Hotels on La Digue in the Seychelles island

Assessing the Carrying Capacity of the Seychelles Islands

Building a roadmap for low-impact, high-value tourism that preserves the beauty and ecosystems of Seychelles while developing sustainable infrastructure and boosting the economy.

The 115 islands of Seychelles form an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Boasting world renowned natural heritage, pristine beaches, and clear tropical water, the small island nation is a beloved tourism destination. Over the last 20 years, the number of tourists to the islands more than doubled, reaching more than 380,000 visitors in 2019. Cruise tourism to the islands is growing as well, expanding from 15,600 arrivals to 44,000 arrivals in less than 10 years.  

Tourism elevates the quality of life of residents by providing higher income generating opportunities and boosting the economy. Prior to the pandemic, the industry contributed 42% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employed over two-thirds of the workforce. 

However, tourism also places increased pressure on the islands’ limited natural resources and infrastructure. If tourism grows exponentially, it risks damaging the country’s fragile coastal ecosystems and reducing the quality of life of residents by competing for the same resources. As climate change also increasingly impacts the region, Seychelles’ leadership recognizes the need for continued monitoring of visitor impacts and proactive destination management. To ensure environmental protection, a quality visitor experience, and the well-being of locals, tourism development decisions are based on the needs and resources of the islands. This is determined by regular carrying capacity studies. 

Our Role

In 2019, Sustainable Travel International conducted a new carrying capacity study for the Seychelles Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine. The study examined the implications of continued tourism growth in three of Seychelles’ most popular destinations: La Digue, Mahe, and Praslin. 

The carrying capacity of a destination determines the ideal number of international arrivals that can visit at the same time without causing destruction of local resources. It is not a static number, but rather can fluctuate over time based on the destination’s ability to handle visitors – for instance, whether or not there is sufficient waste management infrastructure in place. The goal of this type of study is to create balance and a sustainable tourism industry – i.e. determine how to generate economic growth while ensuring environmental protection, a quality visitor experience, and the well-being of local residents. 

Our team worked with local stakeholders, such as business owners, government officials, scientists, and residents to determine priority issues. Based on this input, we gathered data on current social, economic, infrastructure, and environmental conditions such as the amount of waste and emissions generated by hotels, the number of cruise ship passengers, the ratio of foreigners to locals employed in tourism, and the hotel occupancy rate. We then analyzed how different levels of tourism growth would affect these conditions and whether it would lead to problems, such as overwhelmed utility infrastructure or resident dissatisfaction. 

We also gathered data on the visitor experience to understand the current conditions and visitors’ thresholds for crowding. For instance, visitors were shown photos of different locations with varying degrees of crowding (people, boats, beach chairs, etc.) and asked to rate the acceptability of the conditions. GPS tracking was used to map visitor movement, quantify the level of density at each area, and identify potential areas of overuse or congestion.

Managing hotel development and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic was a top priority for all stakeholders. After analyzing various scenarios, we determined that moderate tourism growth over the next three years provides Seychelles the best chance of stimulating the economy and increasing visitor expenditure without overtaxing the natural resources and infrastructure. Based on this research, we developed a roadmap of policy and management recommendations for Seychelles to create a low-impact, high-value tourism industry that balances growth with risk. Some of the recommendations were as follows:

  • Reduce pressure on existing waste management systems, such as landfills and wastewater treatment plants, which are already at capacity by building new facilities and reinforcing the ban on single-use plastics. 
  • Lessen resource intensity by requiring the use of water or energy-saving devices, investing in rainwater harvesting, and enforcing the vehicle quota as well as building codes that promote energy efficiency . 
  • Develop cultural and culinary experiences to complement the current visitor experience, which is based almost entirely on the beaches, and increase the amount of tourist dollars that flow into local communities.
  • Temporarily halt the construction of new tourism accommodations on La Digue to avoid economic losses brought on by low occupancy rates. This recommendation was adopted in August 2021. More details on this decision can be found here.  
  • Develop a contingency and recovery plan from the COVID-19 pandemic that includes health and safety guidelines for tourism enterprises and reopening strategies.
  • Design a Tourism Capacity Indicator Framework to continually monitor the destination’s carrying capacity and regulate tourism growth accordingly.


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Destination: Seychelles

Region: Africa



Our Partners

  • Seychelles Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine
  • Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation

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Destination Guardian participant receiving training certificate

St. Kitts Destination Guardians

A collaborative training workshop that raises awareness around sustainable tourism and empowers Kittitians to act as Destination Guardians who take care of their island home.

It takes an island.

In St. Kitts, tourism is everyone’s business. In 2018, the industry contributed more than 25% of the country’s GDP and supported 1 in four jobs. One way or another, every Kittitian is connected to tourism. 

When travelers come to St. Kitts, they seek natural beauty, rich cultural experiences, and authentic encounters with local communities. Consequently, the success of St. Kitts’ tourism industry depends on the health and appeal of the island’s local resources, from its beaches and parks to its arts and heritage sites. 

Ensuring the wellbeing of any tourism destination takes a whole village. Or in this case, it takes a whole island. St. Kitts’ communities, governmental agencies, NGOs, visitors, and the tourism industry all play a role in stewarding the destination and safeguarding their local assets. 

Our Role

Destination Guardian Workshop

To increase community engagement around destination stewardship in St. Kitts, we created the Destination Guardian training workshop. This workshop educates Kittitians about the importance of sustainable tourism and equips them with the knowledge they need to contribute to the long-term wellbeing of their destination. Each year, we deliver the workshop to another group of local residents, including government employees, teachers, community group members, and tourism industry professionals. 

Through a combination of informational presentations, group discussions, interactive exercises, and a field trip, participants learn about:

  • The positive and negative economic, environmental, and socio-cultural impacts of tourism in small island destinations
  • What it means to be a sustainable destination 
  • How they can help protect St. Kitts’ natural and cultural resources and ensure tourism elevates local communities
  • The importance of collaboration to collectively tackle island-wide challenges 

At the end of the workshop, participants are asked to sign the Destination Guardian pledge and identify four concrete actions that they can commit to perform over the next year.


In addition to the general workshop, we also developed and facilitated a train the trainer session to prepare local community members to deliver their own Destination Guardian trainings. This session equipped participants with a deeper understanding of the Destination Guardian curriculum as well as the knowledge and skills to be more effective trainers.


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Destination: St. Kitts




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112 people trained as Destination Guardians

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92% of participants* shared their learnings with other community members

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84% of participants* adopted sustainable practices since the training

*Based on a follow-on survey of the 2019 Destination Guardian participants

“My role as a teacher is to educate. After the workshop, I have a bigger voice not only in my school, but also within my community.” – Thuvia Browne, Destination Guardian participant

Our Partners

  • St. Kitts Ministry of Tourism
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Palau ocean and land view

Palau: Carbon Neutral Tourism Destination

The Pacific Island nation of Palau is a tiny, yet remarkable country characterized by surreal landscapes, pristine seas, and a long cultural history. The archipelago is made up of more than 340 lush green islands jutting out from the glimmering ocean, only nine of which are inhabited.

Remote Palau island

Remote and Secluded

Palau is truly a hidden island paradise. The archipelago is surrounded on all sides by the vast Pacific Ocean and is located 400 miles north of Papua New Guinea, 550 miles east of the Philippines, and 800 miles southwest of Guam.

Pristine Marine Wonders

Palau’s waters teem with an abundance of marine life including over 500 species of coral and 1,300 types of fish. Thanks to its incredible natural beauty and biodiversity, Palau is considered to be one of the world’s top diving destinations.

Woman kayaking in Palau

Dependent on Tourism

In 2019, 90,000 tourists visited Palau. That’s five times the islands’ population. Tourism is the country’s main source of income and provides vital jobs for local people. In total, it accounts for nearly a third of Palau’s GDP.

Commitment to Sustainability

Though Palau may be tiny, it is bursting with big, bold ambitions. Environmental stewardship has always been the way of the Palauan people who know that their country’s future depends on healthy reefs, jungles, and beaches.


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Vulnerability to Climate Change

As a remote island nation, Palau is extremely vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. Rising sea levels and intensified tropical cyclones threaten to destroy houses, beaches, and infrastructure. Coral bleaching and acidic waters endanger the marine life that tourists come to see. Climate change is also expected to disrupt global supply chains, leading to food insecurity.

Learn more about how climate change is impacting destinations. 

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Carbon Footprint of Tourism

Tourism depends heavily on fossil fuels and produces emissions that contribute to the climate crisis. Consider the carbon footprint of a vacation to Palau. Getting to the remote islands typically requires flying thousands of miles. Once in Palau, tourists generate CO2 by going on boat rides, turning up the AC, eating imported foods, and engaging in other activities.

Learn more about the activities that contribute to tourism’s carbon footprint. 

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Reliance on Imported Food

Palau’s hotels and restaurants rely on overseas imports to feed their guests. In fact, 85-90% of the country’s food is imported from abroad. The importation of food and drinks produces carbon emissions and causes dollars to leave the local economy. Imported foods also tend to be more packaged and processed which contributes to waste management and health problems. 


Palau Carbon Neutral Destination Program

With climate change a very real threat to Palau’s existence, Sustainable Travel International is implementing a project in partnership with Slow Food and the Palau Bureau of Tourism to help the archipelago become the world’s first carbon neutral destination. The project will combat climate change and boost community resilience by:

  • Neutralizing tourism’s carbon footprint
  • Improving the livelihoods of local food producers
  • Increasing local food security
  • Empowering women to participate more fully in the tourism value chain
  • Conserving coastal ecosystems that act as carbon sinks
  • Reducing food waste and building a circular economy

Our Approach

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Strengthening Local Food Production

The project will build the capacity of local farmers, fishers, and other producers to produce high quality products and market them to tourism businesses. 

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Promoting Local Foods

The project will reduce Palau’s dependence on imported foods and celebrate the islands’ gastronomic heritage by helping hotels and restaurants incorporate local ingredients into their menus.

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Including Women

Palauan women are heavily involved in production activities such as farming taro and vegetables, crab harvesting, certain forms of fishing, and producing honeys and jams. Attention will be given to further link these female producers to the tourism value chain.

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Encouraging Sustainable Resource Use

The project is optimizing resource use by encouraging local producers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices and helping chefs make the most of local food products. 

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Developing a Destination Carbon Calculator

We are creating an online platform that will enable tourists to calculate the carbon footprint of their trip to Palau, including flights, lodging, dining, excursions, and ground transport.

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Funding Conservation Projects

Visitors will be able to offset their carbon footprint by contributing to conservation projects. These projects will reduce emissions and boost climate resilience by protecting/restoring coastal ecosystems that act as blue carbon sinks and natural storm barriers.

Our Partners

  • Palau Tourism Bureau
  • Slow Food
  • COFE
  • Palau Pledge
  • Palau Visitors Authority

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G Adventures’ Ripple Score

International tours can generate tremendous benefits for people around the world, but only if local communities are embedded throughout their supply chain. We developed a tour evaluation system to help one of the world’s largest adventure travel companies, G Adventures, evaluate and boost their local impact.

Tourism’s Ripple Effect on Local Communities

Employing 1 in 10 people on the planet, tourism is an incredibly diverse, global industry. Just consider how many different pieces come together to make up a single trip! From travel agents and flight attendants to trekking guides and money changers, tourism touches the lives of many people all around the world.

Because it is so far-reaching, tourism can create profound ripple effects within local communities. Tourist dollars can bring greater financial stability and improve living conditions for the people who need it the most. By staying in a hotel that decorates with locally crafted artwork and serves dishes made with locally grown ingredients, a traveler will in turn be supporting local artisans and farmers. 

Wiwa Community ColombiaYet, while there is great potential for tourism to benefit local populations, this isn’t always the reality. Instead of remaining in the hands of local communities, a large portion of travel dollars end up lining the pockets of big, foreign-owned companies.

International tour operators, for instance, partner with suppliers all around the world – hotels, restaurants, boat operators, and more. If these suppliers are locally owned and operated, it can stimulate a huge amount of benefits for local communities. But if their tour offering does not integrate local goods and service providers, then their local impact will be negligible. In fact, for every $100 spent on a vacation tour to a developing country, only $5 actually stays in the local economy. 

Improving a tour operator’s impact requires understanding how their trips are currently benefiting local economies and where they’re coming up short. For a company with hundreds or thousands of suppliers, this is easier said than done.

Our Role

Creating a Tour Evaluation System to Measure Local Benefits

With well over 700 different small-group tour itineraries in more than 100 countries, G Adventures is one of the world’s largest adventure travel companies. From its inception, G Adventures has firmly believed that travel has the power to change lives and they embrace community tourism as their core philosophy. Yet, while G Adventures always strived to positively impact the local communities they visit, they never had a way to measure how well they were actually delivering this.  

In 2016, we teamed up with G Adventures to devise a better way to monitor and improve the real-world impact of their trips on the communities they visit. To accomplish this, we created “G Local,” a customized supply chain assessment system. Through a combination of supplier surveys and on-site inspections, this system allows G Adventures to evaluate the extent to which their tours are actually benefiting local communities. For example, is the supplier locally owned and operated? Do they purchase most of their products from local farms and markets? Are their food dishes rooted in the traditional local cuisine?

Using the results from the G Local assessment, G Adventures now calculates a “Ripple Score” for each of their trips which shows what percentage of the money spent on that trip remains in the local economy. In order to be as transparent as possible, they actually list the Ripple Score for each itinerary on their website. If a trip has a Ripple Score of 100, for instance, that would mean that all of the suppliers that make up that tour are locally owned. The average Ripple Score across G Adventures’ tours is currently 93%.

But the buck doesn’t stop here. G Adventures is using this knowledge to improve the local impact of their trips. Since launching their assessment system, G Adventures has decided to phase out certain suppliers that don’t align with their values, while supporting other suppliers in improving their practices.

While G Adventures is a trailblazer in responsible tourism, they aren’t the only company that can adopt this type of approach. We hope G Adventures’ leadership inspires other tour operators to dive deeper into their supply chains and take steps to improve their social and environmental impact.

Partner With Us

Interested in learning more about how Sustainable Travel International can help your company transform its social and environmental impact? Click below to reach out – we’d love to hear from you! 

Our Partners

  • G Adventures
  • Planeterra

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Developing Sustainable Tourism Initiatives in Antigua & Barbuda

Facilitating a Destination Stewardship and Action Planning Workshop

Located in the heart of the Eastern Caribbean, Antigua and Barbuda is a popular island destination known for its 365 beautiful beaches. Over one million tourists visited the islands in 2018, making Antigua and Barbuda one of the most tourism dependent countries in the world. Point in case: tourism is the top economic activity in the country, accounting for over half of GDP and supporting one in two jobs.

Like many other small island destinations, Antigua and Barbuda faces various sustainability challenges. The islands have limited natural resources and are highly vulnerable to climate change. In addition, a strong dependence on cruise tourism limits the local economic benefits generated by tourism, as Caribbean cruise tourists tend to spend significantly less onshore than land-based visitors.

To plan for sustainable tourism development, the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Tourism & Investment partnered with Sustainable Travel International in 2014 as part of the Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas program. One of the outcomes of this program was the creation of a Destination Stewardship Council to oversee and coordinate sustainable tourism development in Antigua and Barbuda. To increase cross-sector collaboration, stakeholders from across government agencies, businesses, and NGOs sit on the council.

Our Role

To build upon this previous work, we again partnered with Antigua and Barbuda in 2019. This time our goal was to deepen stakeholders’ understanding of sustainable tourism and prepare the council to take concrete action.

To accomplish this, our team facilitated a Destination Stewardship & Action Planning Workshop in October 2019. Attendees included members of the Destination Stewardship Council as well as representatives from the public, private, and civic sectors. Participants learned about the importance of sustainable tourism and discussed the positive and negative impacts that tourism can have on people and the environment. They were also introduced to the four pillars of destination sustainability and best practices related to each.

On the second day of the workshop, participants visited a local nature reserve. During this field trip, they witnessed various examples of sustainability in action, such as natural heritage interpretation and water harvesting practiced at the site.

After learning about sustainable destination principles and practices, participants worked together to assess the sustainability of their own destination. They scored Antigua and Barbuda’s performance against internationally established criteria related to community benefits, waste management, cultural preservation, environmental protection, and other sustainable tourism practices. Participants used these assessment results, along with their personal perspectives and experiences, to debate and identify the top challenges for destination sustainability in Antigua and Barbuda.

Participants were then divided into groups based on their areas of expertise and assigned one of the prioritized sustainability issues. The workshop also included an informational session on project development and management best practices. Using what they learned in this session, each group developed a collaborative destination stewardship project and action plan to address their assigned issue. The resulting four projects focus on the following areas:

  • Developing and adopting a national sustainable tourism strategy
  • Restoring and improving visitor management at a historic sugar plantation
  • Raising local environmental awareness 
  • Increasing local representation in management positions within the tourism industry

This workshop was just the beginning of the next phase of Antigua and Barbuda’s sustainability journey. With a strong foundation in sustainable tourism and project management, the Destination Stewardship Council will be able to refine and implement actionable solutions that guide the islands towards a more sustainable future. 

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Our Partners

  • Antigua & Barbuda Ministry of Tourism and Investment

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Monitoring Lenga Tree Reforestation in Torres del Paine

After forest fires scorched Torres del Paine's landscape, reforestation efforts are bringing forth new life and helping to rehabilitate the park

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is known to many as the 8th wonder of the world. With granite peaks that pierce the wind-blistered sky and glaciers that extend for miles into the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, it’s no wonder that tourism here has grown exponentially in the last decade. While this tourism brings significant economic growth and opportunity to surrounding communities, it sometimes comes at a cost to the park’s ecology. 

Since 1985, there have been three man-made forest fires in the park. All of these fires were started by tourists. The fires ravaged almost 1/3 of the park’s surface area, leaving many dense Patagonian forests unrecognizable and barren. These forests are primarily made up of two types of trees: lenga and ñirre. These native species have adapted to Patagonia’s strong weather and harsh climate, and contribute to the region’s iconic landscape. They also play an important role in sustaining the park’s biodiversity and ensuring watershed health. Indeed, many of the park’s 40 different mammals and 115 bird species, including the endangered huemul deer, rely on the park’s forest ecosystems for their habitat. 

Naturally occurring forest fires are nonexistent in this part of the world. That means when a species like lenga is devastated by human-induced fires, it won’t automatically recover. As a result, humans must intervene to rehabilitate and revegetate the ecosystems. 

In response to the fires, Chile’s National Forest Corporation, CONAF, began ecological restoration efforts to accelerate recuperation of the park’s damaged forest ecosystems. Lenga seedlings are cultivated in a nursery until they are ready to be transferred into the park. They are then replanted in small clusters, or “nuclei,” of 100 in the least resilient fire-affected areas. To date, more than 810,000 lenga seedlings have been planted in the park.

Our Role

Our Torres del Paine Legacy Fund program supported CONAF’s restoration efforts by monitoring the reforested lenga nuclei. Local Chilean volunteers joined us on field expeditions to collect data on the health and growth of the young seedlings. This data helps CONAF understand the tendencies of lenga and identify ways to improve reforestation efforts. In addition, the volunteers learned about the environmental challenges the park faces when it comes to reforestation and increasing tourism. 

In October 2019, a group of 10 Chilean volunteers accompanied by our Legacy Fund Field Director embarked on a monitoring expedition into the park. Over the course of eight days, they monitored the health of more than 13,800 lenga plants. Primarily working in the Pudeto and Carretas sectors of the park, these volunteers endured snow, howling wind, and off-trail terrain to gather data on the replanted lenga.

Between the previous monitor in 2017 and this expedition, few plants had died off. In fact, the majority had grown at a healthy rate. In many nuclei, the number of live plants was as high as 98 out of the original 100. These high initial survival rates show promise for the long-term health of these forests. 

Our volunteers from all over Chile were the heart and soul of this week of monitoring. Thanks to their positive attitudes and eagerness to learn, we were able to support the park and provide data that will be expounded upon in continued reforestation efforts. 

For more information about this program and our work in Chilean Patagonia, click here.

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