Due to a history of failed community based ecotourism ventures, it is a necessity to evaluate sustainability (Mearns, 2011; Spenceley, 2008). Indicators serve as a tool for measuring current sustainability, offer recommendations for improvement and help avoid unsustainable decision-making (Mearns, 2011; UNCSD, 2007). Measuring traditional indicators of tourism such as arrival numbers and tourist expenditures will not serve the purpose of measuring sustainability (Mearns, 2011; Roberts & Tribe, 2008), therefore it is necessary to adopt indicators that measure performance from the viewpoint of a triple bottom line, mainly economics, socio-cultural and environmental. Such an indicator system will help monitor a venture’s performance in meeting sustainable development goals (UNCSD, 2001).
12-24 indicators is a desirable number that has shown to be manageable by practitioners without causing unnecessary confusion (Mearns, 2011; WTO, 2004). Mearns (2011; 2012) adopted 12 baseline indicators developed by the World Tourism Organization (2004) for determining sustainability within tourism ventures. In addition, Mearns developed six specific indicators unique to community based ecotourism initiatives. These indicators produced by Mearns will be adopted and applied in future research initiated by the Royal Thimphu College to help determine the sustainability of ecotourism ventures in Bhutan.
However, Mearns’ research focused on community based ecotourism ventures in Lesotho, so his findings cannot be reapplied to the Bhutanese context without some modification. Ecotourism must be assessed, not in isolation, but in its larger socio-political context (Honey, 2008). With Mearns’ evaluation framework serving as a base, site-specific indicators to account for local conditions will be required and serve as a critical source of information for field research (Mearns, 2011; Roberts & Tribe, 2008). In research conducted by Gurung and Scholz (2008), they determined 6 impact factors for Bhutan which determined the success of various ecotourism ventures. These 6 impact factors will be modified for this research to provide site-specific indicators for ecotourism in Bhutan and combined with the 18 indicators provided by the WTO and Mearns. The indicators that will be further refined are listed below.
WTO Baseline Indicators: local satisfaction with tourism, effects of tourism on communities, sustain tourist satisfaction, tourism seasonality, economic benefits of tourism, energy management, water availability & conservation, drinking water quality, sewage treatment, solid waste management, development controls, controlling use intensity
Community Based Ecotourism Indicators: education, community decision making, community benefits, culture, biodiversity & conservation, networking & collaboration
Bhutan Impact Factors: Accessibility, pricing, tourism products, community empowerment, tourism facilities, marketing of tourism products
Gurung, D.B. & Scholz, R. (2008). Community-based ecotourism in Bhutan: Expert evaluation of stakeholder-based scenarios. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology 15, 397-411.
Honey, M. (2008). Ecotourism and sustainable development: Who owns paradise? (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Island Press.
Mearns, K.F. (2011). Using sustainable tourism indicators to measure the sustainability of a community-based ecotourism venture: Malealea Lodge and Pony-trekking cenre, Lesotho. Tourism Review International, 15(1-2), 135-147.
Mearns, K.F. (2012). Lessons from the application of sustainability indicators to community-based ecotourism ventures in Southern Africa. African Journal of Business Management 6(26), 7851-7860.
Roberts, S. and Tribe, J. (2008). Sustainability Indicators for Small Tourism Enterprises – An Exploratory Perspective. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 16(5), 575-594.
Spenceley, A. (2008). Local Impacts of Community-based Tourism in Southern Africa. In A. Spenceley (Ed.) Responsible Tourism: Critical Issues for Conservation and Development, 285-303. London, Earthscan.
United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (UNCSD). (2001). From theory to practice: indicators for sustainable development. New York.
World Tourism Organization. (2004). Indicators of sustainable development for tourism destinations: a guidebook. Madrid: World Tourism Organization.