Emerging governance models of sustainable tourism

Greening the tourism value chain is a complex and dynamic undertaking that involves different sectors, namely the private sector, the government, civil society, the local community and the tourists themselves. Given that the activities involved in the tourism value chain are closely interrelated, there is a need for a viable mechanism to coordinate the activities of the various players and to ensure that these activities strengthen the economic, social, cultural and recreational pillars of sustainable tourism.

In a study on sustainable tourism that I conducted with my colleague Jonna Baquillas, we uncovered several alternative governance mechanisms that can contribute to the greening of the tourism value chain, each one emerging in response to prevailing conditions and circumstances: (a) regulation-driven governance (b) business-driven governance and norms-driven governance. 

Regulation-driven governance is characterized by the dominant role played by the state or regulatory body in the conservation of the natural environment, and in establishing strict parameters for the activities of business establishments and of the local community within its area of control. This is the model followed by the Sabah Parks Management, which is responsible for ensuring the conservation of the Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. KNP is home to Mt. Kinabalu—the highest mountain on the island of Borneo, which attracts climbers from all over the world.

Under this governance model, Sabah Parks Management has successfully controlled logging encroachment, closed mining activity near the borders, and has effectively controlled significant threats through enforcement and prosecution. Thus, KNP remains in an excellent conservation state.

However, the park management’s narrow focus on environmental sustainability has restricted the private sector’s role and potential for contributing to the development of the protected area. By limiting the number of people allowed to climb Mt. Kinabalu, for instance, the park’s management has effectively imposed limits on the opportunity to generate profit, thus discouraging further investments in tourism facilities and services. 

Nevertheless, the park’s management, influenced by the recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the pressure exerted by the local community, has reconsidered some of its policies. New developments are now slowly addressing the other pillars of sustainable tourism (e.g. privatization of the management of lodging facilities, introduction of community use zones).

Business-driven governance is characterized by the central role played by a large private business, which has integrated sustainability in its business model, and which coordinates the efforts of other players in the tourism value chain to make its business model viable. Under this governance model, the creativity and innovative spirit of the private sector is unleashed to achieve multiple goals—economic viability, environmental protection, community development and cultural preservation. 

This governance model is exemplified by Indochina Junk, a cruise company that sails around the mostly unexplored Bai Tu Long Bay, the quieter side of Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Archipelago in Vietnam. Established in 2002, Indochina Junk consciously adheres to responsible travel—advocating community relations through its projects, promoting environmental protection through company-initiated programs and offering employment opportunities for locals. 

For example, the company brings guests who take part in a Ha Long Bay cruise to Yen Duc Village, where they are treated to a traditional water puppet show that features Quan Ho folk songs. Tourists can participate in a homestay program, which allows them to better understand life in a farming village. This has led to the revival of local culture and to a more vibrant community life. 

It must be noted, though, that Indochina Junk is able to offer sustainable tourism packages effectively because it has undergone various training on sustainability management, and on monitoring and managing impacts, among others. It is also operating within the ambit of the IUCN–Cat Ba Alliance, a three-year initiative for the environmental management and protection of Ha Long Bay. 

Norms-driven governance is characterized by a loose adherence of local businesses to sustainable practices and by a strong community spirit. The experience of The Circle Hostel (TCH) and the community in Sitio Liwliwa, San Felipe, Zambales in the Philippines is a good illustration of how this governance model emerged. 

When TCH was established in 2011, the community mainly relied on fishing and surfing lessons for livelihood. Tourism in the area started in 2008 when surfers started coming for the waves. Thinking that TCH will take away business from them, the locals were initially apprehensive of the hostel’s presence. TCH decided to partner with members of the local community, opening up opportunities for micro enterprises to offer their products and services (i.e., locals who provide surfing lessons, neighboring restaurants, local tricycle drivers, and a local vendor who sells quirky souvenirs). This has led to a friendly and symbiotic relationship among the businesses around Sitio Liwliwa.

As advocates of environmental sustainability, the owners of TCH designed the hostel with much ventilation and less [need for] air-conditioning. Guests are also constantly reminded about the water and energy conservation efforts being practiced in the hostel. It is interesting to note, though, that being environmentally-conscious seems to be an emerging norm in Liwliwa. According to TCH’s hostel manager Aldrin Orqueta, “there are different movements here to take care of the environment. Each establishment has its own initiative and advocacy. We have the same goal of creating awareness among our visitors about taking care of the environment.”

It is not clear, though, whether this governance model will continue to work with the influx of new businesses, some of which might be owned by people who do not share the same values. The challenge is how to get the local government and the community leaders to work closely with each other to jointly enforce existing environmental laws and regulations, and to institutionalize the beneficial norms that have emerged in Sitio Liwliwa over the past few years.

It is probable that there are other existing governance mechanisms that we have yet to uncover. However, we are hopeful that other communities faced with the challenge of greening their tourism value chains can draw useful lessons from the above-mentioned cases. 

Raymund B. Habaradas is a Full Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University (DLSU), where he teaches Methods of Research, Qualitative Research, and Management Action Research. He is also the holder of the Ramon V. del Rosario Professorial Chair in Entrepreneurship, and the Director of the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD). He welcomes comments at [email protected] The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

Topics: Tourism , International Union for Conservation of Nature , Jonna Baquillas , Sabah Parks Management
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