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Economy > Tourism

Tourism is one of the biggest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the global economy and has significant environmental, cultural, social, and economic effects, both positive and negative. Tourism has been noted as the world's largest and fastest-growing industry. In 1998, it represents over 10% of all countries' gross national products (GNP) and directly or indirectly for 200 million jobs worldwide. In the same year the world's GNP grew by 2.4% and 625 million people visited a foreign country, bringing receipts from international tourism to about 310 billion.

Because tourism is essentially dependent on an unspoilt, natural or unpolluted environment, and on environmental services, it follows that tourism has both a responsibility for, and a need to, invest in the maintenance of the natural environment. If undertaken sustainably, tourism can be a positive force for conservation and environmental protection, and can provide unique opportunities for awareness raising and enhancing support for conservation. It can also be developed in more environmentally sustainable ways than can many alternative economic activities.

Tourism can be an important part in the sustainable development of many local communities, provided that the community is actively involved in it, that economic benefits are equitably shared, and that it is part of a diversified local economy and does not undermine local culture and existing local sustainable economic activity. Tourism can also boost cultural and historical traditions which often contribute to conservation and the sustainable management of natural resources.

However, tourism can and often does have destructive effects on biodiversity and pristine environments, and can result in the misuse of natural resources such as freshwater, forests, and coral reefs. For example, in a number of areas, the development of tourism has resulted in serious water shortages affecting local communities and the tourism industry; forests have been depleted through wood collection for fuel; and coral reefs have been damaged by sewage, sedimentation, divers, snorklers, and boats. In order to avoid such impacts, tourism should be planned, managed and carried out in a way that is environmentally sustainable, socially beneficial, and economically viable.

It is important that tourists understand both the negative and positive aspects of tourism so they can contribute to a sustainable future for the tourism industry. Conservation organisations should use the opportunities tourism provides to raise awareness of the issues, to provide other significant benefits such as income and investment for natural resource management, and to ensure implementation of key measures, such as the protection of fragile areas.