If you’ve traveled before, you’ve been taxed as a tourist. For years, 41 countries including Japan, Germany, Italy and New Zealand have taxed tourists for their overnight stays that are either added onto hotel bills or paid upon leaving the country. Japan’s is literally called ‘sayonara tax’ which means ‘goodbye’. These funds generally go towards promoting the local tourism industry or updating museums and other tourist attractions. But, recently some countries have begun calling these taxes by a new name- sustainable tourism tax and their aim serves a new purpose- preserving natural habitats and environments.
A sustainable tourism tax helps to offset the impact from over tourism. According to some counts tourism tripled from 1990 to 2018 reaching 1.442 billion international tourist travels. That impact has also seen a rise in pollution, pressure on natural resources and habitat loss. So, the sustainable tourism tax aims to help fund projects that will offset that impact and preserve the destinations that we love to visit so much.
Taxes aside, there are also other ways to minimize our negative impact and preserve the environment as a traveler. So, this article will explore travel’s impact, how we can travel better and what to expect from countries that have adopted the sustainable tourism tax.
Tourism’s Negative Environmental Impact
While tourism has many social, economic and cultural benefits it also plays a negative role in the health of local environments. To begin with, tourism has long fueled over-construction and development as a means to accommodate restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions. However, these very buildings have also contributed to deforestation and the destruction of local wildlife habitats.
Other areas of harm come from how tourists use and dispose of resources. Areas that see heavy tourist traffic are linked to single-use plastic pollution from items like water bottles or mini shampoo containers. Over consumption can put stress on local communities’ resources like water, fuel and raw materials. And, simply having too many people visit certain areas or trails within a short period of time can trample vegetation and soil that leads to loss of organic matter and habitats.
The World Counts is a data tool that combines information from organizations and research institutes around the world to spark the conversation around the steps needed to make real, lasting change. When it comes to tourism, they’ve tallied a few of numbers that show the impact from global tourism in 2021.
- 3 Trillion tons of freshwater used
- 33 Billion tons of CO2 emissions
- 1 Billion tons of waste dumped
So, how can we as tourists travel better? To begin with it pays to spend your money on the environment. Try to choose airlines that have taken sustainable initiatives to reduce CO2 emissions and single-use plastic waste. Airlines like Qatar and American have recently launched CO2 offset programs and have invested in sustainable aviation fuel.
When it comes to your luggage invest in brands like Briggs Riley (which offers a lifetime guarantee) and has taken steps to become more sustainable through single-use plastic reduction and recycling programs. You can also play a part in reducing single-use waste by investing in reusable items like a water bottle, foldable tote or little travel pouches for toiletries.
When visiting an area walk or take a chance on navigating the local transit system instead of taking a taxi to reduce your own CO2 emissions. And, ask your hotel or home-away-from-home guest if they have any recommendations for tourist attractions that are off the beaten path or not as popular to avoid causing stress on an over populated area.
* Want more sustainable travel tips? Read how this travel blogger has learned to travel better.
Countries Adopting A Sustainable Tourist Tax
The Spanish island introduced a ‘sustainable tourism tax’ in 2016 to fund programs and project that conserve the environment. With tourism rates rising yearly, the tax is one of the measures taken by the Baleric Islands to preserve their beautiful coastlines. Other sustainable initiatives include banning the sale of single-use plastic items like glasses and disposable razors.
Rates will vary depending on the time of year and the type of accommodation. For instance, they’re lower during the winter and quiet tourist season and for budget-friendly hotels.
Balearic Islands’ Ibiza followed in Mallorca’s footsteps and also introduced a ‘sustainable tourism’ tax in 2016. The tax followed the same rate variation as Mallorca.
Another country that has seen the environmental impact from an astronomical rise in tourism is Thailand. A big part of that is due to single-use plastic waste from tourists, over-development of land and over-tourism in areas like their coral reefs. Already, the government has cracked down on construction along the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan.
Dubbed the ‘tourism transformation fund’, the fee of 500 baht/$15 will by paid by every international tourist. The tax is expected to go into effect in 2022.