Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Destination Stewardship in Belize

Last week, we discussed destination stewardship in class with Seleni Matus joining us by telephone from Belize. Seleni and I have collaborated over the years on a number of projects in Belize. She worked as the ecotourism director for Programme for Belize and I was at that time the president of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). One of TIES board members, Joy Grant, was executive director for Programme for Belize, and together our two organizations were able to raise funds to do research in Belize on questions of user fees for Marine Protected Areas, and a model assessment processes for rural peoples, which we named the Rural Ecotourism Assessment Project (REAP).

Seleni was the one to point out that I have always used Belize as a testing ground for new ideas! I never thought of it that way until she mentioned it, but it is very true. Belize has only 330,000 people living within a country which has extraordinary rain forests and the second largest barrier reef in the world. There are many conservationists there, who have decades of experience managing tourism in fragile natural environments.

This year my firm, EWI, helped Seleni and the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), which she now leads, undertake an Action Plan for 2010-2012. It led me personally down familiar pathways with old friends, whom I had not seen in years. But it also led me to see how much the country had changed, due to the number of cruise tourism arrivals, who were not even present on my last visit! In 2010, it is estimated 800,000 tourists will arrive in Belize on cruise ships.

The Action Plan focused on marketing, quality assurance, operations, and destination stewardship. I led all teams, but personally supervised the destination stewardship component. Much of the focus by necessity was on cruise arrivals, as the management of these arrivals had fallen far behind and Belize City itself, never a very beautiful city, was losing almost all these tourists to outlying areas where day trips were being efficiently organized.

The challenges were many, but I wanted to focus on the poverty alleviation possibilities for Belize City, and the idea of creating tourism friendly neighborhoods, an idea I named and proposed, seemed to be a good one for Belize City. I am also leading a process for the development of of Destination Stewardship Knowledge Management System which could help provide more consistent and informative statistics for BTB and the government of Belize to make strategic decisions on managing their destinations for tourism in future.

These ideas at the front of my mind these days. I see that destinations continue to court and accept tourism growth, without funds for the protection of ecosystems or necessary basic benefits for local citizens. It is easy to use corporate statistics, such as provided by cruise lines, to prove the gross and net economic benefits to the nation of tourist arrivals. But this is where the thinking stops. Without looking at specific sites, and how to ensure tourism is actually contributing to the protection of the sites themselves, the discussion is moot. Without looking at the existing infrastructure for local people, which may not even be considered adequate at the most minimum levels, the discussion is moot.

So, I do believe more research is required, and I continue to believe Belize is a great place to do it!

1 comment:

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