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Ecological Impacts of Tourism in and Around San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

An activity to use in a study abroad course

Curricular materials created for the 2013 SAIL seminar:

Mediterranean Trivium: Earth, Sea, & Culture in Italy

This activity was created for the study abroad course titled The Impacts of Mining and Tourism on Indigenous Peoples and the Environment in Northern Chile. In the activity, students will find and analyze a variety of sources of information to develop estimates of the ecological impacts of tourism on local indigenous communities.

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Context of the Activity

This activity is one of several that students will be asked to complete during a 3.5 week long January-term course, Paideia 450: The Impacts of Mining and Tourism on Indigenous Peoples and the Environment of Northern Chile, that I will teach in 2015 with Anita Carrasco, Anthropology, Luther College.


Learning Goals

After completing this assignment students should be able to:

  1. Predict the sources of ecological impacts resulting from tourism and what information would be need to assess these impacts. (concepts: tourism has a variety of often overlooked impacts on air, water, wildlife, energy use, solid waste production; ecosystem services; economic externalities)
  2. Find and analyze a variety of sources of information to develop estimates of ecological impacts. (skills: find information from reliable internet sources, journal articles, and interviews; analyze a variety of kinds of data from these sources; make estimates of ecological impacts from incomplete information)
  3. Summarize the ecological impacts in oral and written formats (skills: oral and written communication; interdisciplinary learning: anticipate how environmental impacts of tourism will impact indigenous communities, recognize the ethical issues related to tourism)


Activity Description

In June, 2014, we will visit San Pedro de Atacama (in my case for the first time in 35 years) and we will not teach the course until January, 2015. These teaching materials will be updated including teaching notes after we teach the class.

The assignment is designed to take place several days. It begins with a lecture to provide some context. To begin answering the central question of the assignment, the students will break into small groups to make a list of potential environmental impacts of tourism and how they might be measured. Small groups will investigate one type of environmental impact assigned to them.  After conferring with one or both the faculty about a research plan, each small group will make observations and/or collect data.  Table 2 from Gössling et al. (2012) and tables 3 and 6 from Saito (2013) will be provided to the students.

After the research and analysis phase, one student from each resource group will be put in a group made of up students who are experts in different ecological impacts. After sharing the results of their research in small groups, the class will come together a final time for a lecture/discussion to explore the concepts of ecosystems services and economic externalities within the context of tourism. Students will complete the module by writing 750-word essay addressing the prompt in the assignment.


We will assess the depth of students’ understanding of the issues, how effectively they use evidence, how they handle the difficulty of making conclusions from incomplete information, how effectively they can explain the issues to their peers, and their ability to identify the ethical dimensions of tourism.

Resources & Materials


  • Gössling, S., P. Peeters, C. M. Hall, J.-P. Ceron, G. Dubois, L. V. Lehmann, and D. Scott. 2012. Tourism and water use: Supply, demand, and security. An international review. Tourism Management 33:1-15. Table 2: Water use per tourist per day, various tourism contexts.
  • RIDES. 2005. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment: Human well-being and sustainable management in San Pedro de Atacama – Executive Summary. RIDES, Santiago, Chile.
  • Saito, O. 2013. Resource Use and Waste Generation by the Tourism Industry on the Big Island of Hawaii. Journal of Industrial Ecology 17:578-589.  Table 3: Specific resource consumption and waste generation derived from survey samples. Table 6: see bottom two rows for daily per visitor demand for electricity, fuel, oil, water, food, waste generation.
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