3D: Surveying Local Community Attitudes to Tourism
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This component will explain why it is important to find out more about what the local community thinks about tourism and its management and development in their area. It will also provide some ideas as to how to use surveys and consultation to get that information.
Tourism development is often justified by its positive economic effect on the local community, such as:
- services safeguarded
- greater choice of services
- jobs created
- environmental improvements.
The negative aspects of tourism, such as traffic congestion, overcrowding, litter and property price inflation, also affect the local community – yet the community's views are not always considered during the planning and management of tourism.
Consulting the community is an important part of wider stakeholder engagement, but is often done casually or not at all because of the perceived difficulties and risks involved.
Community support, or lack of it, can have a significant effect on the success or failure of tourism management.
Whilst seeking the views of residents plays an important part in the preparation of community strategies and local development frameworks, a more specific engagement may be required as part of the destination or project management process.
The resident community is also important to tourism due to the number of trips taken as visits to friends and relatives (VFR).
- Nearly 40% of all trips taken in England in 2006, or nearly 50 million trips, were VFR trips.
- In terms of the visitor alone, the VFR sector in England is worth over £4bn or around 25% of all overnight trips expenditure.
- It is estimated that the host spends as much, if not rather more than the visitor, adding at least another £5bn to the sector.
- Visitors took an average of over seven trips each and 64% said they had hosted a VFR trip.
The benefits of this sector are not just confined to the increased economic value of tourism described above, as it:
- heightens awareness of what local tourism has to offer
- helps to spread tourism both in terms of location and timing
- can benefit local events.
The Domestic Research and Statistics section of VisitBritain's Insights and Market Intelligence web pages has more information on the VFR market.
To win community support for tourism it is important to understand:
- the attitudes of the community towards tourism
- the ways in which tourism can support the community's economic, social and cultural needs
- the ways in which tourism's negative effects on the community can be minimised.
The main advantages of a community-backed tourism management strategy are:
- political support
- a warm welcome for visitors to the destination
- 'eyes and ears' to identify problems and opportunities.
In contrast, a community that is disconnected from tourism management, or even opposed to it, can be a constraint and threat to sustainable tourism management.
The main cost of engaging with communities is likely to be in time – both the time spent in surveying attitudes and the extra time needed in the overall project timetable.
Because of its complexity, the wheels of community consultation grind slowly.
It is helpful to understand the different degrees of contact with communities.
|Level||Degree of involvement|
|Information||Providing information on what is happening|
|Consultation||Asking for views on one or more options|
|Involvement||Members of the community work with other stakeholders to formulate options and strategies|
|Participation||Facilitation techniques enable the community to formulate options and strategies|
Community engagement involves accepting that:
- gaining access to community representatives can be time-consuming in the first place
- with open communication, community consultation can raise expectations that need to be managed
- it creates a need for continued contact and communication
- there may be some loss of control; the community must be considered, and will expect to be treated, like any other partner.
Despite these challenges, failure to consult means no community engagement in tourism plans or the risk of an aborted project, which can be even more costly.
A community, like all groups of individuals, can be segmented in a number of ways.
Different individuals and groups will have different attitudes and needs depending on factors such as local circumstances and previous experience.
For the purposes of community consultation, key groups include:
- elected representatives – parish, district and county councillors
- community groups – such as women's, youth and neighbourhood groups
- interest groups – such as civic or history societies, ramblers' and conservation groups
- individuals – 'non-joiners' who are not represented by groups, whether by choice or circumstance
- the business community – including tourism businesses.
Businesses are important in their own right, as they have the greatest contact with visitors, and it is through businesses that most of the benefits of tourism are channelled. But they are also important as intermediaries for reaching local people through their employees and customers.
Many local authorities run citizens' panels, a collection of local residents who are asked for their opinion on a variety of local issues. Such a panel can be a useful channel to discover residents' views on tourism-related issues.
- Opinions of constituents
- Political issues, especially the impact on local spending
- Local issues, such as parking, congestion and provision of services
- Specific issues, such as access or conservation of a building or site
- Maximising profit
- Planning and other regulations
- Workforce availability and wage costs
- Issues relating to individual circumstances, such as employment opportunities, crowds and congestion
The techniques used will be governed by the nature of the community at a particular destination and could be influenced by existing consultation undertaken by local authorities and others. However, a number of steps need to be taken.
- Defining the community.
- Making the key issues relevant and interesting to motivate response/participation.
- Selecting a survey technique.
- Implementing the survey.
It is important to understand the community in question, in order to select appropriate survey techniques. For example, the structure of the community and the importance of tourism issues will be considerably different between a city, a rural area and a seaside resort.
| ||City||Historic town||Rural||Resort|
|The importance of tourism compared to other industry sectors||Low||Medium||Medium||High|
|The age profile of the population||Young||Mixed||Older||Older|
|The relative visibility of visitors||Low||High||Depends on the destination||High|
Where tourism has a high profile, there will be wider interest throughout the community and therefore a need to consult more widely. Some sections of the community may not be well organised or represented, such as retired people, or disadvantaged groups, and consulting them may call for some patience and creativity.
Interest groups sometimes include at least some people who live outside the community in question, but who play an influential role in it; for example ramblers or conservation volunteers who might work hard to open and maintain access in an area. They should not be overlooked.
At many destinations, visitors themselves become a significant part of the community. Some buy second homes or static caravans and many will make repeated day or staying visits to the same destination, developing friendships with local people and introducing their children to the destination. At most destinations, the VFR sector is a significant proportion of all visitors; these people can have a special affinity with the place.
If sustainable tourism is difficult to explain to tourism professionals and elected members, it can be even more difficult to explain to the public. Concentrating on one or more specific issues to capture people's interest and stimulate their involvement can be an effective approach and help motivate response/participation.
At most destinations, there are issues that will concern at least a part of the community. Several issues can be included in a consultation to give something to all interest groups.
Where there are few controversial issues, or where less is known about community attitudes, it is best to run some focus groups with a representative sample of the community to identify survey issues.
Focus groups are structured discussions on a pre-determined range of topics and typically involve 8-12 people. Market research companies often use this method to identify issues for interview surveys. Led by a facilitator, carefully selected participants discuss a chosen topic. The discussion is recorded and then analysed to generate findings.
A study to identify people's needs and preferences in relation to countryside recreation in the Lake District National Park found that focus groups yielded considerably more useful information than an interview survey – and at much less cost.
A range of techniques is available, but the underlying principle is that getting the best results involves going out and engaging with the community on its own ground. Table 4 shows possible methods to use with different community segments.
- Interviews/consultations with community leaders
- Attending group meetings
- Interviews/consultations with representatives
- Attending group meetings
- Interviews/consultations with trade organisations
- Interview survey
- Postal survey
- Exhibitions (and associated consultation)
- Public meetings
- Interview survey
- Postal survey
Cost is an additional factor in selecting consultation techniques. Distributing and analysing the results of questionnaire surveys can be costly and time consuming, while running focus groups requires specific skills. The availability of resources is often a critical factor.
The work of collecting the information is likely to involve several techniques, each appropriate to the group concerned. A wide range of help is available and this is summarised below. Key questions to ask are:
- what are the key issues – what is the aim of the survey?
- have all segments of the community had an opportunity to contribute?
- which groups have not responded and why, and how can they be encouraged to respond?
Pilot surveys and additional follow-up consultation will often be required to make sure that the exercise goes to plan and that people respond to the right questions.
|Technique||Points to consider|
- Be sure how to obtain a representative sample.
- Consider using existing distribution mechanisms.
- Consider 'piggy-backing' existing surveys.
- Consider using students, possibly as part of their existing coursework.
- Focus group discussions with representatives of each group can be more cost-effective than an extensive interview survey.
|Attending the meetings of councils, groups and organisations|
- The timescale becomes driven by meeting cycles.
- An effective way to reach elected members and 'movers and shakers'.
- Can be risky – easily hijacked or disrupted by forceful individuals. The views of less confident people are under-represented.
- Can be useful to allow people to 'let off steam' at the beginning of a consultation process.
- Good way to convey complicated ideas.
- Need to choose effective venues such as shopping centres and supermarkets.
It is important to raise awareness of the survey, so it is a good idea to contact and work with local media to maximise publicity.
Once the information has been collected and analysed, it is important to communicate the results back to those who provided it. It is equally important to continue to communicate what is to be done and what is being achieved.
The likelihood of success can be increased if the following critical factors are addressed.
- Be inclusive – contact all relevant sections of the community.
- Be prepared to act on the response – avoid raising hopes and then failing to deliver.
- Be prepared for surprises – the response might unexpected. Be prepared to incorporate community needs into your plans.
- Deal with the response honestly – always be clear about what can and can’t done. Unrealistic promises will lead to disillusionment and loss of community support.
- Communicate the results of the survey, and continue to communicate successes over time.
- Use the data as part of a comprehensive performance management process.
- Godfrey K and Clark J. The Tourism Development Handbook, Cassell, 2000
- Making the Connections – A Practical Guide to Tourism Management in Historic Towns,
English Historic Towns Forum, 1999
- Waites N. Community Planning Handbook, Earthscan Publications, 120 Pentonville Road, London, N1 1JN www.earthscan.co.uk