Key indicators Role of indicators Cycle of tourismType of indicators
TABLE: Key indicators


About this Publication
The European Union
Table: core set of indicators
Eco-labelling tourism
The tourism market
The VISIT approach
The VISIT Standard
The VISIT eco-labels
The VISIT message
Easy access to eco-labelled products
The VISIT Association
Outlook 2010
Word of thanks


The Cycle of Tourism

As tourism by definition involves the movement of people from one place to an other, it affects not only local sustainability, but also sustainability at the regional or even global level. In the past, this problem has not been covered sufficiently by tourism science nor by tourism policies. No matter whether a journey is organised independently or through commercial agents, the cycle of the tourism activity can be divided into three stages: access and return travel, stay and activities. Each of these three stages has a different action radius and different effects.

  • Travel forms part of each individual tourism cycle; its effects belong to the supra-regional to global level.
  • The stay at the destination is another defined and measurable component of every tourism activity (either with overnight stay or without, as in the case of day trips); its effects are primarily regional.
  • The activities at the destination differ from tourist to tourist and depend on the offers and opportunities at the destination, and their effects are again felt primarily at the regional level.


Global/Regional Level

Local Level


Access and return travel

Stay at the destination

Activities at the destination


Tourism transport, journey with different means of transport

Construction of accommodation
Maintenance and operation of accommodation
Supply with food and other goods
Disposal of waste

Construction of tourism facilities
Maintenance and operation of tourism facilities
Local mobility
Tourism activities linked to facilities
Tourism activities not needing special facilities

Main problems concerning tourism and sustainable development

The following key problems can be identified after careful analysis of current trends in tourism:

  • Tourism transport (access to destination and return travel, local mobility in the destination): tourism transport, especially air transport and the use of private cars contribute increasingly to global warming and climate change and to the depletion of oil resources. Emissions, noise and congestion are also growing problems in tourism destinations and along the big tourist routes. 90% of energy used in the tourism sector is used for access and return travel. There is a growing trend towards air travel and particularly short distance flights, towards traffic intensive event tourism, larger destinations and unsustainable vacation patterns (more travels per year and person, shorter stays, longer distances, anti-cyclic activities, such as skiing in summer or swimming in winter), which increases the impact of tourism transport.
  • Carrying capacity - land use, bio-diversity, tourism activities: tourism is a heavy consumer of land area and nature at the local level. Negative trends are increasing numbers of secondary residences or tourism activities with intensive use of nature (e.g. golf, skiing) or motorised activities in nature.
  • Use of energy: tourism facilities are using more and more energy for air conditioning, transport or in-door activities so that the source of energy (renewable - non-renewable) is also becoming a focus of interest.
  • Use of water: some destinations, such as islands or southern coastal destinations, have increasing problems with the freshwater supply and there is even competition for water between local economy (for example agriculture) and tourism. Waste water may also become a problem for high seasonal mass tourism destinations.
  • Solid waste management: waste is becoming a major problem for tourism destinations and rural societies, which may become overwhelmed and which do not have sufficient capacity to cope with this particularly seasonal problem.
  • Social and cultural development: bad working conditions in tourism, seasonal employment and high dependence on the tourism industry may create a negative social climate, detrimental to the quality of the entire destination.
  • Economic development: high dependence on the tourism sector, high seasonal variation of tourism or a high percentage of day visitors may also be harmful to the community and have negative effects on the economic development.
  • Institutional governance: measures undertaken by local and regional institutions may have created or contributed to environmental problems through the strategies and initiatives they have established.

Which type of indicators?

There are 100s of indicators available to monitor all relevant issues in very detail. A short set of “key indicators” should include ones

  • with high efficiency with regard to sustainable tourism development (particularly in the tourism sector)
  • with high relation to tourism quality (positive or negative)
  • with high impact on consumer perception
  • which can be derived from existing or easily accessible data (if some key figures are not available, destinations are asked to give at least estimated figures based an visitor surveys or regional expertise)
  • which are highly reliable and permit comparison between different regions

These indicators should demonstrate the performance in destinations instead of mere opportunities and potential not really used by tourists, for example: “ratio of environmentally-friendly arrivals”, and not only the “existence of pick-up systems from airports and train stations” which most tourists do not use.

The indicators shall allow to derive comparable values for all destinations. Northern or alpine destinations, for instance, need more energy for the heating of accommodation and facilities than sun and beach destinations. It would not make sense to measure only the amount of energy used – as the values depend on the situation of the destination. But, if we look at that part of total energy use which comes from renewable resources, we have a valid indicator for all destinations. Another example could be water: here the project suggests to look only at the sustainable use of water and not at the total amount of water used.

A draft set of indicators was identified and tested in 10 destinations: Riviera dei Gelsomini/Italy, Lillehammer/Norway, Praesto Fjord/Denmark, Soumenlinna/Finland, Söderslätt/Sweden, Comune di Ravenna/Italy, Werfenweng/Austria, Hallstatt/Austria, Sirnitz/Austria and Lesachtal/Austria.
The testing results led to the core set of indicators below (table 2). They are recommended as “priority indicators” for which data are available or relatively easy to provide by the destination.

Successful eco-labelling of tourism services is seen as a “driving” tool to achieve the related sustainability and quality objectives (see indicators A5 and A6).

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