Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program (STAMP)

Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism

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In March 2019 “Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism” was released. This report was commissioned by The Travel Foundation and co-published with Cornell University’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and EplerWood International.


The report describes how destinations must uncover and account for tourism’s hidden costs, referred to as the “invisible burden”, to protect and manage vital destination assets worldwide. Failing to do so puts ecosystems, cultural wonders, and community life at increasing risk, and places the tourism industry on a weak foundation that could crack under its own weight. Learn more in this animated infographic.

Amid increasing concern about “overtourism” and calls from within the travel industry for improved destination management, the report uncovers root causes for the problem and offers logical and integrated analysis of why it is transpiring. It concludes that destination managers will need to sit at the new nexus between data on tourism demand the supply of resources to support the tourism economy.

Infographic for Two Models for Smart Destination Management

The report suggests that risks tourism destinations and businesses face must be openly and transparently reviewed with more science-based, data-driven analysis including,

  • New local accounting systems that capture the full range of costs stemming from the growth of tourism, in place of an incomplete set of economic impact measures.
  • New skills and cross sector collaboration, underpinned by data and technology, to achieve effective spatial planning, manage demand for public utilities and services, and evaluate the availability of vital, local resources.
  • New valuation and financing mechanisms to redress debilitating underinvestment in infrastructure and local asset management and enable the transition to low-carbon destination economies.

The report draws upon academic literature, case studies, expert interviews and media reports, and provides a wealth of examples of the invisible burden. Examples are drawn from Thailand, Mexico, and the Maldives, as well as Europe, Africa, and Latin America. The report also gives insights into types of data-driven systems, such as GIS mapping tools and the Smart Cities concept, which can address growth issues and facilitate new forms of investment.

Report authors:

  • Megan Epler Wood (Managing Director, Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program at Cornell University; Owner and Principal of EplerWood International)
  • Dr. Mark Milstein (Clinical Professor of Management at Cornell University
  • Kathleen Ahamed-Broadhurst (Senior Writer & Researcher, EplerWood International)

Program Information

Tourism is growing at 4% annually worldwide (nearly double the global GDP) and up to 10% in emerging destinations. This growth has accelerating impacts on local destinations where there are rarely any effective processes for maintaining the social and environmental value of those destinations, even as the economic value of tourism rises. The threat of degrading or destroying vital global assets, such as beaches, coral reefs, parks and protected areas, and historic monuments is a critical issue that must be addressed because of the fact that those assets form the very foundation of the global tourism industry.

Without new business models that explicitly recognize the costs and impact of tourism on critical assets; evaluate and support investment that helps manage and mitigate conservation of destinations; nurture supply chains that reinforce socially (including historic and cultural), ecologically (including water, soil, and air) and economically robust destinations; and account for true, full cost of tourism impacts and outcomes, neither local economies nor the global economy will continue to benefit from tourism growth as destination assets are diminished in value to the point that costs to restore far exceed what might have been judicious investment in maintenance. Unless we change how we maintain tourism assets, neither local economies nor the global economy will continue to benefit from tourism growth as destination assets are increasingly damaged to the point of diminishing returns from an economic, social and environmental perspective.

STAMP is a program launched by the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business which seeks to support the development of applied research, curriculum resources, and outreach activities that will increase collective knowledge and understanding of how to more effectively manage tourism destination assets over time in the face of endemic poverty, ecosystem degradation, and climate change.

For information about STAMP, you can reach Megan Epler Wood, Managing Director of STAMP and Professor Mark Milstein, Director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at