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Understanding tourism within a socio-ecological system: Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Authors: Chelsea Leven*,
Topics: Tourism Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Development
Keywords: Tourism, Resilience, Social-ecological system, Sustainability, Latin America
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Tourism endures as a darling of sustainable development, despite few success stories in sustainable tourism development. We argue that this is due in part to simplistic and reductionist approaches to sustainability and tourism. Successful sustainable tourism development requires, at a minimum, a more holistic and complex conceptualization that includes recognition of how human values shape a system. Based within the resilience school of thought, this study analyzed tourism holistically through a social-ecological system (SES) perspective by conceptualizing the SES of Ometepe, Nicaragua with local citizens. First, the study tested a novel use of concept mapping as a method to privilege local knowledge and provide insight into complexity. A total of 39 participants produced eight concept maps that visually conceptualized tourism within the greater SES of Ometepe. Second, the study systematically evaluated data produced from the concept maps, along with supplementary research activities, to analyze the system and how tourism functions within it. Results from the case study demonstrate that concept mapping offers a rapid assessment tool that is accessible, adaptable, and achievable, even amongst a crisis that erupted during the study. Data from participant maps offer insight into the context, nonlinear dynamics, feedback loops, historical legacies, uncertainty, resilience, and cross-scale interactions of the SES. Moving forward, this analysis of tourism could provide the foundation for intentional planning that includes adaptive management and governance strategies and which seeks to strengthen resilience of valued system attributes.

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