Measuring Tourism Penetration in Small Islands

Jerome L. McElroy and Klaus de Albuquerque

Mass tourism development has been the postwar strategy of choice for small islands. But

large-scale resorts and infrastructure along delicate coastlines and condo clusters across mountain faces have caused irreversible damage. One cause of the overrun has been inadequate comprehensive measurement of tourism's socio-economic and environmental impacts, i.e. the absence of an early warning signal.

This paper develops a penetration index using three variables--per capita visitor spending, daily visitor density per 1,000 population, and rooms per km2--and applies it to some three dozen small (less than 1 million in population and 10,000 km2 in area) tropical islands around the world. The destinations are grouped into various levels of overall penetration using the index scores as well as a cluster analysis.

Results conform broadly to what is known from the literature. The most penetrated include the traditionally popular Caribbean resort islands (St. Maarten, Aruba, Caymans, US Virgins) plus Malta in the Mediterranean and Northern Marianas in the Pacific. Many of these high-density destinations are cited in the literature as islands where the socio-environmental costs of tourism approach the economic benefits. The index also identifies a handful of islands approaching high-density status (Anguilla, Antigua, Guam, Turks/Caicos). The least penetrated include remote Indian and Pacific destinations Comoros and Reunion and Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu and Kiribati.

The major weaknesses of the index are failure to account for important geographic and seasonal concentrations of visitors and failure to account for the time dimension of tourism development on a particular society. Key Words: islands, Caribbean, Pacific, Mediterranean, Indian, Atlantic, penetration index.