In Chapter 1 we discussed that even though sustainability has been an important topic in tourism studies for years, very little has changed in its practice. The issue at hand, according to Moscardo and Murphy (2014), is in the way tourism academics have conceptualized ST. Butler (1991) detected this problem early in the ST discourse by arguing that curbing tourist numbers, changing the tourist type, changing the resource for resistance and educating people involved in the industry stand as our best chances at becoming more sustainable.
Hunter (1995) argued that ST is too tourism centric and parochial and, as such, stakeholders are unable to plan and manage the industry consistent with the tenets of ST (see also Hardy & Beeton, 2001). There are issues of scale at hand, Hunter notes, especially when planning takes into consideration only specific entities like a single resort, when multi-sectoral planning integrated more comprehensively both inside and outside tourism is demanded (see Wall, 1993, in the context of Bali, Indonesia). Hunter advanced two alternative conceptual models. Model 1, total immersion, has ST development nested inside a broader notion of ST. Model 2, partial immersion, has ST development half inside the broader SD paradigm and half outside it. The implications of each are far reaching. In Model 2 the door is left open for various aspects of the tourism system, e.g. transportation, to ignore ST principles, when other industry sectors are adopting these principles.
Others argue that both industry and conservation movements are using sustainability to justify their policies and practices, creating an inherent weakness (McKercher, 1993b). Tourism as a business emphasizes economic development, whereas conservation advocates protection of resources. Can we have it both ways? Conflict over the proper use of resources will continue to be at the heart of disagreements with no end in sight. One merely has to look at just about any tourism impact dilemma to see how sociocultural and ecological factors are compromised in the face of development needs. It is impossible to imagine any type of tourism activity that is developed and operated without reducing the quantity or quality of natural resources in that location (Welford et al., 1999).
Moreover, the term sustainable tourism has been criticized as lacking integrity, not much more than a buzzword or marketing gimmick emphasizing sensibility, sensitivity and sophistication (Butcher, 1997; Wheeller, 1997). Indeed, ST has been criticized as being another empty cliché, with questions surrounding its operationalization, its measurement, and consensus on its definition. Further, some believe that trying to produce definitions of sustainable tourism is dangerous because general definitions can connote the impression of simplicity in what is a complex area, while some descriptions may be irrelevant, misleading and ever-changing (Bramwell et al., 1996).
Butcher (1997: 37) makes the extraordinary statement that ‘sustainable tourism is a concept with little to offer the tourist’. He takes this position based on the belief that the new moral imperative in tourism threatens to suppress hedonism as tourists become increasingly regulated in what is acceptable behaviour and what is not acceptable. So, ‘Hedonism, once a virtue of tourism, becomes a threat. Caution and wariness are characteristics of the new tourism’ (Butcher, 1997: 35). Additionally, Butcher argues that the sustainability rhetoric has become the bane of the lesser developed countries who badly need development in order to overcome debilitating political, social and economic constraints. The choice to preserve cultural and ecological artefacts over the development needs of the impoverished is deemed irresponsible from Butcher’s perspective. This perspective has been embraced by other scholars who believe that ST ought to be configured according to poverty alleviation through the pro-poor tourism agenda (increasing access for the poor to tourism benefits), and through ecotourism with its focus on the reduction of environmental impacts (Neto, 2003). This may mean that different interpretations of ST may be appropriate for developed and developing countries. For instance, poor, developing countries may emphasize an economic imperative, whereas other, stronger interpretations of ST are based upon a ‘Western environmentalism’ (Munt, 1992).
Muller (1994) suggests that the objective of ST is to influence the following factors: economic health, the subjective wellbeing of locals, unspoilt nature and the protection of resources, healthy culture, and the optimum satisfaction of guest requirements. Thus, the desired situation is balanced tourism development in which no one element, whether it be environmental protection, visitor satisfaction or economic health, predominates over the others. Still other authors (Hunter, 1997) argue that the concept of balancing all goals is unrealistic, since such competing aspects are often traded off and priorities emerge which skew the decision making in favour of certain aspects – as noted above by Munt (1992).
Nonetheless, the dominant perception of ST is a destination area tourism/environment system in balance, where none of the above aspects can be allowed to dominate. Although the notion of balance in ST is attractive, questions need to be addressed such as what protecting the resource base really means. As well, some studies interchangeably use the words ‘protection’, ‘conservation’ and ‘preservation’, although each has a very different meaning. Often, no reference is made to particular resources (renewable or non-renewable natural resources), exhibiting a further lack of detail and clarity (Hunter, 1997). Hunter (1997) states that perhaps the most appropriate way to perceive ST is not as a narrowly defined concept reliant on a search for balance, but instead as an overarching, adaptive paradigm within which several different development pathways may be legitimized according to circumstances. Put simply, there may be a need to consider factors such as supply, demand, host community needs and desires, and a consideration of impacts on environmental resources. As well, location-specific factors such as environmental characteristics and existing tourism developments should be considered. Thus, Hunter (1997) surmises that ST research would benefit from a closer inspection of the broader SD literature, which demonstrates a greater flexibility in determining potential development pathways. It is also suggested that ST research could benefit from a more penetrating appreciation of the complexities inherent in human–environment interactions. This would allow for more detailed analyses of the interactions between economic sectors, the level of precaution to be adopted in environmental management (Fennell & Ebert, 2004), potential environmental management techniques, and the extent to which these should be utilized depending on the degree of efficiency sought in the utilization of resources. Table 4.1 provides a breakdown of specific concerns that have been voiced by Moscardo and Murphy (2014), following from Getz (1986) and Moscardo (2011) on the left-hand side of the box, and Liu (2003) on the right-hand side of the box. Table 4.1 Criticisms of sustainable tourism Moscardo and Murphy (2014)
Liu (2003) 1. A narrow focus on specific projects, rather than considerations of tourism as a whole.
1. Little effort has been placed into tourism demand at the destination level, with often unfounded assumptions that a sustained level of visitation will occur. 2. Limited attention given to tourism impacts.
2. Resource sustainability is often discussed only from the perspective of preservation and conservation, with little recognition of the dynamic and complex nature of resources, which evolve according to the needs of society. 3. A focus on economic factors with occasional limited acknowledgement of environmental issues.
3. Little effort has been placed into the emphasis on intergenerational equity according to the fairness of benefits and costs that ought to be distributed across stakeholder groups. 4. A failure to consider how tourism would interact with and affect other activities at a destination.
4. More of a focus should be placed on the economic benefits of communities from tourism while maintaining their cultural identities. 5. The naïve adoption of business strategic planning as the dominant framework for tourism planning and, as a consequence.

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