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The Macaulay Institute


April 2006

White V., McCrum G., Blackstock K.L., and Scott A.

The Macaulay Institute
AB15 8QH


Indicators 7

9. Displaying and Communicating
10. Conclusion



This work was part of a SEERAD funded project on Sustainable Rural Development
(RO203909). The authors would like to acknowledge the input by Cairngorm National Park
Authority staff and members of the ViSIT forum during the life of this project.

"Any use which a third party makes of this document, or any reliance upon it, or decisions to
be made based upon it, are the responsibility of such a third party. The Macaulay Institute
accepts no duty of care or liability whatsoever to any such third party, and no responsibility for
damages, if any, suffered by any third party as a result of decisions or actions taken or not
taken on the basis of the contents of this document

Literature Review

1 Introduction

Since the publication of ‘Our Common Futures’, (WCED, 1987), the concept
of sustainable development has been high on the political agenda and the UK
Government has demonstrated a commitment to ‘Agenda 21’, following the
1992 Earth Summit in Rio (Johnson, 2002). To ensure sustainable
development becomes a reality rather than just rhetoric, it is necessary to
consider the world’s major industries within this context. When considering
the tourism industry, the need to adopt a ‘sustainable’ approach is
exacerbated by its fragility and sensitivity to change, its multi-sectoral nature
and its marked dependence on the quality of the host environment and
communities; “tourism which degrades any elements of host communities and
nations threatens its own future”
(Manning, 1999: 179). Twining-Ward
stresses this point further, raising the issue that tourists tend to be attracted to
the more vulnerable and sensitive areas, where Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the
’ concept is all too familiar (Twining-Ward, 1999) and management
responsibility may fall into many different hands.

Within the Cairngorms National Park (CNP), surveys have shown that it is the
“quality of the landscape that underlies the reason for most visits” (CNPA,
2005: 1) and hence such challenges are inherent within its tourism industry.
Recently being granted ‘Europarc’ status, the Cairngorms National Park
Authority (CNPA) has subsequently adopted a ‘Strategy and Action Plan for
Sustainable Tourism
’, (a requirement of the ‘European Charter for Sustainable
Tourism in Protected Areas’) and is currently working towards adopting and
applying a set of indicators. In support of this work, the Macaulay Institute
has provided the CNPA with a report that provides a suggested approach to
selecting and implementing indicators of sustainable tourism (see ‘A
Framework for Developing Indicators of Sustainable Tourism
’). The project
aimed to support the CNPA and their ViSIT forum by providing a structure for
thinking through the process of selecting indicators that encouraged

transparency and deliberation by asking provocative questions, rather than
providing ‘answers’.

This literature review, therefore, aims to summarise some of the key literature
underlying the Framework report and should be read with the project brief in
mind. The literature review is one of three supplementary documents to the
Framework report. The others are:
• Indicators of Sustainability: Some Example Sets
• Indicators and Sustainable Tourism: Interview Findings.

The Sustainability Debate

Whilst it is not the intention to plunge into a lengthy debate over the definition
of ‘sustainable development’ versus that of ‘sustainability’, it is important to


introduce some meanings and principles as they will be referred to in this

Sustainable development was famously defined by the World Commission on
Environment and Development (WCED) as "development that meets the
needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs"
(WCED, 1987), but many authors have since
developed their own definitions and adopted varying stances on
‘sustainability’. Attempts have been made to classify these notions, resulting
in concepts of weak versus strong, light green versus dark green and
techno/anthropocentric versus eco-centric, with the former in each case taking
the view that natural capital may be replaced with human-made capital,
whereas the latter deems natural and human-made capital as incompatible
(Haughton and Hunter 1994). Within this range of definitions and
approaches, there are common themes that can be combined to provide
some ‘principles’ for sustainable development, based on the underlying notion
that future generations should be compensated for reductions in the
endowment of resources brought about by the actions of present generations
(Pearce et al., 1989). Haughton and Hunter (1994) argue that these concepts
of futurity, equity and environment must underpin the process of sustainable
development, such that the principles of inter- and intra-generational equity
and trans-frontier responsibility are at the forefront of sustainable
development policy.

Increasingly, notions of sustainability are being linked to systems thinking (see
Bell and Morse, 2003; Kelly and Baker, 2002; Bakkes, 1997) whereby
sustainability is understood to be a framework for managing change. A
system is a whole whose elements interact as they continually affect each
other over time and operate towards a common purpose (after Senge et al.,
1994 in Kelly and Baker, 2002); thus systems thinking encourages thinking
about cause and effect and inter-relationships between elements. Whilst this
holistic approach to measuring sustainability is valuable, recognising that
“sustainability is not determined by single components” (Ko, 2005: 436),
systems theorists are still struggling to suggest a methodology for linking
cause and effect in complex systems, to adequately analyse direct, indirect
and flow-on effects of any one action and to deal with multiple, tiered temporal
and spatial scales.

3 Sustainable

The multiple issues bound up in the sustainable development/ sustainability
debate are inevitably transferred to the concept of sustainable tourism. Again,
the lack of any universal definition has lead to a multiplicity of tailor-made
meanings and applications (Box 1). As with sustainable development, there is
the freedom to adopt varying ‘shades of green’ in approaching sustainable
tourism. From the light green approach that holds tourism development and
tourist and operator satisfaction as the central aim to the darker green in
which the precautionary principle and concept of carrying capacities feature


highly (Hunter, 1997). The stance adopted has major implications as it will
govern the approach to implementation and hence the outcome.
Box 1: Sustainable Tourism- definitions

“Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of the present tourists and host regions while
protecting and enhancing the opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management
of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled, while
maintaining cultural integrity essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support

(WTO, 1996)

“Sustainable tourism is about managing tourism’s impacts on the environment, communities, and
the future economy to make sure that the effects are positive rather than negative for the benefit of
future generations. It is a management approach that is relevant to all types of tourism,
regardless of whether it takes place in cities, towns, countryside or the coast.”

(English Tourism Council, 2002)

“Tourism which is in a form which can maintain its viability in an area for an infinite period of

(Butler, 1993: 29)

“Tourism that takes account of its current and future economic, social and environmental
impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

(CNPA, 2005)

Eber (1992) provides a further useful synopsis:

“if tourism is to be truly beneficial to all concerned . . . and sustainable in the long-term, it must
be ensured that resources are not over-consumed, that natural and human environments are
protected, that tourism is integrated with other activities, that it provides real benefits to the local
communities . . . that local people are involved and included in
tourism planning and
implementation, and that cultures and people are respected.”


When combining the term ‘sustainable’ with tourism, the latter must take-on
the environmental, economic and social considerations and principles that are
inherent within the former. Figure 1 illustrates some fundamental
characteristics of sustainable tourism. These are neither definitive nor
exclusive, as characteristics will vary depending on the ‘stance’ adopted.
Given the central aim of this research, any links between general sustainable
tourism principles and specific features or requirements of tourism within the
CNP have been highlighted.

Figure 2 shows the relationships between these different aspects of
sustainable tourism, illustrating one perspective on the tourism-environment
‘balancing act’ required to achieve sustainability. The goals of sustainable
tourism as described in figure 1 and 2 relate to different types of tourism
carrying capacity. The figure essentially implies that no single aspect should
be allowed to dominate tourism policy-making and decision-taking.


Europarc Aim
and control of
Satisfying and

Europarc Aim
natural areas
Park Aim
experience for
Park Aim
the customer
Maintain and
Integrate tourism
Reduces over-
enhance diversity-
into planning
participation in
natural and cultural
among tourists
and waste
and locals
Promote intra- and
Improve quality of
Respects local
life for local
limits/ carrying
Europarc Aim
fi ld
New, alternative
source of
Increased knowledge
market for
Park Aim
about biodiversity
diversification of
Park Aim: Promote
sustainable social
and economic
Boosts economic activity
Support local
development of the
and growth in peripheral,
communities of the
isolated rural areas1
Europarc Aim
investment in
Figure 1: Principles of Sustainable Tourism


Healthy environmental
Satisfaction of
resource base
Satisfaction of local
Satisfaction of
operators in
tourism industry
Figure 2: Aspects of Sustainable Tourism at destination areas (Hunter, 2003: pers. comm.)

In his ‘tourist-area life cycle’ (TALC) model of the evolution of tourism development,
Butler (1980) introduces this notion of ‘carrying capacity’, proposing that at any
tourist destination there is a ‘limit’ to tourist numbers, beyond which they are a
detriment to the future viability of the area as a tourist attraction. Many of the
criticisms of Butler’s model have questioned the interpretation of carrying capacity
(for example, Haywood, 1986 and Getz, 1992, cited in Prideaux, 2000:227) and the
fact that it is limited to the destination area. Carrying capacity, in the context of
tourism in general, refers to the ability of a site or region to absorb tourism use
without deteriorating (Cooper, 1998). However, “there is still neither a universally
accepted definition nor a standard systematic procedure for assessing it”
(Saveriades, 2000:148).

O’Reilly (1986, cited in Hunter, 1995:67) describes the various carrying capacities
as follows:
Physical carrying capacity – the limit of a site beyond which wear and tear
will start taking place or environmental problems will arise.
Psychological (or perceptual) carrying capacity – the lowest degree of
enjoyment tourists are prepared to accept before they start seeking
alternative destinations.
Social carrying capacity – the level of tolerance of the host population for the
presence and behaviour of tourists in the destination area, and / or the
degree of crowding users (tourists) are prepared to accept by others (other
Economic carrying capacity – the ability to absorb tourism activities without
displacing or disrupting desirable local activities.


Attempts to quantify carrying capacity thresholds face a number of difficulties.
There will be differences for example, in acceptable levels of crowding and
changes in area management may alter carrying capacity through time (Pearce,
1989, cited in Hunter, 1995:69). The prevailing view in the literature (see Cooper,
1998, Lindberg et al., 1997) is that although tourism carrying capacity is a useful
concept to help us understand sustainable tourism theoretically, its practical
application as a management tool is very limited (Hunter, 2003).

4 Measuring


The ambiguity surrounding the meaning of sustainability- and consequently
‘sustainable tourism’ - allows for a great deal of flexibility in its application. It is
feasible to amend its definition to fit particular circumstances; a characteristic that
has proved helpful in achieving popularity but a hindrance in terms of achieving
consistency (Bell and Morse, 1999). However, simply adopting the term is not
sufficient in ensuring it becomes a reality. There is a long-since recognised need
for continual monitoring to ensure a so-called ‘sustainable’ programme is in fact
moving towards sustainability. Butler (1998: 16) goes as far to say that without the
implementation of monitoring tools, “the use of the term ‘sustainable’ is
. In 1996 a meeting held in Bellagio, Italy, took this matter to heart,
concluding with a set of principles for gauging progress towards sustainable
development (Box 2).

Box 2: The Bellagio Principles for Sustainable Development

1. ‘Sustainable development’ should be clearly defined in its specific context;

2. Sustainability should be viewed in an holistic sense, including economic,

social and ecological components;

3. Notions of equity should be included in any perspective of sustainable


4. Time horizon should span both human and ecosystem timescales, and the
spatial scale should include local and long-distance impacts on people and


5. Progress towards sustainable development should be based on the

measurement of a limited number of indicators based on standardised


6. Methods and data employed for assessment of progress should be open and
accessible to all;

7. Progress should be effectively communicated to all;

8. Broad participation is required;

9. Allowance should be made for repeated measurement in order to determine

trends and incorporate results of experience;

10. Institutional capacity in order to monitor progress towards SD needs to be

(Bell and Morse, 1999: 17)


5 Indicators

The Bellagio Principles summarised above express the need for ‘indicators’ and
‘standardised measurements’ (principle 5). Similarly, Agenda 21 in providing an
‘action plan’ for implementing sustainable development at a local level, also
highlighted the importance of monitoring progress and makes explicit reference (in
chapter 40) to the use of indicators for sustainable development (UN, 1993).
Indicators are far from a new phenomenon; they form the basis of many of our
decisions on a daily basis, for example in using the weather forecast to decide
whether to take a coat or umbrella. However, when considering indicators for
sustainable development, and more specifically, sustainable tourism, the issue can
appear complicated by the lack of any firm foundation on which to base their
development. However, Miller (2001) provides an encouraging argument that:
“Although it seems paradoxical to develop indicators for sustainable tourism when
no satisfactory definition of the concept exists, the process of developing the
indicators does help in determining the important tenets of the concept.”
2001: 361). As Stoeckl et al. (2004) suggest one can’t measure sustainability;
therefore indicators can only provide an indication of change and will only ever be
partial. There will always be a gap between what we are interested in and what is
measured, and what we want to measure and what we can measure. This is the
essence of the paradox whereby often we value what we can measure, rather than
measuring what we value.

What is an Indicator?
Again, we can look to many different authors for many different explanations;
“Indicators quantify change, identify processes and provide a framework for setting
targets and monitoring performance”
(Crabtree and Bayfield, 1998: 1); “Indicators
provide critical information about current trends and conditions and help to track
progress toward…goals”
(Gahin et al., 2003:662).

It is important to note that indicators are not intended to accomplish the required
change, but rather they act as catalysts for change, providing an ‘early warning
system’, flagging up areas of concern thus enabling decision-makers to initiate the
necessary policy changes and remedial measures. Indicators of sustainable
development should provide a continual assessment of the overall sustainability of
a system and the indicators themselves will require constant review and updating
over time, as changes occur; implementing indicators is a dynamic process.

In providing a means for monitoring progress towards sustainability, indicators are
also an important communication tool: “Communication is the main function of
indicators: they should enable or promote information exchange regarding the
issue they address.”
(Smeets and Weterings, 1999: 5). There are often complex
issues and intricate processes underlying indicator work and whilst it is important to
maintain a sufficient level of detail and transparency in the process, so that data
can be tracked and decisions justified, there remains a need to achieve a certain
level of simplicity in the end result. Indicators must be meaningful and useable by
all and not limited to the ‘experts’. Public consultation and stakeholder participation
throughout the indicator development process can play a significant role. Some
argue that an indicator should measure what those concerned are interested in and
must provide meaningful information, enabling action to be taken.


6 Frameworks

In an attempt to clarify the indicator selection process, efforts have been made to
establish frameworks, organising the development and selection process into a
series of easily communicable steps. Many indicator sets and monitoring
frameworks consist of indicators/measures that are selected in an ad-hoc manner
(see for example Waldron and Williams’ Whistler case study, 2003). It can be all
too easy to brainstorm and ‘cherry-pick’ indicators from existing sets. A conceptual
framework, however, allows for the coherent and consistent selection of indicators.
This is particularly important given that any indicator selection process is value
laden; for example stakeholder opinion may differ over the weight given to different
criteria for a good indicator; assuming a trade-off between cost and complexity; the
very objectives chosen; the baseline and benchmark data etc. Thus, having an
explicit framework allows a more transparent, responsive and robust process for
indicator selection.

Literature shows that the term ‘framework’ can be confusing in itself. It is used to
describe both a process - a series of actions and decisions to be taken in order to
select indicators, (see table one), and a conceptualisation of the approach to
sustainability that underpins criteria such as Box 4. For example, Eagles et al.,
provide useful guidelines to monitoring sustainable tourism but their guidance
remains at the level of describing a checklist, rather than providing conceptual
coherence. As Stoeckl et al. (2004) suggest, indicators are an approach to
operationalising sustainable development (SD) that is nested in the wider planning,
monitoring and managing cycle. This requires having an integrated understanding
and position regarding the system to be managed. Waldron and Williams (2002:
182) discuss the need for adopting a framework to provide a “systematic means of
structuring the identification and selection of relevant subjects/ issues to be
. As Bartelmus (1997, in Moldan and Billharz: 116-118) indicates, a
framework is a consistently logical way of integrating different data arising from
different indicators, often by reducing all data to a monetary numeraire (see his
case study on the SEEA – ‘System of Environmental and Economic Accounts’). In
the SEEA framework, the conceptual linkage between indicators is provided by the
relationship between supply and use of environmental and economic goods. This
of course raises various issues regarding the commensurability of different
indicators and the qualitative-quantitative debate over appropriate forms of

Waldron and Williams (2002) describe five broad categories of frameworks:
domain-based (addressing a variety of tourism performance issues to
include social, economic and environmental but not necessarily linking with
specific management goals);
goal-based (to identify indicators that respond directly to sustainability goals
but do not address interrelationships);
sectoral (these respond to the function of a specific management group, and
thus are useful in assessing management response to specific issues);
issue-based (often provide a short-term response to address the ‘issue of
the day’; longer term sustainability implications may be overlooked); and
causal frameworks (these assess the existing conditions, stresses and
responses but within-domain interactions are overlooked).