Tourism carrying capacity is a now antiquated approach to managing visitors in protected areas and national parks which evolved out of the fields of range, habitat and wildlife management. In these fields, managers attempted to determine the largest population of a particular species that could be supported by a habitat over a long period of time. Many authors, such as Buckley, Wagar, Washburne, McCool, and Stankey have critiqued the concept as being fatally flawed in both the conceptual assumptions made and its limited practical application. For example, the notion of a carrying capacity assumes the world, such as the social-ecological systems in which protected areas and tourism destinations are situated, are stable. But we know they are dynamically complex and impossible to predict. We know that to implement a carrying capacity on a practical level, assumes a level of control of entries into a destination or protected area not usually found in the real world. We know that a carrying capacity, if one could be determined, requires considerable financial and technical resources to administer; and we know that when demand exceeds a limit, the ways in which scarce opportunities are allocated are contentious.
"Tourism Carrying Capacity" is defined by the World Tourism Organisation as “The maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing destruction of the physical, economic, socio-cultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitors' satisfaction”. Whereas Middleton and Hawkins Chamberlain (1997) define it as “the level of human activity an area can accommodate without the area deteriorating, the resident community being adversely affected or the quality of visitors experience declining” what both these definitions pick up on is carrying capacity is the point at which a destination or attraction starts experiencing adverse as a result of the number of visitors.
Unfortunately, there are no studies which support this notion of visitor management. For example, in areas which have an objective of maintaining pristine conditions, any level of visitor use creates adverse or negative impacts, suggesting that the carrying capacity is zero. Fundamentally, acceptable conditions are a matter of human judgment, not an inherent quality of a particular site. Understanding these acceptable conditions is the focus of the limits of acceptable change planning process referred to later in this article.
There are number of different forms of carrying capacity referred to in tourism, however this article will focus on the four most commonly used. However, these conceptions are useful only to the extent they focus discussion and discourse, not practical application.
Read more about Tourism Carrying Capacity: Physical Carrying Capacity, Economic Carrying Capacity, Social Carrying Capacity, Biophysical Carrying Capacity, Weaknesses of Carrying Capacity, Limits of Acceptable Change, Visitor Experience and Resource Protection, Descriptive and Evaluative, As Part of A Planning System, See Also
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