Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Lauren Duffy

Committee Member

Dr. Lori Dickes

Committee Member

Dr. Jeffrey Hallo

Committee Member

Dr. William Terry


The responsibility of protecting the natural environment, and limiting the negative environmental impacts, often falls on the local community (Streimikiene et al., 2021). The impact of communities relying more on the tourism industry as an economic driver for continued development (Streimikiene et al., 2021) is of special interest to this dissertation as the United States (U.S.) manages the COVID-19 global pandemic. Tourism can both locally benefit a community and its residents, while simultaneously contribute to global environmental impacts (Gössling & Hall, 2006). As destinations attract more visitors into a physical space, data continues to reveal the continued destruction of natural habitats (e.g., forests, wetlands, and coral reefs) as a direct consequence of production and human consumption – deemed an assault on nature (Porritt, 2005). To provide a more digestible and manageable context, the destination level provides a valuable starting point for research focused on environmental protection. This dissertation seeks to explore the guiding research question, “Should destinations be situated within limits set by nature?” The purpose of this dissertation is to explore destination management policy and the perspectives of destination managers across the U.S. on concepts such as growth, competitiveness, sustainability, and degrowth to determine and explore the levels of sustainability for destinations seeking to remain competitive in the long-term.

The debate, however, remains on which alternative sustainable strategy should be used to address the current environmental crisis. Scholars have proposed steady-state (Daly, 2014; O’Neill, 2014) a-growth (van den Bergh, 2011), degrowth (Andreoni & Galmarini, 2013; Kallis et al., 2012; Spangenberg, 2014), green (Barbier & Markandya, 2013; Loiseau et al., 2016), blue (Pauli, 2010; Smith-Godfrey, 2016), circular (Kirchherr et al., 2017; Korhonen et al., 2018), doughnut (Raworth, 2017), and community (Gibson-Graham, 2006) inspired economies. This dissertation considers the degrowth framework within destination management in the context of tourism because of its high value on environmental limitations – particularly stressing both efficiency and sufficiency in terms of the natural capital and ecological resources on which economic throughput is based (Hall, 2009). A holistic vision for degrowth seeks to not only equitably downscale production and consumption, but also enhance ecological conditions and increase human well-being, both locally and globally, in the short and long term (Schneider et al., 2010).

This dissertation also explores how more intentional environmental sustainability policy can be implemented to achieve long-term competitiveness – beyond the traditional interpretation of competitiveness as having more, doing more, and attracting more. One of the primary conflicting challenges for tourism destinations is remaining competitive in a capitalistic global market while simultaneously attempting to target and achieve sustainable development goals (Streimikiene et al., 2021). As the capitalist logic of growth continues to be unsustainable for Earth’s resources, however, scientists and scholars have warned that the time for change is now (SkubałA, 2018). Thus, the COVID-19 related temporary pause in travel was thought to perhaps provide an opportunity for destinations to reset, or transform, their management to be more aligned with sustainable agendas – rather than rushing back to “business as usual” (Gössling et al., 2020, p. 15).

Despite this proposal for change, findings from this research suggest that the pandemic was not ‘the event’ that helped reform or repair the industry in environmentally sustainable ways. Instead of a ‘pause’ in travel, the pandemic for most destination managers across the U.S. felt more like a shift in their resources. Despite the hope for creating a tourism industry that is greener, smarter, and less crowded, many of the same challenges for destinations pre-pandemic carried through during the pandemic and beyond – with 86% of destination managers reporting a negative impact on their destination’s environment during the pandemic.

To explore the environmental policy of destinations further, this dissertation also applied the perspectives of destination managers to destination competitiveness indicators (established by Dwyer & Kim, 2003), as well as items from the Sustainable Tourism Attitude Scale (SUS-TAS) (established by Choi & Sirakaya 2005) to each of the dimensions of sustainability (established by Vos, 2007) to determine a level of sustainability for existing destination marketing/management organizations (DMOs). This method helped to further examine how destination managers operationalize sustainability policy and provide a baseline for understanding the larger role DMOs play in sustainability.

The application of a degrowth framework to this dissertation allowed for traditional concepts, such as sustainability and growth, to be examined with a different, more “radical” lens and helped to create a baseline for understanding degrowth as a concept and degrowth policy from the perspectives of destination managers. Although none of the interviewed participants had previously heard of degrowth, their assumptions of degrowth and responses to degrowth policy create a clear picture: destination managers, and likely DMOs, are still operating in a largely traditional growth paradigm despite decades of sustainability efforts to protect natural resources. Although this finding may be disappointing, there are DMOs who are implementing environmental sustainability policy and plans that provide a glimpse of hope for the future of DMOs as they potentially move away from traditional marketing and shift back towards management of the destination. Thus, this dissertation and its findings contribute to the destination management literature that focuses on pushing DMOs further in their sustainability efforts through the exploration of innovative and alternative sustainable policy.



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