How much is too much? Applying the Limits of Acceptable Change to Tourism Management

7 Feb 2018 7:30 PM | Rod Layman (Administrator)

On February 7, 2018, residents and business owners from across the peninsula, as well as members of Chippewas of Nawash and North Bruce Peninsula councils, gathered to hear an update on the Sustainable Tourism Action Plan.

To hear an audio recording of the meeting click here.

Megan Myles, representing the Sustainable Tourism Steering Committee, offered a overview of the Draft Action Plan compiled by the consulting firm Twenty31.

The plan aims to develop a clear locally defined vision for sustainable tourism. A survey of a full spectrum of tourism, business, community and governmental stakeholders identified some positives – including the fact that NBP is “one of the strongest volunteer community” Twenty31 has worked with. With the obvious problems such as noise, congestion, garbage, limited infrastructure and amenities, Megan states “the negative impacts and continued tourism growth without having any sort of management can be catastrophic and cause the degradation of natural, social and cultural assets.” However, she sees an incredible opportunity to position North Bruce as a leader in sustainable tourism, as well as create an environment to attract sustainably-minded entrepreneurs.

Twenty 31 recommends: 1) a more robust tourism governance model, including creation of a tourism advisory group who are empowered by a charter to implement the plan, 2) the hiring of a Tourism Development Manager, and 3) appropriate financial resources to implement initial projects.

Once these resources are in place, the plan advocates for a visitor management framework known as the Limits of Acceptable Change, a framework developed by the US Parks Service and comparable to the framework used by Parks Canada, locally and federally.

This framework would allow us to identify what undesirable impacts are occurring or may be occurring, develop indicators to monitor these impacts, set limits or thresholds of acceptable change and actively apply direct or indirect management responses.

“How much is too much?” is not the question to be asking, since it is impossible to arrive at that number, but rather focus on the desirable environmental, social, cultural, political and visitor experience conditions.

Recognizing that the negative impacts are not equally distributed through all parts of the peninsula and for the purposes of understanding and describing the distribution of tourism impacts, Twenty 31 segregated the peninsula into the following “zones”: Bruce Peninsula National Park; Fathom Five National Marine Conservation Area; Downtowns – Tobermory & Lions Head; Rural; and Highway Corridors.

Undesirable behaviour occurs in predictable patterns and if we understand this through research, we can guide management with proactive strategic planning which would mitigate the undesirable behaviours and maximum the benefits from tourism.

Megan used the example of her Green Tourism certification for the Fitz Hostel. She keeps track of the volume of garbage and recycling she produces in relation to the number of guests. This monitoring gives her baseline data from 2017 to compare with 2018, so she can set goals to minimize waste.

By establishing baseline conditions and limits of thresholds, we will be able to monitor the data and determine what impacts need prioritizing for mitigation given the reality of financial and personnel constraints.

In the breakout sessions, eight groups considered what the limits of acceptable change are and offered their comments.

A key interest of the audience was how to deal with this year’s visitors, offer quality vs. quantity, the sentiment being, “We have to get this right.”

One group felt “We need to dial back 5 years...look at those numbers and consider how best to manage those numbers.”

Thorsten Arnold, a local farmer and formerly of Eat Local Grey Bruce, indicates he would like to offer culinary experiences, but not sure how to attract the crowd heading to the Grotto.

A Tobermory group who described themselves as being “on the front lines” would like to see more activities to engage the 18- 35 year old crowd.

Megan sees an opportunity to build on the “You are Here” Manifesto campaign produced last year to encourage desirable visitor behaviours.

Tony Keeshig, Economic Development Officer for the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, said, “We are here to protect the land and water, building more parking lots is going in the wrong direction.” He would like to see an interpretive centre around Wiarton, maybe even in Toronto, where information sessions about the entire Bruce Peninsula could be offered and local merchants could set up a kiosk to sell their wares.

Jeff Corner cited advice from Roger Brooks, a destination development and marketing expert,
"If we consider ourselves a premier destination we need at least 10 top restaurants; 10 top activities and 10 top accommodators.”

Other suggestions included traffic circles, speed bumps, more police presence, “taking the car out of the equation” in downtown Tobermory and pre-booking for accommodations and activities.

To hear more of this presentation, search for the Bruce Peninsula Environment Group on YouTube.

The community was invited to email feedback about the draft plan by Feb. 14. A link to the draft plan can be found at

The final plan will be completed by the end of March.

Copyright (c) Bruce Peninsula Environment Group, 2018

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