Setting Limits of Acceptable Change

What is a resilient destination and how can we create more of them as we bide our time waiting for travel and tourism to pick up again? To say the hospitality and tourism industry is in survival mode is an understatement. As we play the waiting game for a safe and effective vaccine, many continue to ask, “when will tourism be back to ‘normal’?” or “when will we get tourism again?”, when the focus should instead be on “what do we want tourism to be like?”

Sustaining Tourism Director and Ph.D., Rachel Dodds, believes the key to resilience is being proactive rather than reactive, “resilience is about adaptability and good governance…by being proactive and adaptable you create a community that has a memory to assist you to adapt to future events”. When we consider the history of tourism industries, preventative measures and management are hardly applied.

The Stock Market Analogy

Do you invest in stocks? If so, what is your acceptable level of risk? It can be high or low, depending on your goals, but this is always clearly defined to protect your investment.

When you invest, you have an acceptable limit to the amount of change in your investments that you’re willing to tolerate; in other words, there’s a limit to the amount of money you’re willing to lose before you make a change (sell). Destinations and businesses can also protect their assets by determining what their acceptable level of risk is and this can help build destination resilience and sustainability.

To pivot towards prevention in tourism, it is first important to understand that sustainability and resilience are not endpoints but living and continuous movements. Furthermore, there is a misconception that resilience and sustainability coincide, but this is not always the case. “You can be adaptable but that doesn’t necessarily mean your sustainable; whereas if your sustainable, most likely you’re also adaptable.” – Rachel Dodds, Sustaining Tourism Director and Ph.D. To do both, it is crucial to listen to all voices and establish limits of acceptable change through multi-stakeholder engagement.

Limits of Acceptable Change and Multi-Stakeholder Engagement

Limits of acceptable change (LAC) in tourism refers to the process through which stakeholders collaborate to define the variation that’s considered acceptable for a particular ecological or social component. LAC differs between each stakeholder group, so it is critical to capture the community, shareholders, policymakers, non-profit groups, etc. in a final consensus. The purpose of LAC is to facilitate a discussion on: What are we willing to put up with?; What tools do we need to measure the impact?; How do we know when we’ve gone too far?; What do we then do about it?; What are the management principles we apply?

Through this approach, businesses and organizations can work with stakeholders, to influence important decisions affecting the quality of life and the sustainability of the destination. According to Rachel Dodds, successful stakeholder engagement is “not just about sending out a survey and asking what [stakeholders] think or inviting them to a meeting and having their voices heard, it’s about actually helping them in the decision-making capacity.” When limits of acceptable change and multi-stakeholder engagement are applied together, these concepts can achieve a more positive outcome for the community; the environment; and hospitality and tourism businesses.

Bottom Line

Resilience as well as sustainability are living, rather than static concepts. In other words, it isn’t something you are, but something that you continually work towards. Resilient destinations are the ones who are proactive rather than reactive. Stakeholder management and engagement is critical in working towards building resilience and each stakeholder has a role to play. As an individual or a business, a growth mindset and willingness to embrace change is essential to being a collaborative stakeholder in building a destination that will be a healthy place for visitors, communities, and businesses for years to come.


To learn more about this topic, listen to our full discussion with Ph.D., Sustaining Tourism Director, Rachel Dodds. Behind the Kerten podcast Ep. 2: Sustainable Destination Development & Stakeholder Management.


More to explore