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
‘A 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.
‘Tourism 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 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.
In 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.
In 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.
In 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 Centre, 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.
“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.
“An 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.