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European Journal of Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation
EJTHR Research EJTHR Research
Vol. I, Issue 1, pp. 10-23, 2010
© 2010 Polytechnic Institute of Leiria. All rights reserved
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Tourism Tourism European Journal of European Journal of Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation SuSTaiNaBiliTY Or STaGNaTiON?
limits on development in tourist destinations richard Butler Strathclyde Business School, UK AbstrAct: Two concepts have featured heavily in academic writing on tourist destinations over the past three decades, one relating to the tourism area life cycle (TALC) and the other relating to sustainable development (SD). It is argued here that these concepts have many features in common, and that the idea of stability in the development process of a destination is dependent on that destination living within its limits, i.e. not exceeding its tourist carrying capacity. In the TALC this desired state equates to the stage of “stagnation” and for sustainable development, it represents a state of sustainability. The paper reviews the issue of implementation in the context of these concepts using two examples to illustrate how a more sustainable form of tourism might be achieved when effective control over the development and operation of tourism is implemented effectively. Keywords: tourism area life cycle, sustainable development, tourist carrying capacity, stagnation, sustainability.
resumen: Dos conceptos han aparecido mucho en la producción académica sobre los destinos turísticos en las últimas tres décadas, uno relacionado con el ciclo de vida de la zona turística (TALC) y el otro relacionado con el desarrollo sostenible (DS). Aquí se argumenta que estos conceptos tienen muchas características en común, y que la idea de la estabilidad en el proceso de desarrollo de un destino depende de la vivencia del destino dentro de sus límites, es decir, no superior a su capacidad de carga turística. En el TALC este estado deseado es igual a la etapa de “estancamiento” y para el desarrollo sostenible, representa un estado de la sostenibilidad. En este estudio se examina la cuestión de la aplicación en el contexto de estos conceptos con dos ejemplos para ilustrar cómo una forma más sostenible de turismo se puede lograr cuando el control efectivo sobre el desarrollo y operación del turismo sea implementado con eficacia. Palabras clave: ciclo de vida de la zona turística, desarrollo sostenible, capacidad de carga turística, estancamiento, sostenibilidad.
INTRoDUCTIoN The concept of Sustainable Development and the Tourism Area Life Cycle model both stress the importance of limits along with a third concept, carrying capacity, and argue that the application of limits are of critical importance if a desired state of successful operation is to be achieved (Martin & Uysal, 1990). However, few destinations have been able to maintain such a state over a very long period of time and it is argued in the paper that one of the key reasons for this
is the absence of control (over tourist numbers, development and the nature of tourism amongst other factors) in most destinations, resulting in a failure to identify limits and, even when these may have been identified, a failure to adhere to such limits. Without effective control and all that implies, implementation, in whatever form (Hall, 2009) of what may be viewed by some stakeholders as negative or restrictive policies, is unlikely to occur. Despite the outpouring of writing on sustainable tourism (including a journal, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, on the topic) and the TALC (Legiewski, 2006), relatively little has been achieved on a lasting basis in terms of the operation, management, and development of tourism other than in the case of individual facilities. While this might match the “think globally, act locally” philosophy, in reality it does little to ensure that tourism development in destinations and regions is in line with sustainable development principles (WCED, 1987) or avoids the “decline” phase of the TALC model (Butler, 1980). The major issue is with implementation, or more correctly, general non-implementation of policy on the ground, and it is argued here that the principal reason for that is the lack of control over tourism and its associated development and operation in destination areas. of the two examples briefly discussed in this paper, one reviews the development of tourism in an island group, while the other reviews the operation of a specific set of facilities in a destination community. In both cases it is argued that the successful implementation of de facto sustainable development policies has been dependent upon the existence of control mechanisms operated by the agencies responsible for the development and operation of tourism in the respective examples. The existence of control mechanisms alone does not guarantee that sustainable principles will be followed, such mechanisms have to be put into practice and adhered to if long term sustainability is to be achieved.
Both of the concepts referred to above first appeared in published form more than two decades ago, the TALC in 1980 (Butler, 1980) and Sustainable Development in 1987 (WCED, 1987). Whether the age of these concepts and the fact that they are still quoted and applied mean that they are of enduring applicability or that the tourism research community has run out of new ideas is perhaps subject to debate. If for the purposes of this discussion we accept the former belief, then it behoves us to ask why such concepts are still meaningful. Both ideas have been debated at length in the academic literature (e.g., Butler, 2006a, 2006b; Gossling, Hall, & Weaver 2009; Mowforth & Munt, 1998; Wahab & Pigram, 1997) and the concept of sustainable development in particular has received widespread public and political support. Both concepts share two other features in common, namely, ineffective application and implementation. Despite wideSUSTAINABILITY oR STAGNATIoN?
spread visibility in the academic literature and at least some mention among planning agencies, the TALC and its implications have been ignored rather than being applied in many tourist destinations around the world. The model has tended to receive considerable attention when visitor numbers (and spend) stagnate or decline, with a frequent urgency then to “rejuvenate” the respective destinations, often, ironically perhaps, claiming increased sustainability in the process, as well as “moving upmarket”, terms to strike depression into any thinking tourism academic.
Sustainable development was inevitably applied to tourism; it is, after all, too “good” a concept to be ignored as it allows politicians, operators, developers and planners at all scales to gain favourable publicity while not actually doing anything of real value and only very rarely actually engaging in anything sustainable beyond a little superficial “greening” of some locations,. In many cases, the concept has been used as an excuse to allow additional development, often requiring greater energy consumption, both in travel to, and on site by tourists to utilize the facilities. In the case of upmarket developments, greater energy use per capita often results, rather than energy savings as the upmarket clientele rather prefer luxury to basic necessities, even if the former is wrapped up as the latter. There are differing perceptions about the ‘necessity’ of butler service, air conditioning and the availability of imported alcoholic products, for example.
This is not to say that more sustainable facilities and destinations have not been developed, but, as Wheeller (2009) has argued when applied to ‘responsible’ tourism, to talk of sustainable tourism but to ignore the travel component is rather pointless (except from the marketing and “greenwash” points of view). There are very few examples of a successful long term application of sustainable tourism principles at a destination level, perhaps because most destinations cannot be reached by their tourism customers without significant consumption of energy which makes the whole process somewhat self-defeating.
There are many examples of successful short term applications of sustainable development principles at a facility level, however, just as there are examples of successful application of the principles of the TALC at such a level also. This latter statement should not be taken to mean that this writer regards the TALC and Sustainable Development as on a par in terms of application and importance. This would be egotism taken to a ridiculous level, the TALC is an academic model meant to be applied to destinations, and has had relatively little political application. Sustainable Development is a global concept, adopted to various degrees nationally, internationally and locally. This comparison is being made for an academic readership but having made that point, it is argued that there are elements of similarity between the two concepts.
LIMITS AND CAPACITYBoth concepts have at their heart a belief in limits. However one examines sustainable development one cannot ignore the fact that it is basically a call to live and operate within limits, generally but not exclusively environmental ones, a principle harking back to the first use of the term conservation in the nineteenth century by the Raj in India relating to forest preserves, and continued in the idea of the “wise use of resources” of the Roosevelt era in North America early in the twentieth century (Shephard, 1967). A similar call was made in the second half of the last century by Meadows et al (1970) in their report for the Club of Rome, echoing the rationale in the short but brilliant essay by Hardin in Science in 1968 and the eloquent volume by McHarg (1969), Design with Nature, a year later (interestingly enough now republished by Wiley in their Sustainable Design series). The TALC pales by comparison with these writings but pursued a similar theme, namely that without appropriate intervention, over use and over development, i.e.
exceeding the “natural limits” of a destination, would ultimately lead to the destruction or at least decline in appeal of that destination, echoing in turn the thoughts of Plog (1973) and Christaller (1963).
To accept the principle of limits does not imply that such limits are fixed, although with that admission there is always the danger of continuous flexibility allowing uncontrolled expansion, a point which this writer has raised (1996) in the context of management approaches such as the Limits of Acceptable Change (Stankey et al., 1985) where the elements Limits, Acceptable, and Change are all subject to modification as human values vary over time, normally moving consistently in favour of continued and additional development. It is necessary therefore, to consider whether we are to take limits seriously as a concept, and if so, how they might be applied successfully. Several questions arise here that would need to be resolved. Limits on what? Whose limits?
Whose values? How would limits be applied? In this paper the discussion will focus on the last of these points, partly because it is unlikely that any audience would agree on the second and third items, even if there was acceptance of the first, namely what elements might be limited. Let us therefore assume (as economists do that all the time) that the idea of limits is acceptable and examine briefly how a destination can take steps to ensure that it controls its own destiny and is able to impose controls, limits and regulations on development.
APPLICATIoN Hardin (1968) summarized that the true tragedy of the commons (which is what we face in many tourist destinations if sustainable principles are not adopted at some point) was the inevitability of the ruinaSUSTAINABILITY oR STAGNATIoN?
tion of the commons. He made the point that without responsibility there could be no solution, and one may take this a little further and note that without control there can be little chance of responsibility being assigned, and therefore little chance of achieving sustainability or avoiding allowing development to a level that leads to decline in the case of TALC. Surprisingly few researchers (e.g., Healy, 1994) have echoed Hardin’s arguments in the context of tourism “commons”. The similarities between the TALC and the concept of sustainability have been made elsewhere (Butler, 2004) and do not need to be repeated beyond pointing out that both concepts call for stabilization or cessation of growth when limits (carrying capacity) are reached. In the case of the TALC, ‘stagnation’ suggested cessation, at least in the rate of growth if not in growth itself, an appropriate state of affairs if such the level of development reached did not exceed the carrying capacity of the destination? (The term ‘stagnation’ was perhaps an unfortunate word to use because it undoubtedly has negative implications to most destinations and development oriented agencies, in hindsight it is likely that ‘stability’ would have been much more acceptable and viewed more positively). The similarity of the stage of ‘stagnation’ to a state of sustainability is very clear. Continued slight growth may be appropriate if carrying capacity can be increased in an acceptable manner and degree to match demands being made on resources (human, ecological and physical) in the destination. This begs the question, who would identify the appropriate level(s) and ensure it/they was/were not exceeded? The obvious answer is “those in charge” (of development, of growth, of industry etc.) The obvious problem with that view is that in many cases there is no-one in charge except a national government, and most national governments are generally in favour of continued and continuous growth in tourism because of the foreign exchange benefits. of course at the global scale there is clearly no-one in charge of anything.