Topic 2 Environmental impact

Tourism has however prompted several critics. The criticism concerned mainly the massive scale of tourism. Travelling people would overpass the social and ecological capacities of the world.

Most widespread criticisms are related to the negative effects on environment, such as:

  • Degradation of coastal ecosystem and natural areas;
  • Lack of waste treatment;
  • GHG emission of transport;
  • Water pollution;
  • Growing cruise business.

As well as the pressure on resources, such as:

  • Competition between tourism infrastructure and farming for the use of fertile lands;
  • Water used for swimming pools or golf watering in dry areas.

Moreover, there can be an economic dependence of local community on tourism, and price increases or real estate speculation can compel the local inhabitants to migrate to peripheral areas.

In 2013, tourism global carbon footprint accounted for about 8% of the GHG emissions. Transport, shopping and food are the most significant contributors. The majority of this footprint is exerted by and in high-income countries. The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology. We project that, due to its high carbon intensity and continuing growth, tourism will constitute a growing part of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to Lenzen (2018).

The average carbon footprint of a tourist in Barcelona is 111.6 kg CO2 eq/day and 43.0 kg CO2 eq/day for a day-tripper, much higher than the value for a Barcelona citizen (5.8 kg CO2 eq/citizen-day on average), as per Rico et al. (2019).

Plane travel remains the main GHG emission contributor of the tourism industry and the share of air traffic among other transportation means is always increasing. Indeed, there is an important part of tourism growth due to the ever-growing democratisation of air traffic. Firstly, this happened with the appearance of charters flights in the 1960s, followed by the start of low-cost flights (Ryan Air, Dublin-London, 1986), and the internet development and price comparisons in the 2000’s.

Plane travel it is responsible for 5% the worldwide GHG emissions, according to the UNWTO (2015). Transport-related GHG emissions of tourism are projected to increase by 25%, from 1.6 million tons in 2016 tons in 2016 to almost 2 million tons in 2030. Tourism-related transport emissions represented 22% of all transport emissions in 2016, as per the UNTWO (n.d.).

Source: UNTWO, European Union Tourism Trends Report (2018).

The United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP (n.d.), estimates that around 14% of all global solid waste is produced each year solely by the tourist industry. The average waste generated per capita is:

  1. Africa: About 0.65kg/capita,  a waste par inhabitant and year of 740.2 kg compared to material;
  2. OCDE countries: 2.2kg/capita, with only 25 to 30% of organic material.

This difference combined with poor local waste management infrastructure can lead to health problems or groundwater contamination.

In Europe, tourists are not generating far more waste than residents (in kg/people/day), but the population and waste increase in holiday time has to be managed. Moreover, waste disposal in natural areas is critical; e.g., the Balearic Islands show a waste par inhabitant and year of 740.2kg compared to a national average of 471kg par inhabitant/year. Considering that resident population is of 1,176,627 inhabitants, and that 14,037,640 tourists have an average stay of 5.88 days, tourists are responsible for more than 30% of Balearic waste.



1% of the global consumption of water is due to tourism consumption. As an average citizen consumption is of 127l/day, the average tourist consumption is of 450 to 800l/day (according to season/area), based on the hotel/restaurant expenditure (kitchen, laundry, toilets, swimming pools, cooling and irrigation), and activities (golf, saunas, theme parks, municipal spending in hygiene services), according to the UNWTO (n.d.). Tourism is therefore an important factor in the increase of hydric stress in countries that are already suffering from it.

Tourism is concentrated in areas of high nature value, such as national parks, coastal zones and mountain regions that support rich or unique biodiversity. The long-term success of tourism destination is critically dependent upon biodiversity conservation. Tourism requires infrastructures that could easily lead to negative impact on biodiversity: transport infrastructure, accommodation and leisure structures, waste, energy and water management infrastructures, but also all indirect developments as employee housing and urban sprawl.



A range of hidden costs have to be supported by the visited area, particularly when tourism density increases. Have a look at the following video:

If the UNWTO forecasts are right, how can tourism industry welcome 400 million tourist more by 2030?