The impacts of tourism on small islands

This year, we’ve supported four islands on their journeys towards sustainable tourism, in partnership with the Small Islands Organisation (SMILO). Whilst each island is unique in terms of its geography, landscapes and level of tourism development, we found that they had much in common, including similar threats to their natural environments, a shared desire to protect their island way of life and a need to better understand tourism’s impacts.

The initiative is part of the ‘Women of Islands: Leaders of Sustainable Tourism’ project, supported by the Anna Lindh Foundation and has enabled us to provide bespoke online training and mentoring to tourism leaders from Lastovo (Croatia), Kerkennah (Tunisia), Paros (Greece) and Brownsea (UK).  Our aim was to enable tourism managers on these islands to improve the way they identify, measure and manage the impacts of tourism, focusing on the six key thematic impact areas: water; waste; energy; biodiversity; tourism landscape (including cultural); and socio-economic.

All of the islands, like many tourism destinations around the world, would like to flatten the tourism peaks during July and August, spreading the economic benefits of tourism throughout the year and across a broader population.  Tangible product development opportunities that meet current trends and growth in demand, such as for authentic experiences, outdoor recreation and wellbeing activities, are also in abundance in each of these destinations.

Another overarching trend across all of the destinations was a need to improve the collection and analysis of data to better understand tourism’s impacts on different aspects of the island, including resident satisfaction with tourism. Therefore, more collaborative and participative tourism development practices were recommended to all, alongside better tourism impact monitoring to inform decision-making.  As well as detailed actions plans, longer-term vision statements were developed collaboratively to help inspire island stakeholder action towards a better tourism product for all: residents, tourists and the environment.  Here’s a brief insight into the resulting action plans and the recommendations for each island.

The most remote of the four islands, Lastovo, aims to strike the right balance between providing an income for its residents, many of which might otherwise seek economic migration, whilst preserving the peaceful “quiet and easy” feel to the archipelago. Plans include the development of products targeted to its desired tourist profile, such as olive-oil production experiences and tastings, as well as farm tours.  Collaborative action to protect important underwater sea grass habitats by increasing anchorage points, improving waste infrastructure and educating boat operators is also included in their action plan.

Like Lastovo, Kerkennah, has a fragile ecosystem to protect and a wealth of potential tourism experiences for visitors.Its aim is to re-build its once high level of international tourism industry, but on a smaller scale and in greater harmony with the natural and cultural environment, as well as ensuring tourism is part of the solution to managing the threat of coastal erosion.  Kerkennah’s action plan includes creating an environmental tourism tax for visitors and the regulation of coastal construction.  Recommendations also include carrying out detailed research to understand what local businesses can and want to supply tourism and most importantly, how to ensure tourism development’s full range of impacts are taken into account. Specific actions to address power shortages that coincide with peak tourism are also included, such as increasing solar energy and improving resource efficiency.

Brownsea Island is situated on an ecologically sensitive and highly protected area and has a well developed tourism offer, plus environmental impact monitoring systems.  By contrast to the other three islands, it has very few human residents, most of whom work directly within the tourism industry.  The main threats identified include the island’s dependence on fossil fuels and tourism’s impact on the spirit of place, and its natural and historical heritage.  To address these threats, the newly formed SMILO Island Committee will be used as a vehicle to get the whole island to agree on a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, with shared objectives and measures of success. A new measuring system will also be developed to include specific indicators, as well as improvements to energy efficiency, sourcing more renewable energy, and increasing local sustainable food procurement.

Paros, like Brownsea, is already well-established as a tourism destination, but has a much larger resident population.  Whilst there are concerns about future water scarcity, the island’s primary concerns are, like Lastovo, the need to spread economic benefits – seasonally and demographically – to avoid economic migration, as well as the impact of tourism on island way of life.  Unlike the other islands above, Paros is already experiencing new tourism markets and there is active debate about the desired (and undesired) socio-cultural impacts of new tourism developments.  Suggested actions include establishing a representative destination stewardship group on the island, ideally with external facilitation, alongside tourism market and local resident research to allow the group to take informed and inclusive decisions about tourism development.  Like Lastovo and Kerkennah, specific product opportunities have already been identified that could attract visitors in the shoulder seasons such as experiences relating to traditional spirits and beer production, music, wine and gastronomy.

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