Already in 1980 Prof. Richard W. Butler wrote about a possible negative tourism cycle. In his own words he wrote:
Visitors will come to an area in small numbers initially, restricted by lack of access, facilities, and local knowledge. As facilities are provided and awareness grows, visitor numbers will increase. With marketing, information dissemination, and further facility provision, the area’s popularity will grow rapidly. Eventually, however, the rate of increase in visitor numbers will decline as levels of carrying capacity are reached. These may be identified in terms of environmental factors (e.g. land scarcity, water quality, air quality), of the physical plant (e.g. transportation, accommodation, other services), or social factors (e.g. crowding, resentment by the local population). As the attractiveness of the area declines relative to other areas, because of overuse and the impacts of visitors, the actual number of visitors may also eventually decline.
After reaching stagnation in amounts of visitors, Butler saw both rejuvenation, or decline as possible alternatives. The last stage of his model offers five scenarios between complete rejuvenation and total decline:
• Successful redevelopment leads to renewed growth.
• Minor modifications to capacity levels lead to modest growth in tourism.
• Tourism is stabilized by cutting capacity levels.
• Continued overuse of resources and lack of investment leads to a decline.
• War, political unrest, disease or other catastrophe causes an immediate collapse in tourism (like the Covid-19 pandemic).
One interpretation of Butler’s study is that if tourism grows too quickly and becomes too big it can cause its own destruction, both economically and environmentally. Knowing the consequences and risks of the growing tourism industry can help us to predict and possibly prevent major (environmental) problems. On top of Butler’s study we now also have to include the influence of social media on the tourism lifecycle.