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Tourism and Sustainable
Development: Exploring
the Theoretical Divide
Richard Sharpley
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To cite this article: Richard Sharpley (2000): Tourism and Sustainable
Development: Exploring the Theoretical Divide, Journal of Sustainable
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Tourism and Sustainable Development:
Exploring the Theoretical Divide
Richard Sharpley
U n i v e r s i t y o f N o r t h u m b r i a , L o n g h i r s t C a m p u s , L o n g h i r s t H a l l , M o r p e t h ,
N o r t h u m b e r l a n d N E 6 1 3 L L , U K
Despite the significant attention paid by tourism academics and practitioners to
sustainable tourism development in recent years, there has been a consistent failure
withinthe tourismliteraturetorelatethe concept tothe theoryof its parental paradigm,
sustainable development. As a result, the applicability of sustainable development to
the specific context of tourismis rarelyquestioned. This paper addressesthis omission
in the literature. Reviewing development theory and the notion of sustainability, it
proposes a model of sustainable development against which the principles of sustain-
able tourism are compared. It is argued that tourism development remains embedded
inearlymodernisationtheorywhilst the principles of sustainabletourismoverlookthe
characteristicsof the production and consumption of tourism. As a result, significant
differencesbetweenthe concepts of sustainable tourismand sustainable development
are revealed, suggesting that the principles and objectives of sustainable development
cannot be transposed onto the specific context of tourism.
Introduction
Over the last decade, the concept of sustainable tourism development has
become the focus of increasing attention amongst tourism theorists and practi-
tioners alike. It has nowachieved widespread acceptance as a desirable objective
of tourism development policy and practice and many organisations repre-
senting destinations or tourism industry sectors have published sustainable
tourism development plans and sets of principles (for example, IFTO, 1994).
Nevertheless, the concept of sustainable tourism development remains the
subject of vigorous debate. It is variously interpreted and its validity as a means
and/or end of tourism development is questioned in many quarters, reflecting,
in part, the lackof clarityor consensus concerning its meaningor objectives. Defi-
nitions abound, to the extent that defining sustainable development in the
context of tourism has become something of a cottage industry in the academic
literature of late (Garrod & Fyall, 1998: 199). Such definitions fall primarily
withintwo categories; those which are tourism-centric (Hunter, 1995), focusing
onsustaining tourismas an economic activity, and those whichconsider tourism
as an element of wider sustainable development policies (Cronin, 1990). Sustain-
able tourismhas also been referred toas anadaptive paradigm, encompassinga
set of meta-principles within which several different development pathways
may be legitimised according to circumstance (Hunter, 1997: 859). Whilst this
conceptualisation of sustainable tourism as a kind of free-floating development
process is undoubtedly attractive, neatly side-stepping the need for a concise
definition, it nevertheless does little to sharpen the focus of study onto the
processes and overall viability of the concept.
0966-9582/00/01 0001-19 $10.00/0 2000 R. Sharpley
JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM Vol. 8, No. 1, 2000
1
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More importantly, however, although sustainable tourismshould be consis-
tent with the tenets of sustainable development (Stabler & Goodall, 1996: 170),
suggesting that the sustainable tourism discourse should be built upon a solid
theoretical foundation and understanding of the concept from which it has been
born, there has been a consistent and fundamental failure to build a theoretical
link between the concept of sustainable tourism and its parental paradigm
(Lanfant & Graburn, 1992: 112). This is not to suggest that sustainable tourism
has become totally divorced from sustainable development. However, the
validity of the sustainable development concept and its specific applicability to
tourism are rarely, if ever, questioned. That is, with a few recent exceptions (for
example, Wall, 1997; Mowforth &Munt, 1998), there appears to be a rigid accep-
tance that the principles and objectives of sustainable development can be easily
transposed onto most tourism development contexts (Inskeep, 1991: xviii). As a
result, a number of fundamental questions with respect to tourisms potential
role in the development process in general, and the validity of the sustainable
tourism development concept in particular, are overlooked.
The purpose of this paper, then, is to build a theoretical bridge between
sustainable tourism and the broader framework of sustainable development in
order to introduce a more solidtheoretical foundation to the sustainable tourism
development debate. As such, it does not seek to addto the already considerable
literature concerned with the definition and processes of sustainable tourism
development, but to explore the theoretical basis and, hence, the validity of the
concept. The first task, therefore, is to briefly review the theory of sustainable
development.
What is Sustainable Development?
The concept of sustainable development suffers the same definitional prob-
lems as it does in its tourism-specific guise. More than 70 different definitions
have been proposed (Steer &Wade-Gery, 1993) and, perhaps inevitably, people
from many diverse fields use the term in different contexts and they have very
different concepts, approaches and biases (Heinen, 1994). More specifically, it
has also been criticised for being both ambiguous and inherently contradictory
(Redclift, 1987; Worster, 1993). Its ambiguity lies in an absence of semantic and
conceptual clarity, resulting in its focus and purpose being interpreted in a
variety of ways (Ll, 1991), whilst some commentators also doubt the compati-
bility of resource conservation and economic development (Friend, 1992); they
regard sustainable development as an oxymoron. Certainly, in the context of
neo-classical economics and the more traditional ecological perspective, the
technocentric (economic growth/resource substitution) approach to develop-
ment is diametrically opposed to the ecocentric, deep-ecology approach which
represents a virtual rejection of even the sustainable exploitation of natures
resources (ORiordan, 1981a, 1981b; Turner, 1993).
To further complicate matters, others support the view that the concept of
sustainable development in fact mediates between these two polar positions,
providing a forumat whicha multitude of viewpoints canbe addressed. In other
words, according to Skolimowski (1995), and in a similar vein to Hunters
concept of an adaptive paradigm referred to above, the inherent ambiguity of
2 J o u r n a l o f S u s t a i n a b l e T o u r i s m
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the concept is, paradoxically, its strength. It is evident, then, that a universally
acceptable interpretation of sustainable development is unlikely to be forth-
coming. However, as Ll (1991) suggests, the philosophy of sustainable devel-
opment may be explored by splitting it into its constituent parts and assessing
each separately. In other words, sustainable development arguably represents
the juxtaposition of two separate objectives or processes and may be considered
as an equation (Ll, 1991):
Sustainable development = development + sustainability
Thus, the theory of sustainable development can be usefully explored by
combining development theory with the concept of sustainability. Inevitably
this over-simplifies the complex amalgam of political, economic, cultural and
ecological processes encompassed by sustainable development. Nevertheless, it
does provide a useful basis for conceptualising its inherent principles and objec-
tives and the extent to which they can be transposed onto the specific tourism
development context.
Development
Despite the attention paid to tourism as a vehicle of development, relatively
few attempts have been made in the tourismliterature to draw on development
theory, notableexceptions being Britton(1982), Erisman(1983), Lea (1988) Pearce
(1989), Harrison (1992), de Kadt (1992), Opperman (1993), Dieke (1995) and
Telfer (1996). Inshort, the concepts of tourismanddevelopment remaina discor-
dant and unreconciled set of thoughts (Nelson, 1993: 4). However, to appraise
tourisms potential role in (sustainable) development, it cannot be viewed in
isolationfromthe broader developmental context of whichis meant tobe a part.
Development is an ambiguous term that is used to describe both a process
through which a society moves from one condition to another, and also the goal
of that process. That is, the development process in a society may result in its
achieving the stateor conditionof development. Yet, development does not refer
to a single process or set of events, nor does it imply a single, static condition.
Thus, development may be seen as a termbereft of precise meaning [and]
little more than the lazy thinkers catch-all term, used to mean anthing from
broad, undefined change to quite specific events (Welch, 1984).
The concept of development has evolved over time (Goulet, 1992). Tradi-
tionally, it has been defined in terms of Western-style modernisation achieved
through economic growth (Rostow, 1960; Redclift, 1987: 15). Indeed, develop-
ment and economic growth have been widely considered synonymous.
However, recognition of the frequent failure of economic growth policies to
solve social and political problems resulted in the aims of development
becoming more broadly redefined (Seers, 1969). Initially, it came to be seen as a
process of modernisation with the emphasis on how to inculcate
wealth-oriented behaviour andvalues in individuals (Mabogunje, 1980: 38), but
this was superseded by the broader concept of development as the reduction of
widespread poverty, unemployment and inequality. People, rather than things,
became the focus of attention and the notion of self-reliance, in particular,
became a fundamental developmental objective. Thus, development now
implied inter alia, reducing cultural dependence on one or more of the great
T o u r i s m a n d S u s t a i n a b l e D e v e l o p m e n t T h e o r y 3
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powers (Seers, 1977). It was no longer considered to be a process lying in the
control, or trusteeship of the advanced, Western nations (Cowen & Shenton,
1996: x); development can be properly assessedonly in terms of the total human
needs, values, and standards of the good life and the goodsociety perceived by the
very societies undergoing change (Goulet, 1968) (emphasis added).
In short, in the space of some thirty years the concept of development has
evolved froma process or conditiondefined according to strict economic criteria
to a continual, global process of human development guided by the principle of
self-reliance; whilst economic growth remains a cornerstone, it also embraces
social, political and cultural components. The question now to be addressed is:
howis development achieved, in particular throughthe mediumof tourism?The
basis of the answer lies in a brief review of development theory.
Theories of development
Since the early 1950s, four main schools of development thought, or para-
digms, have evolved. Each new paradigm has emerged as a result of increasing
knowledge and understanding of the developmental process and a consequen-
tial rejection of preceding paradigms (Telfer, 1996; Wall, 1997).
M o d e r n i s a t i o n t h e o r y
The evolutionist perspective of development forms the theoretical foundation
of the modernisation paradigm, chronologically the first development para-
digm. Accordingto this, modernisationis an endogenous process whichrealises
the potential for development in all societies (Hettne, 1990: 61). Different soci-
eties may be identified as lying at different points on the traditional-modern
development continuum, placed according to indices such as GNP, per capita
income, acceptanceof modernvalues, social differentiation, or political integra-
tion (Fitzgerald, 1983: 1213), but all are following the evolutionary path to
modernisation.
The core premise of the paradigm is economic growth which, according to
Rostow(1960), enables societies to advance through stages fromtraditional to an
age of mass consumption. The benefits of economic growth trickle down or
diffuse through the spread of growth impulses (Browett, 1985) or poles of
growth (Perroux, 1955), eventually leading to an adjustment in regional dispari-
ties (Opperman, 1993). Interestingly, though criticised on a number of grounds,
particularlythe use of traditional and modern as ambiguous ideal-type classi-
fications with Western ethnocentric overtones (Bendix, 1967; Mehmet, 1995), the
modernisation paradigm continues to underpin the rationale for tour-
ism-induced development. That is, the perceived developmental contribution of
tourismthrough, for example, foreign exchange earnings, the multiplier concept
and backward linkages throughout the economy, are firmly embedded in
modernisation theory. Development is assumed to occur as a result of the
economic benefits that diffuse from growth impulses (the tourism sector) or
growth poles (resorts). Therefore, despite the present widespread acceptance of
the principles of sustainable tourism, tourisms role in development continues to
be justified for the most part on the more narrow basis of economic growth,
contradicting more recent development theory.
4 J o u r n a l o f S u s t a i n a b l e T o u r i s m
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D e p e n d e n c y t h e o r y
Dependency theory, the dominant development paradigm of the late 1960s
and 1970s, has informed much tourismresearch, particularly with respect to the
way in which international tourism reflects historical patterns of colonialism
and dependency (Lea, 1988: 10). Essentially, dependency theory represents
a conditioning situation in which the economies of one group of countries
are conditioned by the development and expansion of others. A relation-
ship of interdependence between two or more economies becomes a
dependent relationship when some countries can expand only as a reflec-
tion of the expansion of the dominant countries. (Dos Santos, 1970: 231)
In particular, the theory proposes that capitalist development in the core,
metropolitancentres perpetuates underdevelopment in the periphery as a result
of economic surpluses in the periphery being expropriated by foreign enter-
prises, misusedby the stateor squandered by the traditional elites. The possibili-
ties for development are thus limited and for backward countries to enter the
road of economic growth and social progress, the political framework of their
existence has to be drastically revamped (Baran, 1963). That is, the solution lies
in withdrawal from the world capitalist system and development guided by a
socialist political system. As discussed shortly, there are evident correlations
between dependency theoryandthe political economyof international tourism.
T h e n e o - c l a s s i c a l c o u n t e r r e v o l u t i o n ( T o y e , 1 9 9 3 )
During the 1970s, a variety of new schools of development thought emerged;
the consecutive paradigms of modernisation and dependency were replaced by
a kaleidoscope diversity of new approaches (Hoogvelt, 1982: 128). These
ranged from the limits-to-growth school (Anderson, 1991; also Mishan, 1969;
Schumacher, 1974) which included the eco-doomsday theorists (Preston, 1996:
241) of the Club of Rome to the Basic Needs Approach (Streeten, 1977) and the
calls for the establishment of a NewInternational Economic Order. It is no coinci-
dence that during this period attention was first drawn to the potential negative
consequences of the unbridled growth of mass tourism.
However, it was not until the 1980s and the Reagan-Thatcher era that a new
identifiable development paradigmemerged. Following neo-classical economic
theory which suggests that liberalised international trade can be a positive force
in export-led economic development (Ingham, 1995: 334), the neo-classical
counter revolution was manifested in development policies that built upon the
fundamental reliance on the free market and that favouredmarket liberalisation,
the privatisation of state enterprises and overall reduction of state intervention.
In particular, it has guided the policy of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and their Structural Adjustment Lending (SAL)
programmes which render loan facilities conditional on specific policy and
economic structurechanges in loan-receiving countries (Mosley andToye, 1988).
However, such policies have attracted widespread criticism both in a general
development context (Harrigan & Mosley, 1991) and in the specific context of
tourism (Dieke, 1995).
T o u r i s m a n d S u s t a i n a b l e D e v e l o p m e n t T h e o r y 5
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A l t e r n a t i v e d e v e l o p m e n t
Representing, both chronologicallyand logically, the current end-point of the
development paradigm continuum, alternative development advocates a break
from the preceding linear, economic growth-based policies (Redclift, 1987). In
contrast, it proposes a broader resource-based, bottom-up approachembracing
human and environmental concerns. The fundamental principle of alternative
development is, therefore, that it should be endogenous, satisfying basic needs
the fulfilment of peoples potential to contribute to and benefit from their own
community (Streeten, 1977) and encouraging self-reliance. Thus, it is based
upon a grassroots, community focus to development, building on the argument
that development does not start with goods; it starts with people and their
education, organisation and discipline (Schumacher, 1974: 140). However, the
importance of recognising the environmental constraints to development, or the
need for ecodevelopment (Redclift, 1987: 34) are also central to the alternative
development thesis.
There are evident links between alternative development and tourism. For
example, Emery (1981) considered alternative futures in tourism, whilst Dernoi
(1981) proposed alternative tourism as a new style in North-South relations.
The concept of environmental harmony (Budowski, 1976; Farrell and McLellan,
1987) and self-reliance, fundamental requirements of alternative development,
also became the focus of research into alternative tourism, the latter manifested
in the emerging literature on local community involvement in tourismdevelop-
ment (Murphy, 1983, 1985, 1988; Haywood, 1988). As will be seen shortly, alter-
native development also provides the foundation for sustainable development
which, as noted earlier, may be conceptualised as the fusion of development
theory and environmental sustainability.
Sustainability
Just as development theory has evolved from the narrow, classical economic
growth perspective into the broader, alternative development approach, so too
has environmental concern the driving force behind sustainability evolved
fromthe more narrowconservationideology of the 19thcentury into the broader
environmental movement of the late 20th century. Since the 1960s, in particular,
environmentalismhas come to embrace not only resource problems, but also the
technological, economic, social and political processes underpinning such prob-
lems. Moreover, and of particular relevance to the present discussion, the focus
of environmentalismhas also become global. Influenced by Bouldings notion of
spaceship earth, it has been recognised that the effluence of affluence does not
respect national boundaries. The earthis nowviewedas a closedsystem, a single
spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for
pollution, and in which, therefore, man [sic] must find his place in a cyclical
ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material form
even though it cannot escape having inputs of energy (Boulding, 1992: 31).
It is this that sets the parameters for the concept of sustainability. The global
ecosystems source and sink functions have a finite capacity to, respectively,
supply the needs of production/consumption and absorb the wastes resulting
from the production/consumption process. Thus, the variables in the equation
become (a) the rate at which the stock of natural (non-renewable) resources is
6 J o u r n a l o f S u s t a i n a b l e T o u r i s m
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depleted relative to the development of substitute, renewable resources, (b) the
rate at which waste is deposited back into the ecosystem relative to the
assimilative capacity of the environment, and (c) global population levels and
per capita levels of consumption (Goodland, 1992: 31).
Of course, perspectives on sustainability (and sustainable tourism) vary
according to environmental ideology. Definitions of sustainability and how it
may be achieved are subject to ecocentric or technocentric approaches
(ORiordan, 1981a) which are themselves underpinned by alternative political
and socioeconomic ideologies. However, for the purpose of this paper,
sustainability can be viewed as, simply, the capacity for continuance.
Development + sustainability = sustainable development
As suggested earlier, sustainable development may be conceptualised as a
juxtapositionof two schools of thought: development theory and environmental
sustainability. The most recent thinking in both concepts was first combined
within the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future (WCED ,1987). However,
the report has been criticisedfor its central, Western-technocentric development
through economic growth message (Adams, 1990: 5765). In contrast, a more
recent report, the IUCNs Caring for the Earth (IUCN, 1991), gives primacy to
the requirement for more sustainable lifestyles, particularly in wealthier, devel-
oped nations. Arguing that more affluent groups or countries, either through
ignorance or lack of concern, live unsustainably, its message is that resource
problems are not really environmental problems: they are human problems
(Ludwig et al., 1993). Arguably and as suggested shortly, nowhere is this more
pertinent than in the context of tourism.
A comparison of the two reports is beyond the scope of this paper. However,
the fundamental principles and strategies they propose, combined with the
tenets of alternative development and sustainability outlined above, permit the
construction of a conceptual model of sustainable development. Inevitably, this
does not reveal the inherent variable mixture of political, economic, cultural and
environmental forces that result in a lack of definitional clarity. Nevertheless, it
provides a basic template against which, in the following section, the viability of
sustainable tourism development may be compared. This conceptual model of
sustainable development, embracing its fundamental principles, objectives and
prerequisites for its achievement, is summarised in Table 1.
Tourism and Sustainable Development: A Critique
The purpose of this section is to consider the extent to which sustainable
tourismdevelopment, as generally proposed in the literature, accurately reflects
the conceptual model of sustainable development suggested here. To this end,
the following discussionfollows the four components of the model in Table 1, the
underlying premise being that sustainable tourism development should logi-
cally embrace both development and sustainability objectives of its parental
paradigm.
T o u r i s m a n d S u s t a i n a b l e D e v e l o p m e n t T h e o r y 7
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Fundamental principles
The concept of sustainable development is underpinned by three funda-
mental principles which emanate from both its developmental and environ-
mental contexts and against which sustainable tourism development may be
compared.
H o l i s t i c a p p r o a c h
Sustainable development advocates an holistic perspective; development can
onlybe sustainable if it is consideredwithina global political, socioeconomicand
ecological context. At first sight, the underlying philosophy of sustainable
tourism development appears to embrace this notion of holistic planning. Lane
(1994), for example, views sustainable tourismas a balanced triangular relation-
ship between host areas and their habitats and peoples, holiday makers, andthe
tourism industry where no one stakeholder upsets the equilibrium. Similarly,
Mller (1994) proposes a magic pentagon comprising five balanced elements
8 J o u r n a l o f S u s t a i n a b l e T o u r i s m
Table 1 A model of sustainable development: principles and objectives
Fundamental principles Holistic approach: development and environmental issues
integrated within a global social
Futurity: focus on long-term capacity for continuance of
the global ecosystem
Equity: development that is fair and equitable and which
provides opportunities for access to and use of resources
for all members of all societies, both in the present and
future
Development objectives Improvement of the quality of life for all people: educa-
tion, life expectancy, opportunities to fulfil potential
Satisfaction of basic needs; concentration on the nature
of what is provided rather than income
Self-reliance: political freedom and local decision mak-
ing for local needs
Endogenous development
Sustainability objectives Sustainable population levels
Minimal depletion of non-renewable natural resources
Sustainable use of renewable resources
Pollution emissions within the assimilative capacity of
the environment
Requirements for sustain-
able development
Adoption of a new social paradigm relevant to sustain-
able living
International and national political and economic sys-
tems dedicated to equitable development and resource
use
Technological systems that can search continuously for
new solutions to environmental problems
Global alliance facilitating integrated development
policies at local, national and international levels
Sources: Streeten (1977); Pearce et al. (1989); WCED (1987); IUCN (1991).
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and, in both cases, the potential for sustainable tourismdevelopment exists if no
single factor or stakeholder predominates.
Importantly, however, the extent of the holistic approachto tourismdevelop-
ment is, in general, the tourism system itself and, in particular, individual
tourism destinations or industry sectors. In other words, despite the acceptance
that tourismshouldbe integratedintonational andlocal development strategies,
the focus of sustainable tourism development is usually inwards, or prod-
uct-centred. This is not surprising. Given the complex, fragmented,
multi-sectoral and profit-oriented nature of the tourism industry, the
operationalisation of sustainable tourismdevelopment is fraught with difficul-
ties (Hunter, 1995). Thus, sustainable tourismstrategies in practice tend to focus
almost exclusively on localised, relatively small-scale development projects,
rarely transcending local or regional boundaries, or on particular industry
sectors. At the same time, although different sectors of the tourismindustry are,
to varying degrees, adopting environmentally sound policies, there is little
evidence of a common development and business philosophy according to
sustainable principles across the industry (Forsyth, 1995).
This is not to say that localised destination or sectoral strategies are neither
necessarynor desirable. Nevertheless, althoughsuchstrategies shouldideallybe
located within the wider national or global context, many are not. For example,
Place (1995) demonstrates how eco-tourism in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, though
more environmentally benign, has itself contributed little to the sustainable
development of local rural communities whilst the national policy remains
focusedonlarger-scale, coastal tourismdevelopment. More generally, tourismis
a global phenomenon, yet its scope in terms of resource exploitationand its scale
as a global activity are overlooked. Thus, in a sense, developing sustainable
forms of tourismin some areas simply sweeps the problems of tourismunder the
carpet of other destinations. As Klemm(1992) suggests, the real challenge for the
future is to provide sustainable tourism for the mass market.
Moreover, attention is rarely paid to the relationship between tourism and
other economic sectors and the relative merits of alternative developmental
strategies (Hunter, 1995). Over-dependence ontourismhas long been recognised
as a potential cost of tourismdevelopment, yet tourismis frequently permitted
to become the dominant economic activity, even when developed within a
sustainable planning framework. Bali (Wall, 1993) and Cyprus (Sharpley, 1998)
are just two examples of where tensions have arisen between tourism and
sustainable development policies, suggesting that a variety of factors within the
political economy of tourismmilitate against the implementation of sustainable
tourism development. In other words, the role of tourism as a developmental
tool is rarely questioned; the aim becomes sustaining tourismitself and the lack
of attentionpaidto a balancedrelationshipwithother economic sectors results in
tourismcompeting for, rather than sharing, resources. In the extreme, the activi-
ties of other economic sectors are seen as an attack on tourism(Jenner & Smith,
1992).
F u t u r i t y
Futurity is undoubtedly a primary concern of sustainable tourism develop-
ment policies. The WTO (1993) defines sustainable tourism development as
T o u r i s m a n d S u s t a i n a b l e D e v e l o p m e n t T h e o r y 9
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meeting the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and
enhancing opportunity for the future, whilst most sustainable tourismdevelop-
ment strategies stress the need for due regardto be given to the long-termappro-
priate use of natural and human resources. However, the above argument
surrounding the product-centred focus of sustainable tourism development
principles is equally applicable here. That is, the focus is primarily upon the
ecological sustainabilityof tourismitself rather thanthe potential contributionof
tourism to long term sustainable development. There is, therefore, some
commonality of approach between the two sets of principles within the context
of futurity but little evidence withinsustainable tourismdevelopment principles
of concern for the potential contribution of tourism to long-term development
goals.
E q u i t y
Within the context of equity, the concept of sustainable tourismdevelopment
is both weak and contradictory. Sustainable development calls for both intra-
and inter-generational equity; that is, fair and equitable opportunities for devel-
opment for all people, both in the present and in the future. Tourism has long
been considered a basis for reaching a greater level of respect and confidence
among all the peoples of the world (WTO, 1980: 3), whilst, more specifically,
alternative tourism seeks to achieve mutual understanding, solidarity and
equality amongst participants (Holden, 1984: 15). In other words, in addition to
its economic developmental role, tourism is considered by some to be an effec-
tive means of achieving a more equitable social condition on a global scale.
However, althoughmost sustainable tourismdevelopment strategies emphasise
the importance of community-based, or collaborative, tourism planning, the
objective being a more equitable share of the benefits accruing from tourism
development (Murphy, 1985; Godfrey, 1990; Inskeep, 1991; Dowling, 1993; Getz
&Jamal, 1994; Brohman, 1996), in realityboththe flows andthe structure of inter-
national tourismsuggest that equitable development through tourismis unach-
ievable.
Despite the emergence of newer popular destinations andnewtourismgener-
ating countries, the major international tourism flows and corresponding
economic benefits remain highly polarised and regionalised. Europe and North
America are, in particular, the main beneficiaries of tourism development, yet
even within most Third World regions tourism has been monopolised by a few
countries to the exclusion of the rest (Brohman, 1996). Moreover, in many less
developed countries which are popular tourism destinations, tourism is
frequently distributed unevenly, diminishing the opportunities for equitable
development through tourism even on a national scale (Britton, 1982; Jenkins,
1982; Opperman, 1993). Tourism is frequently influenced by local power rela-
tionships which favour the political or economic lite, or concentrated within
enclave resorts or tourist ghettos, thereby contributing to socioeconomic inequi-
ties througha developmental process which, ironically, is oftenpromotedby the
central governments of the countries in which the resorts are located (Pearce,
1989: 95).
This situation is exacerbated by the structure of international tourism. Not
only are tourist flows dominated by western, industrialised nations, but also the
1 0 J o u r n a l o f S u s t a i n a b l e T o u r i s m
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three most lucrative components of [international] tourism(i.e. marketing
and the procurement of customers, international transportation, and food and
lodging) are normally handled by vertically integrated [western owned] global
networks (Brohman, 1996). As a result, there is a lackof local communitycontrol
over resource use (Oliver-Smith et al., 1989) and, in particular, a significant
proportion of tourism earnings is lost through overseas leakages. In short, the
patterns and structures of international tourism, particularlybetween the metro-
politan centres and peripheral developing nations, reinforce rather than
diminish global socioeconomic inequities. Thus, unsurprisingly, although local-
ised, small-scale (alternative/sustainable) developments attempt to reverse this
trend, much international tourism still reflects the problems of dependency
(Hivik and Heiberg, 1980; Britton, 1982; Bastin, 1984; Nash, 1989; Wilkinson,
1989).
Overall, then, sustainable tourismdevelopment policies do not fully embrace
the three fundamental principles of sustainable development. Although the
notions of futurity, equity and an holistic perspective are evident in specific
tourism development principles, their focus is inward and product-centred,
giving primacy to ecological sustainabilityover the developmental contribution
of tourism. Furthermore, the structure of international tourismmore accurately
reflects the dependency theory of development. As now discussed, these weak-
nesses are also evident in relation to the more specific develop-
mental/sustainabilityobjectives andrequirements of sustainabledevelopment.
Development objectives
Tourism is widely perceived to be an effective vehicle for development,
although, as suggestedearlier, the goals andinherent processes of development
are largely overlookedin the tourismliterature. Therefore, the objectives of tour-
ism-related development should, logically, be commensurate with those of the
prevailing development paradigm: sustainable development.
Certainly, this is often the case in principle. However, the extent to which the
stated objectives of sustainable tourism development represent realistic plan-
ning and management goals in practice is less certain. In particular, the issues of
the scale and scope of international tourism and the character of the tourism
production system, as well as the tourism-centric orientation of most sustain-
able tourismdevelopment policies, again undermine the potential for achieving
the objectives of sustainable development through tourism. For example, the
degree of improvement of the quality of life for all people (see Figure 1) is
restricted by the spatial inequity of tourism development. Research into local
community attitudes towards tourismhas revealed that, usually, those who are
directly involved in tourism view it favourably, whereas those who are less
economically dependent on tourism for income or employment tend to be
ambivalent, if not openly antagonistic, towards tourism (Belisle & Hoy, 1980;
Brougham & Butler, 1981; Sheldon & Var, 1984; Akis et al., 1996). Furthermore,
given the relationship between tourismdevelopment and modernisationtheory
referred to earlier, it is unclear how tourism can contribute to the specific
elements of the good life as an inherent objective of sustainable development.
Similarly, the extent to which import substitution and backward linkages
through the local economy, a vital factor in sustainable development, occur is
T o u r i s m a n d S u s t a i n a b l e D e v e l o p m e n t T h e o r y 1 1
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also dependent onthe nature of tourismproduction. In the case of tourismin The
Gambia, for example, not only is tourism development largely restricted to the
Atlantic coastal strip, but virtually all goods to support the tourismindustry are
imported (Sharpley &Sharpley, 1996; Thomsonet al., 1995). As a result, there are
minimal backward linkages throughout the Gambian economy, net tourism
earnings represent approximately 20% of total tourist expenditure, and rela-
tively few of the countrys one million population benefit from tourism.
The satisfaction of basic needs and self-reliance, fundamental objectives of
sustainable development, are also implicit objectives of sustainable tourism
development. In particular, the emphasis on community involvement in the
planning, development and control of tourism is a linchpin of sustainable
tourism development strategies. That is, it is only when priority is given to the
developmental needs and interests of local communities over the goals of the
tourism industry itself that broader social development will be achieved
(Simmons, 1994; Brohman, 1996). Although there is widespread support for
community-based tourism planning, in practice such local involvement is,
generally, only feasible on a small scale, whilst some commentators question the
very concept of communityinvolvement in tourism(Taylor, 1995). Nevertheless,
there are many examples of successful locally planned and managed tourism
developments, such as the locally-controlled rural tourism projects in Europe
supported by the LEADER programme (Barke & Newton, 1994).
However, the achievement of development objectives, particularly
self-reliance and endogenous development, must be considered within the
context of a global tourism production system which, although fragmented,
diverse and comprising a multitude of small businesses, is becoming increas-
ingly dominated by major international players. The enormous power wielded
by, for example, tour operators and their resultant ability to control tourist flows,
to influence tourist attitudes, expectations and behaviour and to influence the
nature of tourism services, severely restricts opportunities for development
according to local needs. Moreover, the very nature of tourism as a form of
discretionaryconsumptionsuggests that endogenous development is an unreal-
istic objective. A variety of economic, political and social factors can adversely
impact upon the demand for tourism, thereby not only weakening the ability of
destinations or countries to maintain control over tourism-related development
but also highlighting the inherent dependency (i.e. non-sustainability) of all
tourismdevelopment. Therefore, althoughthere is some correlationbetween the
developmental objectives of sustainable development and sustainable tourism
development, such objectives are of greatest relevance to local, small-scale
tourism developments and may even then be subject to a variety of exogenous
factors.
Sustainability objectives
The principles of sustainable tourismmost closely reflect those of its parental
paradigm within the context of environmental sustainability objectives. A
fundamental principle of all sustainable tourismdevelopment policies is that the
natural, social and cultural resources upon which tourism depends should be
protected and enhanced. Furthermore, most, if not all, sectors of the tourism
industry have a vested interest in following such a policy. This may result from
1 2 J o u r n a l o f S u s t a i n a b l e T o u r i s m
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either a genuine commitment to sound environmental practice, from the adop-
tion of ethical business principles which, according to some commentators,
embrace sustainabilityissues (Wheeler, 1992; Hultsman, 1995) or for more prag-
matic, business reasons (Swarbrooke, 1994).
However, the extent to which sustainabilityobjectives are achievable remains
questionable. Resource sustainability is dependent on all sectors involved
directly and indirectly in the tourismindustry working towards common goals.
Therefore, whilst there is no doubt that different organisations and industry
sectors have, to a lesser or greater extent, attempted to implement sound envi-
ronmental business practices, it will only be when the entire tourism industry
accepts the need to introduce policies for sustainable resource utilisation that
sustainability within the context of tourism will be achievable. In other words,
there is little point in only some tourismorganisations, or only particular aspects
of tourism operations, being sustainable; tourism, irrespective of the scale of
analysis, cannot exist in isolation from regional, national and global resource
utilisation concerns (Hunter, 1995). Thus, the issue of scope and the funda-
mental requirement of anholistic approachagain reveal an inherent weakness of
sustainable tourism development policies.
Requirements for sustainable development
As suggested in Table 1, the achievement of sustainable development is
dependent upon the fulfilment of a number of basic requirements. In relation to
tourism, a number of points deserve emphasis. Firstly, it is recognised that
national and international co-operation should exist to facilitate the adoption of
sustainable tourismdevelopment policies. However, the political structure and
fragmented nature of the industry suggest that political systems dedicated to
equitable development and resource use are unlikely to be forthcoming.
Secondly, from a technocentric perspective on development, many of the
principles of sustainable development have been criticised for ignoring the
contribution of technological advance to solving environmental problems
(Beckerman, 1992). There is little doubt that technologyhas muchtocontributeto
sustainable resource use, although within the context of tourism its role is less
clear. On the one hand, technology has provided the means for reducing certain
environmental impacts, suchas noise reductionand fuel efficiency in jet engines.
On the other hand, technological advance has, paradoxically, contributed to the
continuing growth in tourism, not only increasing tourist numbers but also
access to more distant and fragile environments.
Thirdly, sustainable tourism development requires the adoption of a new
social paradigmrelevant to sustainable living; herein lies what is, arguably, the
greatest challenge to its achievement. For example, many practical environ-
mental policies are proposed by the International Hotels Environment Initiative
(IHEI), launched in 1992, yet it has been suggested that fully convincing
evidence of a major shift in consumer attitudes backed by a willingness to pay
for environmental quality does not exist for hotels (Middleton & Hawkins,
1993). This is indicative of a wider problem. Much of the literature onsustainable
tourism claims that tourists are becoming increasingly environmentally
conscious and are, therefore, seeking out sustainable forms of tourism or are
prepared to adopt modes of behaviour more appropriate to the tourismenviron-
T o u r i s m a n d S u s t a i n a b l e D e v e l o p m e n t T h e o r y 1 3
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ments they enter. This position is justified partly on the results of surveys which
imply the emergence of the so-called green consumer, and partly on rapidly
increasing participation in ecotourism (Cater, 1993). However, there is little
evidence tosuggest that the popularity of ecotourismis specifically relatedtothe
emergence of green consumerism(Eagles, 1992), whilst recent research not only
reveals significant ambivalence amongst consumers to different environmental
issues, but that stated environmental concern is rarely translated into consis-
tently green consumer behaviour (Macnaghten & Urry, 1998; Witherspoon,
1994). Thus, it is unlikely that there exists a widespread propensity amongst
tourists to adopt a new, sustainable (tourism) lifestyle; indeed, as McKercher
(1993) argues, the nature of the consumptionof tourismpositively discriminates
against the possibility of its achievement.
Conclusion
This paper set out to explore the theoretical divide between the concept of
sustainable tourismdevelopment and its parental paradigm, sustainable devel-
opment. In so doing, it has revealed that, although sustainable tourism should
logically reflect the tenets of sustainable development, there exist significant
differences between the two concepts. In particular, despite its appearance as an
holistic, equitable and future-oriented development strategy, sustainable
tourismdevelopment has a largely inward, product centredperspective. In other
words, whilst it embraces the objectives of environmental sustainability, sustain-
able tourismdoes not appear to be consistent with the developmental aspects of
sustainabledevelopment. This is, perhaps, not surprising. Neither the inherently
imperialistic, dependent nature of tourism production on a global scale nor the
characteristics of tourism consumption fit easily with the principle of endoge-
nous, alternative development. At the same time, the rationale for tourism as a
means of development remains firmly embedded in economic growth-induced
modernisation theory which, as has been shown, has long been superseded by
other developmental paradigms. This suggests that the principles of sustainable
development cannot be transposed onto tourism as a specific economic and
social activity. In other words, true sustainable tourismdevelopment is unach-
ievable.
Of course, these issues, particularly the ecological versus developmental
objectives of sustainable tourism, have been raisedelsewhere (Cater, 1991, 1993).
Moreover, the factors identified here which militate against sustainable tourism
development reflect many of the criticisms of sustainable development itself,
including the oxymoronic coinage of the term in general and the more specific
dilemmas of choice, equity, liberty and ownership of the concept
(Enzensberger, 1972; Bennett, 1992). However, this paper has provided the theo-
retical foundation, previously lacking in the literature, to support the position
that the concept of sustainable tourism development is, in effect, a red herring.
That is, it draws attention away from many of the realities of tourism develop-
ment, realities which are in opposition to a number of the principles and objec-
tives embodied in the concept of sustainable development.
This is not to suggest that tourismdoes not play an important developmental
role; indeed, the growth of mass forms of tourism has proved to be a vital and
1 4 J o u r n a l o f S u s t a i n a b l e T o u r i s m
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effective vehicle of economic growth and consequential socioeconomic develop-
ment in many nations. Nor is it to suggest that many of the principles of sustain-
able tourism are invalid. On the contrary, they play a vital role in drawing
attention to the global nature of tourismand the undoubted need to consider the
consequences of tourism development on a global scale. However, on a global
scale, the challenge must be to continue to seek or encourage more environmen-
tally benign forms of tourismwhich best suit a destinations social and economic
development criteria without hiding behind the politicallyacceptableyet in the
context of tourism inappropriate banner of sustainable development.
Correspondence
Any correspondence should be directed to Dr Richard Sharpley, Senior Lecturer
in Travel and Tourism, University of Northumbria, Longhirst Campus, Longhirst
Hall, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 3LL (richard.sharpley@unn.ac.uk).
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