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Tourism ecosystems: A way to think about challenges and solutions to tourism development

Shaun Mann's picture

Ecosystem: A complex of living organisms, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space.
Tourism: A social, cultural and economic phenomenon that entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal, business or professional purposes.

I was part of a tourism ecosystem, once, when I built and operated a small lodge on the banks of the Nile in Uganda. While I was living in a tent in the bush building the lodge, life was simple: My little ecosystem was the land around the lodge and the tribulations of fending off monkeys and snakes by day and leopards, hippos, elephants and mosquitoes at night. The sun and rain beat down hard, and tools and workers broke down regularly. The generator was a particular pain in the neck.

Apart from supplies coming in, I was not really connected to the outside world. Money ran out for awhile and I had to rush to Kampala and persuade the bank give me a bigger overdraft (at 26 percent interest – thieves!).
Once the lodge was finished, I had to join another ecosystem: the world of registering the company, getting licenses, drawing up employment contracts, getting a bank overdraft, getting a tax ID number – all the elements of the enabling environment for me to do business. Then I had to join another one: I needed bums on beds, and I had to link my wonderful product to local markets; I had to develop promotional materials and packages; I had to interact and contract with tour operators and local travel agents to supply me business; I needed market access. 

Nile Safari Camp: home for two years

Then, guess what? My business plan wasn’t panning out. I didn’t get the occupancies or the rates that I projected from the local market. I had to step into yet another ecosystem: the world of international long-haul travel. I needed more and better-paying customers. I had to understand how the big international tour operators sold their product, what they were looking for in new product and how they contracted. I had to join another ecosystem to make that happen. Turns out my little product wasn’t enough to attract international customers on its own, I had to team up with other lodges and offer a fuller package; we had to cluster our products. I had to diversify and innovate and find ways to add value to my accommodation offer – birdwatching, fishing, guided walks, weddings and honeymoons, meetings and workshops. . . . Well, there are whole ecosystems around each of those market segments. You need to understand them before you can do business with them.        

​Environmental conservation, tourism and economic development: an avant-garde Brazilian solution through PPPs

Maria Emília Barbosa Bitar's picture
Note: This blog entry was adapted from an original submission for the PPIAF Short Story Contest. It is part of a series highlighting the role of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in projects and other transformative work around the world.

For the most part, protected areas in Brazil are managed by the public sector. As a result, like other countries, these areas face conservation difficulties, including a lack of resources for maintenance and other initiatives.
Gruta de Maquiné, part of the Peter Lund 
Cave Route. Photo: Francisco Martins/flickr

Because of this lack of public-sector financial and human resources, the private sector has provided a significant portion of funding for managing protected areas. One of these cases is in Brazil’s Minas Gerais State. The Secretary of State for Environment and Sustainable Development (SEMAD), Forest State Institute (IEF) and Public-Private Partnership Central Unit collaborated to develop a PPP model focused on management, conservation and operation of three protected areas, located in the State’s Karst region: PPP Peter Lund Cave Route.

The PPP Peter Lund Cave Route aims to structure a single, singular national and international tourist track, aligning the unique natural and cultural elements of the karst region. This new management model is demonstrating results for conservation and sustainable development, including the mobilization of public policies that value one of Brazil’s greatest characteristics: biodiversity.

Promises and Progress: Sustainable Tourism Development and Rio+20

Hermione Nevill's picture

‘Despite the presence of scores of heads of state, Rio+20, as the summit is known, was expected to produce the weakest imaginable commitment to greening the global economy’ - The Economist June 2012

Not the most optimistic of starts to the third global summit on sustainable development…

Why the doom and gloom? As followers of the sustainable development agenda will know, skepticism and fatigue have plagued these international negotiation processes for many years. Whilst progress has been demonstrated on many fronts since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the meetings themselves can be reduced to endless semantic debate on terminology and tit-for-tat fidgeting - producing weak final documents.

Rio+20 was no exception.Has tourism turned sustainable? (Flickr Creative Commons, StormeTX)

The final Outcome document emerging from the last world summit (the 2002 World Summit of Sustainable Development) outlined five, rather weak commitments specifically for the tourism sector. Ten years on – has there been any progress?