Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism

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This report, published by the Travel Foundation, Cornell University’s Centre for Sustainable Global Enterprise and EplerWood International describes how destinations must uncover and account for tourism’s hidden costs, referred to as the “invisible burden”.

Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism

This report describes how destinations must uncover and account for tourism’s hidden costs



On 26 March 2019, “Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism” was released. This report was commissioned by the Travel Foundation and co-published with Cornell University’s Centre for Sustainable Global Enterprise and EplerWood International.


The report describes how destinations must uncover and account for tourism’s hidden costs, referred to as the “invisible burden”, to protect and manage vital destination assets worldwide. Failing to do so puts ecosystems, cultural wonders, and community life at increasing risk, and places the tourism industry on a weak foundation that could crack under its own weight.  Click here for examples of the invisible burden, and learn more in this animated infographic:

Amid increasing concern about “overtourism” and calls from within the travel industry for improved destination management, the report uncovers root causes for the problem and offers logical and integrated analysis of why it is transpiring. It concludes that destination managers will need to sit at the new nexus between data on tourism demand the supply of resources to support the tourism economy.

The report suggests that the risks tourism destinations and businesses face must be openly and transparently reviewed with more science-based, data-driven analysis including,

  • New local accounting systems that capture the full range of costs stemming from the growth of tourism, in place of an incomplete set of economic impact measures.
  • New skills and cross sector collaboration, underpinned by data and technology, to achieve effective spatial planning, manage demand for public utilities and services, and evaluate the availability of vital, local resources.
  • New valuation and financing mechanisms to redress debilitating under-investment in infrastructure and local asset management and enable the transition to low-carbon destination economies.

“The earth’s greatest treasures are cracking under the weight of the soaring tourism economy.  New data-driven systems to identify the cost of managing tourism’s most valued assets are required to stem a growing crisis in global tourism management.  With the right leadership, finance and analysis in place, a whole new generation of tourism professionals can move forward and erase the invisible burden while benefiting millions around the globe.”

– Megan Epler Wood, Principal report author

“The invisible burden goes a long way to explain why we are now witnessing destinations failing to cope with tourism growth, despite the economic benefits it brings. It’s not enough to call on governments and municipalities to manage tourism better, if they don’t have access to the right skills and resources to do so. Destination managers need support to develop new skills and new ways of working that will enable them to move beyond tourism marketing.”

– Salli Felton, CEO of the Travel Foundation

The report draws upon academic literature, case studies, expert interviews and media reports, and provides a wealth of examples of the invisible burden.  Examples are drawn from Thailand, Mexico, and the Maldives, as well as Europe, Africa, and Latin America. The report also gives insights into types of data-driven systems, such as GIS mapping tools and the Smart Cities concept, which can address growth issues and facilitate new forms of investment.

Report authors:

  • Megan Epler Wood (Managing Director, Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program at Cornell University; Owner and Principal of EplerWood International)
  • Mark Milstein (Clinical Professor of Management at Cornell University)
  • Kathleen Ahamed-Broadhurst (Senior Writer & Researcher, EplerWood International)


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