Concept Mapping: An Effective and Rapid Participatory Tool for Analysis of the Tourism System?

Chelsea L. Leven, Keith Bosak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Sustainable tourism has grown rapidly in the last 35 years, both on the ground and as an area of academic study. However, the results of sustainable tourism development have proven to be mixed, with many unwanted outcomes stemming from its development in destinations around the world. Recent academic approaches to studying sustainable tourism development are increasingly turning towards social–ecological systems (SESs) thinking in order to embrace the inherent complexity and rapid change found in today’s world. This stems partly from an understanding that tourism is a complex social–ecological phenomenon, and that its success relies on understanding its dynamics in a given location. While SES approaches to understanding complex phenomena such as tourism are well-developed, they tend to be resource-intensive and unwieldy in rapidly changing environments, such as those found in sustainable tourism destinations. Therefore, we hypothesized that a novel form of concept mapping based on an SES perspective and the paradigm of resilience thinking could address limitations in conceptualizing and understanding sustainable tourism as part of a larger SES. In this paper, we outline our method thoroughly, then evaluate concept mapping by assessing its effectiveness as a rapid assessment tool that enhances systems understanding while being easy to use in the field, privileging local knowledge, and emphasizing relationships within the SES. We focus on the method and its applicability rather than the results of the maps themselves. Through a case study in Ometepe, Nicaragua, our results showed that concept mapping revealed key drivers and values within the SES and emphasized the value of participatory and transdisciplinary tourism research. Our study demonstrates that concept mapping is an effective method for rapidly assessing the complexity of a tourism destination in a manner that is accessible, adaptable, and achievable.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10162
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Latin America
  • Nicaragua
  • methodology
  • resilience
  • social–ecological system
  • sustainable tourism


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