Sustainable development of tourism in protected areas means to find a balance between the flow and behavior of visitors and the protection goals. Ensuring the protection of nature and culture resources is only one side. The other side is the fulfillment of expectations among the visitors to guarantee visitor satisfaction. These two aspects are related to the issue of carrying capacity of the protected area.
These questions depend on the nature system concerned, the related social system and the mediating management system.
- How many tourists can visit a place without threatening the nature resources?
- How many tourists can be put together before the scenery is spoiled by other visitors?
Carrying capacity cannot be seen as a one-dimensional instrument. A main problem is the integration of the three dimensions
- resource dimension,
- the experiential dimension
- managerial dimension
that are often handled separately due to scientific and managerial specialization.
- The integration is often expressed in a methodological sequence of decisions/actions, starting withthe establishment of management objectives/desired conditions and associated indicators and standards, connected to
- the establishment of a stable monitoring system monitoring a collection of indicator variables, and finally
- to apply management practices to ensure that standards for the monitoring indicators are maintained.
An important quality of a good indicator is that the indicators should be clearly related to visitor use. This visitor use consists of the level of use, type of use, location of use or behavior of visitors. The indicators help determine when management action is needed to control the impacts of visitor use. Thus, there should be a correlation between visitor use and indicator variables.
Partners of the Parks & Benefits project have discussed indicators and exchanged experiences on how carrying capacity is measured at each park. The main outcome of those discussions are that there is no simple solution and method that can be adopted in all protected areas likewise. There are different natural and cultural resources with different protection demands as well as different forms of tourism and visitor flows in each park. Carrying capacity can therefore only be analysed individually, taking each protected area’s specific situation into consideration.