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Enrique Navarro Jurado
Ionela Mihaela Damian
Universidad de Malaga, Spain
Abstract: A large number of studies have been carried out on the social carrying capacity of
tourists regions. Most of these studies have examined protected natural areas, the best known
being Shelby and Heberleins study. The research aim of this paper is to adapt the social car-
rying capacity model to a mature coastal destination, Costa del Sol. The empirical ndings
provide an indicator that allows us to establish the proportion of tourists who perceive over-
crowding and are predisposed to leave. A cluster analysis was performed to better understand
how overcrowding is perceived by tourists, the socioeconomic characteristics of tourists and
the factors that may inuence the capacity thresholds. The generating data will allow a scien-
tic debate on the overcrowding problems and the growth limits. Keywords: carrying capac-
ity, overcrowding, coastal destinations, perception, Costa del Sol. 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All
rights reserved.
The Growth and Sustainability of Consolidated Destinations
Coastal destinations are characterized by a strong increase in de-
mand and the occupation of a large amount of space, both of which
have severe environmental and social impacts (Garay & Canoves,
2011). In fact, a signicant number of Mediterranean destinations
are characterized by maturity or, even decline according to the Butler
model (2011). Since the 1990s, the future of consolidated sun and
beach destinations has been debated. Poon (1993) argued that the
breakdown of the Fordist model of mass tourism and the rise of the
post-Fordist model in the communication era would mean the end
of mass tourism. Knowles and Curtis (1999) made the same determin-
istic argument about the Mediterranean perimeter, claiming that the
Enrique Navarro-Jurado (University of Malaga, Faculty of Tourism, Department of
Geography, Teatinos Campus. s/n, 29017. Malaga, Spain. Email <>). He
obtained his Phd. in Geography from the University of Malaga in 2000. His research focuses
on urban planning and environmental carrying capacity, sustainability indicators and the
development of models in mature coastal destinations Mediterranean and Caribbean.
Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 43, pp. 119, 2013
0160-7383/$ - see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Printed in Great Britain
rejuvenation policies would achieve only a temporary delay in the trend
of declining visitor numbers at these destinations.
Taking a more positive view, Ioannides and Debbage (1997) argued
that consolidated destinations are readjusting themselves to the mar-
ket, by implementing new information and communication technolo-
gies and by offering a tourism product that is target to particular
market segments. Aguilo and Juaneda (2000), using supply and de-
mand data on tourist spending, loyalty and satisfaction levels from
1989 to 2000, concluded that the Balearic Islands, and, by extension,
many mature Mediterranean destinations, will prosper and expand
in the short and medium term. Without entering the debate about
the future of these destinations, it seems essential to achieve higher lev-
els of sustainability at coastal destinations, because sustainability is an
important factor in development (Navarro, 2012) and competitiveness
(Ritchie & Crouch, 2004).
Several authors have described the evolution of tourism develop-
ment. Jafari (2001) analyzed it by applying four platforms as ways of
thinking about tourism: support, precaution, adaptation and knowl-
edge. Macbeth (2005) included two more: the ethics (that is, the
recognition of non-objective positions adopted by different elds that
affect tourism development), and sustainability. This latter is a polit-
ical concept associated with limited growth, the idea of limits to growth
may be opposed because of the implications for economic develop-
ment. Saarinen (2006) related sustainability to the assignment of limits
to growth and to carrying capacity. In fact, sustainability and carrying
capacity have the same difculties as the formulation of the ideas, prac-
tices, utility and diversity of types of capacity.
Sustainability and Tourism Carrying Capacity
The concept of tourism carrying capacity arises from the perception
that tourism cannot grow continuously in a particular region without
causing irreversible damage to the local system (Coccossis & Mexa,
2004). The concept of carrying capacity in tourism has its origins in
the 1960s, when it was developed to place limits on the numbers of vis-
itors that a tourist attraction (such as a natural reserve) or destination
could cope with (Coccossis & Mexa, 2004). Butler (2010) argues that
the concept of carrying capacity in tourism was very much in vogue
in the 1970s, and has encountered a fall in interest since then. Many
denitions of tourism carrying capacity have been proposed (Coccos-
sis, Mexa, & Collovini, 2002; Saarinen, 2006) but the best known is
the World Tourism Organizations denition: the maximum number
of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time without
causing destruction of the physical, economic or socio-cultural environ-
ment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of the tourist satis-
faction (Coccossis et al., 2002, p. 38). This denition implies
various capacities: physical, economic, perceptual, social, ecological,
and political (Getz, 1983).
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Saarinen (2006) applied this denition to sustainability limits, pro-
posing three approaches that have guided studies according to differ-
ent ontological ideas and different epistemological perspectives. First,
the resource-based tradition based on a positivist ecological perspective
(McKercher, 1993) and aims to protect resource by introducing limits
and measurable goals. Second, the activity based tradition in which lim-
its are dynamic and the changes depend on how the destination adapts
to new situations and grounds the best known tourism model in the lit-
erature, the product life cycle of Butler (2011); carrying capacity can be
increased by marketing, improving the infrastructure or renewing the
products. This approach has a developmental perspective, and it is
the approach taken by various international organizations such as
the World Tourism Organization. Finally, the community based tradi-
tion is based on communities and is related to information, knowledge
and relationships with empowerment; the limits are chosen through
participation of stakeholders by means of a process of social negotia-
tion (Hughes, 1995).
Therefore, we must close the 1990s discussion about the magic
number limit (Buckley, 1999; Lindberg, Mccool, & Stankey, 1997;
Watson & Kopachevsky, 1996) because it is impossible to nd a single
number. This is because there are different ways to set limits (Saarinen,
2006), there is no single carrying destination (Getz, 1983) and, the lim-
its depends on human values and perceptions about resources, indica-
tors, criteria and impacts (Saarinen, 2006).
In the community based tradition, the limit is viewed as a manage-
ment concept (Lindberg et al., 1997). Managers have to know tourists
thresholds because when this limit is exceeded, tourists ee to other,
less-crowded, destinations, initiating the destinations decline and its
loss of competitiveness. The management of tourism crowding is an
important part of sustainable development (Jin & Pearce, 2011).
The Social Carrying Capacity of the Demand
To study tourists thresholds, it is necessary to know the demand
characteristics. Tourist behavior and decision-making have always been
a central issue in the tourism management literature (Papatheodorou,
2001). In practice, managers usually ask why tourists hesitate or delay,
or even change their destination and itinerary-related decisions?
(Wong & Yeh, 2009). Numerous studies have identied various factors
that prompt people to visit a destination (Nadeau, Heslop, OReilly, &
Luk, 2008; Um & Crompton, 1990), and these factors are categorized
as pull (the external forces of the destination) and push factors (inter-
nal, psychological forces) (Beerli, Meneses, & Gil, 2007; Yoon & Uysal,
2005). These include factors such as tourist characteristics (Papatheod-
orou, 2001), destination preferences and awareness (Goodrich, 1978),
nationality (Pizam & Sussmann, 1995), attitudes (Um & Crompton,
1990), health-related issues, safety, time, expenditure and trip distance
(Bansal & Eiselt, 2004). A places image is derived from attitudes to-
ward the destinations perceived tourism attributes (Um & Crompton,
E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119 3
1990) and recent research provides evidence that places image inu-
ences tourists decisions (Pike & Ryan, 2004; Tapachai & Waryszak,
2000). Therefore it is important to study tourists perceptions of the
saturation of a destination.
There are numerous case studies measuring tourists thresholds
(Burton, 1975, Navarro, 2005; PAC/RAC, 2003). According to Shelby
and Heberlein (1986), we should determine carrying capacity by study-
ing tourists expectations along with destination managers pre-deter-
mined rules. In their study, the two sociologists develop conceptual
foundations, allowing the creation of social carrying capacity model
that is still valid and has been applied to natural areas by distinguishing
the types of activities tourists engage in there. Vaske and Shelbys paper
(2008, p. 123) reviews studies of perceived crowding from 1975 to 2005
(all in recreational settings) and reports that the standards proposed
by Shelby and Heberlein (1986) remain a viable method for assessing
carrying capacity judgments based on levels of perceived crowding.
When people evaluate an area as crowded, they have at least implicitly
compared the conditions they experienced (impacts) with their per-
ception of what is acceptable (standards) (Vaske & Donnelly, 2002).
Several studies show the factors that may inuence carrying capacity
thresholds, such as the tourists gender (Freedman, Levy, Buchanan, &
Price, 1972), education (Fleishman, Feitelson, & Salomon, 2004) and
socio-economic status (Hayduk, 1983). Other factors include the fol-
lowing: spatial organization of the destination (Stokols, 1972), social
environment of the destination (Rustemli, 1992), reasons for the expe-
rience (Bellenger & Korgaonkar, 1980) different types of areas, re-
sources and activities carried out (Mieczkowski, 1995), tourists
psychological adaptation to different levels of use (Stankey, 1982),
the tourists sociological characteristics and the type of trip that they
engage in (Santana & Hernandez, 2011), local peoples behavior to-
ward tourists (Mieczkowski, 1995), familiarity with the destination
(Getz 1983), noise and rude behavior (Ruddell & Gramann, 1994).
Another interesting line of research relates tourists satisfaction with
carrying capacity thresholds and states, the satisfaction model comes
from economics, and the implicit evaluative criterion is the point of
maximum aggregate benets (Shelby & Heberlein, 1986, p. 55). This
model states that increasing the number of people at a destination will
decrease the satisfaction and it is called the economic approach (All-
dredge, 1973). Moreover, other studies (Lucas, 1964) have dened car-
rying capacity as the ability to provide satisfaction. However, studies
since the 1980s have suggest that increasing the number of tourists
does not diminish satisfaction on the basis of four hypotheses that
are well documented in the literature (Shelby & Heberlein, 1986;
Vaske, Donnelly, & Heberlein, 1980): self-selection, product shifts
and displacement, multiple sources of satisfaction and rational-
izing. In conclusion, satisfaction may inuence the overall satisfaction
of the tourist experience but may not be the only variable with which to
measure the carrying capacity.
Because of the difculties associated with the concept of satisfaction,
Shelby and Heberlein (1986) proposed using other variables. They
4 E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119
emphasized the need to verify the level of contact with tourists (how
many times the different groups of tourists were engaged in each of the
studied recreational activities) and preferences regarding the con-
tact (the number of people the tourist wanted to meet) in a particular
activity or destination. However, Tarrant and English (1996) argued
that verication of the level of contact between tourists can exist
only under certain background conditions in destination of low den-
sity, making the concept potentially less useful in destination of high
density than those carried out in the open (non-island coastal destina-
tions). Navarro (2005) determined a saturation indicator for open
spaces and, high- density destinations, adapting Shelby and Heber-
leins method to coastal destinations.
The research reviewed here has three goals: rst, to establish the per-
centage of tourists who perceive overcrowding and are considering to
leave; second, to deepen our understanding of how tourists perceive
overcrowding andof the socioeconomic characteristics andother factors
that inuence capacity thresholds; and third, reposition the problems of
overcrowding and the limits of growth in the scientic debate, particu-
larly for the most popular destinations and those that need it most.
Study Area
The Costa del Sol (Malaga, Spain) is one of the most important tour-
ist destinations in the Spanish Mediterranean, with a well established
reputation that attracts more than nine million tourists a year. Since
it rst became a tourist destination at the end of the 1950s, tourism
has been the most important productive sector in the area and has
completely transformed the territory, and its society and economy.
The Costa del Sol is divided into two zones: the western part, which
is the larger and more developed of the two zones; and the eastern
part, where tourism competes with intensive, highly protable agricul-
ture (under plastic or in greenhouses).
The study area is in eastern Costa del Sol (Figure 1), and includes an
area of 331 km
with, a population of 147,637 people in 2007 and
55 km of coastline.
The area has strongly compartmentalized geographical characteris-
tics, alternating between small oodplains, where the widest beaches
are located, and mountains in a range that extends to the sea, forming
small coves. These features, coupled with a subtropical climate (owing
to mild temperatures and scarce rainfall), have great tourist potential.
In 2007, tourist accommodation could house 209,376 people in med-
iumquality accommodation, mostly in holiday home (non-regulated
offer). Only 16,392 places were formal offers, which is less than 7.8% of
the accommodation available. The coastal area is complemented by the
internal area (Axarquia) offering considerable interest to tourist be-
cause of its mix of: sun and beach, rural areas, cultural activities, adven-
ture trips, marine activities, golng etc.
E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119 5
The number of tourists visiting this region has been constantly grow-
ing since the 1990s, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 1.9 million in 2007,
which has put great pressure on the territory. However, during the con-
struction boom (19982007), the demand increased. For instance, the
formal offer grew by 92% and the tourist housing by 40%. These data
reect how the development of tourism has been linked to urban
growth, as is common in other Spanish Mediterranean destinations.
The direct consequence of this excessive growth in offers is a major
drop in the hotel occupancy rate (from 73% in 1999 to 55% in
2007) and, a decline in tourist daily expenditure (US$44.6 in 2000 goes
to $38.7 in 2005), which created a direct effect in reducing the direct
economic impact of tourism, amounting to $729 million (556 mil-
lion) (Junta de Andaluc a, 2007) and great dissatisfaction with certain
factors (such as trafc, overcrowding, and noise) (Sociedad de Plan-
icacion y Desarrollo, 19992007).
Urban planning has inuenced this growth, not tourism strategies,
although economic and political situation has affected growth in
tourism, a sector with a very good image. The result has been a major
transformation of the coastal landscape, including irreversible environ-
mental impacts (such as loss of beach sand, articiality of watercourses,
and groundwater contamination), a high economic dependence on
real estate, and economic benets that have detracted from the quality
of life for resident.
In conclusion, the choice of the study area is justied for three rea-
sons: it is a clear example to Spanish coastal destination that has expe-
riences growth; it is a consolidated destination; and it is a popular
Figure 1. Location of the Study Area. Southeastern Coast of Costa del Sol
6 E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119
destination with a well-established image and is positioned in the
Mediterranean, the most important tourist region in the world.
Questionnaire Design and Sampling
For our analysis, we draw on a survey of tourists in the Eastern Costa
del Sol that was conducted from June to August 2007. Our sample in-
cludes 739 interviews with a sampling error of 3.3% and a 95% con-
dence level. Data were collected directly from the tourists in places
such as beaches and beach promenades, throughout the whole area
of the study. The number of interviews was distributed proportionally
to the tourist accommodation capacity of each of the ve municipali-
ties in which the beaches are located. In order to avoid biases derived
from an incorrect composition by nationalities of the sample, quota
controls were taken for this variable, according to demand studies from
the Tourist Observatory of Costa del Sol (Sociedad de Planicacion y
Desarrollo, 19992008)and based in the tourist accommodation
capacity of each municipality.
The questionnaire was divided into four sections. The rst section en-
quires about tourists characteristics, such as: age, educational level,
employment status and place of residence. The second section includes
questions related to the trip, such as: daily expenditure, length of stay,
type of accommodation, whether the tourist would recommend the des-
tination and trip satisfaction. The third section assesses various aspects
of the destination such as noise, authenticity, the number of people,
and the spatial organization: the respondents were asked to choose from
5 item scale, from a very negative to a very positive opinion. In the
fourth and nal part, overcrowding elements are included.
More specically, to assess overcrowding in the place of residence,
the tourist were asked to indicate, using a ve-point scale, their level
of agreement with the statement that there are too many tourists
in their usual place of residence, and how overcrowding inuenced
their satisfaction with their trip. This section of the questionnaire also
used a ve-point scale and asked tourists opinion on the current load
and whether they thought that too many people were in the visited pla-
ces,(this is called perception of crowding) and their attitude to-
ward overcrowding. Giving the impossibility of measuring the
acceptable level of encounters, (Shelby and Heberleins value),
the solution was to measure the tourists attitude toward possible
overcrowding, the predisposition of people ready to leave the destina-
tion (also on ve point scale). Reported encounters describe a count of
the number of other people that an individual remembers observing
in an area (Vaske & Donnelly, 2002). Perceived crowding is a subjective,
negative evaluation that the number of encounters or people observed
in an area is too many (Shelby & Heberlein, 1986).
The data have been analyzed in four phases. In the rst phase, we
determine the prole of the tourism demand through descriptive
E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119 7
analysis. The second phase aims at establishing the social carrying
capacity perceived by tourists obtained by linking the two questions:
perception of crowding and tourists attitude toward possible
overcrowding. This indicator has been named the current risk
Table 1. Characteristics of Demand (N = 739)
Country of residence Income
Spain 64.0 Less than 1,300 $ 6.8
Great Britain and Northern
10.7 Between 1,301 $ and 1,900 $ 18.7
Germany 9.6 Between 1,901$ and 3,150$ 26.1
France 3.4 Between 3,151$ and 4,300$ 25.6
Italy 0.1 More than 4,301$ 22.8
Benelux 1.6
Ireland 1.4 Type housing
The rest of Europe 7.6 Hotel 18.3
USA 0.4 Pension 1.6
Others 1.2 Apartment hotel 5.3
Private house 39.1
Age Housing rented to an individual 17.0
1829 years 23.4 Housing rented to an agency 7.2
3039 years 21.6 House of friends or relatives 9.1
4049 years 24.4 Camping 1.4
5064 years 24.0 Multiple property 0.1
More than 65 years 6.6 Others 0.9
Study level Days of stay
No schooling 4.2 From 0 to 1 day 0.3
Primary studies complete 13.9 Two days 13.8
Secondary studies 34.1 From 3 to 6 days 23.7
University studies at Bachelor
21.7 From 7 to 10 days 24.7
University studies at a higher
21.1 From 11 to 15 days 15.4
Other 5.0 From 16 to 30 days 10.9
More than 1 month 11.2
Professional category
Liberal profession 6.4 Previous visits
Entrepreneur 7.1 Yes 74.1
Executive 4.2 No 25.9
Mid-level manager 4.1
Qualied worker 27.6
Unskilled worker 6.8
High-level ofcial 9.3
Other ofcials 1.5
Student 11.1
Housewife 7.2
Retired 7.0
Other 7.7
8 E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119
population: tourists who perceive the overcrowding and are predis-
posed to leave the destination they are visiting (Navarro, 2005). The
third phase, examines a segmentation of tourists using cluster analysis,
performed using the SPSS 19 program. The number of clusters was
decided after hierarchical clustering with the Ward method and the
squared Euclidean distance was chosen as the dissimilarity measure.
Discriminant analysis is used to validate the cluster solution.
Cluster analysis is dependent on the selection of variables. Thus, vari-
ables for inclusion in the cluster analysis should be chosen within the
context of a theory (or theories), that is needed to support the classi-
cation. In this sense, the considered variables are age and education
level (Fleishman et al., 2004), income (Hayduk, 1983), daily expendi-
ture, perception of the amount of people and closed or open space
(Stokols, 1972), including noise perception (Ruddell & Gramann,
1994), authenticity of the study area (Navarro, 2005), and familiarity
(previous visits) of an individual with the destination (ORiordan,
1969). Similarly, we also include tourists perception of residents
(Mieczkowski, 1995), tourists satisfaction with their experience (Lucas,
1964), the dissatisfaction with overcrowding at the destination (Ryan &
Cessford, 2003), overcrowding in the place of residence (Getz, 1983),
perception of crowding and, the attitude toward possible overcrowd-
ing. Finally, we investigate whether there are signicant differences
among the clusters in the variables perception of crowding and
attitude toward possible overcrowding in order to verify which have
the highest current risk population, and thus to identify the prole of
the tourist groups by means of segment analysis.
Sample Prole
The characteristics of tourist demand in the Eastern Costa del Sol
are shown in Table 1. A descriptive analysis of the sample indicates that
Spanish tourists (64%) are the largest group of tourists in the Eastern
Costa del Sol. The segment comprised of British and Irish tourists
(11%) and German tourists (10%) is the most common foreign tourist
group. The analysis also reveals a medium-high cultural level of the
tourists, with qualied workers (28%) with average purchasing power
(nearly half earn more than $3,150 per month) being the dominant
group. Private housing (39%) is the most popular accommodation, fol-
lowed by hotels (18%), and most tourist (25%) stay seven to ten days. It
is also worth noting that tourist generally have a high level of familiarity
with the destination (74% of them have visited the region previously).
Estimation of the Social Carrying Capacity Perceived by the Tourists
We adapt Shelby and Heberleins social carrying capacity model
(1986) to a mature coastal destination, as opposed to an insular desti-
nation, in this research. The descriptive analysis of the sample indicates
E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119 9
that 27% of tourists perceive crowding, whereas 49% do not and 24%
are undecided (Table 2). According to Shelby and Heberlein (1986, p.
62) if more than two-thirds of the visitors say that they are crowded, it
appears likely that the capacity has been exceeded. If less than one
third senses the overcrowding, the area is probably below the load
capacity. When the perception of the mass is between these thresholds,
no determination can be made with this rule. Following this criterion,
we conclude that the Eastern Costa de Sol did not exceed its capacity in
2007. Faced with possible overcrowding of the destination, only 27% of
the tourists would not be affected at all by the overcrowding, whereas
the rest would be affected (Table 2).
The cross classication of the two variables analyzed above shows that
only 20% of tourists, represent the current risk population (tourists
who perceived overcrowding and are affected by it), i.e., only 20% of
tourist have reached their carrying capacity thresholds for the destina-
tion and are therefore predisposed to leave the destination.
Segmentation Analysis
We segmented tourist in the sample using cluster analysis, as
described in 2.3. Following the recommendation of Hair, Anderson,
Tatham, and Black (1998), we considered the samples representative-
ness and tested for the absence of multicollinearity. With regards to the
former, the sampling method, sample design and size (described
above), mean that the sample representative of the population of inter-
est. With regards to the latter, the elements of the matrix of correlation
coefcients between the variables included in the cluster analysis
ranges from .17 to +.38 indicating low collinearity among variables.
After performing hierarchical cluster analysis and examining the
dendrogram, the group membership and group sizes and the aims of
the study suggested a two-cluster solution.
Table 2. Perception of Crowding at the Destination and Attitude Toward
Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Perception of crowding Attitude toward possible overcrowding
Strongly disagree 10.30 It doesnt inuence me in any
Disagree 39.02 I would avoid areas with
numerous tourists
Neither agree
or disagree
24.39 I would visit in another season 19.92
Agree 18.97 I would go to another site in the
Costa del Sol
Strongly agree 7.32 I would go to another site in
Andaluc a or in Spain
Total 100 100
10 E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119
We used discriminant analysis with appropriate tests to assess the
classication and consistency of the two groups obtained. One canon-
ical discriminant function was estimated by using classical discriminant
analysis of all factors. The function is statistically signicant as mea-
sured by Wilks lambda (K = 0.434; with associated v
= 537.53,
d.f. = 15, p < 0.0001 and statistic F
= 59.43, p < 0.0001), indicating
that the function discriminates signicantly between the two groups.
However the data matrix of factors does not support the hypothesis
of multivariate normality (Doornik-Hansens v
= 730.52 and 1088.71
for groups 1 and 2, both with d.f. = 30, p < 0.0001) and Boxs M statistic
shows signicant differences in error variances across them (Boxs
M = 298.45, p < 0.0001). Thus, we also conducted a robust discriminant
analysis, by replacing the classical group means and within group
covariance matrix by robust equivalents based on the minimum covari-
ance determinant estimator (Todorov & Filzmoser, 2009). Robust tests
of the homogeneity of variances, Levene and Browne and Forsythe
tests indicate that only three of the independent variables exhibit sig-
nicant differences in their variances across groups. The robustly esti-
mated discriminant function is also signicant (K = 0.445; with
associated v
= 521.41, d.f. = 15, p < 0.0001 and statistic F
= 56.83,
p < 0.0001). The classication matrices of the classical and robust dis-
criminant functions showed that 88.36% and 86.22% of the cases, were
correctly classied, respectively, indicating a relatively high accuracy
and reliability of the cluster solution.
An additional way in which to assess the stability of the estimated
cluster solution is to split the sample and cross-replicate the analysis.
Table 3. Identication of Clusters Based on the Perception of Crowding and
the Attitude Toward Overcrowding
TSC (n = 315/
TNSC (n = 338/
gl p
Perception of crowding 11.353 4 0.023
Strongly disagree 7.9 13.6
Disagree 37.2 41.1
Neither agree or disagree 23.5 23.4
Agree 22.2 16.3
Strongly agree 9.2 5.6
Total 100 100
Attitude toward possible overcrowding 102.795 4 0.000
It doesnt inuence me in any way 12.1 41.4
I would avoid areas with numerous
27.3 28.7
I would visit in another season 21.6 16.9
I would go to another site in the
Costa del Sol
12.0 7.1
I would go to another site in
Andaluc a or in Spain
27.0 5.9
Total 100 100
E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119 11
We randomly split the sample into two equal sized subsamples and rep-
licated the cluster analysis with the same variables. The resultant classi-
cation agrees with the original solution in 84.5% of the cases.
Across the two groups, we performed a chi-squared test of association
with the two questions perception of crowding and attitude toward
possible overcrowding, conrming that the clusters can be well differ-
entiated, on the basis of these two variables (Table 3).
Cluster Prole
The two resultant clusters are: cluster I (48% of the sample), in
which the tourists predisposed to leave the destination site as a result
of crowding, i.e., predominating tourists sensitive to crowding
(TSC), predominate, and cluster II (52% of the sample), representing
tourists not inuenced by crowding, i.e., tourists non sensitive to
crowding (TNSC). We also use segmentation analysis to determine
how strongly each variable used in the cluster analysis affects the tour-
ists social carrying capacity. The analysis of tourist prole by clusters
varies notably in our case study. In socio-demographic terms, the
TSC is a segment of older people (60% of the cluster is over 40 years
of age), whereas the TNSC is younger (56% of this cluster is between
18 and 39 years of age). We also nd that tourist in the TSC segment
have a higher level of education (49% have a university education,
compared to 37% of those in the TNSC segment) and a higher income
(58% of the TSC segment have a monthly income above $3,151
(2,400) and 30% have an income of monthly more than $4,301
Table 4. Socio-Demographic Prole of the Two Clusters (N = 653)
Tourists prole TSC TNSC Tourists prole TSC TNSC
1829 years 13.0% 32.8% Less than 1,300 $ 6.7% 7.4%
3039 years 21.0% 23.4% Between 1,301 $ and 1,900 $ 13.6% 23.4%
4049 years 27.9% 22.5% Between 1,901$ and 3,150$ 21.6% 29.9%
5064 years 27.9% 17.7% Between 3,151$ and 4,300$ 27.3% 25.1%
More than 65 years 10.2% 3.6% More than 4,301$ 30.8% 14.2%
Study level
Daily expenditure
No schooling 5.1% 4.1% Less than 23$ 3.2% 7.1%
Primary studies complete 13.6% 13.7% Between 24$ and 39$ 20.0% 22.8%
Secondary studies 28.6% 39.6% Between 40$ and 78$ 34.3% 35.2%
University studies at
Bachelor level
23.2% 20.1% Between 79$ and 130$ 28.8% 24.0%
University studies at a
higher grade
26.0% 17.2% More than 131$ 13.7% 10.9%
Other 3.5% 5.3%
= 47.92, d.f.4, p < 0.001;
= 14.07, d.f. 4, p = 0.015;
= 33.21, d.f. 4, p < 0.001;
= 9.27, d.f. 4, p < 0.055.
12 E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119
(3,300)). It seems that tourists who have sensitive to crowding are
those who spend more money at the destination (43% of TSC tourists
spent more than $79 per day) (Table 4). In addition, we see in Table 5
that 39% of tourists in the TSC segment believe that their usual resi-
dence is overcrowded, compared to 33% in the TNSC segment.
The segmentation of tourists based on their perceptions of the des-
tination and trip characteristics allows us to determine the key factors
Table 5. The Prole of the Tourists Perception of the Destination and Trip
Overcrowding in the resident place
Days of stay
Strongly disagree 12.8% 14.8% From 0 to 1 day 0.0% 0.3%
Disagree 34.6% 35.6% Two days 12.4% 14.2%
Neither agree or disagree 13.2% 16.0% From 3 to 6 days 17.4% 30.8%
Agree 23.7% 20.2% From 7 to 10 days 26.7% 23.0%
Strongly agree 15.7% 13.4% From 11 to 15 days 15.9% 16.0%
From 16 to 30 days 13.0% 8.6%
More than 1 month 14.6% 7.1%
Satisfaction with trip experiences
Very negative 14.9% 5.3% Not at all satised 1.6% 0.9%
Negative 19.4% 13.9% Dissatised 1.3% 0.3%
Normal 28.9% 27.8% Moderately satised 19.0% 10.0%
Positive 30.1% 37.0% Mostly satised 50.5% 45.3%
Very positive 6.7% 16.0% Very satised 27.6% 43.5%
Very negative 3.5% 1.5% Relationship between overcrowding and
Negative 20.6% 6.5% Nothing at all 13.0% 65.7%
Normal 31.7% 29.0% A little 5.4% 13.0%
Positive 35.9% 45.0% Moderate 23.5% 13.0%
Very positive 8.3% 18.0% A lot 37.5% 7.7%
Number of people
Very much 20.6% 0.6%
Very negative 3.5% 0.0%
Negative 13.6% 5.3% Contact with residents
Normal 31.1% 23.1% Very negative 0.3% 0.3%
Positive 45.1% 54.7% Negative 1.3% 0.9%
Very positive 6.7% 16.9% Normal 16.8% 14.5%
Destination perceived as closed space
Positive 57.8% 52.6%
Very negative 3.8% 0.3% Very positive 23.8% 31.7%
Negative 7.3% 4.4%
Normal 27.6% 12.8% Previous visits
Positive 48.0% 46.7% Yes 78.0% 70.7%
Very positive 13.3% 35.8% No 22.0% 29.3%
= 2.94, d.f.4, p < 0.560;
= 32.64, d.f. 4, p < 0.001;
= 42.59, d.f. 4, p < 0.001;
= 45.03, d.f. 4, p < 0.001;
= 63.60, d.f. 4, p < 0.001;
= 25.60, d.f. 6, p < 0.001;
= 24.21, d.f. 4, p < 0.001;
= 261.68, d.f. 4, p < 0.001;
= 5.17, d.f. 4, p < 0.271;
= 4.55, d.f. 1 p < 0.033.
E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119 13
that allow tourists to recognize their threshold value and decide
whether to leave the destination (Table 5). Approximately, 25% of
tourists who are sensitive to crowding consider lack of authenticity as
negative or very negative. They are also more likely to regard noise
as a negative aspect (34% for TSC versus 19% for TNSC). A particularly
important geographical aspect of the destination is the perception of
space as closed. Eleven percent of the TSC segment perceived the
study area as closed compared with only 5% of the TNSC. Those
who perceive the space as closed are likely to perceive a greater num-
ber of people. Therefore, individuals in the TSC cluster tend to expe-
rience the presence of more people (17% versus 5% of the other
cluster). Additionally, the TSC is characterized by medium and long
holidays (28% stay more than 16 days) and familiarity with the des-
tination (78%). Finally, our results indicate that tourists in the TSC seg-
ment perceive the contact with residents slightly more negatively (1.6%
versus 1.2% of TNSC) and slightly less positively (82% versus 84% of
TNSC), although this particular result is merely descriptive: the chi-
squared test of association is not signicant.
Regarding the satisfaction levels, the TSC segment is generally less
satised with the trip experience (22%) than the other cluster
(11%). Therefore, it is not enough to determine only the satisfaction
level of the trip experienceit is also important to specically enquire
about the impacts of overcrowding on satisfaction. This study sought to
investigate these relationships and the results are clear: a high percent-
age of the TNSC segment believe that overcrowding does not inuence
their satisfaction (66% respond Nothing), whereas 58% of tourists
in the TSC segment responded that overcrowding affected their level
of satisfaction a lot or very much (Table 5).
The results obtained show that only 20% of tourists in the study area
perceived overcrowding and were predisposed to leave the destination.
Another study using the same methodology in 1999 in the Costa del
Sol stated that only 10% of tourists had exceeded perceived overcrowd-
ing. In that study, the tourist mainly had high levels of education and
pocket spending (Navarro, 2005). It is not possible to nd whether
those 10% of tourists left the destination, but a study from 2005 (Junta
de Andaluc a, 2007) showed that a decline in pocket spending between
2000 and 2005, during a boom in demand and supply, had a direct ef-
fect on reducing the economic impact of expansion. The impact of this
decline in spending was estimated at $729 million. Did the destina-
tions saturation have an economic cost?
The rst conclusion of our study is that mature tourists who are bet-
ter educated have a high socioeconomic status because of their high
income and are more benecial to the destination, but these tourists
make up the segment that is most sensitive to crowding. These results
conrm Hayduks nding that higher status individuals are less toler-
ant of crowding (1983). It is generally accepted that old and young
14 E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119
people do not have the same thresholds as each other. However, Fleish-
man et al.s investigation, (2004), held in nature reserves, found the
opposite: it showed that young people are less tolerant of crowding
than older people. This result points to one of the most important
questions in this study: what is the difference between the experience
of tourists visiting a natural destination and the experience of those vis-
iting a coastline destination. It is also important to note that 70% of
tourists who frequently visit the Costa del Sol are over 40 years of age
(Sociedad de Planicacion y Desarrollo, 2007).
Our nding conrm that a low level of authenticity of a destination
(Navarro, 2005) and a high level of noise (Ruddell & Gramann 1994)
are two of the most important factors inuencing the social carrying
capacity. Many tourists were dissatised with noise levels in Costa del
Sol. In particular, although only 3% of tourists were dissatised with
noise level in 2000 by 2008, 14% were (Sociedad de Planicacion y
Desarrollo, 2008).
This research also nds that tourists tend to perceive the concentra-
tion of people more accurately if the destination is perceived as a
closed space, (Stokols, 1972), and in this case, they recognize the
carrying capacity threshold earlier. From a social point of view, it is
important to understand the relationship between tourists and resi-
dents. Mieczkowski (1995) argues that if tourists perceive the local pop-
ulation as friendly, they may more easily handle the saturation level.
Although this study does not provide clear ndings on this point, there
is evidence that the TSC group perceive contact with residents slightly
more negatively.
According to ORiordan (1969), the perception of overcrowding is
related to an individuals familiarity with the destination. Therefore,
those tourists who are more familiar with a destination are less tolerant
of concentration levels. Our study seems to conrm that deeper knowl-
edge of the area, either from familiarity with the area or longer stays,
inuences the perception of saturation and the destination capacity
Our results show that tourists in the TSC group are less satised with
their trip experience. Numerous studies reveal that this displeasure
stems from overcrowding at a destination (Needham & Rollins, 2005;
Ryan & Cessford, 2003; Saveriades, 2000). Managers and employers
in the Costa del Sol are aware of this. Tourist Observatory in the Costa
del Sol (Sociedad de Planicacion y Desarrollo, 20002008) shows that
overcrowding is an issue that tourists nd unsatisfactory: the percent-
age of tourist who expressed this dissatisfaction rose from 7% in
2000 to 9% in 2008. Clearly, when crowding is perceived in a negative
way, the overall satisfaction decreases.
Overall, use of the above methods enabled us to meet the rst two
goals of the research, i.e., to identify he percentage of tourists who
had exceeded the social carrying capacity threshold, and to determine
the prole of those tourist who perceive overcrowding and the key fac-
tors that most affect these tourists.
E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119 15
Carrying capacity is an operational tool to achieve sustainability. As
argued by Saarinen (2006), there is no sustainability without limits. It
is impossible to establish an equation for a destination, and it is a fal-
lacy of political marketing to think otherwise. In mature destinations
and those that are beginning to consolidate, tourism management can-
not ignore this tool, because if tourism managers want to control a des-
tinations impact, they must know how to anticipate impact. This paper
examines tourists perceptions and attitudes toward overcrowding in
order to contribute to developing a more holistic approach to open-
area evaluation procedures.
We separately examined two groups using a cluster analysis in order
to determine which factors inuence tourists perceptions of over-
crowding and their desire to leave a destination. Our results show that
there are statistically signicant differences in perception between the
two clusters. Tourists who are sensitive to crowding in the Eastern
Costa del Sol are older, better education, have a higher income and,
consequently, have a greater expenditure at the destination. They
are known as quality tourists. The factors inuencing this segment of
tourists are noise at the destination, the areas authenticity, perception
of space as closed and knowledge of the destination. All of this factors
lead too somewhat lower level of satisfaction with their trip experience.
This study has shown that tourists perceptions vary according to their
prole and these proles could be used to formulate better plans for
area management.
From a practical point of view, this study shows that measuring the
social carrying capacity of tourists in mass coastal destinations is possi-
ble. Each year, the tourism managers from the Costa del Sol conduct a
survey of tourists with a sample size of over 2000. This survey should
add only these two new key questions: the other variables are already
covered in this survey. The difculty in analyzing tourists thresholds
is not budgetary but political; managers do not wants to publish nega-
tive impacts on society because they would have to propose relief mea-
sures which would limit economic growth and political projections.
The tourism sector is a friendly activity and it has great political
advantage because it is always seen as a positive activity: more tourists,
more growth, more businesses, and so on. Only scientists and academ-
ics want to determine the limits of economic growth.
Neither the subject of this investigation nor the methodology it uses
is new. It is simply a case study that provides an additional example to
the scientic community. This papers value is that a model that was
previously applied to natural areas has been applied to mature coastal
destinations, with problems of overcrowding. These are the most pop-
ular destinations in Spain, and need the most help to avoid or amelio-
rate the impacts that arise from their success: however, they are the
least studied in the carrying capacity literature. Another important
contribution of this paper is the application of advanced statistics to
precisely determine the prole of tourists who are sensitive to crowding
and the factors that inuence these tourists. By extending social
16 E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119
carrying capacity theory beyond the usual type of study or disciplines,
this study has demonstrated the pragmatic utility of the theory because
of its relevance and applicability across disciplines, and this is a consid-
erable advance in social sciences applied to tourism.
Perhaps most interestingly for the future, with this research, we want
to reopen the debate on the limits of growth of tourist destinations.
Many consolidated tourist destinations need to engage in this debate
because, owing to their maturity, are starting to apply theories of
restructuring (Agarwal, 2002) with excessive costs plans. There are four
plans in Spain (the Costa del Sol, the Balearic Islands, Tenerife and Las
Palmas) and some of these will exceed $5,250 million (4,000 million)
to implement. This study, leads to many other questions, which we are
currently exploring. Can this study also be applied to residents? Is it
possible to advance the understanding of economic limitations? If a
community consents to growth limits will that lead to sustainable devel-
opment of the tourist destination?
AcknowledgementThe research in this paper was funded by two projects: Indicators for Sus-
tainable Management of Tourism Development: An Assessment of the Carrying Capacity in
Southern Mediterranean Coasts (SEJ-2005-04660), nanced by the program of the Ministry
of Education and Science, and the project Geographies of the crisis: An analysis of the
urban-tourist spaces of the Balearic Islands, Costa del Sol and the most important tourist
destinations of the Caribbean and Central America (CSO2012-30840) funded by the
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Submitted 9 March 2012. Resubmitted 4 July 2012. Final version 14 December 2012.
Accepted 22 March 2013. Refereed Anonymously. Coordinating Editor: Joseph Elizeri
E. Navarro Jurado, I.M. Damian / Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013) 119 19