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Free «Environmental Impacts of Tourism in Southeast Asia» Essay Sample


In recent years, the tourism industry has evolved from being simply business-centered and controlled by self-serving private corporations to an industry maneuvered to contribute to social, economic, and political development in host countries. In terms of economic development, a blooming tourism industry is considered a valuable source for foreign exchange revenue. According to Lim (2006), foreign exchange earnings generated from tourism are valuable in “alleviating the balance of payments problems encountered in many countries” (p. 45) and tourism in general opens various opportunities for labor and employment. Moreover, Lim described the following about the benefits and contributions of tourism to economic development:

As a labour-intensive industry, it absorbs an increasing percentage of the labour force released from agriculture and manufacturing industries, and prevents large-scale unemployment. Other benefits contributed by international tourism include increasing income, savings, investment and economic growth (p.45).

Mak (2004) also discussed the relationship between tourism and the host economy. Based on the records collected by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), international travel and tourism contributes to the development of the host economy by providing various means of increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). High rate of tourism means not only flourishing business in the service industry such as transportation, restaurant, lodging, and retailing, but also heightened interest for foreign investment in the local economy. Moreover, the expansion of the service industry in the host economy propels labor and prevents unemployment. Worldwide, the primary destinations for travel are the U.S., Spain, France, Italy, U.K., Germany, China, Canada, Austria, and Greece (Lim, 2006).

Despite the acknowledged benefits and contributions of tourism to the host economy, not all countries can sustain an adequate flow of supply and demand for travel due to the outcomes of tourism. One of the major issues in tourism relates to environment and sustainability. Sustainability is a major problem, especially in the Third World, where host countries are unable to balance supply and demand within the tourism industry. According to Sharpley and Telfer (2002), developing host countries often adapt the “marketing system of comprehensive standardised tourism packages” (p.64) that are being used in developed countries, but the difference is that developed countries can supply what tourism demands while developing countries cannot. As a result, developing host countries tend to expend more resources than is necessary, despite their inability to sustain these resources. The outcome is heavily detrimental to the environment.

Mass Tourism and its Impact on the Environment

Mass tourism is a common trend in various countries, including those in Southeast Asia, due to the anticipated contribution of tourism to the local economy in the developing world. By definition, mass tourism relates to a trend in traveling where a large number of people travel to the same destination and participate in a pre-planned tour together. Another important characteristic of mass tourism is that the tours are standardized and put together flexibly to meet the needs and demands of consumers (Vanhove, 1997). Moreover, Vanhove details the following characteristics of mass tourism: (a) participation of large numbers of people; (b) mainly collective organization of travelling; (c) collective accommodation; and (d) conscious integration of the holidaymaker in a travelling group (p. 50). As it was already mentioned, the primary problem in developing countries about tourism is their inability to sustain the supply and demand in travel, unlike developed countries with enough tourism. Therefore, because of mass tourism, the volume of traveling demand is high in developing countries, and the inability of these countries to provide the supply, or specifically, enough resources, leads to destruction, not only socially and culturally, but environmentally as well.

Years of monitoring the environment and natural resources in Southeast Asia led to the conclusion that “traditional forms of tourism, particularly mass tourism to resorts and beaches, have well-documented detrimental effects on the regions and countries visited ranging from marine pollution and coastal erosion to cultural dislocation of host populations” (Cochrane, 1996, p. 237). In the particular case of Indonesia, one of the primary challenges concerning the preservation of the environment and natural resources is urbanization. Because of mass tourism, corporations in the service industry are investing left and right to develop different structures such as hotels, motels, or inns for lodging, restaurants, department stores, resorts, etc. Although urbanization is important to maintain tourism and create destinations for tourists, continued development also exhausts Indonesia’s natural resources. The development of golf courses in resorts alone leads to the depletion of natural resources, because large land areas are cleared, the trees are cut there, and huge volumes of water resources are used to maintain them (Ho, 2001). Corporations use coral and coral rocks and wood for construction, which leads to deforestation and the destruction of coral reefs in the country. According to Burton (2005), “illegal logging is a major problem… and the mining of coral and coral rocks for cement and the construction industry is destroying the reefs, which provide a natural defence against the sea” (p.50).

As corporations continue to develop areas for commerce and tourism services, the rate of energy usage also increases. The rate of energy consumption has been a major problem in the service industry since the 1970s. Maintenance and services in hotels, for instance, like laundry, daily use of water by guests, cleaning, etc. require the consumption of large amounts of water, while heating and light used 24 hours a day lead to the consumption of carbon and electrical energy. As a result, these business establishments emit the highest rates of greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming. According to Kandari and Chandra (2004), “hotel water usage ranges from 101 gallons per available room per day in a hotel… and the entire lodging industry has been estimated to use 154 billion gallons per year, with tourism therefore accounting for about 46.2 billion gallons per year” (p.295). Of course, the rate of consumption is higher in bigger lodging spaces. When these establishments are concentrated in countries where mass tourism is a popular trend, their water and energy consumption relatively increases. Indonesia is visited by many tourists every year, who contribute to the high consumption of water and energy, and, therefore, contribute to global warming which devastates the entire ecosystem due to drastic changes in the weather pattern. According to the World Bank (1994), Indonesia “contributed about 1.6-1.7% of global man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 1989” (p. 263) and continues to do so. The World Bank also projects that Indonesia’s GHG emissions will increase gradually in the coming years following the report.

The impact of global warming is palpable in various countries in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia. One of the outcomes of global warming is the increase of temperature, but enduring warm weather is not only the manifestation of the phenomenon in Indonesia. Scientists have observed that a significant increase in temperature leads to dramatic shifts in sea levels, which causes flooding and tidal waves. Indonesia has suffered many tidal waves or tsunamis in the past, which has led to the loss of many innocent lives. Aside from the destruction of physical construction and the loss of lives, tsunamis lead to the destruction of marine life (Rana, 2009).

Based on the many examples that reflect the impact of tourism discussed above, specifically mass tourism in Indonesia and the Southeast Asia, it becomes clear that encouraging the high volume of travelers to countries, especially the developing ones, leads to destruction of the environment and natural resources. Majority of the outcomes are indirect, such as the contribution of the service industry to global warming and the consequential events in the environment due to the change in weather patterns. However, countries can continue to enjoy the contributions of tourism to their economy by controlling tourism patterns and implementing sustainable practices.

Due to the environmental problems caused by high volume of tourism, especially in developing countries like Indonesia, countries should consider adopting sustainability practices. Sustainable practices implemented in the service industry will help to diminish the impact of mass tourism on the environment and prevent further destruction in the process. In Indonesia, sustainability practices are being planned in Central Java. The plan involves the following:

  1. Effective involvement and coordination of all stakeholders who have a role to play in tourism development and/or are potentially affected by such development;
  2. The integration of all facets of the destination resource base in order to achieve synergies in the delivery and management of the tourism product;
  3. Sensitivity to the cultural diversity of Central Java in the framing and implementation of plans (Laws, Faulkner & Moscardo, 1998, p. 217).

Ecotourism is another trend that Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia should implement in order to reap the benefits of tourism on the local economy while making sure that it does not disrupt the environment. Ecotourism is considered as an alternative to mass tourism. In ecotourism, travels are arranged or structured in such a way that tourists will be able to participate in the implementation of sustainable tourism by affording travels that are either eco-friendly or contribute to the preservation of environment, like visits to national or eco-parks. Ecotourism is “a form of travel which responds to a region’s ecological, social and economic needs” (Seth, 2006, p. 111). Ecotourism in Indonesia is now a trend in the tourism industry. The local government maintain eco-parks in various parts of the country like Java and Lombok, and with the help of the Indonesian Ecotourism Centre (Indecon), the opportunity is used to engage tourists and urge them to support the preservation of eco-parks in the country or to ensure that tourists are aware and knowledgeable about sustainability practices in tourism (Zeppel, 2006). 


The situation in Indonesia reflects the environmental impacts of tourism. The service industry is blamed for these detrimental outcomes. In order to provide for the needs and demands of the tourism market, corporations are compelled to establish businesses that will cater to tourists, such as hotels, inns, motels, resorts, etc. The construction of these structures, however, leads to the depletion of local resources such as coral rocks and wood due to deforestation and the destruction of coral reefs. Moreover, the water and energy consumption in these service establishments leads to high GHG emissions, and, therefore, these businesses contribute largely to global warming. In turn, global warming causes disturbances in the environment such as the rise of sea level and the occurrence of tidal waves or tsunamis. Tsunamis have taken the lives of thousands of people in Indonesia, destroyed land areas, and displaced hundreds of families. Tsunamis also lead to marine life disturbances. All in all, mass tourism is a threat to the environment. However, countries cannot completely ban tourism because, as it was previously discussed, it contributes to economic development. The primary issue is the rate of consumption and the rate of travels to one destination, which can be resolved through regulation and the implementation of sustainable practices.

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Regulation is highly important in preventing the detrimental outcomes of tourism in developing nations like Indonesia. Organizations, foreign investors, and stakeholders in general promote sustainable tourism by lobbying for regulations that control the usage of natural resources and the consumption of water and energy in the service industry. Moreover, developing countries should be informed about the outcomes of mass tourism and how they could be controlled or prevented.  Setting limitations in the amount of space businesses can occupy, or resources they can use may be a good solution to minimize the negative impact of tourism. The development and implementation of environmental programs that contribute to the renewal and redevelopment of energy sources, natural resources, and the quality of life for the locals and communities. Overall, regulation and responsible decision-making and policy implementation in sustainability should solve the damaging outcomes of tourism, especially in the third world countries. 


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