Wetlands: from tourism to responsible tourism

As poverty is one of the drivers of wetland degradation, responsible tourism can be an important instrument for both poverty alleviation and wetland conservation. Clearly, however, addressing the needs of poor communities and at the same time ensuring that tourism does not erode the environmental, and cultural, base on which it depends creates important challenges. A careful analysis of a wide range of impacts with differential costs and benefits is needed.

The analysis should include the weighing up of a range of critical factors including the types of tourism to be developed, planning regulations, land tenure, market contexts and access to capital and training.

Responsible tourism approaches also necessitate partnerships and multi-stakeholder processes.

Partnerships for responsible tourism development

Governments, the private sector, nongovernmental organisations and poor  communities themselves all have important roles to play in responsible tourism development in wetland areas.

At the national level governments can do a great deal, for example by integrating responsible tourism into poverty-reduction strategies, tourism policies and small enterprise strategies. The private sector can be directly involved in projects – often community-based – run by non-governmental organisations and should be responsible for broadening intra- and inter-sectoral linkages.

The poor themselves are critical to responsible tourism development. They often need to organise themselves – for example, at a community level – in order to engage effectively in tourism. Non-governmental organisations are often an important catalyst and can bring stakeholders together. Indeed, in order to make responsible tourism work, stakeholders with often competing interests need to work together to find common solutions and bridge their differences.

Some of the main stakeholder roles in responsible tourism are summarised below. The main recommendations including those of some international organisations are –

Governments can:

  • include tourism in strategies and action programmes on poverty reduction, and vice versa; for example, by integrating responsible tourism in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and by including poverty and nature conservation-related issues in tourism planning, infrastructure development, legislation and marketing;
  • use planning controls, agreements and economic incentives for the private sector to promote responsible tourism;
  • provide technical and financial assistance to small-scale and community-based tourism enterprises. Selective tax incentives, capacity building programmes, small grants and microcredit schemes, and assistance with market research and marketing, could support small-scale and community-based tourism enterprises to deliver benefits for poor communities;
  • introduce guidelines, indicators and certification schemes that encourage responsible tourism development.

Private companies can:

  • adopt employment policies that provide opportunities for the poor;
  • develop local supply chains that maximise the use of local suppliers, products and services;
  • help boost understanding of the tourism industry among the poor, communities, governments and NGOs;
  • establish partnerships with residents, communities and local projects that directly benefit the poor;
  • adopt environmental management and certification schemes that minimise the impacts of tourism development on the environment;
  • provide visitors with information about activities that can benefit the poor and encourage their support for local communities.

Non-governmental organisations can:

  • act as catalysts and liaise between stakeholders;
  • invest in training, capacity building and technical assistance for the poor communities to increase their understanding of the tourism industry and wetland conservation and develop skills to run small-scale and community-based enterprises;
  • identify projects, good practices, products and services that could be linked up with private tourism operators and tourists;
  • develop processes that increase the voice of the poor and poor communities at policy level and support campaigns that aim to enhance the pro-poor objectives of responsible tourism development;
  • help avoid unrealistic expectations among the poor and their communities.

Multi-stakeholder processes

Responsible tourism development has many stakeholders. Donors, governmental agencies, NGOs, private businesses and specific groups within communities have their own particular interests and values – indeed, their own ‘language’ and ‘culture’. Reconciling poverty reduction, nature conservation, NGOs and governments, the business interests of the private sector and tourist satisfaction is a very difficult task. The significance of responsible tourism development differs according to the interests of those who are defining it, and the interests of the local community will not automatically correspond with those of others; nor is it likely that the interests of the local community will be the same for all within it.

There is a range of stakeholder involvement techniques and planning tools for sustainable tourism development in natural areas available to address potential conflicts of interest, the discussion of which is beyond the scope of this blog post. However, the key to successful and effective planning of responsible tourism development in wetland areas is the integration of more technical aspects into the planning process (for example, resource and visitor management, product development and marketing) with public participation by all stakeholders. However, issues of power and politics within communities and between the communities and outsiders should still be taken into account.

Therefore multi-stakeholder processes that aim to be balanced, legitimate and open, should meet at least some of the following criteria:

  • Stakeholders should be involved from the start, agree to the process and its agenda, and thus feel they have ‘ownership’ of the process;
  • All key stakeholders should be represented, and participants should be mandated to represent their organisation or group;
  • All stakeholders should have equal access to information, resources and expertise;
  • There should be clarity on how decisions are made and what influence participants will have.

This is the third in a series of posts that will discuss the complex relations between wetlands, poverty reduction and responsible tourism development.

Contact Lorton Consulting about your specific tourism planning, environmental and community involvement needs — together with our specialist associates we would welcome the opportunity to advise you and work with you to achieve sustainable outcomes.

With acknowledgement to Wetlands International, RAMSAR and IUCN

Wetlands International’s mission is “to sustain and restore wetlands, their resources and biodiversity”. Visit the Wetlands International website www.wetlands.org

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