In the previous couple of blog entries, we focused on some of the work Solimar has been doing in Uganda to improve parks and other protected areas through tourism initiatives. In this post, we will follow the same protected area theme but take a closer look at the approaches we follow when addressing the business of protected areas. Some might think that "business" and "protected areas" should not be used in the same sentence, but the reality is that the majority of protected areas around the world rely on tourism for a good portion, if not the majority, of their revenue, which in turn helps manage and conserve important landscapes and precious resources.
Tourism is often the financial backbone behind protected areas and we have worked around the world helping protected areas enhance the benefits they can derive from tourism. Although each destination is different and needs its own specific strategy, we tend to take four approaches that support protected areas through tourism:
- Creating partnership programs to support protected areas
- Tourism product development in protected areas
- Community linkages with, and benefits from, protected areas
- Linking markets to protected areas
Each of these approaches, whether integrated or implemented on their own, help increase revenue for protected areas and enhance protected area conservation and law enforcement activities. The following paragraphs give a brief overview of each of the four approaches and how they enhance the business of protected areas. For more detailed information, check out our Destination Development and Marketing Case Study.
Protected areas are utilized by a broad array of people and organizations, many of which rely on the protected areas for their income. However, these stakeholders are often underutilized as a resource for the benefit of the protected area. A protected area partnership program protected area partnership program establishes a network of public and private sector stakeholders with common interests to support the protected area both financially and through in-kind contributions. The approach we take is to stimulate collaboration and communication among stakeholders through quick catalytic activities (such as cooperative destination marketing). These help build momentum behind the group and establish long-term collaborative partnerships.
Many protected areas also require improvements to their tourism infrastructure, products and services so that they can attract more visitors, attract a specific segment of visitors, keep visitors in the region longer, or drive visitation to new areas of the protected area. To improve the tourism assets of the region, we take an approach that works with protected area authorities to evaluate the conservation, management and resource needs of the destination. Based on this tourism assessment, we identify which opportunities can address the goals of the protected area. Throughout this process we also work with the tourism market to help identify, refine and validate opportunities that fit with market needs and then develop new products or enhance services through the protected area managers themselves. The goal is not tourism for tourism’s sake, but strategic tourism assets that help achieve the long-term conservation goals of the protected area.
Communities are a part of the broader ecological landscape around protected areas and are therefore an important part of the overall business approach for protected areas. If neighboring communities benefit from visitors to the protected area then their relationship with the protected area improves. We have a comprehensive tourism enterprise development program that is explained in detail on our website, but the essence of the goal is to work with communities in or around protected areas that have an interest in tourism, a willingness and capacity to host visitors, and viability in the tourism market to create a business that is owned by the people of the community. Depending on the situation, the tourism facility can be run by the community or as a concession to a private sector operator. Either way, the objective is to go beyond just employment to tangible ownership of business assets that link the community to sustainable benefits from the park.
To successfully utilize tourism as a tool for protected area management, marketing and market linkages are vital. However, this is often an activity that is marginalized within protected area management practices. To drive people to protected areas and to keep them there for longer, they need to know about the destination and what to do within it, but this is not a task that one person or organization can achieve. Cooperative marketing, leveraging partners that also have a business interest in the protected area, helps to expand the market reach of the destination and build collaboration among regional partners.
For protected areas, a mix of traditional push marketing (sales manuals, print collateral, etc.) and inbound (pull) marketing (web-campaigns, social media, news stories, etc.) helps to build awareness about the destination with travelers and the tourism trade, and then drives travelers interested in the protected area to the travel trade to make the sale. Media, past travelers, travel trade partners and others are all utilized to increase the visibility of the protected area and track that back to actual visitors to the region.
When combined, these four approaches help to improve the business of protected areas, using tourism as a tool to increase revenues that in turn help to manage and protect these valuable natural assets. To learn more about Solimar’s approach to tourism in and around protected areas download our case study on destination development and marketing.
It’s no secret that ecotourism, which in turn evolved into sustainable tourism, was born out of the conservation movement. From international NGOs like Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy to their local counterparts, conservation organizations poured considerable resources into the ecotourism boom of the 80s and 90s.
But that interest and investment began to ebb about a decade ago – most likely due in part to the lack of success stories or replicable models illustrating how tourism could reduce biodiversity threats, not just contribute to them.
Fortunately, over the past few years Solimar has been increasingly approached by various conservation partners, from global organizations to local protected area managers, who want to know how tourism can become a bigger part of their conservation approach.
The up tick may be due, in part, to the unrelenting growth of global tourism. As more than one billion travelers traverse the globe each year, efforts to reduce their impact must increase, especially in fragile ecosystems. WWF’s Global Marine Programme approached Solimar in 2013 because coastal development, including that driven by mass tourism, is second only to unsustainable fishing as the primary threat to the world’s coastal and marine ecosystems. WWF realized the importance of developing a strategy to address the impacts of tourism in coastal areas head on, including efforts to create industry standards and to encourage alternative livelihoods for fishing communities.
Solimar and WWF’s Global Marine Program are now finalizing that strategy, and hope to see tourism increasingly embraced as a part of their efforts to support conservation worldwide.
Another potential reason for the renewed interest of the conservation community in tourism is because travel market trends increasingly favor destinations and businesses that embrace sustainability and offer opportunities for visitors to personally experience that wonderful space where tourism and conservation overlap.
For the past two years, Solimar has worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the Nicaragua Caribbean to help establish Kabu Tours, a tour company owned and operated by ex-sea turtle fishermen who are attempting to transition from resource extraction to sustainable tourism. These ex-poachers have been trained by WCS to lead overnight trips to the Pearl Cays Wildlife Refuge where visitors learn about the organization’s sea turtle monitoring program and, if they're lucky, watch a sea turtle lay her eggs.
Turning a sea turtle poacher into an interpretive guide and environmental ambassador has an obvious upside for conservation, but so does giving an accountant from Sacramento a chance to be a marine biologist for the day. Doing so provides not only a world-class tourism experience, but it also increases visitors’ understanding, appreciation, and support of the destination and efforts to protect it.
For tourism to contribute to environmental outcomes, whether it’s through job creation for resource extractors or increased funding for conservation activities, a destination must first be successful in tourism. That requires demand-driven products, innovative marketing, and great delivery.
Second, tourism is one of the world’s most complex, dynamic, and historically fragmented industries. You need to know which partnerships are important, and how to build them. Whether it’s connecting a community-tourism cooperative to a German outbound tour operator or convincing a global hotel chain to adopt sustainability criteria, identifying and realizing mutually beneficial interests is vital.
Finally, you need a blueprint. A comprehensive understanding of the direct and indirect threats to biodiversity at a site, as well as a clear vision of how tourism can positively affect the socio-economic conditions that result in environmental degradation such as lack of economic alternatives, awareness, and industry standards.
Solimar attempts to consider and address all of these important pieces to the tourism and conservation puzzle. Our “Tourism Conservation Models” documents successful and replicable strategies that link tourism, communities, and conservation in parks and protected areas. Our Enterprise Development Program helps local entrepreneurs build successful tourism businesses from start to finish. Our approach to marketing harnesses the power of social media, the generation of great online content, and tourism networks that connect markets and products. And finally, our ability to engage multiple stakeholders – including public sector, industry representatives, NGOs and communities – helps to share and align interests.
Solimar looks forward to being a part of the growing global effort to make tourism more sustainable, and to explore and increase the ways in which tourism contributes to conserving the world’s most biologically important and diverse destinations.
Solimar's Six Models that Link Tourism to Conservation, Part I
One of the ways that tourism benefits destinations is by augmenting conservation efforts. After conducting an analysis of both internal and partner projects, Solimar has identified six principal sustainable tourism models that link tourism to conservation:
1. Improve Tourism Operations and Guidelines:
This model emphasizes limiting or reversing the negative consequences on nature that can result from tourism. There are three principal strategies for improving tourism operations and guidelines to promote conservation efforts:
a. Promote Sustainable Tourism Guidelines with Visitors
By promoting a 'code of conduct', destinations can ensure that visitors, for example, do not leave trash, pick endangered flora, or use flash photography where it might be harmful or startling to wildlife. It is important that these codes of conduct are communicated effectively through signage, pamphlets, interpretive guides, or even on websites and social media so visitors have an understanding of conservation before they arrive. Myanmar, new to hosting significant numbers of tourists, provides a great example of a visitor code of conduct with their 'do's and don'ts' campaign.
b. Promote Sustainable Tourism Guidelines within the Travel Industry
By promoting effective guidelines within the travel industry, local businesses and organizations can work together to limit their impact on the natural environment. Agreeing upon certain standards, preferably before a destination attracts large numbers of tourists, can maintain the natural beauty of an area before it's too late. For example, businesses and organizations can work together to establish best practices for responsible seafood harvesting, responsible souvenir gathering, and responsible boating practices. Solimar International worked extensively with businesses and organizations in Bocas del Toro, Panama to guide the establishment of acceptable practices related to natural conservation.
c. Promote Sustainable Tourism Guidelines within Protected Areas
Promoting conservation efforts within protected areas requires significant interaction from a wide range of stakeholders, both public and private. Example guidelines to follow may include limiting camping to select areas within a park or limiting the number of fish to be taken from rivers or lakes each day. Once a plan has been formulated, effective promotion is imperative to the success of the plan.
2. Increase Tourism Awareness and Constituencies:
This model moves beyond simple education about tourism impacts to emphasize the active role that both visitors and residents can play in conservation efforts. This model incorporates three principal strategies to augment conservation efforts:
a. Increase Awareness and Conservation Support of Local Residents
It is important that conservation efforts begin with locals, as residents are as much of a conservation threat as tourists. Lack of awareness, lack of economic alternatives, and long-standing traditions are often reasons locals engage in damaging practices such as unsustainable extraction of resources. Ways to increase awareness and reverse damaging actions include teaching environmental education classes with local groups or organizing a local festival to celebrate the very resource being damaged. In Latin America, sea turtle educational classes and festivals have been organized to raise awareness about the importance of sea turtle conservation and the damaging effects of poaching their eggs.
b. Increase Awareness and Conservation Support of Visitors
Guides are vital to informing visitors about threats to conservation and explaining to the visitors how they can help whether that be through a donation or "adoption" programs. Programs such as these can help visitors develop an attachment to an area, increasing the likelihood of a donation, and also to spread the word about the importance of conservation when they go home.
c. Link Benefits of Sustainable Tourism to the Community as a Whole
As local residents see benefits from sustainable tourism increase, the likelihood of long-term sustainable practices increases, too. Direct beneficiaries include tour guides, hotel managers, and chefs while indirect beneficiaries include family members of direct beneficiaries as well as operators of ancillary services such as construction companies or grocery stores. Non-employment-based ways the tourism industry can benefit communities includes the organization of local clean-up events, improving sanitary services, or hosting volunteers.
3. Increase Income Diversification
If local residents realize sustainable tourism presents a livelihood, they are more likely to behave according to sustainable tourism principles. Two main strategies for assisting conservation evolve according to this model:
a. Target Resource Extractors with Sustainable Tourism Employment
It may seem counterintuitive, but poachers can become optimal tour guides. Poachers often know a lot about a particular animal and can share stories and knowledge on a unique level. "Reformed" poachers often provide a unique human interest story as tourists are very interested in how and why their behavior changed. Resource extractors are much more likely to change if tourism provides an increased wage through tips, salary, or a year-end profit sharing program.
b. Developing Tourism Products that Directly Mitigate a Conservation Threat
An optimal situation occurs when new products, jobs, and revenues develop and directly support conservation efforts. Local residents can create arts and crafts out of old newspaper, cans, bottles or other upcycling methods and sell them to visitors, eliminating solid waste and creating revenue simultaneously. Artificial coral reef creation has been effective in attracting divers and photographers away from susceptible natural coral reefs, where damage from tourists is common.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council provides a framework for destinations seeking to develop a sustainable tourism strategy. Many of their guidelines apply to the conservation-related ideas discussed in this post. For a more detailed look at these tourism conservation models, be sure to download Solimar's Tourism and Conservation Toolkit. Check back soon for Part of 2 Solimar's Six Models that Link Tourism to Conservation.
If developed and managed properly, a sustainable tourism strategy can aid conservation efforts. A destination's natural environment,often the catalyst for tourism development in the first place, must be preserved to sustain tourism in the long run. Part I of this article discussed the first three of Solimar's six models that link tourism to conservation:
- Improve Tourism Operations and Guidelines
- Increase Tourism Awareness and Constituencies
- Increase Income Diversification
Here are three additional ways that tourism can assist a destination's natural conservation efforts:
4. Increase Monitoring and Research
This model supports conservation by increasing the presence of guides, visitors, and researchers in critical areas where environmental degradation occurs. Two main strategies arise:
a.) Increase the Role of Local Residents in Monitoring and Research
Local residents often participate in conservation efforts by forming patrols or gaining employment as research assistants. Coastal residents can conduct nightly beach patrols to prevent the poaching of sea turtle eggs or illegal fishing. Tourism stakeholders can commit funding to these patrols or commission research projects with local residents as assistants. Execution of this strategy often depends on vital support from NGOs. By playing a role in monitoring and research, local residents gain awareness of conservation issues and form a deeper attachment to the local natural environment.
b.) Increase the Role of Visitors in Monitoring and Research
'Voluntourism' increases in popularity every year. Tourists increasingly seek travel through which they can learn about a cause while making a positive impact on their chosen travel destination. Tourists can sign up for long-term stays at ecolodges or engage in direct conservation efforts through National Parks or private businesses offering such experiences.
5. Increase Tourism-Generated Conservation Financing
Most conservation professionals agree that increased funding would help their efforts. If tourism can increase the amount of funding available to conservation-related businesses and organizations, reliance upon donations decreases and the whole operation becomes more sustainable. This model involves four strategies:
a.) Utilize Sustainable Tourism Profits to Support Conservation Activities
This should be seen as investing in a destination's long-term future. The natural environment often draws tourism to an area in the first place, so investing in the future of that environment enhances the likelihood of long-term sustainable tourism. Examples of profit reinvestment include increased monitoring and research, hosting 'volontourists,' or replacing less efficient equipment with new, more eco-friendly equipment. Solimar has recently worked with The Peak Park, Colombia to develop a business model that will support the island's conservation efforts.
b.) Develop Travel Philanthropy Programs
Creating programs that provide a reliable way for visitors to donate can greatly aid conservation efforts. This strategy involves several steps: developing visitor appreciation of the site's resources, increasing visitor understanding of the threats to those resources, fostering visitor understanding of efforts to mitigate those threats, and finally, presenting the visitor a reliable way to donate to those efforts.
c.) Develop Conservation-Themed Brands and Merchandise
Many National Parks and conservation organizations sell t-shirts, mugs, hats, and other merchandise. A simple, easily identifiable logo with clear text should be used on merchandise as well as websites, publications, and news releases. The WWF and their panda logo provide a good example. Publicizing details about how merchandise sales lead to conservation can encourage sales.
d.) Promote Mandatory or Voluntary Protected Area Entrance/User Fees
Visitors often have to pay a mandatory fee to use a protected area. Parks can sell daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, or yearly passes. Sometimes fees correspond to an activity undertaken in the park so entrance may be one price while an additional fee may apply for fishing or camping. These fees can be used to hire more guides or rangers to protect the park or to increase the availability of interpretation within the park.
6. Increase Conservation Partnerships:
Increased cooperation between local residents, protected areas, NGOs, and private business can accelerate conservation efforts. When communities can share in the economic benefits of a sustainable tourism strategy, the likelihood of effective long-term partnerships increases. Solimar increased conservation partnerships between the public and private sectors with great success in Uganda. This model involves two main strategies:
a.) Developing Partnerships between Protected Areas, NGOs, and Universities
Attracting researchers from NGOs or universities brings revenue to protected areas through the provision of food, lodging, and other services. The research itself builds a more thorough understanding of the natural processes taking place and can inform future conservation efforts. The Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador often hosts researchers for months at a time while bringing in large student groups for 2-3 day tours and hikes. Many of these efforts develop through a partnership with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).
b.) Developing Partnerships between Protected Areas and Communities
Concession agreements, which allow local businesses to operate within protected areas, are becoming more widespread. This creates a financial incentive for local residents to engage in sustainable tourism practices. As business flourishes, commitment to the sustainable management of the protected area arises.
Destinations seeking sustainable solutions to conservation issues should employ the models and strategies listed above. Download Solimar International's Tourism and Conservation Toolkit to explore these ideas further.
Johnny Cay, a small Colombian island in the Caribbean, faces significant conservation challenges. Although the park is a protected area, currently no license system or code of conduct exists for the tour operators who bring tourists to Johnny Cay from nearby San Andres. This lack of a tourism management plan has led to negative environmental consequences on the island, which in turn jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of businesses operating in Johnny Cay Regional Park.
Solimar has recently completed a Sustainable Tourism Strategic Plan for the park. The plan supports conservation and business development in Johnny Cay Regional Park by identifying conservation threats, creating a plan to mitigate those threats, and implementing sustainable tourism best practices.
Principal conservation threats include environmental degradation, mainly pollution, both on the island and within the surrounding waters. The island is also losing its cultural identity and turning into a daytime party spot, leading to an abundance of alcohol consumption and diminishing authentic cultural interaction. Operations must become more conservation-focused if tourism businesses hope to use Johnny Cay Regional Park as part of their long-term business strategy.
The Sustainable Tourism Strategic Plan addresses conservation threats by employing five specific strategies over the course of three years:
1. Creation of a Sustainable Tourism Department within Coralina (The Organization for the Sustainable Development of the San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Archipelago).
This department will ensure that businesses comply with specific operational standards while operating within the park. The department will also develop training programs, implement environmental education programs, and act as a link between Coralina and tourism associations on the island.
2. Develop a Sustainable Tourism Certification Program within Johnny Cay Regional Park
This program will serve as a tool for setting operating standards and increasing sustainability awareness among local stakeholders. The program will provide best practices and codes of conduct for businesses and use the implementation of these practices as a filter to determine who can operate within the park. Businesses will be encouraged to gradually implement best practices and will receive recognition upon successful implementation. Businesses will also receive training related to different strategies for improving their product offerings. Ideally, this will serve as a pilot program for the region with possible extensions on the nearby islands of San Andres, Santa Catalina, and Providencia in the future.
3. Provide a Business Support Program for tourism businesses operating within the park
A relatively low standard of technical business knowledge emerged through the project's initial assessment process. This negatively impacted total revenues and product quality while poor marketing limited the ability for businesses to attract new clients. A business support program, run through Coralina, has been proposed to provide training in business planning, marketing, and monitoring and evaluation. A competition has also been proposed through which locals will develop their own business plans and compete for initial funding based on plan quality. Solimar launched a similar business plan and fundraising program with success on neighboring islands.
4. Develop a Communication Strategy to increase cooperation between tourism businesses and Coralina
Improving communication among local residents, tourists, businesses, Coralina, travel agents, and national tourism entities will be vital to the success of the sustainable tourism strategic plan. This communication strategy hopes to strengthen conservation efforts by ensuring that residents and visitors understand that Johnny Cay is a nationally-recognized regional park. The goal is to invoke a sense of pride within locals and operators to foster a culture of conservation. Additionally, the communication strategy aims to facilitate a smoother communication process between businesses and other entities while keeping businesses up-to-date on the implementation of the overall sustainable tourism strategic plan.
5. Develop a system for tourism businesses to pay a concession fee for operating within the park
The plan calls for this implementation to occur in year 3, after the above strategies have had time to take hold. Each business applying for a concession will have their tax calculated based on their financial projections. A maximum tariff will be established and businesses will have to comply with certain standards in order to apply. Very clear communication and successful implementation strategies 1-4 will be vital to establishing the concession system.
Johnny Cay faces serious conservation issues that threaten the long-term viability of its corresponding tourism economy. However, with the proper strategy and training, these negative consequences can be reversed.