What is Extractive Tourism?

We hear about extractive industries all the time. Extracting oil and gas from our seafloors, rare earth minerals from our landscapes and more. But did you know that tourism can also be extractive? And what do tourism and the oil industry have in common? Extraction is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as the practice of removing something, especially by force. But how does this term apply to tourism? 

What Is Extractive Tourism? 


Extractive tourism is a term first coined by academic Vijay Kolinjivadi in 2021, to describe the type of tourism which industrially extracts from the environment and has been an industry buzzword ever since. It describes tourism at such excessively high levels that all possible resources from the landscape are extracted, without allowing resources to replenish and heal. We can see this phenomenon happening in places like Thailand, Venice, and Amsterdam, where over-tourism has led to damage to the environment and to local inhabitants. “Like a gold rush to the latest discovery, a panoply of hotel chains, foreign tour operators, airlines, real estate and multinational construction companies quickly rush to capitalize on…any site of historical or natural value”. This form of tourism goes beyond our basic interpretation of "over-tourism" - congestion or over-concentration of travellers, flocking to tourist hotspots during the same period. The term extractive tourism takes into account the ecological, social, and economic benefits and detriments resulting from masses of humans descending on the same ill-prepared scenic location. “The idea was to raise attention that tourism could have the same impact as an oil refinery,” Kolinjivadi says, to make people aware of the harmful effects of the industry. “That kind of analogy can seep into consciousness.” 

How Does Extractive Tourism Affect the Environment? 


Extractive tourism harms in many different ways, from destroying flora and fauna to squeezing out local businesses. Due to the increase in holiday rentals in tourism hotspots, local inhabitants are being driven out of cities due to a lack of affordable housing. Multinational corporations are capitalizing on new business opportunities and competing with local (and often more sustainable) providers. Huge volumes of visitors trample plants and landscapes, causing damage and leaving piles of trash in their wake. Not only that, but the increase in commerce leads to skyrocketing pollution levels, with increased transport emissions, waste and more. We are seeing the physical effects of extractive tourism on pristine beaches, which after being overrun with holidaying humans during the peak season, are degraded, dirty and polluted. We can see this also in many European cities, left heaving with tourists without the infrastructure in place to cope with them.

Locations That Have Been Affected by Extractive Tourism


With an ever-growing list of affected locations to choose from, we can see the harm of extractive tourism all around the world. A famous example is the historical site of Machu Picchu in Peru, which has been de-populated of locals to encourage tourism, fenced off for preservation and repopulated “a globalised architecture of tour agencies, airline companies, and agribusiness-controlled supply chains” so that holidaymakers can reach the location quickly and comfortably. 

We can find another victim of extractive tourism in the golden sands and crystal blue water of Maya Bay, one of Thailand’s most-visited tourist destinations on Ko Phi Leh Island, which shot to fame due to appearing in popular Hollywood film The Beach. A small beach which has endured huge amounts of environmental damage in recent years, receiving huge numbers of tourists and boats per day. This led to its forced closure by authorities for a period of time, as the combined affects of boating pollution, litter and marine-toxic sunscreens wreaked havoc on the landscape, with an estimated 80% of the coral in the Maya Bay being destroyed. As coral grows only around ½ cm per year, it’s clear this location will require years of tourism-free restoration to recover its former glory.

How Can We Battle Extractive Tourism?


Choosing to visit in the off-season, researching your destinations before visiting and choosing to go off the beaten track are all ways in which we can battle extractive tourism. Try selecting a lesser-known destination, not just another Instagram-famous hotspot. We can choose to support the local economy while on holiday, seeking out authentic local produce in the place of global restaurant chains, taking tours from local operators in the place of a package holiday offered by rich market-dominating operators. By being aware of the effects of our everyday choices while travelling, we can help support those who truly need it.

Long story short…

Sustainable forms of tourism offer us the first steps towards counteracting the swathes of litter and destruction generated by traditional tourism. The kind of tourism that does not cause harm, but instead brings benefits to local communities and the environment. Our common goal as a species is to maintain the beauty of our wild spaces and cultural beauty spots, not to destroy them beyond repair. With practices like regenerative tourism becoming popular, where visitors can take part in conservation efforts while holidaying, it is clear that ‘good’ tourism is possible. As travellers become more conscious of the importance of respecting nature, we can all take steps towards sustainability in our holiday habits, and tourism can continue to be practised by all for years to come. 


Written by Cicely Sinclair


  1. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/2/18/it-is-time-to-end-extractive-tourism?fbclid=IwAR2jb1Nn0XUc5DKRh7HIPU4oNYjCqpSEKA5eUJotry1ZWGX5I5QByP7dUvg
  2. https://adventure.com/extractive-tourism/ 
  3. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2514848619891874