Business Ethics
Tourism and the Environment

Twenty years after the Brundtland Report, environmental policy has to date had little influence upon the workings of the tourism market (Holden, 2009: 373). Is tourism fundamentally incompatible with the environment? Or will environmental ethics provide the solution that tourism policy has so far failed to answer?


In the last few decades, it can be witnessed that the era and dynamics of globalization has been changing the business landscape around the world significantly. One of the great impacts due to globalization is the increasingly integrated world. Under such a situation, people are found to travel more frequent to other countries. Such a trend is giving rise to the emergence and prosperity of the tourism industry around the world. It is not hard to observe that the frequency of people travel abroad, as well as the amount of money spent by tourists in other countries has been increasing steadily throughout years. Coupled by the rise of low cost carriers that offer affordable services to tourists, making it cheaper to travel to other places or region in a fast manner, tourism industry has been booming and expanding fast (Akpabio et. al., 2008).

However, from another perspective, it can be seen that the greed of human beings has been creating serious environmental issues to the natural environment (Cater, 1996). The threats and the impacts of global warming is becoming more significant in the recent years, as the sea water level around the world is rising, while occurrence of natural disaster has become more frequent in the recent years. The development of many different industries contributing to such adverse situation. The tourism industry is one of such industry. In this article, the question if tourism industry or activities is fundamentally incompatible with the environment will be discussed. Next, the several suggestions on how to ensure the tourism activities is best structured or arranged to create minimal threats or negative impacts to the environment will be outlined. The article concluded that although to a certain degree that tourism activities will create harms to the environment, but through conscious efforts and various environmental protective measures, the harm can be mitigated or reduced to the minimum.

In fact, the arguments and literature about ethics and environment is not lacking. For example, Holden discussed about market and environment ethics, and the need of people recognition of environmental rights to existence. Other the other hand, the recognition of the needs of ethical practices in the context of tourism is nothing uncommon as well. Macbeth (2005) argued that the world needs an ethics platform in the management of tourism activity, against a background of environmental ethics and global political economy. As discussed by Holden (2008), each stakeholder may analyze the issues of ethics and environment from their own stance. In the paper, it is also discussed about the actions of stakeholders in the tourism industry towards the natural environment. From all of the available literature, it can be seen that the issues of ethics and environment is getting more concern and popular in the recent years.

Tourism Industry and the Environment

The nature of tourism industry usually will have certain degree of impacts to the environment, as tourists are brought to a certain tourism attractions, and the people visiting to the tourism attraction or destination will somehow create certain impacts to the destination itself. Similar to other types of industry, tourism activity consumes resources, and can create wastes in the process of serving the tourists (Tsundoda et. al., 2009). In fact, in order to support the tourism activity, many infrastructures, such as electricity, water, hotel, airline and many other supporting facilities are necessary. For example, the highly polluting airline industry, largely contributing to the Greengas House emission issues to the world today, is necessary to ensure the vibrancy and success of tourism industry around the globe (Cater, 1995). As many of the resources consumed, particularly those from the natural environment, has relatively zero costs to the tour operators, it is likely that over consumption situation will be created. For example, tour operators leading tourists to explore the natural forests in the tropical countries to visit certain tribes of aboriginal people, may not want to limit the amount of tourists in their marketing or operational plan. Thus, it is likely that when the tourists visiting to a certain areas exceed the threshold level, negative pressures or impacts towards the natural environment will be created (Buccellato et. al., 2010). This is hard to avoid, as the competition in the tourism industry is ultimately intense and fierce. To maximize profit as well as to serve the customers in large volume at the best possible manner is crucial for the survival for the firms operating in the tourism industry (Cater, 1996). Under the great pressure to stay relevant and survive in the competitive marketplace, many of the tour operators have not much choice but to neglect negative impacts to the environment. When that is happening in large scale, serious deterioration of the natural environment around the tourism destination can happen in a short time period.

In fact, it is also hard to deny that the threats of tourism activities towards the environment are mainly rooted in the conflict of interested (Cater, 1996). For example, in many cases, demanding the tour operators to spent more resources on protecting or preserving the environment will incur costs to the tour operators. However, if the situation is left ungoverned or controlled, it is very likely that tour operators will not take any serious actions in preserving the environment, for profit maximization purposes. Similarly, it is also hard to deny the tourists rights to travel to different places for experiencing or learning new things in the new environment. However, when tourists all travel in large scale, great pressures against the natural environment are resulted. The act of travelling will incur a lot of resources, and throughout the process, environment can be harmed through unnecessary Greenhouse Gas emissions, excessive burdens to the natural environment, deterioration of the ecosystems, and disturbance of the flora and fauna in the natural environment (Wilson, 2008). The situation can become worst when unethical people simply throw rubbish or engage in activities harmful to the environment.

As such, it can be generalized that the very natures of tourism activities are not truly compatible with the environment. The entire value chain of the tourism industry will create huge pressures hurting the natural environment, particularly when it is not being managed or controlled properly. Besides, the actions taken by the tourists will also affect the environment negatively. In the process of the tourism activities, it is undeniable that human interactions with the environment will affect the environment (Cater, 1996). This is something true in the tourism industry. Nonetheless, that does not mean that tourism activities should be banned or prohibited. There are many ways to protect the natural environment from the tourists, tour operators or people involved in the tourism industry. The relevant suggestions and recommendations will be presented in the following paragraphs.

Environmental Ethics

In the chase against profits, driven by the human nature of greed, ethics are important topic not to be ignored by the people or the relevant authorities and regulatory bodies (Amore, 1993). In order to preserve or protect the environment from further harmful measures by the people or the tourism industry, environmental ethics are essential elements as one of the many strategies to solve the issues. According to Holgen (2009), environmental ethics is based on the idea that the natural environment does have the intrinsic right “to be”. Environmental ethics demand people to pay stronger responsibilities to protect and preserve the natural environment, and beware of their actions that could create harm to the environment. They have the duty not to engage in activities that will create harm to the environment. Under the philosophies of environmental ethics, people that create harms to the natural environment should be sued, and made illegal by the side of legal legislation. Taking the environmental ethics into a serious sense, travelers should be also aware on their activities that can create harm to the environment as well. Thus, unnecessary trips should be cancelled. The methods to travel around places should be changed. For example, in travelling, people should try to use bicycle instead of cars, which can pollute the environment in greater degree through CO2 emissions.

It is undeniable that the adoption and even a strong awareness of the environmental ethics will ultimately assist in the preservation and protection of the natural environment. This is because when people are aware of their activities, and how the many activities are creating harm to the environment, they can arrange or re-plan their tour activities in a more environmentally friendly manner (Castka et. al., 2004). Besides, when the philosophies of environmental ethics are implemented or incorporated into the legislation, irresponsible tour operators or even tourists, that are proven to have created harm to the environment, should be prosecuted (Payne et. al., 1996). Such a hard measures will be necessary, to prevent further harm done to the environment. Although it is reasonable to believe that such strict regulations and legislation will dampen the vibrancy of the tourism industry in the short run, it is necessary to protect the world, particularly the tourism destination in the long run. Although the revenue of the tour operators may be hit seriously in the shorter run, the development of the tourism industry can be set on a more sustainable path. However, it is also important to acknowledge that many other measures are also required and necessary to protect the environment, as after all, the implementation of environmental ethics may not be easy and totally feasible in the real world or all regions of the world today.

Solving the Environmental Issues

As the nature of the capitalism market may not always able to make the best decisions for the collective human beings, the governments or regulators should take the responsibilities to handle the situation. Strict rules to govern the tour operators are necessary (Amore, 1993). For example, tour operators that chase profit to the detriment of the environment should be penalized and closed down. This is necessary as without the strong enforcement and the extra measures used to govern the behaviors of the tour operators, a certain degree of tour operators will be bound to perform selfish activities that will hurt the environment solely for their personal short term economic benefits, to the detriment of the natural environment and the society in the long run. Besides, strict rules will be necessary to deliver strong messages to the marketplace that environmental protection is a crucial issues being paid attention by the government. Aside from that, authorities can and should also imposed eco-tax on the tour operators as well as the tourists; whereby the proceeds from the taxes will be used to preserve the environment, or simply to plant more trees, or development of innovative ways to protect the environment from further harmful activities of human beings. Although all these measures may not be favored by the tour operators as well as the tourists, it is necessary to ensure more effective allocation of resources in the tourism industry (Agba et. al., 2010). Apart from that, government can also provide incentives to the practices that are environmentally friendly. Subsidies can be provided to encourage people and business to take care of the environment as well. Overall, government is a great moderator to oversee the development of the economy (Forsyth et. al., 2004), while taking a balance and sustainable direction between enhancing the prosperity of the economy to the preservation of the natural environment.

Apart from that, it is crucial to aware that the consumers, or the travelers and tourists visiting to the tourism destination play a part in preserve or protect the natural environment as well. Under such a context, education for the consumers, on their respective roles, duties, and responsibilities to protect and preserve the environment is necessary. Although the issues of environmental deterioration are becoming very serious threats to the world today (Buccellato et. al., 2010), it can still be seen that people are largely uneducated on their roles in preserving the environment. This can be serious situation in the undeveloped or third world country, whereby people are unaware of how serious their actions are hurting the sustainability of the environment (Juarez, 2002). One of the best ways to prevent people from hurting the environment for short term benefits is to educate the people on their actions, and the many negative consequences of irresponsible development or unethical decisions to chase short term profits over long term sustainable development of the natural environment. When people buy into the ideas that environment is crucial for the next generation, and they too play crucial part in protect the environment, they are more likely to abandon activities that hurt the environment (Honey, 2003). Particularly in the developing country, education is often necessary to guide the people to adopt best practices that can preserve the environment. In contrast, the consumers from the more developed world should support the tour agencies that adopt green practices for the benefits of world and environment (Forsyth, 1997). When the consumers all combine their forces together, a great pressure can be created to force the tour operators to adopt more environmentally friendly process, procedures or best practices in the execution or operations of their businesses. Besides, consumers should be aware on the potential impacts they may create due to their tourism related activities. Unnecessary trips should be cancelled; to create minimal possible pollutions to the environment. Those tour services that bring huge damages to the environment should be highlighted to the consumers, and consumers should boycott these services, for better, cleaner and greener natural environment.

Apart from that, it is crucial to handle the issue through innovation. Two types of potentially environmentally innovative measures are as follow. Firstly, it is about development of new technologies, to replace those traditional non-environmentally friendly technologies (Cater, 1995). Through technological innovation, many environmentally harmful tools, techniques or designs are replaced. For example, alternative chemicals had been found to replace chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) is an encouraging lesson on how the traditional polluting methods can be replaced. Then, innovation can also be applied in the context of management. Improved management will enable the tourism industry to create less waste or to adopt new environmentally friendly policies or practices that is beneficial to the society as well as to the eco-system (Che, 2002). For example, hotel operators can use more energy savings methods to operate the hotel, design the accommodation in accordance to green concepts, to plan allocation of resources more properly to reduce or prevent wastages, eliminated unnecessary activities or spending in the value chain, or to simply to plant more trees around surroundings (Parizzi et. al., 2001). Not only is that, aside from more effective allocation of resources or efficient utilization of resources in the management of the tourism related organization. Proactive adoption of Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) by the firms in the tourism industry will be an excellent way to save the environment (Castka et. al., 2004). It is crucial for the many businesses entities to allocate certain degree of financial resources for environmental preservation program. The awareness and the willingness of the firms in the tourism industry to adopt the CSR activities will surely generate positive impacts to the environment.


Overall, it is discussed that fast emergence and booming of the tourism industry in the recent years have been creating great challenge to the natural environment. It is discussed that similar to the traditional industries, tourism industry indeed require consumption of certain resources. The very nature of the tourism activities, encouraging tourists to visit to the tourism destination, will unavoidably create pressures towards deterioration of the natural environment, if the flow of tourists is too huge to be handled by the natural environment (Bull, 2000). Thus, tourism activities has unintended consequences to the natural environment, particularly when it is not being managed well. As such, it is necessary for stakeholders, particularly for the tour operators, governments as well as the consumers to play their part in preserving the environment. Environmental ethics is one of the important topic and strategies to protect the environment from the unintended consequences of tourism activities. Aside from environmental ethics, other measures can be taken simultaneously to handle the critical situation human beings are facing now. Under such sections, it is pointed out that the governments around the world, the respective policy makers, the consumers (i.e., in this context, the tourist or the travelers), the business entities operating in the tourism industry have different roles, duties and responsibilities to ensure their actions will create least harm to the natural environment. It is crucial to understand which of the activities are harmful to the environment, and to find substitutes to replace those non-environmentally friendly activities. Aside from having awareness or consciousness on environmental ethics, they should implement more proactive efforts to preserve and protect the world from irresponsible parties or uneducated people on the importance of natural environment in the developing world.

After all, it is very essential to realize that the short term profitability today may not be sustainable in the longer run (Sandmeyer, 2006). In fact, there are not many choices left for the people, as the deterioration of the natural environment will ultimately affect the survival and prosperity of people at the end of the day (Subak, 1996). It is crucial that people start to take proactive actions to tackle the upcoming issues, through awareness, education, innovation, cooperation and ethical behaviors in the tourism industry.

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