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A Theoretical Approach to Tourism Sustainability

Renato Casagrandi, Dipartimento di Elettronica e Informazione, Politecnico di Milano
Sergio Rinaldi, CIRITA, Politecnico di Milano


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This paper shows that it is difficult, if not impossible, to formulate policies that guarantee that tourism can be maintained for a long time without severely impacting on the environment. The analysis is purely theoretical and is based on very simple and general assumptions about the interactions between the three main components of the system: the tourists, the environment, and the capital. These assumptions are encapsulated in a so-called minimal model, used to predict the economic and environmental impact of any given policy. This paper is of value for three reasons. First, it introduces the approach of minimal descriptive models in the context of tourism, which has traditionally been dominated by the use of black-box econometric models. Second, the specific results are quite interesting. We show, in fact, that tourism sustainability can be achieved, provided agents are prudent about reinvesting their profits and are willing to protect the environment, but that sustainability is very often at risk, because unforeseen shocks can easily trigger a switch from a profitable and compatible behavior to an unprofitable or incompatible one. These results are in line with conventional wisdom and observations, but the interesting fact is that here they are theoretically derived from a few very simple and abstract premises. Third, although not directly related to the problem of tourism but rather to the general topic of sustainability, this is one of the first times that the notion of sustainability, which is more and more pervasive in the field of resource management, is interpreted strictly in terms of the structural properties of the attractors of a dynamic system. This creates an important and promising bridge between sustainability and bifurcation theory, one of the most important areas of systems analysis.

Key words

bifurcation analysis, environment, model, nonlinear dynamics, sustainability, tourism

Copyright © 2002 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087