Tourism is currently the world’s largest industry and also one of the fastest growing. The travel and tourism economy in North America (Canada, Mexico and the United States) represented 11.6 percent of total GDP, 12 percent of total employment and 10 percent of total capital investments in 2000. Most of this tourist activity is what is known as “mass” or “conventional” tourism, which for the most part pays little heed to its impacts on host environments and cultures. Some of the environmental effects of “mass” or “conventional” tourism include, for example, air pollution from increased transportation, loss of habitat and biodiversity from construction of tourist facilities and infrastructure, and increased solid waste and sewage from visiting tourists.
Sustainable tourism in natural areas is a broad vision that fuses the elusive concept of sustainable development with the tourism industry. It attempts to balance a variety of economic, sociocultural and ecological concerns at international, national and local scales. It is reported that in 1998 ecotourism (a subset of sustainable tourism) and all nature-related forms of tourism accounted for approximately 20 percent of total international travel. Sustainable tourism is also one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry and is estimated to be growing at anywhere between 7 to 30 percent per year, depending on the source data.