Social Carrying Capacity (SCC) has been used commonly in the past to study the impact of increasing numbers of tourists on tourists’ satisfaction with a destination. However, it has been used less commonly to research the impact of increasing levels of tourism on residents of tourism destinations. As definitions of sustainable tourism shift to be more inclusive of residents, commonly used constructs should also be refined or modified to reflect this ontological shift. Current operational definitions of SCC tend to focus on crowding as the major indicator SCC has been reached. Even the theories commonly used to study SCC, stimulus-overload and expectancy theories, relate directly to crowding. This Master’s thesis aimed to expand the concept of SCC to be more representative of the manifold impacts experienced by residents of tourism destinations as tourism increases. This aim was accomplished through an exploratory mixed methods study ultimately resulting in the creation of a new SCC measurement tool.
The qualitative phase of this research consisted of four focus groups in three sites with varying levels of tourism development. The data from the focus groups were used to inform item writing of a measurement tool that represented a greater number of SCC indicators than crowding to confirm the validity of the indicators in the quantitative phase of the research. After the instrument was distributed via a statewide poll, two structural equation models were fit to compare the operational definitions. A better understanding of the relationship between one of the supporting theories, stimulus-overload theory, and SCC was uncovered with evidence of an emergent connection between SCC and tourism-related stressors.
The results of the research indicate that there are multiple indicators of SCC experienced by residents of tourism destinations which can change in degree and expression as tourism development in a community increases. The operational definition including these indicators explained more variance in support for tourism development than overcrowding alone. A greater awareness of these indicators and their evolution can strengthen the theoretical foundation of SCC and enable practitioners to make multi-faceted, proactive decisions when managing a destination.