DEVELOPMENT AND PROMOTION
The development and promotion departments don't communicate.
So when the promotion department creates an ecotourism campaign,
we have to do it all over because they didn't understand the
- Former government official
Academic and government officials tend to compartmentalize
development and promotion. That said, conscientious travelers
are not just seeking the trips with the best ads; they want
to know that the project has been financed and designed in an
ethical and sustainable manner.
Ecotourism is a local AND global endeavor. For small businesses,
it can be difficult to maintain perspective: how does one's
ecolodge prosper or suffer because of international perception
of the region or country takes a tumble? Natural disasters and
political upheaval lead to concern that any vacation in the
region would be a mistake. Another problem occurs on the ground.
For local tourism offices in the developing world, more money
and resources are spent creating a 'corporate image' instead
of being attentive to actual visitors.
SOLUTION? Development and promotion are two sides of
the same coin. Advertising needs to reflect the values of sustainable
development. Officials should implement personnel sharing programs
so that staff learn what the organization is doing.
Create an inventory of how a specific nation's tourism and conservation image
is perceived by potential visitors. What images are portrayed
in the media? What is the international news coverage? For local
offices, how easy is it for travelers to find adequate information?
When I see a drive towards certification it indicates to
me that our leadership is at best, somewhat disconnected from
our clientele and the realities faced by the average ecotourism
operator. It's most certainly in contradiction to what our clientele
have taught us over the last decade.
- Tour operator
In efforts to standardize operations, most certification
programs contradict one of the main components of ecotourism:
local control. In fact, most stakeholders
have been left out of the process. Certification of ecotourism
services is not "market-driven" and unless travelers
and locals care, it has little value as a tool for sustainability.
SOLUTION? If certification can be redeemed, it will
be in assessing the accomplishments of consultants, NGOs and
government leaders in additional to local companies and hotels.
We need to insist that strategies include a broader focus, asking
that certification apply to consultants and other stakeholders
as well as events. If this is too ambitious, how about evaluating
THE LACK THEREOF)
Every time a new tourism official is put in charge of ecotourism,
we have to teach them all over again
- Tourism guide
Lack of continuity
is the Achilles' Heel in ecotourism and sustainable tourism
development. Successful ecotourism depends on security and many
stakeholders are uncertain whether they their operations will
survive the coming year.
If the topic is considered hot, officials dedicate time and
money in developing institutional presence in the field -- regardless
of whether it duplicates other efforts. When interest dwindles,
the project is shut down and personnel sent to other divisions.
We continue to see ecotourism development work managed by program
directors with no expertise and frequently little interest.
Given that ecotourism requires travel, many leaders are on the
road. This leads to a start-go-stop-backward, go-again routine.
Another problem is called personalismo in Latin America,
meaning that a project depends on one person. This works as
long as the particular person is engaged, but if there are any
changes -- such a change of job -- the project folds.
SOLUTION? Instead of reinventing the wheel, conduct
public inventories of work already underway. This helps avoid
duplication. Donors should fund creative extensions to existing
projects, particularly with individuals and groups with a proven
track record. All players need to make a long-term commitment
(3-5 years minimum)!
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
I am leaving in an hour to travel half-way around the world.
Have you noticed how many tourism experts are . . . on the
road? This industry promotes travel, so it's no surprise to
find out colleagues are often away from the office. The trouble
is maintaining contact. Also, there is a great waste of time
and resources when the trip to and from a particular conference
often exceeds the time spent at an actual event. Officials are
reduced to figurehead appearances and there is little opportunity
SOLUTION? Find better ways to bridge
events in the virtual and natural worlds. Make a stronger
commitment to staying in virtual touch while traveling. Patronize
business events and conferences that have an interactive blog
or virtual press conferences.
Nattering Naybobs of Negativity
- Spiro Agnew, coined by William Safire
Ecotourism pioneers find it easy to 'think outside the box'
and leaders often have an expectation that others will catch
on. It usually does not work according to plan.
Many attempts fail for lack of long-term support. The uncertain
future in regard to employment and financing compromise the
prospects for success. Lack of certainty leads to lack of confidence.
SOLUTION? Stop equating cynicism with insight. When
stakeholders come to the table to describe challenges, they
need to be able to work toward viable solutions.
SOLUTION? Decentralization. Expand the rolodex and support
local and regional dialogues and make sure summaries are posted
online. Hire people who live further than 100 kilometers from
a nation's capital and always make certain you have the most
genuine consultation you can with locals
Many complain that bureaucrats just take up space. If they
are not actively sabotaging 'sustainability' projects, they
are not supportive. We can't build sustainable tourism on red
tape. Bureaucracies -- including environmental groups and tourism
ministries -- usually have a communications department in charge
of information distribution. Unfortunately, this removes the
ability and the responsibility to communicate from the principal
SOLUTION? A call for meaningful transparency and dialogue
among the players.
I have been asked to provide not only my own fees for a consulting
project, but the names of colleagues who could do the same work.
The idea seems to be creating a competitive environment, but
it has transmogrified to a wink, wink, nudge, nudge agreement
among professionals to provide the appearance of bids when the
reality is the entire set-up is fraudulent.
SOLUTION? The moral high road is often a bit lonely
and underpaid. So here's my question -- are there established
guideline for the conduct of consultants working in tourism?
If not, could we create them?
Some people are just keeping their chairs warm.
- Government tourism official
Many officials are genuinely proud and let travelers know how
best to enjoy their visit. That said, the true believers are
still in the minority. Those who get the job done complain that
their co-workers are present 'just to collect the paycheck.'
Tour operators criticize government officials and NGO staff
alike for doing only as much as it takes to justify their existence.
They're 'tick the boxes' supportive of ecotourism, but they're
SOLUTION? If we want more passionate leaders -- in
government, private business, academia, media or environmental
groups -- we need to praise the individuals and the institutions
who deliver results.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
Small is beautiful.
- E.F. Schumacher
Whatever happened to the ;small is beautiful' concept made
famous by E.F.
Schumacher? Local environmental groups compete for funds
with multinational NGOs and usually lose. Likewise, Mom-and-Pop
tour operators receive insufficient support.
SOLUTION? Sustainable development works when we match
top-down strategies with bottom-up grassroots initiatives. And
You have to go to 20 meetings with the government for them
to tell you 'no.'
There are a number of challenges brought on by politics. One
problem in particular is the misplaced notion that visitors
understand political boundaries; for the most part they do not.
On the web many national tourism portals divide their countries
by political boundaries, when visitors generally are unfamiliar
with the division of state or municipal boundaries. Municipal
and state rivalries complicate matters. For example, the tourist
information office in downtown Mexico
City represents the Corazon de Mexico program, an initiative
to promote tourism in the central part of the country. Visitors
seeking information for states outside of the 'heart of Mexico'
are told to look elsewhere.
Complicating matters further are the number of politicians
entering tourism without much background. Many tour operators
complain that these leaders require a lot of time to get up
to speed, at which point they are replaced by ... other politicians!
SOLUTION? Simplify government regulations and educate
travelers as much as -- and in the format in which -- they wish
to be educated.
ONLY THE LONELY
Many of those who work in this field are loners. Ecotourism
attracts a solid core of solo travelers and couples. This is
not to say they shun the package tour -- on the contrary. Operators
also nurture a sense of loneliness. They build or assist remote
eco lodges. Some sense a kindred spirit with other loners. One
example. In West Virginia a couple runs a successful inn with
very little guest-host interaction. 'Put your money in the box,
get a key.'
SOLUTION? Recognize the loner crowd as key players.
Recommended reading: Party
Everyone wants a piece of the pie, but they're not waiting
for the pie to come out of the oven.
There are several examples of greed. First are the tour companies
and services that rip off travelers. The rationale is that this
is the only opportunity to make money from the traveler. But
there is a growing market of return travelers and this strategy
makes less sense than ever.
SOLUTION? Sustainable tourism depends on long-term investment
and cross-sector sharing of responsibilities and profits.