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APPENDIX 1. Framework guidelines for assessing carrying capacity

The main points from Lim (1995a) are summarised below with the intention of assisting and guiding the implementation of carrying capacity studies. This broad framework can be used as a reference document, but the final output and conclusions will depend on the nature of each study area and its values.


1. Define the carrying capacity that needs to be established for the study area:


· tourism carrying capacity

· recreation carrying capacity

· others

Consider the above from one or more of the following perspectives:

· physical carrying capacity
· ecological carrying capacity
· social carrying capacity
· economic carrying capacity

Consider factors that affect the overall capacity of an area:


· access capacity

· commercial capacity

· construction capacity

· service capacity

· transport capacity

· others

2. Consider the type of tourism existing or being planned from the following contexts:

· physical
· social
· cultural
· infrastructure
· economic benefits
· tourism image
· indigenous environment
· others

3. List the objectives of the area:


· conservation of natural resources

· preservation of areas of unique scientific, historical and cultural value

· preservation of heritage

· tourism and recreation

· employment opportunities

· others

Ecological and social consequences of use should be consistent with area management objectives. If an area has more than one objective, then state the objective of highest priority.

In the Spey Valley example, Getz (1981) assessed the key indicators of impact by reference to the objectives of tourist development boards, and subsequently derived quantifiable and subjective criteria (Table I). This is useful for monitoring the impacts of tourism on an area.





Population stabilised (or growth encouraged)

· out-migration halted
· in-migration as needed
· age/sex structure balanced

· types of in-migrants
· expectations/motivations of in-migrants
· choice of location

Opportunities for employment increased

· new jobs created in tourism
· indirect generation of jobs
· reduce unemployment
· increase activity rates
· retain jobs which might be lost; avoid job displacement

· jobs to benefit special needs
· opportunity for choice
· opportunity for advancement
· satisfaction with jobs

Incomes increased

· raise personal and household incomes
· minimise inflation
· raise local authority income

· risks of dependency on tourism
· who benefits most?

Viability of communities enhanced and efficient use made of resources

· infrastructure, services and facilities made adequate
· housing and supply of land made adequate
· employment, commuting and strategies for public transport

· attitudes toward change
· leadership (availability and quality)
· satisfaction with conditions, and preference for living environments

Welfare and social integration fostered

· crime, police work and social work problems minimised
· health and other essential services improved and distributed equitably

· integration of newcomers (types of newcomers; their expectations and actions; attitudes towards them)

Cultural wealth strengthened

· maintenance of traditions
· facilities
· encouragement of events

· degree of commercialisation
· satisfaction with traditional way of life
· leadership

Leisure choice increased

· facilities provided and used
· membership in groups
· changing patterns of activity
· cost of participation

· satisfaction with opportunities for leisure; preferences and expectations
· special needs catered for; appropriateness of facilities

Conservation assisted

· preservation of unique cultural and natural features
· avoidance of pollution, litter and fire
· effective management provided
· benefits and costs, versus development

· attitudes to conservation
· environmental preferences

Amenity enhanced

· avoidance of crowding, noise and loss of privacy

· visual amenity preferences
· level of satisfaction

4. Establish criteria that affect capacity:

(a) Physical:

· area size

· accessible space

· visual impact

· climate

· aesthetics

· accommodation quality

· availability of facilities

· transportation

· number of people that can be accommodated

· others

(b) Ecological:

· the need for conservation

· fragility of the environment

· wildlife resources

· topography

· vegetative cover

· behavioural sensitivity of species

· diversity

· uniqueness of species

· concealment

· resilience of ecosystem/species

· impact of use on the area

· others

For coral reefs, the following must also be taken into account:

· size and shape of reef:

· composition of coral communities:

· type of underwater activity:

· level of experience of divers/snorkellers:

· others:

(c) Economic:

· investment

· volume of tourists

· cost of the holiday

· level of economic benefits provided

· level of enjoyment suited to the residents

· others

(d) Cultural:

· volume of tourism with no detrimental effects

· cultural attractions

· quality of crafts and food

· involvement of local communities/residents

· others

(e) Social:

· visitors' choice

· visitors' opinions

· visitors' attitude and behaviour

· expectations and preferences

· perceptual and behavioural response

· response to rising use levels

· visitors' activities

· visitor satisfaction

· acceptable level of crowding

· involvement of local communities/residents

· others

(f) Availability of resources and infrastructure:

· cash incentives

· public utilities

· transport facilities

· essential facilities e.g. hospitals

· availability of water supply

· proper disposal of solid and liquid wastes

· others

(g) Administrative and political factors:

· level at which management is implemented

· legal restraints

· policy incentives

· others

For example, Getz (1981), when assessing the capacity of the Spey Valley, formulated responses to such criteria (Table II).

Variations in criteria should also be considered:

· seasonably

· developing tourism areas

- optimise benefits

- ensure negative impacts of saturation do not occur

· developed tourism areas

- emphasise management rather than planning

· others

5. Establish thresholds or tolerable levels of use that can act as management guidelines: (cf. Getz, 1981; Table II).


· physical

· economic

· ecological

· perceptual

· social/cultural

· political/administrative

· others

Bear in mind that thresholds may be eventually reached, or may change with time.










· Accessibility
· Accommodation
· Transportation
· Space/Land
· Infrastructure
· Attractions

· Capital investment
· Running costs
· Opportunity costs
· Effects on other sectors
· Labour supply/skills
· Inflation
· Supply and demand

· Changes in natural processes
· Risk of fire, litter, pollution, erosion
· Viability of wildlife and vegetation

· Scenery
· User preferences and motivations
· Activities

· Population stability
· Migration
· Standard of living
· Services and amenities
· Stress, hazards
· Community viability
· Attitudes and social problems
· Satisfactions
· Traditions, language

· Plans and programmes
· Policy priorities
· Receptiveness to change
· Assistance given to development


· Physical limits of supply
· Dangerous crowding

· Inadequate funds
· Better alternatives become available
· Uncontrolled inflation
· Critical shortage of labour or skills
· Excessive competition
· Serious damage to other sectors

· Uniqueness lost or threatened
· Disaster expected
· Changes irrevocable

· User dissatisfaction
· Failure to attract tourists
· Major change in landscape quality

· Valued traditions lost
· Inequitable spread of benefits so that locals are dominated by newcomers
· Serious crime or disruption
· Great resentment of tourists

· Inability to achieve objectives
· Failure to cope with pressures
· Costs cannot be recovered


· Physical limits can be altered
· Supply can be substituted

· Economy fluctuates
· Markets can be created/changed
· Competition prevents some choices
· Difficulty to forecast viability

· Management can alter effects and processes
· What are acceptable changes?
· Difficult to predict impacts

· Management can reduce problems
· User perceptions differ
· Different user-groups can be attracted to area

· Attitudes change, and residents adapt
· Definition of benefits varies with the level of community examines (local, regional and national perspectives)
· How much change is acceptable?
· Problems can be ameliorated by services

· Co-operation between agencies and levels difficult to achieve
· Priorities can change
· Programmes can always be made more efficient


· Facilities inadequate at peak times
· Infrastructure deficiency in some villages
· Large surplus of accommodation, except at peaks

· High demand for labour and shortage of local skills, but transients fill the needs
· Financial restraints prevent some needed instruments
· Some inflation of costs in land and housing

· No evidence of major damage, but...
· Pressures in central corridor are great
· Wilderness value of has been compromised

· Some visitors alienated by changes, but...
· User choice has expanded
· Crowding at peaks reduces satisfaction
· Rural atmosphere is compromised

· Satisfaction generally high
· Benefits not fully available to natives
· Social problems arise from tourists and transients
· Serious shortage of housing

· Pro-growth sentiment dominates plans and priorities
· Some conflict exists between national and local/regional interests over conservation

6. Assess the carrying capacity of the area:

(a) Physical carrying capacity

(i) Consider in terms of time and space variables, and tourist function rates.


· peak capacity

· daily capacity

· weekly capacity

· yearly capacity

· seasonal and diurnal

· others


· space coefficients

· unit measures

· density zones

· equipment ratios

· others

Tourist function rates:

· ratios

· others

Threshold capacities:

· economic viability

· water resources

· others

Non-measurable criteria (use comparative analyses):

· ecological impacts

· cultural impacts

· psychological effects

· others

(ii) Apply Boullon's (1985) formula.

The total number of allowed daily visits is then obtained:

· Total daily visits = Carrying capacity x Rotation coefficient

The rotation coefficient is thus determined:

(b) Social carrying capacity

(i) Establish conditions requiring judgmental inputs (Shelby & Heberlein, 1984):

· relationship between use levels/management parameters and experience parameters

· agreement about the type of recreational experience to be provided

· agreement about the appropriate levels of experience parameters

(ii) Document visitor particulars and activities, as well as their expectations and preferences. Then a theoretical evaluation based on experience and accumulated knowledge can be used for comparative analyses.


· frequency of site visits

· group size

· length of stay

· activity patterns

· expectations and preferences

· others

(c) Ecological carrying capacity

(i) Consider the level of ecological use the area can support.

(ii) Consider if factors such as the following are at risk:

· soil erosion
· pollution of water resources
· landslides
· loss of species
· others

(iii) Assess the capability of the area to cope with increased water demand and waste disposal.

(d) Recreation carrying capacity (requires an assessment of both environmental and social capacities)

(i) Apply the ROS process to establish the acceptable numbers of visitors suited to each zone:

· visitor surveys
· density guidelines
· others

(ii) Describe observable characteristics and carry out evaluation which involves judgements on acceptability of impacts (Graefe et al, 1984):


· management parameters

· impact parameters


· measurable

· non-measurable

· absolute

· empirical terms

· others


1. Consider the stage of the tourism life cycle that the area is in, and manage accordingly:


· exploration stage

· growth/development stage

· mature/consolidation stage

· decline stage

2. Zone the area according to its use and objectives, and develop specific management plans for each zone:

For example:

· primitive

· rural

· suburban

· urban

· others

3. If in line with management objectives, consider ways to increase the carrying capacity of the area:


· establish quotas which set numerical limits on visitors

· reduce conflict between competing uses

· provide adequate information

· increase durability of resources

· expand the capacities of utility services

· expand the capacities of transport facilities

· develop purpose-built tourist resort complexes

· invest in careful design of infrastructure

· access restriction

· activity restriction

· time separation e.g. seasonal closure

· implement speed limits on boats

· ensure amenity features and facilities are available to residents at reasonable costs

· encourage local resident participation in tourism

· others

In addition, there can be the option to disperse pressure on an area by creating alternatives or opening up new areas. This also provides economic benefits of additional income and employment elsewhere.


· disperse tourist attractions

· develop new attractions and tourist facilities

· design new viewing tracts, trails, etc.

· extend visit season

· encourage wet or off-season use

· others

4. Implement an education programme which will help create awareness and educate the public on conservation matters:


· exhibits and signs

· surface or underwater trails/routes

· guidebooks and brochures

· public awareness programmes

· others

5. Incorporate all these into a management plan, ensuring that a government mandate is included:

A competent management programme should incorporate both environmental considerations and human needs and desires.

6. Implement appropriate action at the various levels:


· local

· municipal

· district

· state

· federal

7. Monitor and evaluate conditions:

This would enable management policies to be amended if necessary.


(a) The LAC process (Stankey & McCool, 1984)

· identify area issues and concerns

- economic
- social
- environmental
- political constraints

· define and describe opportunity classes

- resource
- social
- managerial

· select indicators of resource and social conditions (cf. Getz, 1981, Table I)

- economic
- social
- environmental
- political

· inventory existing resource and social conditions

- current status of indicators
- standard data base

· specify standards for resource and social conditions for each opportunity class

- acceptable limits
- observable limits
- measurable limits

· identify alternative opportunity classes allocations

- type of use
- location
- timing

· identify management actions for each alternative

- direct
- indirect

· evaluate and select a preferred alternative

- costs versus benefits
- consensus building
- management capability

· implement actions and monitor conditions

- compare against standards
- adjust management strategies accordingly

In short,

· identify the location, type and level of change considered appropriate and acceptable
· compare existing and desired conditions
· implement the management of conditions, rather than use levels per se

(b) The QUAL process (Chilman et al, 1989):

· management goal: quality recreation

- operational definition of "quality"
- obtain consensus of quality

· inventory existing conditions

- reconnaissance of areas
- comparison to other areas
- divide management areas into subunits
- measurement of subunit conditions

· analysis of alternatives

- locate area of management focus
- implications of changing area conditions
- aspects of uniqueness or fragility

· objective: setting and implementation

- select desired set of conditions
- select condition indicators and management strategies
- implement programmes and communicate progress

· monitoring and evaluation

- determine if objectives are being achieved
- determine what changes are occurring
- search for ways to improve quality

(c) The VIM process (Graefe et al, 1990):

· identify unacceptable visitor impacts - use indicators
· determine factors affecting incidence and severity of impacts
· select potential strategies for dealing with these unacceptable impacts
· monitor effectiveness of strategies implemented


Adapted from McIntyre et al (1993).

(a) Physical and ecological factors

· What is the size of the area to be developed?

What portion is available for use by tourists?

Are there seasonal limitations? (Consider viewing patterns; are they evenly distributed or concentrated?)

· What space modifications could improve the use? (Consider such things as plant buffers to minimise visibility or signage to manage accessibility.)

· What is the potential for ecological damage?

For instance, how fragile is the soil?

The plant life?

The animal life?

Other geological features?

What facilities or design policies could prevent damage?

· What are the conservation needs of the marine life?

Other wildlife?

The plant life?

The soil and other geological features? (Remember that the carrying capacity will be affected by such factors as diversity and distribution.)

· What are the preservation needs of historic or archaeological features?

What places, or sites, because of fragility, should be off-limits to tourists?

Or available only for limited use?

· Who has or should have the responsibility to assure that the infrastructure is appropriately built for the carrying capacity of the tourism resources?

· Will an increase in visitors affect the behaviour of animal life?

How can conflict between competing uses be managed? (Consider restricting human visitation to tourist zones.)

(b) Social factors

· What volume of tourism can comfortably be absorbed into the day-to-day social life of the community? (Consider the willingness of residents to share their community.)

Are there variations in tolerance levels during festivals, celebrations, religious occasions, or other special events?

Is there a desire to modify/limit tourist behaviour or participation in cultural activities?

If so, how might that be accomplished? (Consider dispersal policies.)

· What traditions could be affected by increased tourist visitation or interaction?

How might this be positive rather than negative?

How might contacts be a learning experience rather than a point of conflict?

· How will local residents be made aware and educated about the interrelationships among sustainable tourism, the environment, and the rest of the community?

(c) Economic factors

· Does the community receive satisfactory economic benefit from tourism activity?

What is reasonable to expect?

Will the economic benefits be sufficient to motivate the community to protect the environment?

· Is the current volume of tourism providing optimal economic benefits?

If not, how can benefits be increased? (Consider adding value to existing services and products.)

· Does the tourism industry offer jobs and opportunities for local residents?

Are they reasonably compensated?

Are work conditions acceptable?

Is job skill training available?

Are there opportunities for promotions and advancements?

· Are there opportunities for local investments in businesses serving tourists?

Or are profits drained off by outside investors?

If so, how can this situation be remedied?

· Are locally produced goods available in quality and quantity sufficient to meet tourist expectations?

(d) Infrastructure factors

· What transportation facilities and services are available?

Are tourism sites accessible by existing transportation services?

If not, how can they be provided?

· Are utility services including water, power, sewage and solid waste disposal available and adequate for projected use?

If not, how can they be provided?

· Are the provisions for health and public safety adequate?

If not, how can they be provided?



· soil bulk density

· soil drainage

· soil compaction

· soil chemistry

· soil productivity

· amount and depth of litter

· area of barren core

· visible erosion/area of bare ground


· soil fauna and microflora

· ground cover density

· percent loss of ground cover

· plant species composition and diversity

· proportion of exotic plant species

· plant height

· plant species vigour

· extent of diseased vegetation

· extent of scarred or mutilated trees

· number of tree seedlings

· exposed tree roots

· abundance of wildlife species

· presence/absence of species

· frequency of wildlife sightings

· wildlife species diversity

· wildlife reproduction success


· number of visitors:

in area per day

by mode of transportation

· number of groups:

in area per day

by mode of transportation

· no. of encounters:

with other groups per day

with other individuals per day

by activity type

by mode of transportation

by location of encounter

by size of group

· visitor perception:

of impact on environment

of crowding

· visitor satisfaction

· reports of undesirable visitor behaviour

· amount of litter in areas

· number of visitor complaints


Adapted from Williams & Gill (1991).

Environmental conditions:

· built environment size, distribution, capacity

· land use pattern and mix

· pollution loading levels

· noise levels

· natural habitat structure

· composition and diversity of species

· vegetation cover

· quality of air, water, soil

· health of humans

· health of biota

· demand for land, water, energy resources

· population densities and structure

Economic conditions:

· number of full-time jobs; part-time jobs

· types and distribution of jobs created

· types of jobs displaced

· wage and salary levels

· amount of local investment

· tourism expenditure levels

· tax revenue levels

· inflation levels

· personal/household income levels

· cost of living

· cost of tourism services

· local access to tourism facilities

· housing affordability

Social-cultural conditions:

· encounters between residents and tourists; tourists groups

· encounters by mode of transportation; location

· tourist satisfaction levels

· resident satisfaction levels

· tourist perceptions of crowding

· number of: tourist complaints; resident complaints

· employee housing availability

· access to community services and facilities

· perceived quality of community services and facilities

Figure I: Carrying capacity and sustainable tourism development.

Source: McIntyre et al (1993).

Carrying capacity should be considered at the three levels of policy formulation, detailed studies, and implementation and monitoring (Figure I) (McIntyre et al, 1993).

It must be borne in mind that each case should be viewed separately, as management applications will vary according to the geographical, ecological, political, social, economical and cultural conditions of the particular area.

The carrying capacity concept is not intended to be used singularly, but should complement other management tools such as environmental impact assessments, land-use policies, tourism strategies and development plans.

The key lies in focusing research, not on the question "how much is too much?", but rather on, "how much change is acceptable?". This would entail an assessment of what kinds of resources and social conditions are appropriate and acceptable in different settings. Hence management focus is shifting from efforts to control numbers of visitors, to management strategies that reflect a predetermined set of environmentally and socially desirable conditions (Williams & Gill, 1991).

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