Because numbers do matter: refining the sustainable visitor capacity framework

Document Type


Publication details

Scherrer, P, Northcote, J & Macbeth, J 2009, 'Because numbers do matter: refining the sustainable visitor capacity framework', paper presented to 15th International Symposium on Society and Resource Management: Meet old and new worlds in research, planning, and management, Vienna, Austria, 6-8 July.


Visitation to natural areas continues to raise an array of management challenges despite the availability of a range of management frameworks. Balancing recreational opportunities with conservation objectives remains the fundamental challenge. Natural areas near urban growth centres are in particular experiencing increasing visitation pressure. This is sometimes coupled with considerable political and financial pressures on land managers by virtue of the areas’ status as popular - in some cases iconic - visitor destinations. Although the concept of carrying capacity as a tool for land managers has been widely debated, managers must make some determination on visitation levels if they are to preserve the desired values of destinations, particularly smaller destinations subject to large numbers of visitors. The method of calculating the optimal visitation level, however, remains the key challenge This project builds on the recent work by the Environmental Protection Agency in southeast Queensland to refine the Sustainable Visitor Capacity (SVC) framework which combines elements of the Recreational Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) and Visitor Experience Resource Protection (VERP) frameworks to determine site specific visitor capacities. This research hypothesised that substantial increases in visitation levels to natural sites on Rottnest Island, a popular island destination in Perth, Australia, would not be sustainable in light of desired socio-cultural, economic and environmental criteria. To address this hypothesis, the SVC framework was applied to the Rottnest Island context through a process involving (1) a detailed assessment of seasonal visitor profiles and user preferences, (2) an expert based assessment of current landscape settings and visitor impacts at sites, (3) an analysis of visitor numbers, patterns and access capacity and (4) stakeholder engagement in determining the desired landscape setting and to explore and agree on management actions, including monitoring and evaluation. This paper compares and contrasts the SVC methodology employed in this study to other widely accepted management frameworks and highlights its strengths and areas requiring further development