Impossible Mission bearing Carrying Capacity (II)

(Published in 20.02.2024, in greek)

Carrying capacity is a very critical factor if sustainability is the goal of tourism development. So, we need to measure/calculate it. We have seen that we need a. Tourism destinations with clear boundaries and b. A wealth of data on beds, arrivals, overnight stays, day visitors, and imported labor as well as data on energy consumption, traffic load, waste management, wastewater and other statistics, which are not exactly our forte. So, I propose that we switch from "measurement/calculation" to "approach/estimation". In other words: We should try to apply the concept of carrying capacity.

This is still a difficult task. It is not only a question of selecting suitable indicators, but also of estimating the range of values they should occupy so that they really contribute to sustainability. All this in view of the far from balanced development of tourism in our country at regional level.

In the international literature, the following two indicators are most frequently used: 1. tourism intensity and 2. tourism density. In the following table, the definitions of these two indicators are briefly presented by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)[1], the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)[2] and Eurostat[3].

Source: Tourism Generis - Data adapted by UNWTO, WTTC, Eurostat

For the "tourism intensity" indicator, the correlation of arrivals/overnight stays with population does not lead to firm conclusions, because if the population increases, then, the destination can accommodate more arrivals, ignoring spatial constraints and increasing environmental pressures. Furthermore, the above indicators do NOT take into account day visitors. While day visitors place a burden on the networks (roads, energy, water supply, sewerage) and produce a significant amount of waste, they are not included in the values of the tourism density and tourism intensity indicators. Therefore, there must be a way to calculate an "overnight equivalent" for day visitors.

Calculating the social and environmental footprint of day visitors is difficult in theory and impossible in practice. I propose an alternative approach based on per capita spending. This means comparing the daily per capita expenditure of overnight visitors with the per capita expenditure of day visitors and creating an "overnight equivalent".

The literature also includes the "Tourism Function Index-TFI"[4]», which relates the number of beds in a destination to its permanent population in order to estimate tourism intensity. Specifically, the TFI is defined as "(number of beds x 100)/permanent population". Reference values have been provided for this specific index, but they should be used with great caution[5].This is because the TFI was first applied to destinations in Central Europe many years ago and does not take into account variables such as day visitors and imported labor. It also ignores the specific characteristics of island destinations.

In view of all this, I consider "Tourism Density" to be far more important. However, it should be calculated primarily with the index "total number of beds per km2"[6] and then with "arrivals/overnight stays per km2". There are two reasons for this: Firstly, the environmental impact is taken into account and secondly, it is less difficult to count beds than arrivals/overnight stays. Of course, the need to calculate the "overnight equivalent" remains..


George Drakopoulos



[1] UNWTO, 2018. “’Overtourism’? Understanding and Managing Urban Tourism Growth beyond Perceptions”.

[2] WTTC & McKinsey & Company, 2017. “Coping with success- Managing overcrowding in tourism destinations”.

[4] Defert, P. 1972: “Le tourisme et les activités touristiques. Essay d’ integration”. CET – Les Cahiers du tourisme 19.

[5] Boyer, M. 1972. “Le Tourisme”, Editions du Seuil, Paris. / Borzyszkowski J. et all, 2014. “Spatial diversity of tourist function development: the municipalities of Poland’s West Pomerania province”.

[6] Girard P.S.T., 1968. “Geographical aspects of tourism in Guernsey”, La Société Guernésiaise Reports and Transactions, 18(2).