Sustainable Tourism: the Importance of Destination Tourism Indicators
Tourism lifecycle is a concept proposed by geographer Richard Butler in “Canadian Geographer” journal in 1980. According to Butler, any touristic destination has its own lifecycle. It starts from a moment when a place is unknown to tourists and stays aside of touristic routes. Then mostly due to a word of mouth popularity of the destinations starts growing, local residents become involved in the process of hosting guests and corresponding infrastructure appears (hotels, transport, catering etc.). At certain moment local tourism infrastructure becomes developed at maximum level, at which it can host peak number of tourists. And finally, the stagnation starts due to a number of reasons. It can end either with further decline of place attractiveness to tourists or with so called rejuvenation, which requires new approaches in the positioning of tourist destination.
This concept is actually very similar to the concept of product lifecycle (stages are almost the same) and, in more technical approach, to the logistic curve concept. General logic of Butler’s tourism area lifecycle is depicted in fig. 1, designed by Butler himself in “Canadian Geographer”.
Figure 1. Stages of tourist area life cycle according to Butler (1980).
As we can see in fig. 1, there are six main stages of tourist area life cycle.
The first stage is Exploration. During this phase very small number of tourists visit the place. These tourists are motivated by primary tourist attraction such as natural or cultural sights unfamiliar to general public. Specialized tourist facilities either don’t exist at all or there is a very limited choice of them. At this moment tourism doesn’t influence local residents economically or socially.
The stage of Involvement is characterized by starting of local residents’ involvement into tourism in their area. They start to notice that more and more people come to their place and therefore they start businesses to provide accommodation, catering services, transport, guided tours. Depending on the peculiarities of destination, tourism season may appear.
The next stage is Development. The host state and big companies start to see rapidly growing potential of the region and consequently start investing more and more money into new destination. Large hotel complexes are constructed, tourism agencies actively advertise the destination and sell so called “package holidays” to a place, which include everything needed: hotel, food, transport etc. Moreover, tourism becomes the main source of economic activity in the region. Due to this traditional spheres of local economy start declining.
The first negative effects also appear now. Number of tourists may exceed local population during tourism season, therefore locals gradually lose their influence on the process. They physically can’t provide essential volume of services demanded by tourists, that’s why this function is taken from them by big multinational hotel and catering networks. At the same time, local residents may experience negative physical changes to their area such as excessive air or water pollution.
At the next stage, Consolidation, the local economy is dominated by tourism. Therefore, local residents can make good money on tourism even they are not engaged into traditional local industry like farming, fishing anymore. At this moment division of local area on the segments depending on the guest’s status becomes clearly visible. E.g., there can be a separate district for business and VIP travelers and separate places for the people with small income. As the destination is very famous now, tourism demand is still high now, but stops growing. At Consolidation stage some older facilities, which provided first tourists will all necessary, become unattractive now due to their deterioration and higher quality service among their competitors.
Then comes the Stagnation stage. Number of visitors has reached its peak and starts declining. There is a number of reasons for it:
ability to host tourists (carrying capacity according to Butler) has been reached or exceeded;
loss of destination’s original features (e.g., the place had a forest with very fresh air, but now the half of it is taken by the hotels, and there’s a lot of rubbish in the other part);
high volume of touristic flow causes economic, social and ecological problems;
secondary tourism attractions supersede original attractions;
well-established image of the area causes it to become less fashionable.
After reaching stagnation, there are only two possible alternatives for the area: decline or rejuvenation. In his article in “Canadian Geographer” Butler introduces a five-point gradation between these two variants:
successful rejuvenation leads to new growth of tourism in the area;
only minor modifications are made to capacity level, therefore securing small or zero growth of the tourist industry;
tourism is just stabilized at certain level via simple cutting capacity level and solving this way some problems mentioned above;
lack of investment and continuing resources overuse lead to slow decline of the area in touristic sense;
technical or natural catastrophe causes immediate collapse of local tourism and number of visitors steep decline.
In case the rejuvenation way is chosen area gets back to the Involvement or Development stage and therefore destination’s life cycle starts over again.
According to the World Tourist Organization (WTO), sustainable tourism indicators are quantitative or qualitative measures of current issues existence, which signal of possible situations or problems, indicate risk and potential need for action and assist in measuring the results of actions. Indicators are considered to be the sets of information, which are used on a regular basis to measure changes important for tourism development and management.
Indicators can measure the following kinds of dynamics (WTO, 2004):
changes in tourism internal factors;
changes in external factors affecting tourism;
the impacts caused by tourism.
Major sustainable tourism indicators were carefully developed and chosen by the WTO according to criteria of practicality, credibility, clarity and ability to be used for benchmarking purposes in order to be able to compare situation in certain area over time.
The concept of sustainable tourism as a part of wider sustainable development concept emerged in 1960s, when not expected phenomenon of mass tourism emerged. It triggered the discussion on negative effects of tourism. And it logically led to introduction of sustainable tourism phenomenon (sometimes also referred to as “green tourism”). The debates, which surrounded sustainable development and tourism as well number of various publications on the topic in books and mass media, holding conferences and publishing reports led to widely acceptance of sustainable tourism in the world.
In chapter 3 of WTO’s guidebook of sustainable tourism indicators, the indicators are classified by 42 studied tourism issues, which are presented in 13 sections. This resulted in a total compilation of 768 indicators. After wide discussion 12 baselines issues were chosen, each of which breaks into 2-4 baseline indicators (WTO, 2004). Next I am going to choose 5 baseline issues, which are most important in my opinion, and discuss their importance.
Baseline issue “Sustaining tourist satisfaction”. This issue represents general level of tourists’ satisfaction they experience during their travel. The most important indicators of this issue are level of satisfaction by visitors, perception of value for money and percentage of return visitors. The first two indicators are questionnaire-based, and the third indicator can be measured in numbers. I am sure that this group of indicators is the most important among all, because everything else depends on them. If there are no travelers in the area or they are not satisfied, then further discussion will mostly lack sense. A number of satisfied visitors to the is the basis of touristic prosperity of the area, because it stimulates attracting other tourists to the destination, investment into infrastructure. It also serves the protection of environment in some sense, because if there are many tourists in the area and they face, say, some issue with air pollution, then part of the tourists will do their best to bring the issue to general public. Thanks to this the chances to resolve the issue will rise.
Baseline issue “Tourism seasonality” represents tourist arrivals to the destination by months or quarters and also accommodation occupancy rates during different seasons. This is also important group of indicators, because seasonal factor influences a lot a particular tourism destination. Local authorities and tourism managers have to take into account this factor during their economic and recreational planning. It also greatly influences the local residents in the aspects of their occupation during non-touristic part of the year. A lot of tourism areas face the seasonal factor, but not all of them cope with it successfully. The bright example of successful approach is Cyprus with its marketing campaign “Cyprus – the Island for All Seasons”. Reasonable tourism area positioning allows Cyprus to be not only traditional beach resort like nearby Turkey, attracting travelers only in summer months, but also to be able to host guest during any season with special offers during cold months like providing discounts and paying more attention to Cyprus rich cultural heritage (Cyprus Tourism Organization, 2016).
Baseline issue “Economic benefits of tourism”. This issue deals with number of local people employed in tourism and revenues generated by tourism as a percentage of total revenues generated in the area (in the city, in the country etc.). These two indicators are important to sustainable tourism development, because from the one side they clearly indicate the tourism area popularity and, what is even more important, the distribution of arriving guests by their wealth. From the other side, it may be indirect indicator of possible problems in the area. Obviously, different number of tourists with different preferences generate different risks for local tourism communities. And, of course, areas with different percentage of tourism service in their total incomes, require different approach to tourism management in particular and general economic policy in general. Communities with low percentage of tourism income (e.g. destinations specialized on niche tourism).
Baseline issues “Sewage treatment” and “Solid waste management”. Both of these issues regard to the problem of rubbish removal and its further processing. It is fairly considered to be one of the biggest and most obvious tourism problems, which cause the most serious damage to local communities. Moreover, this factor directly influences the attractiveness of destination for tourists, because they are very sensitive to this factor. The smallest failure in sewage and solid waste management leads to steep decline in tourists flow to the place. The rubbish problem is always visible, therefore when, for instance, rubbish collectors start striking in big touristic cities, they usually succeed in achieving their results. The brightest recent example is rubbish collectors strike in Paris, which led to mass disruption of local businesses oriented on tourists – like hotels, cafés and restaurants (Horobin, 2015).
Basing on the reviewed sources, this paper concludes that baseline issues, chosen by WTO experts, as well as corresponding baseline indicators of sustainable tourism development, can assist communities in developing their tourist areas. As for tourist managers, they can actively use these indicators to plan and evaluate touristic flows taking into consideration economic, social, ecological and seasonal factors.
Butler, R. W. (1980). The concept of a tourist area cycle of evolution: implications for management of resources. Canadian Geographer, 24, 5-12.
Butler, R. W. (2011). Tourism area life cycle. Contemporary Tourism Reviews. Woodeaton, Oxford: Goodfellow Publishers Ltd.
Cyprus Tourist Organization. (2016). Thematic Routes. Cyprus In Your Heart. Retrieved from http://visitcyprus.com/index.php/en/discovercyprus/routes.
Horobin, W. (2015, October 8). Paris Garbage Collectors Extend Strike Into Fourth Day. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/paris-garbage-collectors-extend-strike-into-fourth-day-1444314599.
World Tourism Organization. (2004). Indicators of Sustainable Development for Tourism Destinations: A Guidebook. Madrid: WTO, 2004, 514 p., ISBN 92-844-0726-5.