Beyond the indicators related to the Competitiveness programs and mission related goals –poverty alleviation & environment protection-, it is also recommendable to carry out a comprehensive assessment of sustainability issues through the elaboration of a set of Sustainable Tourism Indicators (STI).

First of all, tourism sustainable development has to be based upon three main principles:

  • Equitability: the generation of wealth out of the tourism activity should be fairly distributed among all the destination stakeholders.
  • Livability: the tourism activity should allow the destination’s inhabitants to cover their present and future needs, ensuring a long-lasting quality of life.
  • Viability: development has to respect the carrying capacities of the destination ecosystems without using non-renewable resources

The indicators have to play the role of analyzing all types of factors affecting the structure of the tourism industry, assessing the benefits and impacts of the tourism activity, identifying critical issues that need to be addressed, measuring the achievement of the Plan’s objectives and orientating in the need for strategy shift in line with the objectives achievement.

Based on the 20 main sustainability issues identified in the WTO’s “Indicators of sustainable development for tourism destinations: a Guidebook”, Tangenay, Rajaonson and Therrien developed a list of 20 STI as the main indicators to monitor the key sustainability issues within a destination. These are exposed in the following table.

Sustainability issue Indicator
Ecosystem Area of natural protected space
Water Water consumption (tourism sector)
Atmosphere Air pollution (tourism sector)
Energy Energy consumption (tourism sector)
Waste Volume of waste recycled or treated/total volume generated
Well-being Level of satisfaction of the local population
Resilience and risk Environmental vulnerability
Security and safety Ratio of tourists to local population at cultural events
Health Quality of bodies of water (lakes, rivers and sea)
Satisfaction Level of tourist satisfaction
Public participation Level of public participation in election
Culture Level of maintenance of heritage sites
Accessibility Frequency, capacity of services, or level of use by existing transport modes to the destination
Investments Percentage of new real estate developments intended for tourism
Ecotourism promotion Number and % of businesses that acquired an eco-responsible label
Economic vitality Percentage of income generated by tourism in the community
Employment % of new jobs in the tourism sector occupied by local residents
Marketing Percentage of return visits
Distinction Number of visits to heritage sites
Traffic Volume of tourists

Whenever data is not available, other indicators for the same issue should be found according to the available data related to this issue in the destination. Further, in relation to the previous section about monitoring the implementation of the Plan, the STI scorecard has to include indicators directly related to the destinations policy on sustainability.

In this regard, the KPIs related to environmental impacts should be designed by specialized consultants specifically for every destination –depending on the type of environment and issues to tackle-, whereas some of the KPIs to track the evolution of poverty alleviation could be:

  • Newly created tourism businesses in the poorer layers of the community
  • Increased disposable income in the poorer layers of the community
  • Newly created “non-tourism” businesses serving the poorer layers of the community
  • Increased turnover of old businesses serving the poorer layers of the community
  • Increased number of households with access to Internet and computer literacy
  • Increased access to primary & secondary education in the poorer layers of the community

Concerning the value for money, service quality could be measured in two ways other than the tourists’ satisfaction:

  • Mystery tourist system, consisting of periodical service evaluation by outsourced professionals pretending to be casual tourists.
  • Tracking of congestion and “early sold out” services through systematic observation, to identify bottlenecks and unsatisfied demand for critical services.

Would you consider other indicators?

Posted by Jordi Pera

Jordi Pera is an economist passionate about tourism, strategy, marketing, sustainability, business modelling and open innovation. He has international experience in marketing, intelligence research, strategy planning, business model innovation and lecturing, having developed most of his career in the tourism industry. Jordi is keen on tackling innovation and strategy challenges that require imagination, entail thoughtful analysis and are to be solved with creative solutions.

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