Assessing the sustainability of tourism systems: A social-ecological approach

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16 Scopus citations


Tourism destinations operate as a complex system, consisting of multiple interacting components that are nonlinear, cross-scale, evolving, and interdependent. The purpose of this article is to deconstruct the complex tourism system so that the important components of the system can be identified and critically evaluated. The research was conducted in two popular tourism destination communities in Nepal-Ghandruk and Sauraha-using a systemic and holistic approach called a social-ecological system (SES) framework to analyze the structures, processes, and outcomes of tourism. Data collection involved 45 face-to-face, semistructured interviews and a review of published and unpublished archival documents. This article further expanded Ostrom's SES framework to systematically analyze the sustainability of complex and dynamic tourism systems that would be useful to evaluate destinations' sustainability performance. The findings show that tourism brought mixed, mostly positive and some negative, sociocultural, economic, and ecological outcomes in both communities. Overall, tourism development is progressing towards sustainability in these destinations, though present conditions do not meet the ideal state envisioned by the concept of sustainable tourism. The theoretical, methodological, and policy implications of the SES framework are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-66
Number of pages18
JournalTourism Review International
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Collaboration
  • Governance
  • Social-ecological system (SES) framework
  • Stakeholders
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable tourism
  • Systems approach
  • Tourism system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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