The evaluation of carrying capacity is applied to demonstrate the impact of tourism on space and the environment. It shows a significant element of planning spatial growth in tourism. It is also one of the techniques used to establish standards for sustainable tourism.
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Essentially, carrying capacity of a destination is the maximum number of tourists that can stay in a tourism destination and utilize its resources in a manner that does not cause intolerable and irretrievable alteration in the structure of the destination. The structure of the destination is defined in terms of its environmental, social, economic and cultural characteristics. The carrying capacity does not decrease the quality of destination in terms of tourist’s experience.
Available research depicts that many researchers and institutions have studied the challenges concerning the carrying capacity of tourist destinations. Carrying capacity has been defined as the ability of an ecological unit to sustain and activate the growth of human activities adequately without negative impacts or consequences (FNNPE 1993, p.2). Three levels that are important for evaluation of carrying capacity have been identified.
These include socio-cultural, ecological and psychological (WTO 1997, p.1). A lot of studies on carrying capacity have been carried out in theoretical approach to the idea. This implies that the practical application some of these perceptions encounter a lot of challenges (Mitchell 1989, p.20). It is a common belief that the conception of carrying capacity is by itself significant and functional.
However, previous research has indicated that in daily practice it has been repeatedly neglected and replaced with other theories. Some concepts that have replaced carrying capacity include limited tolerable change in the tourism destination and techniques of tourist management (O’Reilly 1986, p.5).
Carrying capacity ought to include natural environment and changed human factors in addition to its practical application. A dominant relationship has been found to exist between the natural environments and the carrying capacity. The concept is characteristically an elusive subject that is still to be studied. Considering the challenge of sustainable growth, it is important to note that tourism causes various negative impacts that may risk long-term growth.
Carrying capacity is a significant structure for identifying and understanding notable challenges (O’Reilly 1986, p.7). Nevertheless, some studies are against this view; it has been suggested the application of alternative and more flexible framework. Some studies disagree with the interdependence between the concept of carrying capacity and the definition of sustainability of tourism growth.
These studies assert that if sustainable growth means respecting for the requirements of the present generation while protecting the requirements of subsequent generations then, instead of carrying capacity, the emphasis should be given to definition of the limits for the utilization of tourism destination before a major deterioration in the quality of tourism resources (Butler 1999, p13).
The enduring discussion on the conception of carrying capacity has focused to the necessity for comprehensible and clear-cut definition of tourism objectives and the assessment of the degree at which these objectives are realized. In essence, a tourist destination does not have a single, outside defined carrying capacity.
Capacity is a manifestation of objectives aimed for a definite tourist destination. This implies that the specification required is the nature of the experience of the tourist that can be achieved. Indentifying and realizing the objectives is actually dependent on factors such as accessible resources and administrative experience.
Carrying capacity is evaluated either at the tourist destination’s level as a complete entity including all related elements or at an individual’s level, definite services and services. In all cases, capacity is identified by physical, economic and social characteristics which are measurable. Capacity may be variable depending on the destination.
Variations depend on the natural-ecological features of a particular location, the approach of its application, and growth objectives to be realized. Capacities are characterized by a boundary of tolerance for a tourist destination. Such boundaries indicate a verge of change which, if exceeded, results to negative impacts in tourism. If boundaries are not passed, then the impacts of tourism can be termed as positive.
A considerable number of studies have attempted to come up with a procedure for calculating carrying capacity. The studies have focused on developing common formulae that would be applied for various types of tourist destinations. There is no proven formula that is scientifically validated to ascertain its application.
The outcome of various approaches is the principle mean area assigned to tourists, tourists’ activities and facilities. Many studies have applied different standards that are based on empirical evidence. Since experiences vary from one destination to another, the applied standards also differ (Laws 1995, p.25).
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Every tourist destination has a capacity for physical, economic and social structures. Space allocation may interfere with space occupied by businesses, whose operations benefit the local population. Considering this, a perfect example is a remarkable ancient town in Britain whose mayor complained about the necessity of goods that were being sold by three important departmental stores.
According to the mayor, the stores were selling only sweets, none of the stores provided shoes to the locals (Webster 1999, p.21). This example illustrates the importance of considering the economic capacity that will indicate the extent of success of tourism. Tourism should not stop or negatively affect the important activities of the local population.
It should cause unprecedented rise in costs of production and services that may negatively affect the locals. The limit of ecological and physical capacity should not be exceeded. This may cause damages to historical elements or water pollution due to lack of proper treatment of sewerage system.
Howie (2003) acknowledges that carrying capacity is not an objective but rather a strategy of achieving the objective. This cautions against perception of carrying capacity as a single and temporary limitation. It is rather a significant tool for developing a tourist destination. Alterations are unavoidable when tourist destinations are growing.
The use of the idea of carrying capacity ensures there is an effective assessment of the satisfactory level of alteration caused by tourism. It is principally the issue of managerial decision. The reliability and legitimacy of such a decision differ according to position and prospects of various stakeholders taking part in tourism activity. It is clear that reasonable tourism management decisions ought to be supported by sufficient logical investigation.
The capacity of a tourist destination to balance the needs of tourists and the needs of a local community is determined by a number of sophisticated factors. The locals are likely to be irritated by the increased advent of tourists. Further, this irritation may be increased by longer accommodation of tourists and tourists’ engagement in activities that are not acceptable in the local community.
Limited participation or opportunities by local communities is likely to cause dissatisfaction. The levels of capacity and the resulting acceptance limit are dependent on two categories of factors. The first category is the characteristics of tourists and the other category is the characteristic of the destination and its local community (Weaver 2006, p.6).
The characteristics of tourists that hold consequences on carrying capacity include psychological socio-economic traits. These are characteristics that determine the behaviors of the tourists and include age, gender, purchasing power, perceptions, attitudes, race and ethnicity. These characteristic influence the way the locals relate or communicate with the tourists.
Others factors are the degree of usage which includes the number of tourists and their distribution across the destination. The length of stay which may be determined by the season and the activities of the tourists may dtermine the level of usage (Jovicic and Dragin 2008, p.6).
All mentioned characteristics have their own significance and therefore affect the extent of interaction. It is imperative to acknowledge that the degree of utilization is not only a factor of the number of tourists. This might bring a wrong perception of growth of tourism.
In most cases, the activities of tourists and potential conflicts among tourists with various requirements, interests and prospects are more pertinent measures of the utilization degree of a tourist destination. This observation is of absolute significance to the policy makers.
The nature of tourist destination can affect its carrying capacity. The natural geographical features including climatic, topographic and hydrographic conditions can determine the amount of time spent at the destination by the tourists. The economic framework including the degree of economic growth, miscellany, investments and costs of services may determine the carrying capacity of a destination.
The social framework including the demographic features of the local community, the strength of the local culture, accessibility to social amenities and public services may determine the carrying capacity of a particular destination. Factors like religion, morals, gender roles, safety and language of the local communities fall under social framework.
Another important factor is the political structure since it determines the economical development of the destination. Other significant factors include the tourists’ attractions, participation by the locals, accommodation facilities, transport and other agencies including tour guide companies (Font and Tribe 2001, p.2).
A good example of a tourist destination where carrying capacity is a major factor is Isle of Puberk in United Kingdom. The carrying capacity in this island emphasize on the effects on natural resources such as water and waste disposal. Emphasis is given to the impact on local residents, the economy and production systems.
The coastline and the landscape of the Isle of Puberk island is being depleted by urbanization and infrastuture development (Coccossis 2001,p.5). Islands are considered among the most significant tourists destinations. Islands offer a unique opportunity for economical growth through income generation. Most income is generated from tourists who visit those islands.
It is important to note that tourism brings negative impacts tonislands’ natural environment, people and economy. Most islands have a delicate relationship between its economy and society. Intensive tourism growth rarely consider the capacity of an island; the result is deterioration of natural resources available in the island. Tourism development affects the natural habitat of plants and animals, and gravitates the landscape of an island (Coccossis 2001,p.31).
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