Assessing sustainable visitor capacity for small island destinations: the case of Rottnest Island, Australia

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Northcote, J, Scherrer, P & Macbeth, J 2010 'Assessing sustainable visitor capacity for small island destinations: the case of Rottnest Island, Australia', paper presented to the International Conference. Sustainable Tourism: Issues, Debates & Challenges, Anissaras-Hersonissos, Crete, 22-25 April.


Small island destinations present some unique challenges when it comes to visitor management, such as the difficulties of tracking boat visitors, assessing marine impacts that lie mostly hidden from view, and taking into account the array of visitor types that tend to be drawn to island attractions. Island environments are also often characterised by fragile ecosystems that can be subject to intense pressures from large numbers of visitors carrying out high impact activities. Applying standard visitor management frameworks to small island destinations therefore needs to be done carefully, with assessment methods and management approaches adapted to island characteristics. This paper will examine the application of the sustainable visitor capacity (SVC) framework – a new visitor management tool designed in Australia – to Rottnest Island in Western Australia, a popular island destination attracting approximately 500,000 visitors per annum. The SVC framework was employed to assess current visitation levels and impacts in selected areas around the island, including several sites characterised by fragile ecosystems and large numbers of visitors. Several modifications of the framework were undertaken in order to streamline it, adapt it to island conditions, and orient it to the particular objectives of the project. The methodology proved valuable in providing an estimate of sustainable visitor capacity that took into account environmental impacts, visitor satisfaction, service capacity, socio-cultural impacts and management strategies. The relevance of the SVC framework to other destinations will be discussed, with the importance of versatility in assessment methods, stakeholder involvement and a streamlined approach highlighted as key success factors.