Impact of tourism

For decades tourism industry growth has been a major contributor to increased economic activity throughout the U.S. and the world. It has created jobs in both large and small communities and is a major industry in many places. It is the dominant economic activity in some communities. Yet, the impacts of tourism to a community are not widely understood – even where tourism is growing dramatically and should be of the greatest interest or concern. Most people think of tourism in terms of economic impacts, jobs, and taxes. However, the range of impacts from tourism is broad and often influences areas beyond those commonly associated with tourism. Leaders as well as residents who understand the potential impacts of tourism can integrate this industry into their community in the most positive way.

The impacts of tourism can be sorted into seven general categories:

  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Social and cultural
  • Crowding and congestion
  • Services
  • Taxes
  • Community attitude

Each category includes positive and negative impacts. Not all impacts are applicable to every community because conditions or resources differ. Community and tourism leaders must balance an array of impacts that may either improve or negatively affect communities and their residents. Leaders must be sensitive and visionary, and must avoid the temptation of glossing over certain difficulties tourism development creates. Tourism leaders must also balance the opportunities and concerns of all community sectors by working against conditions where positive impacts benefit one part of the community (geographic or social) and negative impacts hurt another. Conversely, community sensitivity to tourism means avoiding undue burdens on the industry that could thwart its success. Local leaders should not expect tourism to solve all community problems. Tourism is just one element of a community. While creative strategic development of tourism amenities and services can enhance the community or correct local deficiencies, tourism, like all business development, must assure that its products (attractions and services) attract customers. Overbearing rules and restrictions, and overburdening taxes can make tourism businesses less attractive or competitive.

Different groups are often concerned about different tourism impacts. To generalize, where one group embraces the economic impacts of tourism, another group experiences social and cultural impacts, while another is affected by tourism’s environmental impacts.

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