Critical Analysis 

Michele Pooley

This Chapter will illustrate the ways in which sustainable tourism is adapted to suit the needs of different areas in response to local social, economic and environmental concerns, and will categorise them according to the three basic interpretations of
sustainable tourism identified in Chapter Three.  Comparisons will be made with previous literature to highlight the disparity between the aims of municipal, regional and national government bodies, the industry, different factions within the local
communities, and other stakeholders and interest groups.  Following this a recent study of the barriers to sustainability in South East Cornwall will lead to a discussion on the practical difficulties of implementing sustainable tourism, exposing the limitations and failings of sustainable tourism.

Firstly, it is important to note that both Cornwall and Andalucia are divided up into smaller administrative areas (see Maps III and IV) which are very diverse.  For instance, a coastal area with a large population and a strong mass tourism industry would have very different goals to an inland area with a widely dispersed populace and an agricultural industry in steep decline.  This diversity and fragmentation poses a dilemma for planners of a regional tourism strategy in both areas.

In addition to this each administrative district or province is further sub-divided into town councils and municipalities.  Borough and municipal councils within each district or province also have different aims and perspectives according to the type of tourism most prevalent within their jurisdiction, and this inevitably means that local councils develop their own interpretation of sustainable tourism and adapt it to suit the particular circumstances of their district. 

It is evident that in both Cornwall and Andalucia the established coastal resorts are so dependent upon mass tourism that radical change could prove economically disastrous.  This means that a weak interpretation of sustainable tourism, or ‘shallow sustainable tourism’ has so far been adopted in these areas.  There appeares to be no real determination to direct visitors away from overcrowded destinations in either case, only a desire for continued tourism growth, which inevitably means spreading into inland areas.  Any sustainable tourism in these areas appears to be driven mainly by government regulation, EU directives or consumer demand.  For example, fears that poor bathing water quality in Cornwall and Andalucia was causing a decline in visitor numbers prompted action in both areas.  The problems are created by sewage pollution as a result of the enormous load put on the system at peak season, but the reaction has not been to reduce the load.  Kirkby (1996) [click here for references]points out that sewage pollution, although visually offensive, is not a significant risk to health but is often the cause of minor illnesses.  Nevertheless it creates a poor image of a destination.  The European Blue Flag Scheme sets stringent standards for officially designated bathing beaches, and the annual award  of Blue Flag status is ‘commercially valuable and ... an incentive to build a better environment’ (Kirkby, 1996: 202).  Both regions now participate in the scheme as a means of improving their image for the tourist, however, industrial pollutants which are potentially more dangerous are not rigorously tested.

New tourism projects tend to be orientated towards alternative tourism.  Many new tourism developments in both areas fall into the ‘alternative tourism’ bracket, particularly since this type of development can usually attract some kind of EU funding - if not directly then indirectly through one of the social, regional or rural/agricultural development plans.  However, there is a danger that this could encourage a ‘subsistency culture’ where a venture is only embarked upon if it attracts public funding.  There are several problems with this type of development, one is that the potential for alternative tourism may have been overestimated and over-supplied since development is not market-driven.  It is also necessary to question how environmentally friendly rural tourism is as it is largely dependent on the use of the car, especially in peripheral regions where the public transport network is not extensively developed.  This is a particular problem in Andalucia where investment in the rail system has largely been ignored, except for a high-speed rail link between Madrid and Seville built for Expo ‘92.  Another popular ‘alternative’ tourism activity is golf, which despite being an alternative use for agricultural land, restricts local people’s access to land and is particularly detrimental to the environment, especially in Andalucia where climate makes water supply problematic. 

Cornwall and Andalucia both have protected areas which demand ‘deep sustainable’ tourism.  In Cornwall the County Council Planning Directorate is responsible for the conservation of several areas which are officially classified as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); these are Heritage Coasts, the Penwith Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), and The Lizard National Nature Reserve.  Its policies give priority to their conservation, but management falls to District Councils, countryside services and conservation organisations (funded by various grants), and the National Trust who, as an extensive landowner, also plays a major role (,2000). 

Andalucia boasts two National Parks; the Coto Donana bird and nature reserve, and the Sierra Nevada which is the largest of Spain’s National Parks.  These are strictly controlled by the local authorities who ensure that land management and use conforms to specific guidelines.  The Coto Donana is one of the largest protected areas in Europe and the majority of the land is publicly owned.  Within the park are areas of reserve which merit the highest protection and retain a pristine ecology.  Nevertheless, limited tourist activity is allowed.  This demonstrates that even ‘deep sustainable’ tourism is adapted to suit the needs of different areas. 

Andalucia also has Natural Parks which are not as strictly controlled as the National Parks (, 2000: 4).  The Natural Park of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas in the province of Jaen has become the most visited protected rural area in Spain.  The regional government vigorously promoted tourism here in order to develop the economy because this is one of the poorest regions in Spain.  Their main objective was ‘to stem the decline in population and to create conditions for the economic and social regeneration of this rural area’ (Eden, 1996: 381). 

Comment and comparison
The different administrative areas within Cornwall and Andalucia have different priorities, for instance Caradon District Council in rural South East Cornwall has its own sustainable tourism development officer and has a different approach to sustainable tourism than Restormel Borough Council on the North Cornwall coast which depends upon tourist income from the popular seaside resort town of Newquay.  In the province of Jaen in Andalucia local government adopted a very loose interpretation of ‘deep’ sustainable tourism to sustain rural life in the Cazorla area, whereas the approach employed in the province of Huelva to preserve the ecology of Coto Donana is much stricter due to international pressure to protect an area of ecological importance to migrating birds.

The approach to regional government in England is much more restricted than in Spain:  Andalucia is one of seventeen autonomous communities, and although the provincial and municipal tiers of government have no powers of legislation, their support of tourism is crucial to its development since they provide facilities and direct resources.  Municipal government is autonomous in that it can levy taxes, prioritise local expenditure and decide land use (Newton, 1996).  For example, the Junta de Andalucia authorised the expansion of Malaga airport and a 30km bypass of the city.  Another recent example has been the opening of ‘The Caliphate Route’ (, 2000: 2); a scenic path originally used during the Middle Ages by Muslims to connect Granada and Cordoba.  It passes through National and Natural Parks and has been declared an important European Cultural Itinerary by The European Council.  The Tourist Ministry of the Junta de Andalucia has invested heavily in this project in order to ‘open up tourist options beyond the traditional tourist centres of Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada’ (, 2000: 2).  Cornwall County Council does not have this kind of freedom and control because it needs the sanction and authority of central government.

Barriers to sustainability
Research conducted by Vernon in South East Cornwall identified the main constraints on sustainability as being financial and motivational; ‘the time and effort required to focus on environmental matters and the extra costs associated with environmental improvements’ (2000: 53).  Another factor was the ‘weaknesses in the region’s infrastructure e.g. public transport, waste segregation and collection systems’ (2000: 53).  He observes that the main motive for adopting sustainable practices was financial gain and customer demand, but he notes that without evidence ‘claims that sustainable business practices might attract more customers are likely to be treated with disbelief’ (2000: 52).  Vernon asserts that a wide range of tourism-related business owners needed to be educated and encouraged to accept responsibility for their impact on the local environment.  He concludes that the local council is in a position to influence the behaviour of local tourism businesses through its policies and the services it provides.  However, the current lack of autonomy for regional governments in the UK means that economic incentives to improve sustainability are largely reliant upon consumer demand rather than on public investment.

Crain (1996) discovered mixed support for the three basic types of sustainable tourism development in the municipality of Almonte in Southwest Andalucia.  The municipality covers almost 1000 square kilometres around the town of Almonte, and includes a stretch of coastline and a large part of the National Park of Donana (see Map V).  The examples from Crain’s study show how sustainable tourism can factionalise communities and cause conflict because what is sustainable for one group infringes upon another.

The beach resort of Matalascanas was developed for mass tourism in the late 1960s by international investment.  The municipal council, together with regional government and the socialist party (PSOE) supported ‘shallow’ sustainable tourism development during the 1980s even though increasing pollution threatened to affect the National Park of Donana because it provided employment for Almontenos.  Pressure from Spanish and international protesters eventually stopped construction in 1990, but this shows that local communities sometimes prioritise economic development over environmental protection.

The growth of ‘alternative’ tourism built around the annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Virgin of El Rocio was encouraged by the residents of Almonte because it offered a solution to a ‘stagnating agrarian economy’ (1996: 44).  But this angered pilgrims from the surrounding villages who felt that the sacred had been commodified by ‘individual members of Almonte’s middle [and] small upper class [who] benefited from the tourist trade’ (1996: 45).  This illustrates the way that the benefits and costs of cultural tourism are unevenly distributed, and can cause division within a community.  It demonstrates that economic development took priority over the conservation of cultural heritage in this instance.

The National Park of Donana was established as a nature reserve in 1969 with support from the World Wildlife Fund because of its ecological importance.  Prior to its creation as a National Park the land had been traditional pasture for local livestock and this caused conflict over access to land.  In 1992 the EEC subsidised Almontenos to restrict their economic activities to areas outside of the Park, but in 1993 an agreement was reached which allowed grazing in specified areas.  In this case national and international pressure to protect the environment did not take account of local economic sustainability and tradition.

From this it is clear that local concerns for economic development often override desires to preserve culture and protect the environment.  Achieving the aims of sustainable tourism to develop a product which is capable of conserving culture and heritage, protecting vital resources and the environment, and yet also be economically beneficial to the host community is an extremely difficult task.  Whilst it may be successful in one area it often fails in another.  It is necessary to prioritise the most important factors in each individual case, but who should decide which is the most important factor where there is conflict?  Crain’s study demonstrates that local perspectives often conflict with other groups on a regional, national or international scale.  Different interdependent groups such as residents, environmentalists, local authorities and national policymakers all have different objectives, therefore problems arise where one sector overpowers other stakeholders in the decision-making process.  A framework is needed to structure and guide long-term decision-making (McCool, 1994).

Daly (1992) points out that although growth is one solution to poverty and unemployment, it should stop once an optimum level has been reached.  He puts forward an alternative which he claims is capable of maintaining dynamic equilibrium, that is ‘steady-state economics’.  This defines growth as being quantitative and development as qualitative, so limits to growth do not necessarily mean limits to development.  In theory this system could restrict growth whilst allowing development, but it would be unwieldy to implement.  In practical terms a market-led system is difficult to control and where demand increases the market naturally expands.  However, Daly does raise an important issue that continued growth is ultimately unacceptable and unsustainable.

One solution is to set carrying capacities.  Butler (1993) asserts that post-impact and cumulative impact assessments would help set carrying capacities, and this, he believes, is the key to sustainable tourism practice.  He acknowledges the difficulty in enforcing carrying capacities and suggests that raising prices would limit numbers on the basis of willingness or ability to pay.  However, this approach means that only those who are able to pay can buy access to choice destinations whilst those who can not are excluded.  Indeed this is the most effective way of limiting visitor numbers, but it is unpopular because it is seen as being elitist.  Higher prices are a feature of ‘alternative’ and ‘deep’ sustainable tourism, but raising prices is viewed with some suspicion in Cornwall and Andalucia because of the fear that it could restrict economic development.

In Cornwall and Andalucia it appears that sustainable tourism planning is based on a Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) framework (McCool, 1994: 52) rather than a carrying capacity framework.  This method identifies desired conditions then aims towards them, but the key question is who has control and who makes the decisions?  In tourism-dependent areas developers can put pressure on local authorities by using their economic power to gain favours and concessions.  This is a particular problem in areas like Andalucia where large transnational tourism companies operate.  These companies span national boundaries and ‘are not bound by the laws and regulations of any one country’ (Go & Ritchie, 1990: 290).  LAC is only an effective planning and management tool for sustainable tourism when the conditions aimed at are defined locally and are in tune with local cultural levels of tolerance.  These conditions should be unique to each specified location and it is important that they are regularly monitored to ensure they have not exceed constraints, are progressing towards agreed goals, and do not violate standards.

Currently the tourism industry is not responsible for the preservation of the environment, and incurs no direct costs for any damage it does since it is not accountable for the problems it causes.  Private enterprise is therefore inclined to accept the social, cultural and environmental costs of tourism development as long as it does not adversely affect business in the short term.  There is a danger that private enterprise will interpret sustainability to suit their own designs, and a very ‘shallow’ adaptation of sustainable tourism will be employed in most cases since developers and entrepreneurs tend to prioritise short-term economic benefits.  Profit is a stronger motive than ethics, and unless sustainable tourism is an economically viable option it will not be adopted voluntarily by the private sector.

on to next chapter

back to guest page