- A large percentage of the money earned by tourism in the country goes back to the tour operators and large hotel chains, which are based in countries like the United States and Great Britain.
Ecotourism or Green Tourism is aimed at allowing people to visit naturally beautiful environments whilst protecting them for the future at the same time. Many developing world governments have realised that unless they protect their fragile environments they are not going to have anything left for the tourists to come and see.
Ecotourism also aims to benefit the local people directly. One country to try this new form of tourism is Belize, on the Caribbean coast of Central America.
Belize is a very good example of where ecotourism is being tried. The main aim is to achieve sustainability, which means that the environment is not in any way damaged by the tourists. Belize has an abundance of natural and cultural phenomena that attract tourists, including forests, wetlands,coral reefs, savannahs and ancient Mayan ruins.
An increasing number of tourists are coming to the country as they learn about all the things to see, and as the government realises the financial benefits of tourism.
However the government has also realised the importance of protecting the environments and has tried a number of initiatives. They created many National Parks and reserves, banning farming in many of them. In 1993 the Belize Ecotourism Association was established, it is concerned with protecting the natural environment and works closely with the Ministry of Tourism and the Environment.
Four main factors aim to ensure the sustainability of tourism in Belize:
- There is strict planning and control of tourist developments, including where they will be located, what they will look like, what transport routes are needed and any other regional planning that might be required.
- There is an increasing involvement in all stages of the tourism development by the local people. The aim is that they will assume almost complete control of the developments.
- The tourism that is introduced is aimed at being appropriate and not exploitative. In other words it is something that suits the local area and helps to enhance that area.
- The government aims to strike a balance between development and tourism that would be mutually beneficial to all involved, and the environment.
People are generally attracted to ecotourism by its remoteness, the small numbers of people and less sophisticated facilities. If these features disappear then the appeal of ecotourism is lost to many people, as the area just becomes another mass resort. If this happens then the fundamental objectives behind ecotourism also will have been forgotten.
All that is being attempted in Belize is building towards the goal of continuing to benefit from tourism, whilst protecting and nurturing the natural environment.