This is a response to Marlies Haider’s article: Ecotourism – a suitable tourism development strategy for the Solomon Islands?
Eke Eijgelaar explored the concept of ecotourism in which Marlies Haider’s thesis is situated. He made the remark that tourism needs a holistic approach and he explained some of the weak points of the ecotourism concept. Furthermore, he pointed out two reasons why excluding ‘non-local’ issues are problematic. Marlies Haider mentioned the necessity to involve the local community in the entire tourism process. She calls for a participative process in developing sustainable tourism. We might say this is reasonable.
But what kind of participation is welcomed in a context where sustainable tourism should be developed? What is the political context? What is the story that locals tell about governance? Participation should be defined before the participants are invited, so all who are involved know their role and scope of action. The participative pyramid is a useful tool to illustrate the degree of participation (cited according to Nöldeke, 2013, based on Arnstein, 1969 and Lüttringhaus, 2003). The pyramid discerns the differing degrees of involvement. A general rule of participation is that those who are concerned are involved. But to what degree should the varied target groups in tourism development be involved? This depends on the political and cultural context and that is defined by a stakeholder analysis. In general, the deeper a target group is concerned, the higher the degree of involvement is required.
Furthermore, sustainable tourism development is a complex process, that has to be properly managed. Can we use change management, a concept that is mainly related to organizations and organizational development, for sustainable tourism? We can learn from change management how we can deal with complexity and change. In her thesis Marlies Haider concludes: “The country needs to understand why tourism is growing and that everyone should try to work in one direction”. Vital here is, however, to determine what is meant by “the country”? UNWTO, in the methodology of Sustainable Tourism for development, refers to it as “tourism policy and governance”, implying tourism governance structures, including tourism ministries and institution. Nonetheless, this does not answer the question of who defines the tourism strategy for a specific region, island or country. Change Management enables a transparent process of answering these and other questions. This interactive, process-oriented methodology gathers different perspectives and different answers to open up to a successful dialogue, bringing together multiple voices (Hersted & Gergen, 2013). Regional development Switzerland (Regiosuisse), a participatory program initiated by the Swiss Government, has been using this know-how successfully (Regiosuisse, 2014) by facilitating processes of participation. The inhabitants are invited to create, to talk, and to develop their ideas, as regional development concerns more than governance structures, ministries or institutions. All inhabitants of a region are concerned by their regional development. Furthermore, development has to serve the inhabitants.
By applying Change Management, tourism development becomes a co-creation with shared responsibility. This is most relevant because the tourism product and the image of a destination are public goods.