AUTHOR: RRMiller TourismROI
Every time a visitor sets foot in an ecotourism site, he/she causes a negative impact. This is an unavoidable fact of life. An ecotourism program will initiate many public use activities that will have impacts, both positive and negative. An Ecotourism Management Plan enables the minimization of the negative impacts and ensures that they are outweighed by the positive ones.
The monitoring and managing of visitor impacts are fundamental ecotourism management strategies but ones that are most frequently left unattended. If you do not know what effects your ecotourism activities are having upon the site’s natural environment and the surrounding communities, then you cannot say that you are being successful.
Careful monitoring of impacts, both positive and negative, needs to be a primary activity of the site’s overall management activities. Monitoring costs money and requires trained personnel and the assistance of interested stakeholders.
The first methods developed to address tourism impacts evolved from the concept of carrying capacity, which originated in the field of range management.
Several definitions of carrying capacity have been offered depending on how and where the concept was applied (Ceballos-Lascuráin, 1996). Initially, it was used only to indicate how much tourism activity was too much. Researchers began to realize that looking only at numbers of visitors was not sufficient. They demonstrated that what visitors did, when they did it and a number of other circumstances were frequently more important in determining visitor impacts than simply the number of visitors. In other words, there is no direct correlation between numbers of visitors and negative impacts that affect soil, vegetation, wildlife or other people’s experience at the site.
The degree of impact depends upon on many variables in addition to the amount of use: the degree of site hardening (making site trails, landings, overlooks resistant to erosion); the motivations and behaviours of visitors; the mode of visitor transport and lodging; the effectiveness of guides; and the season(s) in which most use occurs. Therefore, when managers use the term “carrying capacity” they usually are referring to this more broadly-defined meaning: “the amount and type of use that an area can sustain before impacts become unacceptable.” The more simple and straightforward concept of carrying capacity — limiting numbers of visitors — can sometimes be used as a solution for mitigating impacts in restricted, small-scale situations, but not usually on a protected area basis or large ecotourism site situation.
There are two very good methodologies that can be used to monitor visitor impacts: “Measures of Success” and “Limits of Acceptable Change.” Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) has evolved specifically to allow tourism to address the shortcomings of the carrying capacity concept, although it has been applied to more general management situations. Measures of Success can be applied to any management planning
This article is quoted from the Tourism ROI Newsletter published on 2010-02.02.
Download the full report Tourism Impact Monitoring and Management for Protected Areas (February, 2003).
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