Tourism is regarded by many countries, particularly resource-poor countries, as a potential stimulus to the economy. Yet tourism, by the nature of the activities involved, is constrained by the natural resource base and infrastructure, and by the pollution and other environmental and social impacts of tourist numbers. Tourism development strategies of national governments have been diverse in the face of this complex relationship between the economic costs and benefits of tourism. This paper examines tourist development based on concepts of open access and renewable natural resources. The experiences of two economies highly dependent on tourism, the Maldives and Nepal, are compared and contrasted. Although these countries offer very different attractions to tourists, they are faced with similar problems in terms of adverse environmental impacts of tourism. The dominant impacts in both areas are those associated with solid waste disposal and water resources, compounded by the depletion of natural resources. Both countries are currently employing 'dispersal' techniques to overcome the adverse impacts of tourism, but such strategies do not address the fundamental problem of maintaining tourism revenues whilst minimizing environmental damage. Even if an ecological carrying capacity can be defined, the experiences of these two countries indicate that impacts on local communities may well exceed so-called cultural carrying capacity.