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Sustaining local economies, environments and traditions through tourism

December 03, 2012 —

Unregulated tourism can be as damaging to local ecosystems as overfishing or overhunting. Sustainable tourism, a concept that has been gaining considerable traction, aims to prevent that damage. According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism “takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” FHI 360 is a leading partner in the Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance (GSTA), which uses integrated approaches to protect the environment and improve local economies.

Many communities are aware — and proud — of the richness of their local traditions. GSTA helps these communities showcase their natural and cultural resources so that tourists can receive a unique, authentic experience.

In the Dominican Republic, GSTA worked to build the capacity of community enterprises to attract, entertain, educate and impress visitors. GSTA designed striking promotional materials; trained staff in food preparation, tour guiding and customer service; offered unique local handicrafts; and helped local partners create positive, culturally representative experiences that exceeded visitor expectations.

“International tourism is projected to grow six percent by 2015, and people, more and more, are looking for something different when they travel. Through GSTA, FHI 360 works with local communities to leverage their natural and cultural resources to deliver memorable, sustainable experiences,” explains Roberto Martin, an FHI 360 project manager who has overseen GSTA projects in the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Engaging Local Enterprises and National Governments

FHI 360’s trademarked System-wide Collaborative Action for Livelihoods and the Environment (SCALE) approach brings all relevant partners together and helps them to identify mutually beneficial collaboration opportunities. In the Dominican Republic, GSTA connected cocoa and coffee producers with local tourism companies, who then incorporated factory and plantation tours into their trip packages. This partnership helped improve the economic health of the businesses involved, and enabled local tourism companies to deliver unique travel opportunities that feature local culture.

By engaging all actors, the SCALE approach works in harmony with existing tourism infrastructure. In Ethiopia, for example, GSTA helped develop and market short-duration side trips near Addis Ababa for tourists who passed through the capital on their way to popular religious destinations in the north. These side trips helped inject money — and visibility and government attention — into areas that did not previously benefit from the nation’s tourism industry.

Putting tourism on the national agenda requires increasing awareness and buy-in from local and national stakeholders at all levels. In Uganda, FHI 360 experts helped elevate the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities; previously, tourism had been only a sub-ministry. This increased visibility ensures that tourism officials have a seat at the table when important governmental decisions are considered and implemented.

Tourism has the potential to promote economic growth in countries that preserve and market the resources that make them unique, while empowering local communities to deliver and benefit from the kinds of memorable experiences that tourists are seeking.

“Sustainable tourism is one of the more interesting and impactful approaches to protecting the environment.” said Nicholas Wedeman, FHI 360 senior technical manager. “The FHI 360 approach really highlights the linkages between environmental sustainability and economic growth.”