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Navigating towards sustainable nature-based tourism using qualitative modelling approaches

Nearly 50 years after Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons”, we have not yet found an analytical solution to the issue of governing common-pool resources (CPR). We often have a good understanding of the qualitative relationships between the principal actors in socioecological systems (SES), but classical quantitative approaches require a tremendous amount of data to understand the drivers of SES sustainability. Here we show that qualitative modelling approaches can provide important governance insights for SES that are understood but not quantified. We used Loop Analysis to test the outcomes of different management regimes on a simple nature-based tourism SES described by economic, social and environmental variables. We tested the sustainability of different management scenarios on this system and we identified the necessary conditions to achieve it. Here, sustainability is defined as the maintenance of economic profitability of the industry, environmental quality and social justice; in other words, triple bottom line (TBL) sustainability. We found that hybrid management strategies have higher potential for sustainable development than exclusively market-based or centralised governance structures. However, the system is generally highly unstable and it is important to tune each strategy to each particular situation. Also, management strategies based on maximum sustainable yield had less chance to be sustainable. Finally, a high reinvestment rate into infrastructures can compromise socioecological sustainability. Qualitative models of SES are powerful diagnostic tools to identify variables that play an important role in determining socioecological sustainability.

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