Sustainability Issues in Tourism Areas


Meredith Houska

Sustainability Issues in Protected Tourism Areas

Triple Bottom Line Sustainability is a big issue for many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Many of the sites struggle with creating a profitable source of revenue for the locals, creating a sustainable economy, and maintaining the cultural integrity of the site.

Sustainability Considerations for Protected Tourism Areas

The most important takeaways for protected tourism areas are:

  • Security: Passport checks, security guards watching for tourist misconduct, partnerships with licensed tour operators
  • Planning: Increased infrastructure, long-term planning committee, limiting development
  • Environmental: Limit number of entrants per day, ropes on off-limits areas, “no touching” signs
  • Social: Work with local communities on employment plans that benefit the site and the local
  • Cultural: Eliminate cultural practices unrelated to the site (e.g. light and sound show)

Protected Tourism Area Case Studies

Sustainability at Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu struggled with unsustainable tourism for many years. The site’s main issues, most often resulting from unsustainable tourist numbers, included compacted soil, weakened building foundations, litter, waste pollution, and commercialization.

The Management Unit of the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu (UGM) decided to reinvest tourism revenues in planning and management of resources to alleviate these issues.

For the Inca Trail, the group decided that only 500 people total can start the trail each day and all trekkers much hike with a guide after booking through a licensed tour operator.

At Machu Picchu, only 2,500 tourists can enter each day. Visitors must show their passports to gain entry.


Unobtrusive signs and ropes guide visitors through the site while keeping them away from off-limits areas. Visitors are instructed not to touch the flora or fauna. Eating is not permitted within the gates of the site and recycling and trash bins are posted around the site entrance to reduce litter and waste.

Security personnel with whistles are posted throughout Machu Picchu to watch for misbehaving tourists.  The UGM tries to keep the site as authentic as possible, avoiding any development within the confines of the site. The committee does its best with preservation in order to avoid restoration projects later.

Sustainability at the Giza Necropolis

The main issues at the Giza Necropolis involve safety. Overaggressive vendors, scamming practices by locals, and violence in Egypt make visitors feel uneasy, and a lack of a visible police presence increases that fear.

Using Machu Picchu as an example, the Ministry of State for Antiquities (governing body of the Giza Necropolis) should focus post security or police officials throughout the site.

Entrance to the site should also require a passport and the ministry should restrict access to the site to those who have booked through a licensed tour operator. This should solve the problem of scamming and overaggressive vendors.


Sustainability at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza’s sustainability issues surround development. The site wants to grow as a tourist destination, but has inadequate infrastructure to provide necessary services. The site is overdeveloped and puts on unrelated cultural events, such as a light and sound show.

Chichen Itza also lacks a long-term plan, leaving it at risk for anthropogenic and natural disasters, as well as long-term degradation.

Again using Machu Picchu as an example, Chichen Itza should form a management committee to create a long-term development plan and emergency plan.

To protect authenticity, unrelated cultural events should be eliminated and the number of visitors to the site should be capped to protect its structural integrity.


Sustainability at the Colosseum

Issues at the Colosseum are mostly a result of tourist misconduct and poor preservation. The site is crumbling because of lack of care and overuse, and it is currently undergoing thorough restoration to reverse this damage.

Overall, preservation is the answer to avoiding restoration projects later. Capping the number of visitors would greatly aid in site degradation.

Other preservation techniques can include ropes and signs steering tourists from off-limits areas. Security guards with whistles like at Machu Picchu would also prove a good solution for the Colosseum.