‘Hidden costs of tourism’ exposed

A new report on “the hidden costs” of tourism warns the industry is “on a shaky foundation” in many destinations and problems of over-tourism “will become increasingly difficult to manage”.

The report, Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism, concludes: “The rapid growth of tourism is leading to damage in destinations across the world that is largely unreported.”

It argues: “Countries have yet to fully confront the hidden costs of tourism.”

The report by industry charity The Travel Foundation, sustainability consultancy EplerWood International and Cornell University in the US, suggests: “We have failed to properly account for the full risks and costs of tourism growth.”

It defines the ‘invisible burden’ as “unaccounted costs to provide local infrastructure and protection of eco and socio-cultural systems for tourists and local people”.

Up to now, the report suggests, local capacity to manage the “ballooning costs” of tourism has been hindered by “a lack of analysis for the cost of managing each tourist”.

This leaves destinations “financing additional infrastructure for energy, waste, waste water and the protection of natural and cultural resources without recompense from the tourism economy.

“These costs lower the economic benefits of tourism” but are not recognised in analyses of tourism’s benefits.

The report argues: “Policies for addressing its [tourism’s] significant economic, social and environmental impacts continue to lag.”

The authors note that “only 11% of national tourism administrations are implementing national policies related to environmental sustainability”.

“The invisible burden of tourism on local economies appears to be steadily weakening underdeveloped infrastructure.”

They warn: “As the industry grows, the cost of managing and developing sustainable infrastructure will weigh heavily on destinations, as will the disappearance of vital non-renewable resources, ecosystem degradation and escalating greenhouse gas emissions.

“This puts tourism on a shaky foundation.”

The report adds: “In Europe, historical cities are being throttled by congestion, local residents are posting anti-tourism signs and visits to popular monuments far exceed capacity. The risk of bottom-line impact is high.”

In Southeast Asia, “the rapid growth of tourism is driving unsustainable growth”.

For example in Thailand, tourism numbers have more than doubled to 35 million in recent years with “no major infrastructure overhauls”, leaving “the Ministry of Tourism overwhelmed by growth promoted by its own government.”

Without action, the authors warn: “The value of tourism assets worldwide will decline.”

In his introduction to the report, Travel Foundation chairman Noel Josephides suggests: “We are not getting to the root of the problem . . . not much and not enough is changing in the way we manage tourism.”

Megan Epler Wood, the principal author of the report, said: “The earth’s greatest treasures are cracking under the weight of the soaring tourism economy.

“New data-driven systems to identify the cost of managing tourism’s most valued assets are required to stem a growing crisis.”

Travel Foundation chief executive Salli Felton said: “The invisible burden goes a long way to explain why we are now witnessing destinations failing to cope with tourism growth, despite the economic benefits it brings.

“It’s not enough to call on governments and municipalities to manage tourism better if they don’t have access to the right skills and resources to do so.”

Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism is available at

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