Carrying capacity is closely linked with environment. Every tourist region has a carrying capacity for tourists as well as for any other type of use. This capacity varies with the fragility of the area concerned and the nature of the tourist activity contemplated. For example, an island rainforest is a very fragile environment which could be easily endangered by excessive number of tourists using it.
By contrast, a recreational beach is not easily damaged by large number of tourists. Planning facilities for tourist development in the case of the island rainforest would require limitations on hotel and similar other installations in order not to encourage excessive number of tourists.
In the second case that of recreational beach, high density accommodation and other installations for tourism might well be tolerated carrying capacity of a place or a region may however alter or change over time. Technological advances for instance may increase the amount of sewage which may be treated properly, thereby increasing the carrying capacity.
Similarly improvements in infrastructure designs and developments, modes of transports etc. may also increase carrying capacity over time. An important point to recognise, however, is that the overall carrying capacity of a destination is often determined by just one factor.
This one factor becomes the limiting factor beyond which carrying capacity cannot be altered or changed. For example there may be enough hotel rooms to cater for, say, 10,000 tourists per night, but if the sewage system is meant to cope with only 5,000 tourists per night, in that case carrying capacity will be 5,000 tourists.
1. “Carrying capacity can be defined as the maximum number of people who can use a site without an unacceptable alteration in the physical environment and without an unacceptable decline in the quality of experience gained by visitors.” Mathieson and Wall, Tourism: Economic and Social Physical Impact,
2. “The concept of maintaining a level of development and use that will not result in serious environmental deterioration, socio-cultural or economic problems, or be perceived by tourists as depreciating their enjoyment and appreciation of the area.”WTO, National and Regional Tourism Planning.”
3. “That level of tourist presence which creates impacts on the host community, environment and economy that are acceptable to both tourists and hosts and sustainable over future time periods.” Cooper et al, Tourism Principles and Practice.
Type of carrying capacity:
(a) Acceptable levels of visual impact and congestion.
(b)Point at which ecological systems are maintained before damage occurs.
(c) Conservation of wildlife and natural vegetation of both the land and marine environments.
(d) Acceptable levels of air; water and noise pollution.
(a) Extent of tourism that provides optimum overall economic benefits without economic distortions or inflation.
(b)Level of tourism employment suited to the local community.
(a) Extent of tourism development that can be absorbed without detriment to the life styles and activities of the local community.
(b) Level of tourism that will help maintain historic and cultural monuments, arts, crafts, belief systems, castoffs and traditions without detrimental effects.
(a) Adequate availability of transportation facilities and services.
(b) Adequate availability of utility facilities and services of water supply, electric power, sewage and solid waste disposal and telecommunication.
(c)Adequate availability of other community facilities and services such as those related to health, and safety, and of housing for employees in tourism sector.
Crowding and the psychological impact of being with too many other people for comfort/ enjoyment.
Factors affecting carrying capacity:
Major factors usually include:
1. Alien Factors:
(a) The volume and characteristic of the tourist; mass tourism will have a greater impact than independent/explorer type tourism.
(b) The length of stay.
(c) Geographical concentration of visitors.
(d) The degree of seasonality.
(e) The type of tourism activity.
(J) Educational level, purpose of visit, age of visitors, etc will all affect the impact. This is very closely linked to the volume and characteristics of the tourism.
(g) The degree of exposure to other forces of technological, social and economic change e.g. the effect of television, may have a greater than tourism.
2. Local Factors:
The fragility of the local environment: sand duens, marine environment etc. are more fragile than Trafalgar Square in London or Wall Street in New York.
The social structure of the host economy: the more developed a country is the less vulnerable to the influence of the tourist.
The economic structure: developing countries are less likely to be able to reap the same benefits as a developed country due to the fact that are likely to have to import more goods to cater for the needs of the tourist because these are not produced locally.
They may also be dependent on foreign investment for development-the profits generated from this development will be repatriated (or at least some will be).
The political structure: government may encourage or discourage tourism. This will be reflected in the resources and support made available to cope with the impact of tourism.
Availability of local resources: the greater the local resources, the lower will be the need for imports and the greater the benefit for the local community. Natural resources will also serve as an attraction for tourists.
3. Combined Factors:
The difference between the tourist and host: the greater the difference the greater the impact. This applies to both differences in wealth and differences in culture.
The amount of contact: fleeting contact will be less likely to allow hosts/tourist to learn about the other’s culture. Segregation of the tourist reduces what is called the ‘demonstration effect’.