The primary thesis of this dissertation is that planning for sustainable tourism regions can be improved through consideration of cumulative impacts. By applying a theoretical model (incorporating research and planning) the research demonstrates how cumulative impacts could be considered and managed within current planning frameworks.
Literature examined suggested that cumulative impacts should be addressed in regional planning and that consideration of cumulative impacts in tourism planning could improve the sustainability of tourism. In reviewing current practice, consideration of cumulative impacts was generally not occurring, with even basic impact assessment and planning being inconsistent or non-existent in relation to tourism development. Knowledge of the impacts of tourism is increasingly important considering increasing numbers of tourists, the natural and cultural significance of many tourism destinations and the potential damage to these values. The study of cumulative impact assessment for sustainable tourism development is a relatively unexplored area of investigation, acknowledged by the literature and many in the field.
To investigate the thesis, the concept and methods of cumulative impact assessment were identified and a tourism planning model (integrative framework), incorporating consideration of cumulative impacts, was established. Current tourism planning practice and application of cumulative impact assessment methods were reviewed through literature, interviews, training, workshops and site visits. Cumulative impact assessments in two case study tourism regions, Banff, Canada and the Victorian Alps, Australia were analysed in relation to the integrative framework, and a consolidated model was developed from the analysis.
An important part of the research was to build on the limited experience in applying methods of cumulative impact assessment. The research methodology utilised a qualitative approach, sourcing expert opinion through document review, correspondence, interviews and a questionnaire. This is an accepted approach to impact assessment and enabled gathering of information in the absence of other monitoring or state of the environment data.
The Banff-Bow Valley Study (1996) was selected as a case study due to the substantial amount of research and writing on cumulative effects assessment in Canada. The study applied cumulative impact assessment to a regional tourism situation and analysis considered whether this study informed planning. The case study of the Victorian Alps considered whether cumulative impacts are currently addressed in tourism planning in the region, and included the application of a network approach to identify and assess cumulative impacts. Current planning and development occurring at Mount Hotham (including the Airport development) provided an interesting case to examine at regional and project scales.
The main contributions of the research are as follows:
• The research has demonstrated through review of literature and illustrative examples that there is a relationship between tourism, planning and potential cumulative impacts.
• The research reviews how planning theory currently incorporates cumulative impacts in tourism.
• The research reviews how effectively cumulative impacts are considered in mountain tourism regional planning in Australia and Banff, Canada.
• While the network approach is not a new method in environmental impact assessment or cumulative impact assessment, its application to a case study in Australia has been a new contribution to the field of cumulative impact assessment.
• Case study research applied a technique that could identify cumulative impacts for management action, as well as inform the development of strategic plans.
• Theoretical incorporation of cumulative impacts into planning of tourism regions has been shown in a proposed theoretical model (integrative framework).
Analysis of the research using the integrative framework has shown that there is a general lack of understanding of the integrated tourism system (environmental, social and economic), including cumulative impacts. Cumulative impacts are often not considered in planning for tourism, despite being characteristic of much tourism activity and development. This research has shown, theoretically, that consideration of cumulative impacts can improve planning for sustainable tourism as it improves understanding of the tourism system. In practice, this is more difficult as the ability of planning to successfully achieve sustainable tourism is complicated by the nature of ecological systems, communities and political influence.