Embarking on the International Year of Sustainable Tourism!

Yesterday the UNWTO launched 2017 as the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This focus provides a ‘unique opportunity to explore and highlight tourism’s potential to help transform our world into a place of prosperity and wellbeing for all’.

To mark the beginning of this landmark year in our sustainable tourism journey, I’d like to highlight some initiatives I’ll be working on this year, and also reflect on some recent achievements.

Current and forthcoming initiatives

thr-coverA Decade of Progress in Protected Area Tourism’, is a new special edition of the journal Tourism and Hospitality Research, released as one of the first sustainable tourism publications of the year. Coordinated by Dr Susan Snyman and myself, it contains nine original research papers from members of the IUCN’s Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group (TAPAS Group). The papers address important topics including: innovation and sustainability in protected area tourism; its contribution to conservation area financing; inclusive business approaches; visitor perceptions of parks; and sustainable tourism standards. The contributions by international academics and practitioners provide an excellent start to the International Year of Sustainable Tourism!

“Visitation counts! Evaluation of tourism in natural World Heritage Sites’ is an innovative project being implemented by the University of Würzburg and myself, and supported by the UNESCO Netherlands Funds-in-Trust. Together we are developing and pilot testing a new tool that will help World Heritage Sites to monitor visitor expenditure. The pilot testing will take place in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site in South Africa during January. When finalised, the new monitoring tool will contribute an additional resource for WHS managers as part of the existing UNESCO Sustainable Tourism Toolkit.


‘Tourism partnerships and concessions in protected areas: cooperating for success’ is a new project spearheaded by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). I will be coordinating this project on behalf of IUCN, and collaborating with other tourism concession experts from the IUCN TAPAS Group including Prof. Paul Eagles and Dr Susan Snyman. Together we will develop a CBD new market-led publication on tourism concessions, and to provide capacity building and skills development opportunities for protected area managers across southern Africa, at a series of training and networking events. Our team will be working closely throughout the process with protected area authorities with extensive concessioning experience in the southern Africa, such as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site. This project is being supported by the German Ministry of Environment (BMUB) and as a pilot projects under the Bio-Bridge Initiative (BBI) financed by the Government of the Republic of Korea.


bpg-coverTourism and Visitor Management in Protected Areas’, will be released later this year as part of the IUCN’s Best Practice Guidelines series. Edited by Prof. Yu-Fai Leung, myself, Prof. Glen Hvenegaard and Prof. Ralf Buckley, the publication combines contributions from 58 TAPAS Group experts based in 23 countries. The book provides a major update from the last edition, acting as a key reference and training guide for protected area managers globally, is linked with an online resource directory. Production of the guideline has been coordinated by the IUCN TAPAS Group and supported by the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, GIZ the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and NC State University. This Best Practice Guidelines is the 3rd edition of this tourism publication from IUCN, and it anticipated that (like its predecessors) it will be an important resource for protected area managers.

Highlights from 2016

Last year I was honoured to be re-elected as Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected TAPAS-LOGO-(cmyk-for-print)Areas’ Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group. Working with an impressive executive committee, and together with our extensive volunteer network of over 4o0 experts, I plan to continue  implementing our 2015-2020 strategy.  Part of my role includes participating in the 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Programme’s Multi-stakeholder Advisory Committee, which promotes sustainable consumption and production in tourism.  I also became an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Brighton’s School of Sport and Service Management in 2016.

HappyIn Tanzania, I did a review of economic valuation studies and value chain analyses of wildlife based tourism together with Damian Bell of the Honeyguide Foundation. This USAID PROTECT initiative studied the flows of revenues between tourism operators at Wildlife Management Areas and local entrepreneurs and enterprises. It is envisaged that this research will inform new initiatives to improve commercial linkages between the tourism sector and local community economies.

kosi-bayIn South Africa, I was commissioned to conduct a final evaluation of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority Global Environment Facility Grant (GEF). This reviewed the achievements of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority over the past 6 years to restore the Lake St Lucia ecosystem, promote conservation compatible local economic and cultural development, and build skills and capacity for biodiversity conservation. The evaluation highlighted the impact that the park has made on local people’s perceptions of conservation, such as “iSimangaliso helps us to grow so we can employ people and provide incomes, so they stop destroying the park”, and how the Authority has helped to strengthen local businesses, including guiding and traditional food catering enterprises.

seychellesIn the Seychelles, and on behalf of UNDP, I did an evaluation of tourism development, partnerships, and fee collection systems within protected areas managed by the Seychelles National Park Authority. This included visits to all of SNPA’s protected areas, consultation with park staff and partners, and gave a unique insight into their management of globally important biodiversity for tourism. The findings will be used by SNPA and the GOS/UNDP/GEF Program Coordination Unit to improve the quality and diversity of visitor facilities, and also to improve the efficiency of the revenue collection to finance conservation.

Also in Africa, and on behalf of the African Development Bank’s African Natural Resources cop22-ppt-imageCentre, I undertook a review of tourism certification programs in Africa, and also reviewed the uptake of sustainable waste and water management practices in the hotel sector. A series of case studies were produced, on the Travelife and Green Hotel Star certification programs, use of certification to promote sustainability in the Kavango Zambezi Transfronteier Conservation Area, by the southern African operators Wilderness Safaris, and by the Seychelles’ hotel resort Constance Ephelia, and I was privileged to make a presentation of the findings and recommendations at the Climate Change Summit (COP22) in Morocco. The work will be used to inform new initiatives on the continent to mainstream certification and good waste and water management practices in the future.

I continued my long-standing involvement with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, as a volunteer member of the Destination Working Group, delivering a training program on the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria to the public and private sector in Cape Town, and reviewing a number of certification body standards seeking GSTC Recognition as part of the Accreditation Panel.                

oie_82110153oRUxjPt“The Responsible Tourist: How to find, book and get the most from your holiday” was developed and released as a unique e-book by Andrew Rylance and myself. The Responsible Tourist provides travellers tools to make informed decisions about their trips. It describes how to find a responsible destination, how to find and use online booking platforms that promote sustainable holidays, and also how to book directly with a responsible hotel or tour operator. It is available on Amazon, Slideshare, and Researchgate. The book is an initiative contributing to the 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Program.

Concessioning 14 tipsAn introduction to tourism concessioning: 14 Characteristics of
successful programs”
 was published by the World Bank Group, as the first part of a ‘Tourism Concessioning Toolkit in Protected Areas’. The report was produced by myself and experts from the World Bank’s Competitiveness Global Practice, and the International Finance Corporation’s Public-Private Partnership Transaction Advisory Department (C3P) – Hermione Nevill, Carla Faustiano Coelho and Michelle Souto.


COP22 event – Sustainable tourism certification in Africa: Water and waste practices by hotels

On Tuesday 8 November 2016 at the 22nd Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP22) an event on “Certification of Green Tourism in Africa” was hosted by  the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) African Natural Resources Centre (ANRC).

The event will featured the results of a study on the current status of certification, water and waste management among hotels in Africa, in addition to case studies on Travelife,  Green Star Hotel, Wilderness Holdings, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, and the Constance Ephelia hotel.  A distinguished panel and delegates attending reflected on recommendations of potential areas of intervention to support AfDB member countries.

  • Where it was: Africa Pavilion at COP22 (Salle 2), Marakesh, Morocco
  • When it took place: 2.30 pm – 4 pm, Tuesday 8 November 2016
  • More information on COP22: http://www.cop22.ma
  • Full session presentation (with introduction, presentation, panel and discussion questions): click here
  • Situational analysis presentation, including case studies: click here


Introduction: Dr Tarek Ahmed, ANRC, AfDB

Presentation:   Situational analysis – Sustainable tourism certification in Africa – Dr Anna Spenceley, AfDB consultant; Chair IUCN WCPA Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group – click here

Panel discussion: Moderator – Dr Tarek Ahmed, AfDB

  • Mr Jean Michel Ossete, African Water Facility /Ag. Coordinator, African Water Facility
  • Mr. Emad Hassan, Sustainable Tourism Certification Alliance Africa/Ministry of Tourism
  • Mr Oseloka Zikora, African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW)/Program Coordinator and Head of Communications
  • Mr Ahmed Abou Elseoud, CEO, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency
  • Dr Anna Spenceley, AfDB consultant

Plenary discussion




Raising the bar for ecotourism: IUCN joins effort to align ecotourism with conservation goals

IUCN has over 1,300 Members, including 217 state and government agencies, 1, 066 NGOs and networks of over 16,000 experts worldwide from more than 160 countries. The IUCN World Conservation Congress meets once every four years to debate and adopt resolutions and recommendations on important conservation issues. These decisions guide IUCN’s policy and work programme, as well as influence many organisations around the world.

September 12, 2016 – Honolulu, Hawaii — Among the landmark decisions emerging last week from the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress is a bold decision to improve standards for ecotourism worldwide. Motion 65, “Improving standards in ecotourism”, proposed by the Yale Tropical Resources Institute in collaboration with The International Ecotourism Society, Nature Seychelles, the African Wildlife Foundation, the WILD Foundation, The Wilderness Society Australia, National Parks Australia Council, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and the Moroccan Association for Ecotourism and Nature Protection, urges IUCN to renew their definition of ecotourism and address the barriers to its effectiveness as a conservation tool.

Defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of local people, and involves interpretation and education,” ecotourism aspires to be a form of nature-based travel that helps people and nature. Today, the fastest growing sector of the largest global industry, ecotourism development is used as a tool for countless conservation efforts in public and private protected areas around the world. “Ideally,” says Anna Spenceley, Chair of IUCN’s Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group, “ecotourism should be the most sustainable form of nature-based tourism. In protected areas, and other areas of high biodiversity, this form of travel should inspire visitors, conserve nature and culture, and benefit local people equitably.”

However, these tourism operations often create complex conservation challenges. Despite the alleged role ecotourism has in sustainable development, poverty eradication, and biodiversity protection, there is growing concern that ecotourism activities are failing to protect communities and natural areas due to commercial greenwashing and inadequate management, monitoring, and resources. “Done poorly,” remarks Peter Cochrane, IUCN Regional Councilor for Oceania, “it can be degrading in every sense of the word. So high standards of performance and behaviour are essential, not only to protect the environment but also to communicate and demonstrate to visitors, local communities and regulators that ecotourism is a mature, responsible and valued part of every economy.”

Welcoming the resolution after it passed with overwhelming support, Mr. Cochrane is “delighted that IUCN will be collaborating on the development and adoption of high standards and associated certification to ensure that ecotourism operations and operators deliver what they promise, with positive impact.” Through this initiative, together, IUCN Commissions, Members, and the Tourism and Protected Area Specialist Group will help the travel industry develop and manage ecotourism in a more responsible way. Seeing its effects first hand, Andrea Athanas, Program Manager for the African Wildlife Foundation agrees, when done responsibly “eco-tourism…is a positive ally for conservation.” By building global partnerships and synthesizing data and perspectives from the tourism industry, natural and social scientists, and economists, IUCN will play a large role in improving and promoting new standards to reverse the negative impacts of ecotourism across the planet.

For more information:

Read the full motion adopted at the IUCN Congress here: https://portals.iucn.org/congress/motion/065

And visit the IUCN WCPA Website on tourism: https://www.iucn.org/protected-areas/world-commission-protected-areas/wcpa/what-we-do/tourism-tapas


Tropical Resources Institute, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

301 Prospect Street, Room 202, New Haven, Connecticut 06511

Tel: +1 (484) 269-4745

Email: shanefeyers@gmail.com

Market research for the AfDB on tourism certification, waste and water management in Africa


The African Development Bank (AfDB) is currently doing research on tourism certification in Africa, focusing on incentives and standards for waste and water management (and what actions could encourage better practices across the accommodation sector.)

If you would like to contribute your ideas and insights, please complete this short online questionnaire by Friday 23 September 2016


An introduction to tourism concessioning

Concessioning 14 tipsThe World Bank Group has recently published Part One of a ‘Tourism Concessioning Toolkit in Protected Areas’, authored by Anna Spenceley, Hermione Nevill, Carla Faustiano Coelho and Michelle Souto.

The work was led by the World Bank Group’s Tourism and Competitiveness Global Practice, and the International Finance Corporation’s Public-Private Partnership Transaction Advisory Department (C3P), drawing from experience in Mozambique, South Africa, and other parts of the world. This document sets out the stage and core principles to be taken into consideration when designing concessioning programs.


  • Governments and Protected Areas Authorities are under increasing pressure to preserve the beauty and biodiversity of their beaches, parks, and pristine natural sites, while also growing tourism activity.
  • Tourism concessioning is one solution. Delivering successful tourism concessioning programs, however, is challenging and depends on the right mix of characteristics, technical expertise, and institutional experience.
  • The World Bank Group presents 14 key characteristics displayed in most successful tourism concessioning programs.

The document is currently available from several sites, using the links below:

The Responsible Tourist

How to find, book and get the most from your holiday

ASIN: B01FCG5EF2oie_82110153oRUxjPt

Why Travel Responsibly?

Travelling responsibly can provide a richer holiday experience. It means that you’re not just passing by, but are actively contributing to the places you visit and the people who live there.

What is the book about?

 The Responsible Tourist gives you the tools you need to make an informed decision about your holiday. The book describes how to find a responsible destination, how to find and use online booking platforms that promote sustainable holidays, and how to find and book directly with a responsible hotel or tour operator.

How do I get the book?

The Responsible Tourist is available to buy now as an e-book from Amazon Kindle, for USD 0.99 (or the equivalent value in your local currency). It is available free to members of Amazon Prime, and Kindle Unlimited. The e-book is compatible with Kindle Fire devices, and Free Kindle Tablets. Click here for the Amazon link

The book is also available in pdf format for researchers at the following sites:


The book is an initiative contributing to the 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Program, and has been reviewed by members of the IUCN Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

About the authors

Dr Anna Spenceley is an international tourism expert and consultant with 20 years experience sustainable tourism. Anna is Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group (TAPAS Group), a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Working Group. Her profile is included in Who’s Who in the World.

Andrew Rylance is an economic development specialist focusing on tourism in rural areas and natural resource economics. He has worked throughout Africa for organisations such as the United Nations, World Bank, European Union, German International Cooperation (GIZ) and SNV. He is currently a Senior Project Advisor with the United Nations Development Programme supporting sustainable financing of protected areas in Mozambique. He is also a member of the IUCN WCPA TAPAS Group.


Panorama webinars on sustainable tourism: videos and presentations now available!

iucn wcpa tapas logo

Links to recordings for the twin IUCN Panorama tourism and protected areas webinars are now available!

Session 2: 7th April 2016: Video of Webinar 2: click here

  1. “Making protected area concessions work for communities”
    Sue Snyman, Namibia
  2. “Profiting from eco-tourism in Cambodia”
    Ross Sinclair, Cambodia

All presentations are available here

If you’d like to get involved in the Panorama initiative, click here