Abstract for: Model-Based indicators for socio-ecological assessment of tourism sustainability: The case of Galapagos Islands

Nature tourism is considered a potential sustainable economic opportunity that could encourage environmental protection while improving local livelihoods. Nevertheless, a systemic assessment of tourism sustainability deserves a holistic perspective to assure that social and ecological goals are reached given the irreversibility that some impacts have on sensitive habitats with high natural value. This research develops a system dynamics model-based approach for the socio-ecological assessment of tourism strategies through the integration of model-based indicators. The method provides valuable insights into the mechanisms through which tourism influences demographic dynamics and exerts social and ecological pressures on the Islands. Population, labor, environmental, and social dynamics are characterized by a set of indicators of the main variables of interest. Two aggregated indexes are formulated to represent the overall progress in terms of ecosystems protection and social wealth. A cross comparison of these indexes facilitates an integrated socio-ecological evaluation of the sustainability of tourism scenarios. A combined strategy of no tourism growth, immigration ban, and increase in tourism expenditures was tested as a demonstrative intervention indicating that it could be possible to improve social wealth while stabilizing natural attractiveness erosion. The relevance of scale in the tourism activity is highlighted given that the major constrains to improve social and environmental goals where associated with tourism and population growth.