How Tourism Leakage Harms Local Communities: An Interview with Nikki Padilla

One of travel’s most significant but least talked about issues is a phenomenon called tourism leakage. As part of our series on fundamental sustainable tourism concepts, we spoke to Nikki Padilla, a Guide Trainer and Advocate from the Global Guide Alliance. She provides insight on how travelers like you can learn to recognize what tourism leakage looks like and how you can do your part to avoid it. As travel lovers, we must lead the way towards sustainable travel as the new normal. By traveling sustainably you help preserve destinations and provide benefit to local communities, instead of the resource depletion and the environmental harm and harm to communities that occurs with mainstream travel.


What is tourism leakage and how does it show up in real life?

Nikki Padilla: "Tourism leaking means you, as a tourist, are taking up local resources (water, electricity, food) and causing other negative effects like a rise in apartment rental costs or overcrowding in the main areas, and yet, the local community isn't getting the benefits of your presence, the money."

Where does tourism leakage occur?

NP: "It happens around the world, but it's certainly worse in developing countries. But that's also related to the fact that in many developing countries, travel is a huge driver of jobs, on top of the fact that Western Europe takes in a huge percentage of Global Tourism. So it's difficult to compare."

When did this start

NP: "I would LOVE to know the answer to this question! My guess is it would have been worse before, but there isn't much research on it that I know of."

According to research from as early as the 1970s, travelers default to the comfortable and familiar, investing money into hotel brands from back home and foods that are recognizable.

Why should we, as travelers, care?

NP: "If you look at it selfishly, as a traveler, you should still want to prevent tourism leakage because too many negative effects without money coming in to benefit the local communities mean that place will not be able to exist as it is much longer."


Go local!

NP: "The number one thing you can do is to make as much effort as you can to buy local.

To take it to an extreme degree, you could:

  • book with an airline based in the country you're visiting,

  • make sure you stay in a hotel that is locally owned (and employs locals with a fair wage)

  • book your tours & activities through a locally owned tour operator (who employs local guides)

On a much easier level, you can simply commit to buying locally while you're already in the destination, researching locally-owned restaurants or bars ahead of time . Or you can look up locally produced goods so that, instead of bringing home that scarf or magnet as a souvenir, you can bring home amber from Krakow, or a woven basket from Mallorca."


NP: “Another trick is to use ‘minority-owned’ or ‘Queer-owned’ or ‘female-owned’ when Googling, instead of ‘local owned.’ Those searches will pull up more niche or local results. I always check the Feminist Travel Guides that Unearth Women produce before I head on a trip."

Ask Locals

NP: "It is important to be aware of 'Green Washing' (or, in this case, 'Authentic Washing'). ‘Local’ and ‘authentic’ are trendy right now, so you'll have to do your research to truly find local spots where you know your money is going directly into the local economy.

The best way to do this is to ask a local (you can find a local easily through global travel Facebook Groups like:

  • Impact Travel Alliance

  • Wanderful

  • Girls Love Travel

  • The Nomadness Tribe”

Choosing a sustainable tour company like ExplorEquity is also a way to ensure that money benefits the local economy. Look for a company’s values and ask them questions about their partners and who they work with. ExplorEquity only works with locally-owned businesses for its travel experiences, encompassing all aspects of the trip from lodging and transport, to experience providers. In sustainable tourism, there are going to be companies that co-opt the language and do not actually have good practices in place. Do your research and ask for transparency before you make a decision!

Becoming a responsible traveler means holding yourself accountable for the impact of your travel and trying to have more positive impact than negative. Being aware of tourism leakage is an important first step. We hope that you decide to take action and avoid contributing to tourism leakage in your future travels. By doing additional research and outreach when planning a trip, you can help keep money and resources within a local economy while creating memories of a lifetime. Are you already taking action?

If you have any suggestions on ways to create a positive impact and less economic leakage while traveling, please let us know by commenting on this blog post.

To connect with Nikki Padilla, visit her website or Global Guide Alliance.