Managing Tourism and the Environment
“Islands are fragile” (O’Riodan, 2009). The delicate and sensitive entities of islands need to be managed by the stakeholders in a sustainable way in order to maintain the natural and cultural environment. Sustainable tourism is defined as “tourism that is economically viable but does not destroy the resources on which the future of tourism will depend, notably the physical environment, and the social fabric of the host community.” (Brent, R., 2003). Islands suffer from special problems such as their limited carrying capacity, their lack of product diversity, their history, their peripheral and isolated nature, as well as having large endemism in regard to species. These problems can have diverse and wide ranging effects on stakeholders’ abilities to set up sustainable tourism projects.
Space or carrying capacity is a major constraint on the creation of sustainable tourism projects. There is, as Bramwell (2004) suggests, an absolute restricted resource base which should act as a restrictive band on development and prevent sprawling unsustainable development. Developers and tour operators are at loggerheads with environmental agencies over this, as they are seeking quick short term profits with disregard for the future of the islands. This is shown in Bali, Indonesia on ‘Rama Beach’ the sea is littered with dead fish, oil and litter from the Rama beach hotel (personal obvs., 2010). This detracts from the selling points of an island resort (sun, sea and sand). Butler’s (1980) life cycle model illustrates this point; with many islands already entering stages four and five (stagnation and decline), this is showing how unsustainable islands have become as each focus group didn’t involve themselves in satisficing the others wants. Similarly, Holder (1988) shows via his ‘self-destruct theory of tourism’ how islands reached and have exceeded their saturation points due to the untenable relationships held between the stakeholders. Essentially the stakeholders’ short termism and naïve views of space have prevented sustainable strategies from evolving.
Papadaki-Tzedoki (1997) showed that land prices in Zakynthos are 120 times what they were in 1970 and this is due to the development of hotels to satisfy the 12.6 million arrivals by 1999 (Bramwell, B., 2004) this subsequently had repercussions as it has threatened the breeding of the endangered ‘carelta carelta’ turtles. (Marinos, 1983). McElroy (2000) showed that this proved how there is “an inherent propensity for environmental overrun (in islands)” (p.232) as there is large “scale discrepancies” between large travel operators and the small and malleable ecosystems. McElroy (2003) compared Guam, a small pacific island, to that of suburban LA so there is little wonder as to why tourism can’t create sustainable strategies when there isn’t the legislation in place to prevent developers ruining ecosystems which have been imbedded in island culture for years.
Islands are often isolated in the periphery of countries and suffer from this as they do not have any local autonomy so often decisions are made by bureaucrats in central government who have negligible understanding of local cultures and environments. Hache (1996) shows how the Greek islands are an example of this, their civil aviation service is based in Athens and thus cannot have a valid view of the issues on islands such as Piraeus. Subsequently, a top down strategy has taken place which bypasses the local community and thus prevents a sustainable tourism strategy from being created. (Bramwell, B., 2004). Lekakis (1995:22) suggests that any power that locals are given is constrained by the lack of financial strength which “influences to a large extent the locally elected governments’ political will, administrative capacity, and networking with outside organisations” essentially it stops them from caring. A fine example of this is in the Greek islands where the ministry of planning in 1987 declared Mykonos to have reached its saturation point but yet still sporadic development still occurred. This was again shown by Daskalakis in 1996 suggesting that subdivision of land should have a minimum area of 10,000 square metres but the government (under pressure from tour operators) kept it at 4,000 adding to the environmental pressures on the city. (Apostolepolous, Y. and Goyle, D. J., 2002).
Royle and Scott (1996) show the added transport costs due to the isolation of islands leads to reduction in the competitiveness of the tour operators, thus they cut costs in other ways, such as reducing combative efforts to cut pollution, which causes a negative externality and unsustainable tourism. Similarly as Wilkinson (1989) says multi-international tour operators have differing desires as they are answerable to their shareholders who will want to ultimately see profits in the short term, which is contradictory to environmental agencies and snags potential sustainable tourism agreements. Loukissas (1982) found that tour operators rather than locals had more of an influence on development, which is dangerous as it shows their power to push development towards their goals which is unsustainable and against other groups.
Islands suffer from single product dependency of sun, sand and sea which is good at attracting tourists but similarly if it is depleted then the tourist economy will flop. King (1993) said “an island is the most enticing form of land” and this may be true but as soon as the product element is ruined and thus taken out tourism will be depleted. Surely if you take away the pull factor of a place the customers will stop coming?
This single product dependency also influences sustainable tourism as the seasonality of this single product cause large concentrations in peak seasons which is unsustainable and puts a greater strain on the social and natural environment.
Tour operators have oversold the single product and this has led to burnout of island destinations as the lack of diversification has added problems to sustainable tourism. Island economies are so dependant now on tourism, 800,000 employees in the Greek islands (Moussios, 1999), that if the industry failed the unemployment across the region would be irreversible.
‘Endemism’, which is the state of being unique to a geographical area, is another problem that stakeholders have to tackle in order to generate sustainable tourism. Islands are particularly susceptible to Endemism due to their past isolation from main land; the more isolated an island is the more likely it is to have a greater number of endemic species. (Witt, C. and Maliakal-Witt, S., 19th February 2007). Endemism puts large pressures on sustainable tourism projects as any development or increased tour operations will have a greater negative effects on these endemic species because they are more susceptible to stress and diseases which can be brought by mass tourism. (Frankham, R., June 1998). Similarly tourist development can cause habitat fragmentation which exasperates the problem as island species are more involved in inbreeding which makes the species more endangered.
Of the animal extinctions since 1600, 75% have been of island species and this is mainly to do with man influencing their ecosystems. (Frankham, R., June 1998). Similarly, only 20% of birds live on islands, but 80% of bird extinctions have been island born, a classic example is the Dodo of Mauritius. (Frankham, R., June 1998). Another example is the strepsirrhine primates the Lemurs of Madagascar; they have been depleted due to constant deforestation for a number of land uses, including tourism, this is unsustainable as it is compromising the environment for future generations of Lemurs. For tourism to co-exist and survive on islands with endemic species they will have to incorporate them into both planning and development strategies. (Jolly, A., 2004).
However, I don’t believe that endemism is necessarily a special problem for islands in creating sustainable tourism but more can be a special advantage that other destinations do not have as it can diversify their product. In Madagascar they have set up a zoo in Berenty forest where the Lemurs can live and this has brought in a new income stream for the local economy; sustainable tourism at its prime. Having said this though Jolly (2004, p. 203) has suggested that this zoo could turn the previous scientific research centre into the “Disney world of southern Madagascar”. However, If controlled successfully it could be a great success for sustainable tourism and could be used as a blueprint for other islands where stakeholders need to work together to protect the islands’ heritage and culture.
Overall, the special problems of islands are counter-productive for sustainable tourism, but if managed in the right way can be used in a dynamic way to create sustainable tourist strategies which benefits all stakeholders by providing economic, social and environmental benefits which are sustained over time.
Is it possible for all issues on islands to be problematic to sustainable tourism? Surely this is purely due to the lack of communication and understanding of differing incentive groups rather than inherent and terminal problems that islands are experiencing now?
Can islands be used as a parable for the rest of the planet? And can they show how sustainable strategies can be achieved by satisfying all main stakeholders? Islands have a long way to go to creating dynamic sustainable tourism development but with active communication strategies it can be achieved. At the moment Islands can be regarded as a child, their naivety and malleability is being taken advantage of by tourism enterprises and developers, but if their teenage years are stronger and more coherent then they can break this trend of destruction and stop themselves from entering into a perpetual downward spiral of terminal decline (stage five of Butlers lifecycle model).
Sociocultural and environmental values can be sacrificed in other forms of development, but in island tourism these have to be at the forefront of policy and projects as they maintain the quality of the tourist area. Essentially planning is the paramount for success stemming from the old adage ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’.