The importance of nature-based tourism is not lost on national governments. They are fully aware that it can bring numerous socio-economic benefits to a country or locality, by generating foreign exchange, creating local employment and raising environmental awareness. But a surprising number of countries are neither fully exploiting this potential nor managing current nature-based tourism effectively. This is evident from the low priority generally assigned to tourism planning and coordination. It is also evident from the fact that many protected areas are deteriorating rapidly as a result of over-visitation and insufficient investment in protected area management.
A general failure to acknowledge the importance of tourism and environment, and lack of coordination and cooperation between those responsible for these areas, are much to blame. Thus although the tourism industry is often represented at ministerial level, its interests are frequently not fully integrated with those of the various ministries, or are considered much less important. The same applies to the environment. A minister with responsibility for the environment often has to deal with ministers who represent supposedly more important defence or industry interests. In such situations, the environment usually loses out. The environment may not even have a spokesperson of its own.
Ideally of course, every country should have either a ministry whose responsibility it is to protect the environment, or a strong bias in favour of environmental conservation running through every department. In reality, responsibility for environmental issues is often shared by a number of different bodies. In the USA, for example, four agencies with separate mandates representing two departments manage protected wilderness areas (the US Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management from the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture). Moreover, until recently, the USA did not have a unified tourism policy, but allowed individual departments or agencies to manage as they saw fit.
If tourism is to become sustainable however, efforts must be made to improve the links between nature conservation, local community development, and the tourist industry. One way in which this could be achieved is through an integrated and regional approach to planning.
At the end of World War II, national planning strategies, previously applied only in countries with socialist governments, began to spread to many capitalist economies and to have special relevance in developing countries. The application of planning techniques expanded notably in the economic field. This was a result of the growing awareness that the rhythm of economic growth by itself is usually not sufficient to meet the needs of ever-expanding populations. In other words, planning was and is seen as a technique for modifying reality (García Villa, 1984).
Fig. 6: Components of a tourism plan.
Source: Inskeep, 1991.
The two main objectives of a national plan are: to express in quantitative terms the model of the country to which society aspires and to give coherence to the different sectoral plans (e.g. agriculture, education, housing, tourism). A national overall development plan should therefore encompass the activities of the different sectors and provide a general framework for the country's harmonious development.
Within a national plan, the national tourism plan should define a general methodological framework, the macro-economic parameters within which tourism will develop, sectoral policy guidelines, and goals that public investment must attain in this sector. The overall development plan of a country should recognize that tourism can play an important role in national development, especially at the regional (sub-country) level, due to its ability to generate employment and foreign exchange, and on account of the opportunities it provides for the recreation and education of the domestic population.
For example, the National Development Plan (NDP) of the Mexican Government for the period 1989–1994 considers the need to "modernize" tourism in relation to the "National Agreement for Economical Recovery and Stability of Prices" (which is one of the seven main chapters of the NDP) (Poder Ejecutivo Federal, 1989). The plan states that, in order to generate more employment and foreign exchange, and to compete more efficiently in the world market, tourism services must be modernized and the tourism infrastructure fostered. It also asserts that the tourism sector must contribute to national economic development, and that the advancement of a "touristic culture" is required, so that all Mexican citizens are aware of the importance of the tourism activity for the country. To attain these goals, specific strategies are being implemented. For example, immigration and customs formalities have been relaxed to promote more foreign tourism. But at the same time domestic tourism is being promoted so that the impacts of foreign tourism seasonality are minimized. More generally, ties between tourism and other sectors of the economy, including private enterprise, are being strengthened and public trust funds created to promote development and investment in tourism (Poder Ejecutivo Federal, 1989).
Once a government has made the decision to develop its country's tourism, a basic planning process should be adopted that includes at least the following seven steps:
determination of objectives
analysis and synthesis
policy and plan formulation
implementation and monitoring.
These steps are outlined below. (Much of the information has been taken from Ceballos-Lascuráin (1986), García Villa, (1984), and McIntyre and Hetherington (1991).) They include reference to those elements that must be taken into account if tourism is to be sustainable in the long term. As the 20th Century draws to a close, all tourism planning should refer to sustainable tourism.
1. Study preparation. The government first needs to specify exactly what it wants studied, usually through the ministry or department of tourism, if either exists, or through the national planning agency. It is not uncommon for government officials to have only a nebulous idea that they want to "study tourism" without a realistic grasp of what this should entail. Therefore, in many countries it is standard practice for the government to invite a tourism specialist (frequently from a foreign country with tourism expertise) to visit the country, assess the specific types of planning needed, and assist with preparation of precise terms of reference for the study.
A multidisciplinary team approach is necessary for such a study. The team members for a national (or regional) tourism planning project should include: a tourism development planner, tourism marketing specialist, tourism manpower and training specialist, transportation planner, economist, sociologist or anthropologist, ecologist, and specialists in wildlife conservation and park and recreation planning. For tourist facility studies, team members usually include an architect, landscape architect, regional planner, and several engineers. Certain planning studies may need other team members, such as specialists in coastal processes, marine tourism, historic building preservation, museum design, tourism legislation, or tourist facility standards. For international projects, local counterparts usually work with the study team.
2. Determination of objectives. The study team determines the preliminary objectives for tourism development, on the understanding that those objectives may need to be modified later, based on the results of the analysis and plan formulation. Establishing objectives, in consultation with the government, is basic to plan formulation. Tourism objectives should reflect the government's general development policy and strategy. Objectives should be broken up into different categories or hierarchies (basic, intermediate, short-, medium- or long-term) and should be closely linked to the general economy of the country. Among the general objectives that a national tourism plan might include are: attaining a certain level of sectoral growth; improvement of employment conditions; maintenance of an appropriate foreign balance of payments; balanced regional development; conservation of the natural and cultural heritage as sustainable tourism resources, and the promotion of areas with high tourism potential.
3. Survey. Inventory and evaluation of the various existing and potential tourist attractions are central to this stage. The study team should seek attractions that are unique to an area and that reflect its inherent natural and cultural character. The study team should list the attractions by category and evaluate them systematically, clearly identifying the primary attraction. The evaluation must link the attractions selected to potential tourist markets. The inventory and evaluation of attractions will also help the planners to determine which regions are most suitable for tourism development.
4. Analysis and synthesis. The analysis should include present tourism development (if any), its historical background, the main obstacles to its further development, prospects, and potential for further development. It should also describe: the general characteristics of the tourism sector, its legal and regulatory aspects, and the financing and tax-incentives available to it. Policies and measures taken to protect the cultural and natural heritage of the nation, and any related infrastructure, should be analysed. Other issues that should be covered include: the direct and indirect effects of the tourism sector on the GNP, balance of foreign payments, employment, natural environment, industry, preservation of cultural traits, etc.
Analysis of tourist markets based on the market survey of the characteristics of current tourists (if some tourism already exists), distance and cost of travel from the market countries, and the relative attributes of competing destinations, is also important. A common technique is to establish market targets that specify the number and types of tourists that the country will be able to attract if the government takes the recommended actions for development and promotion. Based on the projection of tourists, the planners can forecast accommodation needs and requirements concerning other tourist facilities and services, transportation, manpower, and probable economic impact. (See also "Marketing", in Chapter 7.)
The analysis should also indicate means of integrating tourism with the development policies and strategies of other sectors, such as transportation. The analysis must therefore take into account demographic, economic, sociocultural, environmental, land use, and land tenure patterns, as they affect and will be affected by tourism.
At this point, the planners should synthesize the many elements of their survey and analysis to provide a coherent basis on which to formulate the plan. The study team should also summarize the major opportunities and constraints to developing tourism.
5. Policy and plan formulation. Formulating tourism development policies and a structural plan requires consideration of all the elements surveyed and analysed by the study team. The team should prepare alternative policies and outline plans, and evaluate how well each fulfils the tourism objectives, optimizes economic benefits, minimizes environmental and sociocultural impacts, and accords with the country's overall development policy. Then with the participation of the government, the team can determine the final policies and plan.
National tourism plans often include policies for:
the development of tourism infrastructure
training of human resources
development of transportation for tourism
coordination with other sectors
setting up of councils
tax incentives, subsidies and other fiscal stimuli, credit support
creation of regional and local programmes
and guidelines for:
promotion and marketing
minimizing environmental impacts.
The policies and plan may need to be modified after implementation. For example, if it is discovered that a large number of tourism arrivals will generate unacceptable levels of environmental and social impacts, the market target will need to be reduced.
6. Recommendations. The outline plan that is finally selected should indicate the major tourist attractions, designated tourism regions or development areas, transportation access and internal linkages, tour routes, and the design and facility standards that the country should apply to any tourism development. The team should consider implementation techniques throughout the planning process and specify them in the recommendations. The techniques include staging of development, a project programme (usually for a five-year period), zoning regulations, and possibly conceptual land use plans for resorts and attractions to guide future development patterns, hotel and other tourist facility regulations (for example, a hotel classification system), and prototype tour programmes.
The study team should also make specific recommendations concerning means of enhancing economic benefits, the tourist promotion programme (usually for a three- to five-year period), the education and training programme (which may necessitate establishing a hotel and tourism training school), environmental and sociocultural impact controls, government incentives for private sector investment in tourist facilities, organizational structures, and legislation.
7. Implementation and monitoring. Prior to full implementation, the policies and plan should be carefully reviewed and ratified legally. Relevant legislation and regulations should likewise be adopted.
It is common for the government to set up a statutory board to handle various aspects of implementation such as promotion. A public development corporation is sometimes appointed to implement physical development projects, as has been the case with FONATUR in Mexico). Coordination of implementation among all the entities concerned demands strong leadership.
No plan is infallible, so continuous monitoring should be undertaken to detect problems as they arise and to facilitate remedial action. Monitoring will also reveal any changes in market trends that will necessitate modification of development and promotion programmes. And as with any type of planning, a periodic formal review of the tourism policies and plan is necessary. The government tourism agency will probably be responsible for implementation but, because of the multisectoral nature of tourism, the involvement of various government departments and the private sector will be necessary.
The degree of planning centralization must also be considered. This will depend mostly on the size of the country and the management resources available. Thus for smaller countries, or countries with limited finances, it may be more economical and practical to centralize the planning process at the national level. Bigger and richer countries can draw up sub-national planning strategies, with the back-up of a national coordinating mechanism.
Tourism development models have traditionally been spatial and economic. And most have failed to consider environmental and social issues until well after the economic issues have been dealt with. This is one reason why tourism has led to distortion of work patterns, seasonal unemployment, income discrepancies and degradation of local natural resources (Lawrence, 1992).
Yet as much recent research literature suggests, economic and environmental goals should be seen not as independent of one another, but as interdependent, and planned jointly. Thus once a government at any level has decided to promote tourism development, there are various steps that it should incorporate in its planning process to ensure that tourism is sustainable.
The carrying capacity of nature trails is a particularly important factor, and has biophysical, socio-cultural, psychological and managerial aspects. Three examples of nature trails from different protected areas: Doñana National Park, Spain (43); Penguin Island, Western Australia (44); and Néa Kaméni, a volcanic islet off the Greek island of Thera in the Aegean Sea (45).
The role of government in establishing tourism plans has been discussed earlier on in this chapter. However, it cannot be stressed enough that collaboration between officials from the national tourism bureau (or other body), the protected areas/parks service, and treasury is particularly important if the policies and structures that will enable successful ecotourism development are to be put in place. For example, a minister of tourism may pass a law that all international tour operators must employ local tour guides on their trips. Or the director of the parks service may decide that all tour operators who visit parks must give 3% of their profits to the park system and then institute a system to collect entrance fees at park sites. Finally, a national government can pass legislation that permits local residents to retain some of the financial benefits of ecotourism. But each of these individual decisions requires the active support of other sectors if it is to produce results (Boo, 1992b).
An example of this need for collaboration is provided by Kenya. Gakahu (1992b) has pointed out that in this country, tourists generally visit several parks as part of a single itinerary or package. Yet road networks are often inadequate or non-existent, which prevents the development of linkages between protected areas and the sharing of tourists. What is needed is a continuous flow of visitors between the available destinations. To achieve this, the authorities responsible for tourism, roads and public finance must work together to create the conditions in which this would be possible. In such situations cooperative leadership, or at least a common forum, is essential. But there are many players who should be involved in ecotourism planning. Some of these are described below.
Protected area personnel: Since parks and reserves are ecotourism's primary "commodity", protected area personnel should play a central role in ecotourism development and management. Protected area personnel are usually the primary information resources concerning the flora and fauna in their areas. They also are the day-to-day caretakers of these natural resources and have the most responsibility for their immediate conservation.
Local communities: Communities living around or in close proximity to protected areas are frequently overlooked in tourism development and management. Sometimes this is because they are scattered and isolated making communication difficult. At other times developers wish to avoid taking the time and effort to inform local communities of specific tourism development plans, or seek to marginalize them so as to deprive them of anticipated economic benefits. However, the needs of local communities should be taken fully into account, particularly since they are often dependent on the natural resources that attract tourists to an area. The planning process should initiate the development of mechanisms that ensure that local communities receive a share of the benefits of tourism development. But most especially, local communities should be consulted on what level of tourism development they consider is appropriate — both in their immediate environment and in the country as a whole. If their involvement is not sought, ecotourism will certainly not be possible.
Involvement of local people in tourism activities in or near protected areas: Tarascan women cook and offer typical food to tourists at a roadside café on the island of Janitzio, in Lake Pátzcuaro, Mexico (46); sherpas guide tourists in Chitwan National Park, Nepal (47); and a villager of Tepoztlan, Mexico, makes and sells handcrafts to tourists (48).
Tourism industry: Tour operators have a great deal of influence on the destinations, activities and overall experience of tourists. It is therefore crucial that they understand the concept of ecotourism and the conservation requirements of protected areas. They need to be fully aware that the ecotourism product they are trying to promote is fragile and must be carefully preserved. The tourism industry is also an important partner since it is a vital source of information about demand trends, promotion and marketing.
NGOs: Conservation and development groups can play a decisive role in helping to define and direct the growth of ecotourism. They can also serve as vital sources of financial and technical assistance for ecotourism projects on the ground. Moreover, they can facilitate negotiations between local communities and tourism developers, ensuring that the adequate links and mutual benefits are obtained. In addition, these groups often have members or constituencies that seek information and guidance on ecotourism issues. So their support for particular ecotourism projects can contribute significantly to their success (or otherwise).
Financial institutions: If parks and communities are to capture a greater share of the financial benefits of ecotourism, most of them will be obliged to invest in development of infrastructure. Diverse funding sources will be essential. Banks, investment corporations, bilateral and multilateral international development agencies, and private investors could all have an important role in supporting, and providing initial financing for appropriate tourism planning and development. (This is one reason why international development agencies such as the World Bank, the Inter American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, and the Asian Development Bank, have set up environmental departments within their organizational structures and carry out environmental impact assessments before funding projects.)
Consumers: Ecotourism's driving force consists of the consumers themselves. They decide where to go and what to do for recreation or vacation in protected areas. So their thoughts and preferences should be considered very seriously in any ecotourism planning strategy. But they must be "educated" about the costs and benefits of ecotourism to enable them to make wise travel decisions and actually participate in conservation efforts when they travel (Boo, 1992b).
National Ecotourism Councils: One means of developing an appropriate national ecotourism strategy, and that provides a forum for all the various "voices" is by creating National Ecotourism Councils (NECs) (see also Chapter 2). These councils have already proved successful in some developing countries. In Central America, for example, during 1992 and 1993, NECs were set up in practically every country of the region. The Councils are composed of representatives of the public sector (the Ministries of Tourism and the Environment, including the national parks service, and sometimes the Ministries of Education and Public Works as well), the private sector (tourism chambers, tour operators, hotel and restaurant owners, rental car agencies, airlines, etc.), NGOs involved in conservation and ecotourism (local, national, and international), and, in some cases, financial institutions (including international development agencies), as well as representatives of local communities (Ceballos-Lascuráin, 1993b).
Collaboration and consensus building should also extend beyond national frontiers. When the Kenya-Tanzania border was closed in 1977, Maasai Mara became the terminus of a tourism circuit that had previously continued south through Serengeti, to the Ngorongoro Crater. As a result of this political action, the visitor load in Maasai Mara increased rapidly, triggering ill-considered development of tourism infrastructure. In other words, regional ecotourism planning in the sense of including several countries is often called for. Regional planning of tourism is also required since natural ecosystems do not respect political boundaries. Of what use is it to a country to protect the lower basin of a bi-national river as an ecotourism destination if the neighbouring country discards all kinds of waste in the upper basin of the river, and deforests its surrounding slopes? Ecotourism resources are very vulnerable and only through appropriate regional planning will it be possible to conserve ample ecosystems that transcend international boundaries. Also, migrating wildlife know nothing of political borders, and they constitute prime ecotourism material.
Moreover, many ecotourists are very interested in travelling through a diversity of habitats in a relatively short period of time. This can mean travelling through two or even several countries. The setting up of international circuits could greatly facilitate this. The different attractions found in neighbouring countries, for instance, could be combined to create "packages" consisting of a high diversity of natural and cultural attractions and consequently of considerable appeal. Interestingly, such planning would reflect the world-wide trend towards economic and political integration.
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