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Chapter 25: Tourism and recreation — Introduction

In terms of employment, contribution to GDP, and as a growing item of consumer demand, tourism and recreation together have become one of the most important social and economic activities in Europe. These activities bring income and jobs, increased understanding of other cultures, preservation of cultural and natural heritage and investment in infrastructure, which in turn brings social and cultural benefits. On the other hand, some forms of tourism, and some recreational activities, can cause destruction of habitats, degradation of landscapes and competition for scarce resources and services, such as land, freshwater, energy and sewage treatment. In addition, host populations may suffer the loss of their traditions and become overdependent on tourism incomes.

These problems are exacerbated by the concentration of tourist activity in relatively short holiday seasons and in specific areas, often comparatively small, which are also subject to environmental pressures from other economic activities such as agriculture, industrial development, fishing and growing resident populations.

More than other human activities, tourism and recreation depend on the quality of the natural and cultural environment for their continued success. However, as countries or particular resort areas become attractive destinations for tourism and recreation, unmanaged environmental impacts may undermine future earnings. For example, it has been estimated that, in 1990, the algal plague in the Adriatic Sea cost an estimated ECU 1.5 billion in lost revenue from tourism and fishing (CEC, 1991). Thus, tourism and recreation can affect the natural environment to such an extent that they can threaten their own existence. This is particularly crucial in Central and Eastern European countries where the temptation might be to develop unsustainable tourism as a 'quick fix' to assist with economic recovery. Thus, like agriculture and forestry and fishing, tourism and recreation both affect, and are affected by, the environment.

The practice of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) to use country groupings (Central and Eastern, Northern, Southern and Western Europe and the East Mediterranean) is adopted in this chapter (see Box 25A). The term 'tourism', as used by the WTO, includes all travel by people to destinations outside the place they normally live, for any purpose (including pleasure, professional, educational, health or other), but excluding excursionists (ie, those visiting for less than 24 hours). However, where data are available, this chapter also covers recreation and sporting tourism in the domestic market and includes, for instance, day-trip skiers, visitors to national parks, the countryside, historic sites or theme parks, and other activities that involve large but inadequately documented flows of people having potentially significant impacts on the environment. Box 25A describes the sources of available data on tourism and the environment.

In terms of arrivals, worldwide tourism almost tripled between 1970 and 1992, growing at nearly 5 per cent each year, whereas revenue from tourism increased almost sixteen-fold, and it is currently the third most important economic international export earner in the world, surpassed only by oil and motor vehicles (WTO/UNCTAD data in WTO, 1993a). The majority of the Northern European countries are net spenders on tourism, but in a number of Mediterranean countries, including Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey, as well as some other countries such as Ireland, tourism makes a major contribution to the national economy. Thus in 1990 for the EU, tourism receipts as a contribution to GDP was 5.5 per cent, ranging from 1.3 per cent in The Netherlands to 9.4 per cent in Spain (CEC, DG XI, elaboration (1993) of WTO and Eurostat data). Few data are currently available on the contribution of tourism to the economy in Central and Eastern Europe. In Hungary, however, tourism accounted for about 3 per cent of GDP in 1992 (National Bank of Hungary, 1992).

According to the WTO, the number of international tourist arrivals to Europe increased from 190 million in 1980 to 288 million by 1992 (accounting for about 60 per cent of world tourism arrivals): an average annual growth rate of just over 3.5 per cent (Figure 25.1).

Figure 25.2 shows the variation in international tourist arrivals between different parts of Europe, with Central and Eastern Europe accounting for about 18 per cent (WTO, 1993a).

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