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«by Peter Allan Johnson A thesis presented to the University of Waterloo in fulfilment of the thesis requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in ...»

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Peter Allan Johnson

A thesis

presented to the University of Waterloo

in fulfilment of the

thesis requirement for the degree of

Master of Arts



Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 2003

©Peter Allan Johnson, 2003

I hereby declare that I am the sole author of this thesis. This is a true copy of the thesis, including any

required final revisions, as accepted by my examiners.

I understand that my thesis may be made electronically available to the public.

ii Abstract


Once considered a ‘green’ industry, tourism and its associated ecological impacts are now widely acknowledged. Focus within tourism planning has aimed to reduce the ecological burden placed on a destination area, and move towards a more sustainable tourism industry. This research proposes the use of the Ecological Footprint (EF) as a tool to compare the ecological costs of different types of tourism. The EF shows the relative amount of productive land appropriated by the activities and choices of an individual tourist.

The main goal of this study was to analyse and compare the ecological resource use of tourism in Ontario. Surveys were conducted with tourists staying at 9 different types of accommodations throughout Ontario. Additional data were collected from personal interviews with accommodation managers at each location and incorporated into the EF calculation. Four areas of tourism ecological impact were identified; tourists’ personal consumption, transportation, activity, and accommodation costs. These four components contributed in varying degrees to each tourist Ecological Footprint, and this variation became the main area of analysis.

The findings of this research demonstrated that air travel contributes significantly to the total ecological cost of a particular tourism experience. Comparably, travel by personal car made a much smaller contribution to the tourist EF. Thus, local area tourists who could drive to a destination had a smaller EF than those long-distance domestic and international tourists who flew. Accommodation ecological costs were primarily a factor of the amount of built space available, and total energy usage per guest. Accommodations that had a large number of occupants for a given area and level of energy consumption achieved a scale of efficiency. In this manner, larger, more efficiently constructed accommodations often made smaller contributions to the tourist EF than small-scale, but inefficient accommodations.

The main conclusion was that the ecological impacts of tourism can be quantitatively recorded, and that a complete trip view of tourism ecological resource use is necessary. When considering practical applications in the tourism industry, an Ecological Footprint analysis could be used by tourism managers as an evaluative tool to compare the ecological outcome of various construction, programming, and operational changes. For the tourist, the EF can serve as an ‘eco-label’, to distinguish one type of ‘green’ tourism from another, creating a more informed consumer. Ultimately, the Ecological Footprint serves one purpose- to demonstrate that less ecologically consumptive tourism choices are possible for both tourists and tourism managers.

iii Acknowledgments

I feel privileged to have had this opportunity. These last two years have made me a more humble, if not wiser, individual. Education is not a solitary exercise, and many have contributed both directly and indirectly to this work. Firstly, I would like to thank my advisor, Dr. Judith Cukier, for her valuable insight, endless patience, and constant support. I greatly appreciate her time and effort on my behalf, and for guiding me throughout this opportunity. As well, I would like to thank my committee member, Dr. Paul Parker, for his input, guidance, and always open door. In the field, I would like to thank every hotel operator who allowed me on to their premises for an interview and to question their guests. And really, I’m not selling anything, honest!

A very special thank you to my parents and family, for their lifelong support in helping me to succeed. Without the loving support and daily smiles from Meaghan Gibbons I surely would not have made it here.

I am extremely lucky to have met a remarkable group of friends over the last 2 years. Your contributions are many, and I hope that these bonds continue to strengthen after our time at Waterloo.

An enormous ‘thank you’ and high-five goes out to Derek Robinson and Jon Orazietti, for always being willing to talk, listen, and do it up, but more importantly, for being ‘the brothers’ (see Robinson, 2003). More shout-outs to Lorri Krebs for letting me distract her from her dissertation with countless questions, Patricia Fitzpatrick for the constant encouragement, the UMD Library and Ziggy’s Cycle for funding my research, and Dr. Kate Connolly for suggesting this all in the first place.

It seems like I’ve been sitting and typing non-stop for the last two years, and honestly, I think I need a break. I hope you understand, but after a certain point, everyone needs to see what’s out there beyond these familiar frames of view that we are all too comfortable with. The last thing I think any of us want is for our world to be defined by a 17” monitor, a t.v. screen, and especially the 8 ½ by 11 stock of annals of tourism research. Regardless, in a few short weeks it’s all going into boxes, 6 years of university thoughts and things, to be trucked across the country, and opened up on a new coast, to face new challenges and weather. As I pull things down from my walls-yellowed newspaper articles, years worth of ‘must do this week’ notices, I come across a faded pink sheet of paper, almost buried, scrawled in my chicken-scratch handwriting. The paper dates from a time before I could even image being where I am now. It’s an excerpt from Douglas Couplands’ Girlfriend in a Coma, and in fact it’s the last paragraph from the book. The rest of the book is mostly trash, fine reading for a lazy summer day, or a decent pick up from a 3.99$ bargain bin, but the first time I read that last paragraph I almost fell over. I read it about five times in a row before closing the book, and whenever I read it now, I get chills. For one reason or another it makes me think of the positive effects that university has on young people; that it instils a sometimes-outrageous idealism that will hopefully last an entire life.

“You’ll soon be seeing us walking down your street, our backs held proud, our eyes dilated with power and truth. We might look like you, but you should know better. We’ll draw our line in the sand and force the world to cross our line. Every cell in our body explodes with the truth. We will be kneeling in front of the Safeway, atop out-of-date textbooks whose pages we have chewed out. We’ll be begging passerbys to see the need to question and question and question and never stop questioning until the world stops spinning. We’ll be the adults who smash the tired, exhausted system. We’ll crawl and chew and dig our way into a radical new world. We will change minds and souls from stone and plastic into linen and gold-that’s what I believe. That’s what I know.”

–  –  –

1. INTRODUCTION The growth of tourism in many regions of the world has ignored concerns of increasing ecological resource use. Hotels, attractions and other tourism-related infrastructure are now recognised as sites of resource over-consumption (De Kadt, 1976, Hughes, 1994, Ayala, 1995, Mowforth & Munt, 1998, Akama, 1999, Honey, 1999, Cole & Sinclair, 2002, Hunter 2002, Sharpley, 2002). The tourism industry is divorced from ecological accountability, expanding as demand, not resource availability, dictates (Mowforth & Munt, 1998). Recent focus in tourism planning has shifted towards reducing the draw of tourism on the global environment. This desire for mapping the boundaries of sustainable tourism is founded on the realisation that;

“…the case against tourism is well known - that it pollutes and disfigures, corrupts traditional cultures, and overburdens local resources. But the case all too frequently is an emotive one, founded in our own prejudices and preconceptions. Precious little science has been brought to bear, largely because there is precious little science available” (Hughes, 1994, p.3).

As one of the world’s largest industries, tourism plays an important role in the creation of sustainable livelihoods throughout the globe. How can the tourism industry become more ecologically sustainable? Are there specific types of tourist behaviours and tourism infrastructure that are particularly unsustainable? Could an indicator be used to measure the ecological impacts of tourists and tourism? If so, what would this indicator be? To answer these questions, and move the tourism industry towards a sustainable state, an examination of the ecological resource use of tourists and the industry that supports and exploits this resource use is necessary.

The Ecological Footprint can be used as a method to compare the resource use of different types of tourist behaviours and choices. The Ecological Footprint examines the amount of natural resources required to support a specific type of behaviour, business, or process (Wackernagel & Rees, 1996). The Ecological Footprint holds promise as a tool for tourism managers and political decision makers, as it aggregates many areas of ecological impact into a single indicator. The EF is measured by the area (ha) of productive land needed to support an individual for an indefinite period of time.

This common value allows for comparisons between different types of tourist facilities, transportation methods, infrastructure, services and even specific behaviours. With this tool, a nation, region, or 1 individual business can identify the relative resource consumption of their tourist operations, and estimate their greater ecological impact on the host area. Based on the results of this indicator, policies and initiatives to promote sustainable activities and industry can be developed.

Research discussed herein is based on survey data collected from a wide range of tourists, segmented by accommodation choice. Surveys collected demographic data and responses to a series of Ecological Footprint questions (see Appendix 1). Personal interviews with tourist accommodation managers were also conducted and provided measurements of accommodation resource consumption.

Once aggregated, these sources of data were used in the creation of an Ecological Footprint for each tourist. The similarities and differences in resource use for each style of tourism, accommodation, transportation and activity were then compared. Additional analysis based on demographic factors, such as age, family unit, income, expenditure, nationality, and level of education, were included to add further detail.

1.1 Problem Statement, Goals and Objectives

In order for any discussion of sustainability to progress from the theoretic towards meaningful action and results, a method and scale of measurement must be available for use. In a broad sense, this research attempts to quantify the ecological resource use of different types of tourism. It is recognised that before any meaningful policy or change can be enacted, a greater understanding of the current state of the tourism industry is necessary. The goal of this research project is to quantify, evaluate, and compare the ecological resource use of different tourist choices, including; accommodation, food,

transportation and activity. This goal is addressed by the following objectives:

1. Outline the pertinent academic discussion on sustainability, tourism and sustainability, and the Ecological Footprint.

2. Create and compare Ecological Footprint (EF) models for a variety of tourist types within southern and central Ontario.

3. Evaluate the effectiveness of the Ecological Footprint model, and its application to a timelimited human behaviour, namely tourism.

1.2 Thesis Outline The thesis is organized into five chapters. Chapter One presents the basic outline of the research, identifying goals and briefly introducing the study. Chapter Two, the review of literature, explores the 2 key ideas within sustainable development, and seeks to connect these to a discussion of sustainable tourism. A brief outline of the Ecological Footprint model, its major characteristics and assumptions is also discussed. Two case studies of previous research on sustainable tourism and the Ecological Footprint are outlined. Chapter Three explains the mechanics of this project; the research approach, methods of data collection, assumptions, and limitations. Chapter Four presents the results of the data collection, focussing first on the demographic characteristics of the sample, then Ecological Footprint data, organized by type of tourist accommodation. Chapter Five will connect the results from Chapter Four with the academic literature from Chapter Two, and expand on several key themes of the research. Also included in Chapter Five are broader academic implications, directions for future academic research, and a discussion summary. Chapter Six will conclude this thesis.

–  –  –


2.1 Sustainable Development In its broadest sense, sustainable development is “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (WCED, 1987, p.43). This reference, widely cited, has become an important definition for a generation of environmental resource managers and has led to a spate of arguments over its vague implications. The multiplicity of factors affecting the social, economic and environmental makeup of an area has led to only a general definition of sustainable development (Mitchell, 1997).

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