Sustainable Tourism Development: Toward the Mitigation of Tourism Destination Impacts

Synthesis Report for the ERTDI-funded project: 2004-SD-MS-21

Summary: ERTDI Report 80 - Sheila Flanagan et al.

Published: 2007

ISBN: 1-84095-252-0

Pages: 54

Filesize: 3,880 KB

Format: pdf


This report recognises tourism as an important source of investment and employment in Ireland, particularly in rural regions and also suggests that the impact of tourism be monitored closely because of its direct and indirect impacts on the environment. Furthermore, it acknowledges how tourism interacts closely with other policy areas – transport, energy, environment, regional planning, business and trade – and the need therefore to coordinate and integrate policies. It claims that all stakeholders in the tourism sector, at national, regional and local levels, have a part to play in preserving environmental quality.

While it is generally agreed that sustainability is the only long-term path for tourism, the question of how it should be measured (or attained) remains an issue. This is the challenge that this research attempted to address. The development of indicators for sustainable tourism is of considerable benefit to both government agencies and tourist interests in the determination of management objectives for an area.

Significant growth in the numbers of overseas tourists adds pressure on physical infrastructure and risks placing severe stress on the quality of the environment in the more popular tourist sites.  With better information, visitor and area management can be more proactive and capacity issues can be better anticipated and responded to. The purpose of this research therefore has been to develop a model through which destination managers have the ability to ensure that tourism is developed in a sustainable manner.

A key tenet of this research project is the United Nations World Tourism Organization assertion that:

Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability. (

The initial stages of the project involved broad-ranging exploratory investigations, resulting in the development of inventories and analyses of the principal tourism attributes and characteristics of the study area – Tipperary Lakeside, Lough Derg (Figure 1.2). Strand 1 dealt with the quantifiable dimensions of tourism with a focus on three key elements: (i) ecological systems; (ii) economic structure and (iii) physical structure. Strand 2 of the research concerned the analysis of qualitative dimensions of tourism, focusing on (i) community/social tolerance; (ii) visitor satisfaction; and (iii) political administration. Strand 3 integrated data from both Strands 1 and 2 and resulted in the development of a ‘carrying capacity model', which led to the evolution of an environmentally integrated tourism destination management model. This phase also prepared for the dissemination of results through a number of channels: papers and posters presented at conferences; peer-reviewed journal papers; website development; a national workshop and an international conference (to be held in October 2007). A further outcome was the formulation of an integrated executive training programme. In all cases the outcomes of the project incorporated best practice in relation to EU policies and procedures.

The project also resulted in the facilitation of academic research: raising the profile of sustainable tourism through the development of a multidisciplinary synergistic research team within Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT); the creation of contacts with national and international partners; the networking of practitioners in various fields and highlighting the significance of sustainable tourism at a national policy level.

The overall objective of the research project was to devise and improve methods for the implementation of sustainable tourism management through the use of carrying capacity indicators at a destination level and thereby to facilitate government and tourism business managers in making more informed decisions.  The UNWTO (2004) defines indicators as ‘measures of the existence or severity of current issues, signals of upcoming situations or problems, measures of risk and potential need for action, and means to identify the results of our actions’.

The final output of the research is a model of sustainable tourism indicators (the DIT-ACHIEV Model of Sustainable Tourism Management).