Sustainable tourism-carrying capacity

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1. Theoretical background

Α. General information

The Mediterranean is one of the main tourist destinations in the world and most of the tourism activity is concentrated in the coastal areas (30% of international tourist arrivals) [2]. This preference by Europeans is also shown in the following figures [3]: 63% chose the coast, 25% the mountains, 25% the cities and 23% the countryside. [these percentages add up to 138%].


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Picture 1. Tourism activity in the Mediterranean.

In 2007, 275 million international tourists arrived in coastal areas [2], and according to projections of national and international tourist visits, it is estimated that this number will increase by 137 million additional tourists to 312 million tourists in 2025. [4].

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Diagram 1. Domestic and international tourist visits in coastal regions 1990-2025 [4].


B. Definitions of main concepts Sustainable development as defined in the Brundtland Report Our Common Future is the “responsibility of the present generations to meet their needs in a manner which ensures that the ability of future generations to meet their needs is not compromised by irreversible resource depletion” [5]. Sustainable tourism is “tourism that aims to provide equitably distributed benefits (meeting the needs of current generations) whilst minimising the negative environmental and cultural impacts generally associated with tourism development: i.e. to combine development and conservation” (Wild, 1994, cited in Ponting, 2001)

Swarbrooke suggests that there are three equally important dimensions to sustainable tourism. Namely (Swarbrooke, 1999, cited in Ponting, 2001)


A definition of tourism carrying capacity of a tourist resort as proposed by the UNWTO as the following: “The maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing destruction of the physical, economic and socio-cultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of the visitors’ satisfaction” [3].

It is important to distinguish tourism growth and tourism development. Both of these terms are measured through the use of certain indicators (ie the first is measured by the number of arrivals, overnight stays, etc. and the latter by the increase in local income and employment, environmental benefits, and it implies the presence of development planning in accordance with the carrying capacity of the receiving environment). Tourism growth doesn’t always result in adequate economic prosperity [3].

Over the past years, tourism growth has been the main objective, but in the last years, after having reached its peak, all the impacts on environmental and cultural resources of coastal areas, as well as the social, economic and cultural patterns of tourist destinations have been made clear [3].

Nowadays there has been an emerging trend in increasing awareness by those who manage and invest in tourism that a well preserved natural and built environment contributes to sustainability. Tourism expectations and demand is diverting from the traditional model of sea sun sand towards more complex products that include cultural and natural attractions, gastronomy, sports, etc. all this in a well-preserved and distinctive natural environment [3]. At the same time, people living in traditional tourist destinations are increasingly aware of and concerned about their natural, historic and cultural heritage [8].


C. Europe, Mediterranean Sea and tourism development Tourism is one of the strongest economic sectors in the member states of the European Union (EU). Tourism activities in all member states involve around 2 million businesses (mostly small and medium-sized enterprises). These are currently generating up to 12% of the GDP (directly or indirectly), 6% of employment (directly) and 30% of external trade. All of these figures are expected to increase further as tourism demand is expected to grow. An analysis of changes in tourism in the EU over the past 20 years shows that the numbers of bed-places and overnight stays have increased by almost 64% whilst the population rose by only 6,2% (EC 2002) [8]. International tourism receipts, presenting over the past 40 years an overall rising trend, totalled US$ 208 billion in 2006 for the whole Mediterranean countries, which represents an average expenditure of US$ 803 per international tourist [2].


D. Carrying capacity: Where is the limit to this kind of development? What is the carrying capacity of the coastal zone, i.e. how many people and how much human activity can be hosted by a coastal area before the coastal ecosystem collapses together with all human activity? Several c coastal ecosystems in Europe and Mediterranean are already collapsing: 19 % of known Mediterranean species are threatened both locally and worldwide [2].


2. Objectives

There is still a lack of training, capacity building and skills in local authorities and NGOs on the issue of sustainable tourism. The interests (financial) are high, and even if local decision makers want to promote sustainable forms of tourism, the lack of competences, technical support and capacity building is a major draw back in their effort. LitusGo opens the discussion on this issue. Through this training tool, workshops and training sessions, LitusGo aims in contributing to filling this gap and support local decision makers and local stakeholders in developing skills through knowledge in order to promote sustainable tourism as the only kind of tourism that can guarantee the future prosperity of Mediterranean tourist coastal areas.


3. Problems

Tourism activity peaks in summer, coinciding with the time when natural water availability is at its lowest [9]. During peak seasons, population densities may rise up to high levels (2,300 people/ Km2 on the Mediterranean coast of France and Spain reach, that is more than double number than winter) [3].

The relationship existing between tourism and environment is best qualified as a relation of mutual dependence: not only tourism is highly dependent on environmental quality but environmental quality is also highly vulnerable to tourism development.

The problems/ impacts from non-sustainable tourism can be summarised in three axes: • Environmental impacts such as natural resources deterioaration, air pollution from the means of transportation, landscape deterioration, traffic etc as mentioned in chapter 1 of this module • Social impacts, such as traditional professions abandonment, xenophobia, traditional architecture deterioration [7] and • economic impacts, such as inflation rise and cost of living, creates low quality employment, seasonality in employment


4. How to deal with the problem

The first step towards sustainability is proper planning. According to UNEP “as an interrelated system, it is important that tourism planning aims at the integrated development of all these parts of the system, both the demand and supply factors and the physical and institutional elements [3].

Coastal tourism can be enhanced by ICZM, since it can play an important role in resolving conflicts and enable cooperation among all the sectors taking place on the coast as well as help with the overlapping responsibilities of involved agents on the coast [3].

In order to implement sustainability actions Local Authorities need to have the capacity and the knowhow. A well informed and trained Local Authority can have a positive and upgraded role in the promotion of sustainable tourism. The key persons of Local Authorities and local stakeholders should go through dedicated trainings, aiming in acquiring new skills and capacities in order to comprehend and support new methods and practices.

Capacity building and awareness raising:


Tourism development planning should take into account the following goals, notions and policies:

Local Authorities should allocate funds to support the implementation of sustainable tourism practices. Only when implemented case studies are available local stakeholders will be persuaded and support sustainable tourism.

Local Authorities should avoid studies that stay in the drawers, avoid non implementable suggestions that consider locals as the “enemy” of sustainable tourism: sustainability is a team work, is a team task and a team “dream”. It is the solution, the way out of the dead end of conventional tourism development. So, Local Authorities have an important role to play, to structure a participatory framework strategy and proceed with the implementation of focused and practical actions and activities.


References/ useful information/ E-sources:

1. Davidson, R., Maitland, R. (1997). Tourism Destinations. London, Hodder &Stoughton.

2. UNEP/MAP-Plan Bleu, (2009). State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean, UNEP/MAP-Plan Bleu, Athens, 2009.

3. UNEP/MAP, (2009). Sustainable Coastal Tourism An integrated planning and management approach, United Nations environmental programme.

4. UNEP. MAP. Plan Bleu, (2007). Protecting and enhancing the Mediterranean coastal zone, a common good under threat., Blue Plan Notes n° 6 Information document – 4 p. (Fr – Eng).

5. Ponting J., (2001). Managing the Mentawais: An Examination of Sustainable Tourism Management and the Surfing Tourism Industry in the Mentawai Archipelago, Indonesia.

6. University of Technology, Sydney, available at http://www.mentawai.org/jptm.htm.

7. Βαρβαρέσσος, Σ. (1998), Τουρισμός Έννοιες, μεγέθη, δομές, η ελληνική πραγματικότητα. Αθήνα, εκδόσεις Προπομπός.

8. http://www.coastlearn.org/tourism/introduction.html

9. http://assets.panda.org/downloads/medpotourismreportfinal_ofnc.pdf

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