THE effects of tourism on the Mornington Peninsula residents is reaching critical levels, according to a researcher
Monash University honours student Pallavi Shridhar is upfront in saying increased levels of tourism can reduce a community’s quality of life.
Also, that increased exposure to the impacts of tourism reduces residents’ ability to cope with the changes it brings. It also increases their sensitivity to these impacts.
In her year-long study overseen by senior Monash Business School lecturer Glen Croy, Ms Shridhar highlights “low levels of community resilience” among the 161 peninsula residents as indicating that an increase in tourism “will have a significant effect on the community … which is at, or nearing, a critical tourism level”.
Ms Shridhar’s research appears to reflect the concerns of some residents that tourism-at-any-cost is a not a good thing for the peninsula – particularly in the light of traffic gridlock in Rye and Sorrento over summer; increased litter on streets and foreshores; environmental damage; and the increasing numbers of apartments.
The combined effect of these impacts is to remove all that attracted tourists to this area in the first place – as one letter writer to The News said.
Ms Shridhar said it was reasonable to expect that tourism should focus on adding value to the community – and be halted if these impacts turn negative.
“Yet the focus is often on how to harness the community and educate them and garner support for further tourism development,” she said, adding that studies have shown that “too much tourism … can create irreparable damage to the community”.
Despite the desirable focus on the wishes of the community, the “majority of community tourism studies work on the underlying assumption that … tourism is a fundamentally beneficial phenomenon for the community”.
Ms Shridhar said that because tourism was likely to increase, it was important to mitigate its negative impacts and “potentially limit its development”.
Visitor numbers to the peninsula have risen over the past decade, with almost eight million people visiting last year. Off-season tourist numbers rose 62 per cent 1998-2016.
Mr Croy said the results of the study showed that residents were sensitive to the environmental impacts of tourism – more so than the economic and socio-cultural impacts.
“It [tourism] is seen as a tool which brings economic impacts to the area but residents also feel its [negative] social and cultural impacts,” he said.
While the research was compiled over winter, Mr Croy said summer brought the most dramatic impacts to the peninsula, and that residents traditionally had used the off-season to rejuvenate and prepare for the busy holiday rush.
He said a Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism Authority strategy was to spread tourists around the peninsula, rather than having them concentrated in the south.
Community input into the formulation of the shire’s tourism policy was important, he said. “We can see that lots of people are concerned about the levels of tourism but not many are prepared to speak up,” he said.
Ms Shridhar said it was “vital” that governments and tourism bodies “understand how tourism affects local communities”.
“Stronger community engagement is crucial to ensure tourism develops in a manner that puts community interests at heart, rather than only tourism or economic development.
“This … requires the community being … involved in planned changes and that residents participate to inform planning and decision-making.”
This would help refocus attention away from economic and destination development to “community and resilience development, using tourism … as a tool for community protection and development”.