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Environmental impacts

Climate change is one of the single greatest challenges facing the world in the 21st century.Tourism can create great pressure on local resources such as energy, food, land and water that may already be in short supply. The Davos Declaration in the tourism sector’s commitment that tourism will be at the forefront of the global response to climate change.


Challenges and opportunities for tourism in a green economy

The GREEN ECONOMY REPORT (October, 2011), prepared jointly by UNWTO and UNEP, makes the case for investments in greener and sustainable tourism as a means to create jobs and reduce poverty while also improving environmental outcomes.

The tourism industry faces a multitude of significant sustainability-related challenges. Challenges that need to be resolved through the greening of the industry include:

 (1) energy and GHG emissions;
 (2) water consumption;
 (3) waste management;
 (4) loss of biological diversity;
 (5) effective management of cultural heritage.




(1) Energy and GHG emissions

Challenges: The tourism sector’s growing consumption of energy, especially in travel and accommodation, and its dependence on fossil fuels has important implications for global GHG emissions and climate change as well as for future business growth.

Several elements contribute to tourism’s increasing energy consumption, including growth rates in international tourist arrivals and domestic travel; trends to travel further and over shorter periods of time; as well as preference given to energy-intense transportation (e.g. aircraft and car travel over train and bus, and flying first and business class instead of economy (Peeters et al. 2010).
The sustainability and competitiveness of tourism depends
in part on energy efficiency (reductions in overall energy use) and a more intensive use of renewable resources.

After transport, accommodation is the most energyintensive
component of the tourism industry, through its demand for heating or cooling, lighting, cooking (in restaurants), cleaning, pools and, in tropical or arid regions, the desalination of seawater. A general rule is that the more luxurious the accommodation, the more energy will be used. In a wide review of studies, energyuse
in hotels range between 25 and 284 MJ/guestnight (Peeters et al. 2010). Tourism-related transport consumption of energy is related to travel mode. Coach and rail transport, cars and buses, aircraft and cruise ships have diverse energy intensities.

Opportunities: In hotels and other accommodation there is
considerable scope for investment in energy efficient features and services, including refrigeration, television and video systems, air conditioning and heating (particularly reduction or elimination of these systems through improved design), and laundry.
Evidence suggests that investment in a more efficient use of energy in the sector generates significant returns.

Hamele and Eckardt (2006) reported the results of environmental initiatives in European hotels, bed & breakfast and camping sites, on energy consumption. On average, energy costs in hotels represented about 6 per cent of their annual turnover, whereas in the best practice establishments, this expense factor typically
represented 1.5-2.8 per cent. Recent studies have shown that a 6 per cent increase in investment in energy-efficient design & equipment can lower electrical consumption by 10 per cent (Six Senses 2009); low-cost water-efficient design and operation can reduce consumption by 30 per cent (Newsom et al. 2008, Hagler Bailly 1998), and that overall financial cost-recovery of a destination’s green strategy (ratio of present value savings to present value capital expenditures) can be between 117 per cent
and 174 per cent for investment recovery from hotel buildings operation efficiency (Ringbeck et al. 2010).

Development of the Summer Secondary Houses in Turkey

In the Kusadasi-Davutlar area of Turkey, a coastal strip of 30 km by 750 m has been totally covered by summer houses during the period of 1975 to 1985. These houses are owned by the middle and higher income residents of the larger cities. They provide a temporary relief from the stress of big cities, are regarded as good investment, increasing in value over time and can be used as permanent residence after retirement.

However, this trend has resulted in a severe loss of forests, free space and agricultural land. Growing pressure on the water resources has lead to a shortage of drinking water in many areas and the waste problem is growing. Electricity shortage and cuts have become common in many important tourist areas.


Danube Delta, Romania: QualityCoast Award 2011 

Danube Delta is an important tourist destination for those who love the natures and it is representing a great interest at the national and European level in terms of tourism. Danube Delta has a great potential for  ecotourism development and deserve to be included in the excellent tourism destination for which EU is giving special attention. The national and local authorities needs to define their development priorities by  including  ecotourism development in the Danube Delta Area.
In the same time it is necessary to give attention  to protection and  conservation of the  deltaic and marine areas. A priority also should be given to the transport in the Danube Delta and this must de definitely improved. The cruise ships and speedboats should be restricted only in the largest canals. The smaller canals and river branches should be used only by small-scale and slow tourist boats and small fishing boats. The smallest waters should be used only by canoes and small electrical boats. Management of banks, cutting of trees and sediment digging should be restricted to a minimum in the remote small waters, dependant on the natural values.

Nature & biodiversity respectively identity for this world famous Danube Delta area as excellent were assessed by the international Jury  of the Quality Coast Award ( . The Danube Delta is the largest European wetland recognized nationally and internationally as being a paradise for many species of birds and fishes and a natural beautiful landscape. A great beauty and an enormous and real values required special attention and careful for managing the area in a sustainable manner.  


(2) Water consumption

Challenges: While water use by tourism, on a global basis, is far less important than agriculture, industry, or urban domestic use, in some countries and regions, tourism can be the main factor in water consumption. In such areas, it can increase pressure on already diminished water resources and compete with other sectors as well as subsistence needs of local populations.
Tourism can also directly affect water quality, for example, through the discharge of untreated sewage or freshwater abstraction (Gössling 2010).
Total yearly water consumption by tourism in Europe is estimated at 843 million cubic metres. Each tourist consumes 300 litres of freshwater per day on average, whereas luxury tourists can consume up to 880 litres. By comparison, average per capita residential consumption in Europe is estimated at 241 litres per day.

Opportunities: Internal water efficiency and management programmes, and investments in water-saving technology in rooms, facilities and attractions reduce costs. Hotels with spas and health centres can engage in a range of water-saving measures, while new hotel construction can seek to avoid pool landscapes and other water-intensive uses (Gössling 2010).



(3) Waste management

Challenges: Waste management is another increasing and well recognised challenge in the industry. Every international tourist in Europe generates at least 1 kg of solid waste per day, and up to 2 kg/person/day for the USA (UNEP 2003).

Opportunities: Improved waste management provides opportunities for business and society. Lower levels of generation improves financial return for private sector actors, and better management of that waste creates opportunities for jobs, and enhances the attractiveness of destinations. Hamele and Eckardt (2006), reporting the results of an analysis of 36 hotels in the 2 to 4-star categories in Germany and Austria, showed average values per overnight-stay for solid waste (1.98 kg) and waste water (6.03 litres). The average cost of managing these two waste streams is € 0.28 per occupied room night. In Rainforest Alliance (2010), solid waste was reduced in 71 per cent of companies, with average annual savings of US$ 3,600.



(4) Loss of biological diversity

Challenges: There are many examples where large-scale tourism has had detrimental effects on biodiversity, including coral reefs, coastal wetlands, rainforests, arid and semi-arid ecosystems and mountainous areas (UNWTO 2010d).
Coral ecosystems have suffered strong adverse impacts from the use of coral for construction materials for hotels, over-fishing off reefs to feed tourists, sewage dumping and sedimentation from improperly managed runoff from buildings, parking lots, and golf courses.
Coastal wetlands, particularly mangroves, have routinely been damaged or destroyed to build beach resorts. And in arid and semi-arid ecosystems, golf courses and other water-intensive activities have lowered water tables affecting local fauna and flora.
Biodiversity will be greatly affected by the way in which tourism grows and develops, especially in developing countries (UNEP 2010).

Opportunities: UNEP (2010) argues that biodiversity conservation will be greatly affected by the way in which tourism grows and develops, especially in developing countries hosting biodiversity hotspots, where tourism is expected to become increasingly important. Conservation and restoration provides a highly profitable, low-cost investment for maintaining ecosystem services (see Box 3).



Source: GEF, 2009

(5) Effective management of cultural heritage

Challenges: Interest in unique cultures by tourists can result in adverse impacts and severe disruption for communities. There are examples of communities overrun by large numbers of visitors, commercialization of traditions and threats to cultural survival from unplanned and unmanaged tourism.
Tourism destinations are occasionally built by outsiders (usually with government approval) in areas that indigenous or traditional communities consider to be theirs, and where the development was neither desired nor locally validated. These situations lead to conflicts that make cooperation and mutual benefits nearly impossible to achieve, and instill animosities that negatively affect the local communities and the tourism destination.

Frequently, the cultural issues overlap and are aggravated by environmental issues such as access to water, coastal resources and wildlife. Over the last two decades, with the growth in ecotourism and alternative travel, tourism impacts on vulnerable cultures has begun to be taken seriously by the tourism industry, governments, non-governmental organizations and the cultural groups involved (Wild 2010).

Opportunities: The largest single component of consumer demand for more sustainable tourism is for cultural authenticity (CESD and TIES 2005). Cultural heritage includes living cultures, both mainstream and minority, as well as historical, religious, and archaeological sites. Tourism can offer opportunities for continuation, rejuvenation or enhancement of traditions and a way of life.



Source: Ringbeck et al. (2010)


The following trends and developments provide a particularly promising space for greening tourism:

  • sizing and growth of the sector;
  • changing consumer patterns;
  • maximizing potential for addressing local development and poverty reduction.



Environmental benefits

There is increasing motivation from both the private and public sectors to invest in making tourism more sustainable. Although the availability of global investment data specific to sustainable tourism is currently not of a sufficient quantity to draw any
robust conclusions, it is clear that there is an increased awareness of the need and value of conserving unique natural, social and cultural assets of destinations.

Private and public investment in tourism includes infrastructure (roads, airports, national parks, private reserves, hospitality installations and other sites and facilities); environmental conservation (natural attractions, beaches, mountains, rivers, biodiversity, natural barriers and endemic species); education (labour- force skills, including the greening of the skills base); capacity building; and technology improvements (cleaner production, sustainable management). Investment in sustainable tourism offers a wide range of opportunities, notably in the areas of water, energy, waste and biodiversity, which can generate significant returns


There is a growing trend within the tourism industry of investment in sustainability (WTTC, 2010)

For instance, the Accor hotel chain has been testing environmental technologies such as photovoltaic electricity, grey water re-use and rainwater recovery. Additional capital expenditure in energy efficiency and sustainable construction and renovation projects is estimated at a relatively modest 6 per cent
of total construction costs (for a 106-room hotel), with excellent returns (WTTC 2009).

Sol Meliá Hotels & Resorts have institutionalised their sustainability programme with independent certification for the company, including hotels and corporate offices on an international level, and a specific budget for the strategic project of sustainable development, financed entirely by company funds (WTTC 2010).



Sulina, Romania

Romania: A small perspective coastal city located in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, an example for unsustainable coastal tourism

Sulina needs to be revitalised to improve the quality of life of local communities  through economic and cultural rehabilitation. The city definitely needs to increase the attractiveness for tourism by restoration of its cultural and historical heritage, using restored historic buildings for tourists accommodations. It should be promoted sustainable, diversified tourism in Sulina and the surrounding Danube Delta.
An important priority action must be put in place by strengthening international , national and local stakeholder  cooperation to join forces in order to finance the sustainable development and restoration of the city. The long term vision for Sulina is to  become an important boundary town of new Europe, at the mouth of one of its largest rivers: the Danube.

The comprehensive restorative development of the coastal Sulina will be implemented in a sustainable and integrated manner. The future Sulina will provide work and housing for its inhabitants, for future European officials safeguarding the new Europe boundary, and will accommodate Romanian and foreign (eco)tourists and nature conservationists and yachting passengers.
The basic infrastructure for living and working should be improved in a sustainable way. The cultural heritage consisting of old houses, diplomatic residences, buildings (the Danube Commission Building), historic monumental complexes (e.g. the Cemetery) roads, streets, promenades, harbours, wharfs, ship-yards should be restored and its uses optimised.

A further improvement of environmental criteria respectively socio-economics in next years may even lead to a platinum Award. Especially water management, waste and recycling, sustainable energy, community participation and business involvement must be improved to obtain a higher level QualityCoast Award in future. Now the assessment is gold, still a great result for this beautiful area so rich in nature, biodiversity and cultural heritage.