Doughnut Economics and tourism

Tourism is on a huge global growth trajectory, and does not appear to be stopping. Fuelled by Instagram envy posting from all parts of the world (leading to overtourism), cheap flights, and an ever-growing thirst for travel, tourism (if it were a country) has the 5th largest carbon footprint compared to nation states.

The doughnut offers a way for tourism operators, communities, and destinations to assess and evaluate business operations, resilience, and business strategies to demonstrate how to live within the doughnut. Tourism, as an economic driver, then contributes to an integrated way of thriving below the ecological ceiling, and minimizing overshoots and supporting social foundations.

This topic is meant to provide space to share ideas, tactics, strategies for tourism that thrives within the doughnut. Illustrations, graphs, ideas, case studies, examples, stories all welcomed.


Fogo Island in Newfoundland and the Shorefast Foundation are examples of how a Canadian community that was dramatically affected by the collapse of the cod fishery is finding its way back through a combination of innovative private financing, a non-profit foundation, and the involvement of local people as mentors, crafters, and guides. It’s a work in progress.

From what we see, how is Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Inn demonstrating that they are thriving within the doughnut?

What else could they be doing?

How do we apply this kind of thinking to other rural communities?

Fogo Island was featured in the BBC series, ‘Amazing Hotels; Life beyond the lobby’. It was a fascinating episode and you’re absolutely right that it raises vital points about the tourism industry.

As in many other industries, there is a conflict between positive and negative outcomes from tourism. The positives include travel bringing greater understanding of other people and cultures and encouraging acceptance of ‘difference’. The negatives include the environmental costs of travel, especially air travel, the low value of labour in the industry and the globalisation of capital, resulting in revenues being drained away from hotels’ local areas back to the home location of the owning or operating company.

The conflict was brought home to me in a recent news report on local (Swiss French) TV, in a piece on the school climate strikes in Geneva last week. The reporter asked a young man in the march whether he had flown recently. He said he had taken a flight to Bordeaux for a short break. The interviewer asked why he hadn’t gone by train and he replied that the train isn’t ‘cool’ and takes too long. Generation Easyjet meets climate consciousness!

If the tourism industry is to contribute towards achieving life within the doughnut, several things need to change:

  1. Measures of ‘sustainability’ in the industry must be based on full life cycle analyses and not on the greenwashing that looks at what can be profitably changed and ignores much of the problem. A hotel might introduce recycling, renewable energy, waste reduction and so on, but if its marketing efforts are to attract guests travelling by air from different continents, then its product is in no way ‘sustainable’.
  2. The global capitalisation of the hotel industry needs to be localised. Hotels should belong to the communities they serve or, at least, to people within those communities, and revenues should remain local, not siphoned off to a foreign head office. This argument is often countered by the point that international brands bring economies of scale and efficiencies in a low-margin industry, but that can also be achieved through establishing international cooperatives to share expertise and know-how. keeping monies in the local economy has a sometimes profound multiplier effect.
  3. The way we view travel needs to change. To keep the benefits but reduce the impacts, short breaks need to be local and longer distance travel should be over a longer period with less environmental impact. Take a short break by train. Spread the benefits of modern technology to everyone through reduced working hours, then use the extra leisure time to take infrequent extended holidays, travelling by train or sea and spending longer at the destination, getting more embedded in the local culture.
  4. The rush to the bottom for rates needs to stop and staff must be paid a living wage. In part, this has been driven by over supply - hotels have been interesting investments, making a revenue while also being speculative property ventures, with the result that many places have too many and competition is extreme.

We do not want to throw the baby of improved understanding out with the bath water of environmental impact, but some joined-up thinking might help us to keep the benefits while reducing the impacts. Living in the doughnut, in fact.

1 Like

I think the ideas about Doughnut Economics can definitely be applied to tourism, especially when it comes to changing a way of thinking. Right now I feel many destinations still focus on the financial gains of tourism, but by doing so they ignore the negative aspects it can bring. The environmental is one thing, but at the same time we also see a loss of natural and cultural heritage as well a cities (mainly in Europe) losing its liveability due to increasing tourism flows. In my opinion doughnut economics can well be applied to stimulate a different way of thinking with respect to those issues. In order to achieve this, destinations should start thinking about other ways of development rather than seeing it only as the driver of economic growth. I recently wrote a piece about this Doughnut economics applied to overtourism in which I mention that destinations need to find alternative ways to measure success. However, I’m still trying to figure out what these measures could entail and I’m wondering if there is anyone with ideas about that?

Thanks for the link to the article you wrote - Doughnut economics applied to overtourism. I offered some comments in support of your article, and how I am applying the doughnut to community development tourism.

Hi all, thank you for sharing this information! We are sailing to the climate conference in Chile and organising a think tank where we will develop ideas to explore the future of tourism in a low carbon world and how it can positively benefit to places vs. the take model that widely exists. If you have any other information we would greatly appreciate it. you can find us at

Thank you!