Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

The task of measuring tourism impacts is often conducted by identifying certain economic indicators, such as the contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the overall employment, and measuring their base before tourism, after a tourism project begins, and monitoring them as the project progresses. Here is an example infographic from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC):

Namibia Infographic
Source: WTTC

With sustainable tourism development, we aim to manage the consequences of tourism in such a way to maintain a balance between its economic, environmental, and socio-cultural impacts. Therefore, it is important to identify environmental and socio-cultural indicators to measure as well.

Solimar has compiled a list of possible indicators that you can use in evaluating and measuring tourism impacts particularly environmental ones. Although this list is not comprehensive, these indicators are the most commonly used and can guide you in your initial tourism planning.

Effect on Air, Water, and Soil Quality

Environmental Indicators Tourism Impacts 1

Tourism relies heavily on natural resources, so its impact on the environment is crucial when measuring tourism impacts. Ideally, tourism should be able to improve the quality of air, water, and soil in a destination. Some example questions to consider when measuring this indicator:

  • Has tourism been able to maintain the quality of water in the destination?
  • In places that promote pristine and endless strips of beaches, how clear is the water from coliform bacteria contamination?
  • Is there sufficient drinking water for the communities in the destination?

Sometimes, tourism businesses use up most of the water in a local area because of the needs of the tourists, such as providing showers in hotels. This transfers resources from the locals to the tourists and sustainable tourism developers should be wary of this.

Effect on Conservation Goals

Environmental Indicators Tourism Impacts 2

At Solimar, we believe that tourism should be able to enhance and improve the conservation efforts in a destination. When measuring tourism impacts on conservation, use these guide questions to help you:

  • Is tourism helping in protecting wildlife and other environmental resources?
  • Has the number of endangered species increased or decreased?
  • Does tourism support forest regeneration and marine conservation?

Effect on Waste

Many tourist establishments generate a relatively higher volume of waste compared to the locals' waste. Well-implemented waste management strategies are crucial to prevent negative impacts on the environment such as high levels of dangerous bacteria. Consider:

  • How much solid waste is generated by tourism?
  • Is there a proper waste management system to prevent negative environmental impacts?
  • What is the ratio of the tourism establishments waste compared to the locals?
Environmental Indicators Tourism Impacts 3

Measuring tourism impacts using these environmental indicators is helpful in sustainable tourism planning as a guide in designing strategies to achieve the positive side of these indicators. Of course, your indicators will need to be customized to your destination.

Solimar has a thorough understanding of the indicator measurement practices and worked with various clients including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the World Bank. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you in this regard, ask one of our experts.


Sustainable tourism, when done well, celebrates cultures, alleviates poverty, empowers women, enhances education, creates jobs, improves the wellbeing of local communities, and conserves natural resources. This is a cornerstone of Solimar International’s work.  Understanding these transformative effects is mostly intuitive. For example, sustainable tourism development often showcases local culture and employs local people in doing so—this alleviates poverty and increases the wellbeing of the community, which in turn creates revenue that can be reinvested in education. The association between sustainable tourism development and conservation, however, is indirect and less intuitive. Many people associate any form of development with a bulldozer. So how can sustainable tourism development actually conserve natural resources? The answer involves a bit of economics so hold on tight.

Photo: Jamie In Bytown Source: Flickr

The Economics Behind Sustainable Tourism Development and Conservation

Let us envision a fictitious (and yes, impossible) tropical rainforest in the middle of the United States. A thriving sustainable tourism industry has developed around this rainforest, attracting thousands of people from all over the world. Then reports come out indicating the high probability of a large oil deposit under the jungle. The government begins plans to develop an oil field, but before doing so conducts a cost-benefit analysis. In this situation, the government is a benevolent social planner, therefore accepting or rejecting the project is determined by the equations below; where Bp is Private Benefit, Cp is Private Cost, and Cs is Social Cost.

BP – (CP+CS) > 0 è Accept the Project

BP – (CP+CS) < 0 èReject the Project

The private benefits and costs for the owner of the project (the government in this case) are simply calculated using projections of sales, prices, costs and so on. The social cost, however, is much more difficult to calculate. This is because it is extremely difficult to quantify the indirect benefits of a jungle. A large benefit of a rainforest is the ecological services it provides—crop pollination (bee habitat), maintenance of soil quality, carbon sequestration, conserving biodiversity, providing habitat, etc. New technology and methods to capture these indirect benefits are continually emerging. NASA recently launched a satellite equipped to map the earth’s forests in 3D. These new maps will allow scientists to better estimate the amount of carbon stored in trees and monitor forest degradation.

Again, these ecological services are indirect values. Given there is an established tourism industry that relies on the jungle as an attraction there are also direct values. How much revenue is being generated from the tourism industry? How many jobs? These values can easily be accounted for and calculated into the social cost. Developing sustainable tourism therefore increases the social cost which increases the likelihood of the oil project being rejected and protects the jungle from deforestation.

Real World Examples

Many of the projects that Solimar is involved with aim to develop sustainable tourism around national parks. Take for example, Solimar’s role in developing an eco-lodge to Bale Mountains National Park in Ethiopia. Solimar spent the first months of this project conducting extensive market research and visits to numerous Ethiopian destinations to determine which was most promising for eco-lodge investment. The clear winner was an area outside Bale Mountains National Park because of its pristine natural beauty and relatively low tourism numbers. Building an eco-lodge here taps into the region’s potential. As a result of this project, tourism in and exposure to the Bale Mountains National Park increased, which raised its economic value (social cost) too.

Photo:Ron Knight Source: Flickr

 In other projects, Solimar has worked with established sustainable tourism destinations to help promote and market them to the world. An example of this is our Nambia NADM campaign, where we pushed forward an innovative marketing campaign focused on increasing both arrivals from the North American market and the number of North American travel trade that offer tours and packages to Namibia. Again, effective marketing of Namibia as an ecological wonder has increased visitation to the country and in turn brought economic value to the land. Today, over 43% of Namibia’s surface area is under conservation management.

To learn more about the interesting dynamic between tourism and conservation download our free toolkit




Measuring tourism impacts is often perceived as a tedious and complicated task by some tourism professionals. Since tourism is integrated across numerous sectors, there are many aspects to consider when analyzing the results of tourism development. At the broadest level, tourism affects the economy through employment and investment. It also impacts the environment as many tourism destinations are in conservation areas, traveling requires creating carbon dioxide, and too many visitors can degrade natural wonders.

Measuring Tourism Impacts

For these and many other reasons, measuring tourism impacts is actually one of most important practices in achieving successful sustainable tourism development. Here are some of the reasons behind its significance:

Measuring Tourism Impacts...

1. Helps in Conservation

Determining the economic, socio-cultural, and environmental impacts of tourism development will help in conservation because it can show the positive and negative effects.

Measuring Tourism Impacts - Conservation

Is tourism development helping in the protection and growth of wildlife? Is tourism development promoting the culture of indigenous peoples? Or is tourism development negatively exploiting the natural resources and cultures of the local population?

Measuring tourism impacts on our environment will help decision-makers in creating strategies that will support rather than harm conservation. Decision-makers can use the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) to evaluate the impact of tourism on the local community, cultural heritage, and the environment. From this evaluation, they can then establish if they should implement stronger controls, support other initiatives, or correct harmful practices.

The GSTC Partnership was initiated by the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to promote and implement universal sustainable tourism principles around the world.

2. Spurs Investment

Sustainable tourism development often begins with investment from the government and private sector. To rationalize these investments, the government and the private sector need numbers from the tourism sector.

Measuring Tourism Impacts - Investment

How many jobs is tourism creating, both directly and indirectly? How much of the gross domestic product (GDP) is from tourism? What is the potential of tourism in creating more jobs and in increasing the country's GDP?

By measuring these important tourism metrics, investors will get the information and encouragement that they need to continue supporting sustainable tourism development.

The UNWTO, in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO) recently released a report on the best practices of measuring the impact of tourism on employment. This could be a helpful resource for those who want to increase employment on their communities.

3. Educates Tourists

Last year, at least one billion tourists traveled across the globe. That means one billion opportunities to teach about how tourism affects the world and how people can have more positive impacts on communities and the environment.

Measuring Tourism Impacts - Educating Tourists Gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park -Tertius Bune

How much of a tourist's expenditure go to the local economy? How can tourists reduce negative economic impacts, especially on protected areas and heritage sites? How are tourists getting involved with preservation after visiting a destination?

By measuring tourism impacts and sharing results with tourists, we can help them support sustainable tourism development. Solimar also wrote about the importance of tourism in today's economy given that it is one of the largest sectors in the world.

Measuring tourism impacts is therefore crucial for sustainable tourism development. Having the numbers and the research results with us is a powerful tool for our industry.

If you are interested in achieving sustainable goals and positive impacts for your destination, download this toolkit from Solimar.



One of the greatest, and perhaps least recognized aspects of the sustainable tourism industry is the potential for economic growth and peace building in post conflict areas of the world. Solimar has recently worked in several regions that have seen conflict, such as Sri Lanka, Colombia, Jordan, and Palestine. Working in these areas proved that not only does sustainable tourism have the incredible ability to preserve natural and cultural resources, it can play a key role in the revival of economies and communities shattered by conflict.

post conflict sri lanka
Photo: Simon Jones


Some of the major problems faced by post conflict destinations are security based. The first hurdle in the revival of the tourism industry is making sure the destination is absolutely safe for visitors and pushing that message consistently across all channels of communication.

Another issue that arises in regard to security is rebuilding the destination’s image, as these locations are often perceived as degraded during times of conflict and violence.  It’s important to highlight that a destination’s cultural and natural heritage is alive and well by sharing high quality content about the destination, such as images, videos and copy.

The second set of issues facing post conflict destinations relates to infrastructure and human capital. Many times, after a long-lasting conflict like the civil war in Sri Lanka, many forms of infrastructure and many of the industries that service tourists are in poor condition, making it difficult for them to visit in a number of ways. For example, in some areas, roads may have become impassable; buildings may be dilapidated and need to be rebuilt.  In order to sustain a tourism industry, these areas need rebuilding and basic resources restructured in order to revive their destination’s appeal and functionality.


When setting goals for these destinations, Solimar’s approach tends to mirror that of a brand new, undiscovered destination, even if they had a tourism industry before the conflict. Through clear and coordinated communication between all stakeholders, the first phase of these strategies focuses on building the structures necessary to sustain the tourism industry.

A great way to kick start the tourism presence in these areas is to focus on regions that have not been affected by the conflict. Solimar’s approach oftentimes is to promote off the beaten path, adventurous destinations and target tourists who are interested in those types of places. In each destination this might look different, but strategic marketing and promotion allows for such burgeoning markets to flourish.  

post conflict desert
Photo: Oliver Clarke, Source:Flickr


First and foremost, tourism in these countries means an influential source of capital. It provides economic opportunity through employment, ownership of businesses, and an increased market size. It also perpetuates personal and community empowerment by offering renewed opportunities for self-sustaining businesses and economies.

Tourism can also play a key role in reconciliation. It often unites communities that may have been broken or displaced during conflict around common interests and goals, fostering a sense of peace and cooperation that may not otherwise occur. In some cases, tourism can contribute to preventing the revival of a conflict in destinations with increasingly well-established tourism industries, as it contributes to a virtuous cycle of development and economic growth that would be threatened by the renewal of violence.  

By rebuilding and strengthening culture, economy, and infrastructure, the tourism industry provides post conflict regions a chance to make a statement about their future to the world. These communities are able to showcase their homes as more than just what people see on TV news.

To read more about Solimar’s projects in post-conflict areas, please visit our website:



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