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Eco-Tourism and its Architecture: A Methodological Framework for Assessing Progress towards Sustainable Development

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posted on 12.11.2021, 15:32 by Mahravan, Abbas

This thesis proposes a composite framework for the evaluation of the environmental impact of tourism development on host destinations. In this study, the environmental impact of tourism is considered as a social-ecological phenomenon that can be categorized into the two aspects of natural and social-cultural impacts. Ecotourism is introduced as a type of sustainable tourism in that its policies and principles for development are based on conservation of environmental heritage (including natural and cultural heritage) via engagement of local people and communities in the tourism development process. The proposed composite framework arises from the integration of an ecological and a cultural framework for the sustainable development of tourism. This framework places the conservation of natural resources as the main ecological outcome for eco-tourism. The proposed framework uses the ecological footprint (EF) of the main tourism activities and services (including transportation, food and accommodation services) as the ecological indicator for evaluation of ecotourism development to ensure it is ecologically compatible. Ecological footprint (EF) is a way of measuring environmental impact. It assumes that everything needed for living, including all energy, goods and services can be obtained from land, and that any wastes produced can be absorbed by land (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996:9). Because land productivity varies considerably around the world the average global productivity is the normal measure, and this is called global hectares (gha). The ecological footprint of a product or activity produced/ consumed and conducted by a defined group of people can be measured through the following equation:  EF (gha) = Lifecycle energy use of a given group of people (product and activity pro-duced or conducted) Gigajoules (GJ) / carrying capacity of the Earth (GJ/gha).  The above equation determines the area required to produce resources and to absorb pollutants like carbon dioxide generated in the lifecycle energy use of the product or activity through using fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). Through using an ecological perspective, this thesis views culture as a system that links a group of people or a community to their surroundings through their use of local mate-rials and energies, and the production and consumption of products from these. The proposed framework determines the main cultural outcomes for ecotourism development such as conservation of heritage and making the host people aware of their cultural values. In addition, it introduces related activities such as social events, conservation of heritage and producing and consuming local products as contributive activities for achieving the outcomes stated above. Furthermore it investigates and refines a number of indicators that can be used as tools for evaluation of the cultural footprint of the development of ecotourism. Within these, local gross domestic product (GDP) as a social-economic indicator arising from tourism activities is also considered. This thesis concludes by presenting a case study of ‘The Otago Central Rail Trail’ (OCRT) as an example of ecotourism. The OCRT was introduced in the New Zealand Tourism Strategy (NZTS) for 2015 as a successful model for community-based development of sustainable tourism. The investigation reviews the impacts of the OCRT on natural and cultural heritage by using the framework developed in the thesis and its related ecological and cultural indicators. Through using the proposed holistic framework and the model for sustainable development of ecotourism, this thesis finds that, influenced by the development of the OCRT, many cultural heritage items including 60 bridges, 3 tunnels, and 78 buildings (used as OCRT accommodation services) have been refurbished. The restoration of this heritage can be considered as a policy that contributes to awareness of OCRT residents of their cultural heritage and identity. Likewise, as a part of the educational process related to ecotourism, this also makes an opportunity for OCRT visitors to learn about the cultural values of their host people. As shown in Table 5.84, in 2011, the total EF of 11,788 OCRT visitors including the EFs of the four categories of transportation, food, accommodation and activities is 1,617 gha (0.138 gha /visitor). In comparison with the EF of 0.03 gha/ visitor for sustainable tourism (see Table 5.86), the overshoot portion of the EF of the OCRT is equivalent to (0.138 – 0.03) 0.108 gha/ visitor. Likewise the total overshoot EF of 11,788 OCRT visitors is (11,788 visitors × 0.108 gha) 1,273 gha (see Table 5.86). This overshoot EF of the OCRT indicates that although the project has already been considered as a successful sustainable tourism project, still needs to reduce its total EF by 1,273 gha to be environmentally sustainable. As determined in Chapter 5 (see Table 5.88), the overshoot portion of the OCRT is calculated as 127,310.4 GJ/year. Since the costs to generate 1 GJ of overshoot energy use through using renewable energy sources (in this case wind + solar) is NZ$ 19.8, consequently the total cost to generate the overshoot energy use of the OCRT through using the latter systems (wind + solar) is equivalent to (127,310.4 GJ × NZ$ 19.8) NZ$ 2,720,746. Table 5.90 shows that in 2011, the total GDP of the OCRT is NZ$ 6,245,289 This means the total cost that must be spent to generate the overshoot portion of the OCRT energy use in a sustainable way (NZ$ 2,720,746) is 43.6% of its total GDP (NZ$ 6,245,289). Consequently the sustainable portion of the GDP (GDPs) of the OCRT is (NZ$ 6,245,289 – NZ$ 2, 720,746) NZ$ 3,524,543. The results of this thesis demonstrate that using local products (e.g. home prepared foods) as a sustainable cultural behavior not only contributes to the ability of the host destinations located along the OCRT (such as Naseby and Cromwell, used as further case studies) to present their cultural products, but also contributes to reduce the environmental impacts and increase the economic outcomes of the OCRT. For example, producing 17% (13,346.4 kg) of the total of 65165.05 kg consumed food as home prepared food reduces by 5.5% the ecological footprint related to the food consumed by OCRT visitors. As determined in Chapters 5 and 6, in three case studies, producing home prepared food contributes in a sustainable way to the increasing of the economic outcomes by about NZ$3.5 / kg of food produced. This thesis indicates that in all three case studies, using refurbished buildings as accommodation services, which is considered as an activity that contributes to preserving the cultural identity of the host destinations also contributes to reducing of environmental impacts and increasing the economic outcomes related to OCRT. For example in OCRT using 12.9% of bed space as refurbished buildings reduces by14.5% (7.3gha) the total 50.5 gha ecological footprint of accommodation services compared with when all accommodation buildings are assumed as new buildings. Chapters 5 and 6 determine that in OCRT using 21,378 m2 of refurbished buildings as accommodation services (12.9% of total bed spaces) increases by 5% the sustainable portion of GDP related to accommodation services. In Naseby also using refurbished buildings as accommodation services has the same sustainable ecological, cultural and economic outcomes as for the OCRT as a whole. The framework indicates the use of open air areas as being a cultural-ecological indicator for evaluation of architecture as being sustainable. Through using the framework, it is determined that using open air areas including balconies and verandas as part of OCRT accommodation buildings exerts environmentally friendly influences on the host destination. For instance in OCRT using 387 square meters of veranda and balcony as part of the 80,356m2 accommodation buildings decreases by 1.5% the total ecological footprint (50.5gha) of buildings used as accommodation services in OCRT. The thesis results demonstrate that an architecture that will contribute to sustainable development through ecotourism has a cultural footprint area in which the architecture contributes to the host societies knowing and preserving their cultural identity, capitals and heritages. Simultaneously, it contributes to reducing the environmental impacts and increasing the economic outcomes of the host societies through ecotourism. This thesis determines that since all ecological, cultural and economic characteristics of sustainable architecture are linked together, a strategy to develop sustainable architecture is successful when it considers the linkage between all of these profiles and influences that they exert on each other.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Vale, Brenda; Vale, Robert