2A: Sustainable Destination Management
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This section describes the VICE model for sustainable destination management which involves creating a balance between the competing needs and demands of the visitor, industry, community and environment in order to achieve sustainability.
As a concept, the principles of sustainable destination management are becoming much better understood: it is about managing the visitor impact on a local destination’s economy, social fabric and physical environment in a way which benefits everybody, residents, businesses, landowners and visitors alike, both now and in the future. These principles can be applied to all tourism destinations and to all sectors and forms of tourism whether niche or mainstream, rural, coastal or urban.
The idea of the triple bottom line was developed to help understand the principle of sustainable development; that of balancing the needs and demands of social, economic and environmental issues.
The difference for sustainable destination tourism development is that the social element involves two groups, visitors and residents, sometimes in conflict with each other. In developing a sustainable tourism destination it is essential that the well-being and needs of the host community are considered as part of the equation.
Destination management needs to think in terms of a quadruple bottom line approach, creating a balance between the competing needs and demands of the visitor, industry, community and environment in order to achieve sustainability.
A key way of looking at this complicated relationship is through the idea of place shaping or place making, the principle that everything in a place is linked. This is particularly the case with the complex range of components that make up any visitor’s experience.
The recognition of this need for a comprehensive approach to sustainable destination management has been a key driver in the creation of Partners for England (P4E) and most specifically the development of a Place Making Charter.
It has been developed in order to realise the huge cross-cutting economic, environmental and social benefits of a thriving visitor economy, where a focus on destination management and development is essential, as is the need for joined up thinking in the development and implementation of national and regional policy. There is more information on the Charter and Partners for England in 1A: Tourism in the Public Sector.
As suggested above there is a fundamental need for us all to rethink how we live, work and relate to our local surroundings and sense of place. This need for change and particularly the idea of local resilience is being recognised at a place/community level through the impressive growth of the Transition Town Network. It is a concept which can work hand in hand with sustainable destination management and allows local people to play their part.
Each destination has its own distinct features and character and its own management structures and strategies to deliver sustainable development in the area. Destination Managers will need to understand and work with these structures to ensure that tourism is included as part of an area's plans on the wide range of issues that sustainability covers, including:
- waste management and recycling
- sustainable transport
- energy and water use
- conservation and management of biodiversity, landscape and heritage
- sustainable business development
- consumption of local produce
- preserving and expressing an area's local distinctiveness.
In order to play this role of the honest broker of change, local authorities or DMOs need to work in a wholly integrated cross-cutting fashion within their own organisations and with a wide variety of other agencies and groups. Often stakeholders such as local landowners, businesses, resident communities and of, course, visitors themselves, will have conflicting interests.
Working within existing programmes and structures is a key part of the place making process. However, it is useful for the Destination Manager to have an effective template that assists in identifying the issues that need to be addressed and the gaps in provision that need to be filled. The VICE Model has become established as the most effective template through which to assess and manage a sustainable tourist destination.
The VICE model identifies sustainable destination management as the equitable interaction between Visitors, the Industry that serves them, the Community that hosts them and their collective impact on, and response to the Environment they are in.
It is the job of the sustainable destination manager to make sense of their own specific set of local VICE circumstances and, through an array of collective partnerships, harness this collective energy to create a destination management plan which aims to:
- welcome, involve and satisfy Visitors
- achieve a profitable, prosperous and high-quality Industry
- engage and benefit all host Communities
- protect, reflect and enhance the local Environment.
The VICE equation can be applied by everybody in many ways, for instance as a simple check against the future viability (sustainability) of any tourism decision. How will this issue/decision affect the visitor? What are the implications for the industry? What is the impact on the community? What is the environmental effect? If you cannot find a positive answer to all four questions, the proposition is likely to be unsustainable.
The VICE concept is extremely simple and can be used by agencies, businesses and government as a means of making tourism an integral part of sustainable development, recapturing a sense of local community control, resilience, financial independence and pride that will improve both the local quality of life and the visitor experience.
The model integrates the basic work areas of destination tourism management (research, quality development, marketing, etc) with the four stakeholder groups: Visitors, Industry, Community and Environment. While based on a set format, the VICE model is highly flexible. Its evolution and outcomes depend on the level of involvement of the stakeholders and the degree of details in the objectives and proposed actions identified by the process. Below is an example of how this could work at a destination level.
The greatest challenge for Destination Managers is that they directly control very little of the huge range of elements that make up the visitor’s experience. The skill in delivering the VICE model is to become a ‘jack of all trades, master of making them one’. This can be daunting, even within a single organisation let alone outside in the wider community where so many conflicts and tensions are at play. The VICE model, linked to the Place Making Charter provides a formal means of understanding and working with the different, sometimes competing forces, that need to act together for the common purpose of creating a sustainable destination.
To begin with, it may not be possible for destination managers to engage in every element of the VICE model. The aim should be to build up the process over time. Those work areas such as information, marketing, industry engagement, event management, etc, which are likely to fall under a destination manager’s responsibility, can be easily included. Where there is no direct management of those people or things that make up the visitor experience, the key is to identify the delivery agent, establish a relationship and integrate tourism into their programmes to deliver sustainable tourism objectives and actions. By linking this around the four VICE stakeholder groups you can together start to deliver a shared vision and strategy.
Each of the four groups cannot be engaged in the same way and some people can be in more than one group; visitors can also be local residents; the industry is also part of the community.
But broadly speaking, stakeholders divide into two types:
- Public sector, landowners, and industry who must lead and set an example by taking co-ordinated action and facilitating the participation of the remaining stakeholders.
- Visitors, environmental interest groups and local residents, who should not necessarily be expected to initiate action of their own, but whose engagement and participation is essential for the success and sustainability of any plan.
At a local level there will be many different ways to organise stakeholder engagement across the four VICE groups and this will depend on the nature of the destination, the commitment and resources provided by the local authority/agency/landowner and the current state of local tourism.
Whilst there are many different types of possible activities available to foster the interest and engagement of stakeholder groups, the most important thing is that they create an interest in and desire for participation. They must fulfill the needs of each group otherwise any efforts to engage will simply be ignored.
When starting from scratch it is important to begin with the local industry as they are essential in delivering key elements of sustainable destination development, including:
- implementing sustainable business operations within the sector
- disseminating visitor information programmes
- spreading the use of local produce
- helping strengthen messages about quality and local distinctiveness
- helping to deliver visitor management programmes.
The most effective means to achieve engagement is to establish a single cross-sector industry network or partnership organisation. This may take significant effort for a couple of years but the benefits are enormous. For more information on engaging the industry see 1C: Engaging the Industry.
At the very least an annual cross-sector forum can act as a collective sounding-board to allow the industry to feed into the construction and delivery of the management plan process. This is also a good opportunity to feed back on the process.
There are many aspects of destination management that provide the opportunity to engage with the local industry. However, there is nothing more effective than a successful public sector/industry joint destination marketing programme.
This approach has the added bonus of potentially being totally inclusive of all local visitor-related businesses. Following the VICE model enables destination managers to develop that total ownership, by feeding in all four stakeholder groups' needs to the destination's marketing programme, and creating products that fit with it.
Such a programme then becomes a tool to promote, sell and reinforce the values, culture and heritage of the destination to both stakeholders and visitors. This can be very powerful, particularly when tapping into those local residents who are regular visitors.
The marketing programme can also be used as an incentive for the industry to sign up to quality/local distinctiveness/green schemes. Successful returns from a marketing programme can become the glue which holds industry and destination strategy together.
The levels of success from a marketing programme will be hugely improved if a cross-sector tourism partnership/association or forum represents the industry group and helps devise, own and deliver it.
This is potentially the hardest group to access as it is made up of a wide range of different visitor types (day, staying, business, etc) the majority of whom are not local residents with close ties to the destination and a personal interest in its future.
The best way to engage visitors is through a programme of actions that seeks to inform visitors about a destination's sustainable management and to involve them in it where possible. It can be as simple as a set of key messages in a leaflet or as complex as a comprehensive package (including visitor media, interpretation, information, visitor payback and accreditation), linked to every aspects of the destination's communication strategy.
It doesn't really matter what approach is adopted as long as it is owned and consistently delivered to visitors by all appropriate stakeholders. A visitor stewardship programme will reflect and interpret the destination's values, cultural heritage and landscape in a way that communicates local distinctiveness and fits with the policies and actions of the overall strategy.
The impact of a stewardship programme can be assessed through adding questions to visitor research and monitoring programmes. Research programmes are also an important way of testing visitor satisfaction with any specific measures introduced to support and encourage sustainable tourism.
If resources are available, regular focus groups, telephone or online surveys sampling visitors to a destination can be established to gather views on sustainable management initiatives, visitor attitudes and expectations.
More information on developing Visitor Management Plans can be found in 2H: Developing Visitor Management Plans.
To operate a sustainable destination, all the different communities need to be fully involved. Some destinations already have well-established tourism networks, linking community interests into industry networks or setting up community tourism groups (CTGs) to provide a dialogue.
Close engagement with local and parish councils, and elected representatives, is the minimum level of contact destination managers should have.
An effective way to get the ball rolling is to bring together the local tourism industry group representatives, district, parish or town councillors, the chamber of trade and any active resident groups to devise a local tourism action plan for the area. This can simply be a list of prioritised issues to tackle, or a more comprehensive community tourism development plan.
There are other local authority structures that can add to this engagement. Working with Citizen’s Panels and/or the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) is an ideal way for destination managers to link in wider community support with their own work. The best way to do this is to form a Community Action Network for tourism as part of the LSP. Members of industry partnerships or associations can often provide the initial leadership to get a CTG going and it can be surprising how often residents eventually take over the role in the long-term.
The size of a destination will determine whether community input to destination management is conducted destination-wide or is broken down into smaller community groups. For example, a destination may include more than one urban area or particular villages popular with visitors where tourism needs to be managed sensitively.
If a devolved community network is established then the role of the destination manager is to ensure that the needs of each community group are included in destination planning and development.
Whatever setting the destination enjoys, urban, coastal, rural, or a combination, its heritage and landscape environments are without doubt its most important asset. Managing the impact of tourism and visitors on these fundamental assets is a key responsibility of any destination manager in moving towards a sustainable future.
It is often the case that the organisations or landowners that manage these environments (eg National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), English Heritage, National Trust, Natural England, historic house owners, wildlife trusts, local authority, countryside and rights of way management teams) have an interest in both attracting visitors and conserving their areas or properties in a sustainable manner.
Destination Managers need to work with these groups to ensure that:
- key messages about the special characteristics and features of the environment are integrated into the destination marketing
- promotion is aimed at appropriate visitor uses with the full knowledge of the management organisation
- visitors are informed about the need to manage these assets and act responsibly through visitor stewardship schemes
- information on "green" businesses, public transport options, the countryside code and local producers is available to visitors.
Special interest groups involved in the preservation, management and enjoyment of elements of a destination's environment (eg civic societies, the RSPB, the Ramblers Association, the Woodland Trust, Keep Britain Tidy (EnCams)) should be included in any plans to ensure their approval and support for any actions taken to attract or inform visitors.
There are three basic steps by which destination managers can get their local businesses involved in improving the sustainability of their business performance.
All of the programmes described above should be linked with an overall destination management strategy and action plan along with agreed performance indicators (PIs) and identified responsibilities for delivery. The outputs of the plan and PIs are then reviewed and fed back to the stakeholder groups to inform the next stages of destination management.
There is more information on destination monitoring and performance indicators in 3A: Measuring Overall Tourism Performance.