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Ecological footprint analysis as a tool to assess tourism sustainability

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S. Gössling
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This article aims to provide a methodological framework for the calculation of ecological footprints related to leisure tourism. Based on the example of the Seychelles, it reveals the statistical obstacles that have to be overcome in the calculation process and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach. As many tropical island-states depend heavily on foreign exchange earnings derived from visitors arriving by air, special attention is paid to the use of energy associated with air travel. Furthermore, implications of the findings for national greenhouse inventories are discussed. Finally, as the Seychelles have safeguarded a wide range of ecosystems in protected areas, which are for their existence ultimately dependent on financial resources derived from tourism, the question is raised if long-distance travel can be a means to safeguard biodiversity.Noting that the ‘high-value tourists’ targeted by the Seychelles also seem to be characterised by the highest resource use per capita the authors call for future sustainability research to aim at identifying the tourist groups with the highest resource use, both with respect to local resource use and travel patterns. According to the authors, in order to become more sustainable, destinations should seek to attract clients from close source markets as long-distance tourism remains problematic and can at best be seen as a short-term solution to safeguard threatened ecosystems. From a global sustainability and equity perspective, they say, air travel for leisure should be seen critically: a single long-distance journey such as the one investigated using ecological footprinting in this survey requires a footprint area almost as large as the area available on a per capita basis on global average. Taking these results seriously, air travel should, from an ecological perspective, be actively discouraged.