Sustainable destination management - a promising field of activity in development cooperation?
Since the 1990s international development cooperation has admitted sustainable tourism development in its portfolio - primarily though as a tool to achieve larger goals such as poverty reduction, economic development or natural resource conservation. Initially these activities were mainly focused on niche markets like community or nature based tourism. As the spectrum of activities broadened in recent years, linkages with destination management emerged, challenging development organisations into this new sphere of activity.
Traditional western destinations with high tourism intensity operate in a highly competitive context. Academic teaching in the field of destination management is therefore focusing on strategic management approaches including planning, lobbying, marketing and supply developing functions to ensure long term success on a global market.
The background of destinations supported by development cooperation, however, may differ enormously depending on a target area's stage of development, its historical or political context as well as its socio-cultural, ecological and economic environments. In this regard, the priorities and challenges faced by these destinations may vary considerably from mainstream academic teaching. The goal of the presented master paper is therefore to contribute to actual discussions of destination management as a field of activity of development cooperation. In this effect, the author is analysing what kind of activities and organisational structures related to destination management are supported by international development cooperation and sheds light on the projects' approaches and objectives. The thesis further outlines the opportunities and constraints in supporting sustainable destination management in a developing / transition context. Finally it tries to answer the global question: Is sustainable destination management a promising field of activity in development cooperation?
In the frame of the presented thesis the Kyrgyz Issyk Kul region has been chosen as sample case for the empirical study. As such, it exemplifies destination management in a post socialist context. In the Issyk Kul region the strong state involvement in all aspects of tourism during Soviet time was on the one hand a driving force of the development of the tourism industry, yet on the other hand the Soviet approach of tourism management lead to a couple of restrictions: Compared with western standards the service mentality and client orientation of personnel has been low. Because tourism planning and decisions were made in a top-down approach the empowerment of locals to participate in decision making remained marginal. Again, compared with tourism development in western context the ability to adapt to changing fashions, to introduce innovations and market response has not been assisted.
During the past decade, however, the development of tourism in Issyk Kul has experienced a re-launch, particularly in terms of recreation and leisure, a development which has been prioritized by the Kyrgyz Government and the State Agency of Tourism, thus on highest level. The latter fact, but also the rethinking among international players of tourism as a component of sustainable development was a cause for several activities of international cooperation in this field. These interventions had in principle two directions: Some were successfully supporting structures and operations for newly emerging specialized tourism segments while others were assisting the government and its state institutions in strategic planning for the destination as a whole.
The experience of the past ten years shows that in view of the historical/political context public partners were lacking comprehension and commitment for a joined effort in global destination management and funding. Too often, efforts to strengthen cooperation between the public and private sectors were failing after the phase out of international donor agencies. Yet in certain geographical or sectoral niches, destination management achieved viable results.
As a result of the thesis the author is concluding that supporting sustainable destination management has in principle a good potential in development cooperation to achieve various development goals; but the complexity of the theme may push multi-sectoral development organizations to their limits of know-how. Independently from the historical and political context of the destination, willingness to cooperate and joint understanding among public and private partners of what a destination management organization is, is prerequisite. Financial integration of governmental funds is required to ensure sustainability of destination management and its related cooperative tourism organization after the phase out of the donor agency. In many cases a comprehensive approach also can conflict with the relatively short cycles of multi or bilateral funding that often impede the planning of a viable long term strategy. Many actors have reacted to this dilemma by picking out singular activities or niches, where they can reach tangible results. In many cases the latter, potentially is the better solution while it still contributes to important development goals such as poverty reduction and natural resource protection.