Stakeholder Participation in Developing Sustainability Indicators for a European Northern Periphery Tourism System

Kristín Rut Kristjánsdóttir, Rannveig Ólafsdóttir, Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir


Many European northern periphery (NP) communities are likely to experience increased and complex environmental, social and economic impacts of tourism in the near future. Therefore, approaches that see tourism as included in complex socio-ecological systems are critical for identifying and assessing sustainability indicators in the NP specifically. This study aims to develop and assess systemic sustainability indicators for tourism in Vatnajökull National Park (VNP), Iceland, and adjacent communities, based on public participation, and to discuss the usefulness of the approach in NP tourism. Interviews with tourism stakeholders in VNP identified eighteen sustainability indicators for VNP. The interconnectedness of these indicators and their role within the system were analyzed by applying a systemic indicator method. The results show five indicators that are currently most influential for the tourism system in VNP and to be the major driving forces for local tourism development: ‘destination attractiveness’, ‘economic seasonality’, ‘social carrying capacity’, ‘societal seasonality’ and ‘local economy’. The smallest change in any of these indicators has major effects on other indicators. Moreover, these five indicators are more important for the sustainability of the community than any external factors. This study concludes that a systemic approach to sustainability indicators can help identify important sustainability issues and is thus especially useful in NP communities where tourism is not a prioritized development path in policies, despite being identified as economically significant.

Keywords: sustainability indicator, tourism, systems analysis, northern periphery, stakeholder involvement, public participation.

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.