The maximum number of visitors/participants that a site/event can satisfy at one time.

It is customary to distinguish between:

environmental carrying capacity (the maximum number before the local environment becomes damaged) and

perceptual carrying capacity (the maximum number before a specific group of visitors considers the level of impact, such as noise, to be excessive).

For example, young mountain bikers may be more crowd-tolerant than elderly walkers.


the concept of carrying capacity

The term “carrying capacity” derives from wildlife ecology where it has been used to define the maximal population size of a certain species that an area can support without reducing its ability to support the same species in the future. Planners have enlarged the definition of carrying capacity by including many variables inherent to man-made systems (Hall and Lew, 1998). 

The concept of tourism carrying capacity arises from a perception that tourism cannot grow forever in a place without causing irreversible damage to the local system (Coccossis and Mexa, 2004). Tourist attractions are assets which cannot be reproduced. They are treated as a public good where market mechanisms do not show their normal allocative functions. A maximum number of users visiting tourist attractions lead to their saturation and, in turn, results in a poorer quality of tourist experience. The negative effects of saturation can also be felt in the neighbouring, unsaturated areas, the attraction of which is diminished by unattractive environments and the associated lower quality of tourist demand in the immediate vicinity. In other words, the greater the intensity of tourist use, the more limited the appeal of the tourist attraction becomes.

The high level of tourist activity in a certain region inevitably results in economic, environmental and social impacts. Some destinations are heavily dependent upon tourism in particular, because of the lack of other economic activities through which they would be able to sustain a standard of living. In a climate that wills tourism to prosper, the development of other industries may be stifled because of the incompatibility between these economic activities and tourism. A high proportion of Mediterranean destination countries have allocated extensive areas in which developed tourism resorts are situated. These zones may offer little interaction between visitors and locals except for that between locals who work in these resorts and tourists. Other destinations offer very strong possibilities for social interaction. Popular tourist areas experience high saturation levels resulting in dissatisfaction for the visitors, and the discontent of the resident population.



strategies to maximise capacity in the swiss alps


strategies to minimise conflict between local residents and visitors

Group 1: Brainstorm ideas on a large piece of paper. Present your to the class.


strategies to avoid environmental damage

Group 2: Brainstrom ideas on a large piece of paper. Present your ideas to the class.