Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation (International Conservation and Development)

Department or School/College

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Dr. Keith Bosak

Commitee Members

Dr. Brian C. Chaffin, Dr. Sarah J. Halvorson


Latin America, Nicaragua, Resilience, Social-ecological system, Sustainability, Tourism


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Community-Based Research | Latin American Studies | Leisure Studies | Nature and Society Relations | Tourism


Tourism endures as a major component of development strategies worldwide, despite a dearth of documented successes. Tourism failures arise in part from simplistic and reductionist approaches to sustainability and tourism. Successfully implementing tourism to support sustainable futures requires, at a minimum, a more holistic and complex conceptualization than tourism currently receives, including recognition of how human values shape a system. To achieve a more complex understanding of tourism, I analyzed tourism through a social-ecological system (SES) perspective using the paradigm of resilience thinking. Through a case study in Ometepe, Nicaragua, my research considered opportunities for tourism contributions to sustainable futures and resilience of valued system attributes. First, I evaluated a novel use of concept mapping as a method to conceptualize tourism within the greater SES of Ometepe. Concept mapping offers a participatory method to visually represent how the tourism sector functions within an SES. The case study demonstrated that concept mapping provides a tool for rapidly assessing complexity of a tourism destination in a manner that is accessible, adaptable, and achievable, even amongst a socio-political crisis that erupted in Nicaragua during the study. Second, I analyzed how the tourism sector functions within the SES using eight unique concept maps produced by 39 participants. I systematically evaluated the concept maps through analyzing and comparing fundamental system properties derived from the data. Properties included nonlinear dynamics, feedback loops, historical legacies, uncertainty, resilience, and cross-scale interactions. I supported my analysis with secondary research, field observations, and informal interviews. Results suggest that tourism might contribute to sustainable development on Ometepe if tourism development strategies recognize and adapt to the functions of domestic tourism, livelihood diversity, local government, and the informal tourism sector. Increasing knowledge exchange between islanders, tourists, and outside resources offers potential to enhance tourism socioeconomics and reduce disaster risks. However, tourism and the greater SES are also vulnerable to transformation initiated beyond the scale of Ometepe Island. Looking forward, my analysis of tourism could provide the foundation for intentional planning that includes a recognition of complexity and can leverage appropriate strategies to strengthen resilience of valued attributes of Ometepe.



© Copyright 2019 Chelsea Leigh Leven