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Assessing the Sustainability of Tourism Systems: A Social–Ecological Approach

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Tourism destinations operate as a complex system, consisting of multiple interacting components that are nonlinear, cross-scale, evolving, and interdependent. The purpose of this article is to deconstruct the complex tourism system so that the important components of the system can be identified and critically evaluated. The research was conducted in two popular tourism destination communities in Nepal—Ghandruk and Sauraha—using a systemic and holistic approach called a social–ecological system (SES) framework to analyze the structures, processes, and outcomes of tourism. Data collection involved 45 face-to-face, semistructured interviews and a review of published and unpublished archival documents. This article further expanded Ostrom's SES framework to systematically analyze the sustainability of complex and dynamic tourism systems that would be useful to evaluate destinations' sustainability performance. The findings show that tourism brought mixed, mostly positive and some negative, sociocultural, economic, and ecological outcomes in both communities. Overall, tourism development is progressing towards sustainability in these destinations, though present conditions do not meet the ideal state envisioned by the concept of sustainable tourism. The theoretical, methodological, and policy implications of the SES framework are discussed.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 26, 2018

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  • Tourism Review International is a peer-reviewed journal that advances excellence in all fields of tourism research, promotes high-level tourism knowledge, and nourishes cultural awareness in all sectors of the tourism industry by integrating industry and academic perspectives. Its international and interdisciplinary nature ensures that the needs of those interested in tourism are served by documenting industry practices, discussing tourism management and planning issues, providing a forum for primary research and critical examinations of previous research, and by chronicling changing tourism patterns and trends at the local, regional and global scale.
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