Sunday, September 11, 2016

Chapter 2 Sustainable Tourism by David Weaver Relational Summary

Sustainable Tourism Chapter 2 Script
Relational Summary by T.H. Culhane

As we mentioned in Chapter 1, a number of issues complicate and cloud the realization of sustainability in tourism.  The first is, as we’ve pointed out, the contradictory ideas optimistically forced together anytime you add the concept of sustainability to human profit maximizing endeavors.  It is like pressing together the negative poles of two magnets and strapping them in place. Hall, 1998 tells us “Sustainable development ‘emerged in an attempt to reconcile conflicting value positions with regard to the environment’, yet Weaver points out that Hall also describes sustainable development as an “essentially  contested concept’, the ‘application of which is INHERENTLY a matter of dispute, depending on the values and ideologies of various stakeholders… this suggests that the consensus of support that has developed around the concept might simply disguise continue and largely OPPORTUNISTIC support for the more ideologically polarized platforms of the past… as discussed in chapter 1 the semantics are appealing to both the pro-growth and slow or anti-growth supporters, with ‘development’ having particular resonance with the former and ‘sustainable’ being attractive to the latter…
Says Romeril (1994)  “sustainable tourism, as a result, can mean just about anything to anyone, rendering it vulnerable to appropriation by either group… for supporters of the advocacy platform it represents continue tourism growth and intensifaication, while for supporters of the cautionary and adaptancy platforms, it often represents alternative tourism and a halt to mass tourism development. Accordingly, the consensus surrounding the principle is liable to dissolve once a diverse group of stakeholders begins the process of implementation.” (p. 19).
The hope is that we can flip the sign on development so that sustainability “sticks”.  But there are some who feel that at the pace population is growing, all attempts to mitigate the negative effects of development are doomed to failure and that most sustainable tourism is window dressing and green washing that masks a slow but inevitable erosion of the environments and social conditions that subtend our capacity for long-term happiness.
Weaver tells us that several authors, (among them MacLellan in 1997)  ‘raise a more sinister implication of this excessive flexibility, alleging that some businesses and governments deliberately use “sustainable”and allied terms such as ecotourism… to give a false impression of environmental and social responsibility to the public. In combination with a failure to address the broader problems of appropriation and implementation the exposure of such practices  could cause sustainable tourism to be perceived by the public as nothing more than a discredited, cynical and empty cliché.
Still there is hope.  Weaver points out,
“The semantic flexibility of terms such as sustainable development and sustainable tourism make the terms vulnerable to appropriation but also facilitates the construction of weak and strong approaches to sustainability” .  The malleability of the terms thus don’t have to be a net liability if we adopt an adaptive paradigm, where weak sustainability is used as a gateway drug to stronger and stronger approaches.
Weak approaches are particularly suitable for extensively modified environments, for example in the inner city where nature protection is almost irrelevant because there is little nature there to begin with, or massively degraded landscapes like abandoned strip mines or abandoned farm-land.  In the part of Germany where I have lived for the last 10 years one of the most popular tourist destinations we visit is an abandoned coal mine that has become a UNESCO world heritage site. The coal processing plant itself has been turned into an art and technology museum with fancy restaurants, and the extensive grounds have been reforested and replanted with native vegetation and sport winding bicycle paths with signage talking about how nature can reclaim industrial areas once people apply the principles of sustainability.  Each year that we visit the site becomes greener and greener as it is rewilded, going from what was once a smelly toxic eyesore that covered the town with soot and caused black lung disease to a vibrant parkland where wildlife and families with children mingle.
I also visited a rainforest golf course in Sumatera being designed by my Indonesian godfather who tod me, “we’ve built the golfcourse on degraded farmland.  No trees were cut to make it.  In fact we preserved all of the old growth forest pockets that were on the farm and thousands of acres of buffer forest around it.  Now nobody can hunt or extract timber and we use no pesticides or herbicides on our greens.  In effect this golf resort has become a wildlife preserve, and the region is much better off than when it was open to farming because the high revenues ensure that the forest, which gives the resort a feeling of exclusivity,  is preserved.”

This is called an anthropocentric rationale for protecting or even enhancing nature, and for all that the resort is doing to protect wildlife, the fear is that it may backfire if social justice issues are not resolved.  So long as there is trickle down from the resort to the surrounding community in the form of employment or revenues, it will be supported, but if the resort does not share its benefits, the surrounding community may begin to poach the buffer zone and even engage in acts of sabotage. 
When it comes to relatively undisturbed natural and cultural settings, Strong Sustainable Tourism strategies become even more important.  Hunter (1997) reminds us that in these areas “even a small increase in tourism-related activity could result in unacceptable environmental or sociocultural costs”.
Here is one way to think about it, a thought exercise we should all engage in:
Imagine a crystal clear pool of water in a sheltered lagoon with a mixed sand/mud bottom and a population of fish.  I lived on such a lagoon in the rainforest village of Macanche, Guatemala. People start to arrive and enter the water to swim and fish and bathe and wash their clothes.  The sediments get stirred up by each person who enters and the water starts to get clouded.  Fish are being removed by those fishing.  Soap salts and shampoos are being added by each of the bathers.  At a certain volume of visitors, natural ecosystem services can assimilate the disturbances.  When the swimmers and bathers go home the sediments that were kicked up start to settle. The soaps and shampoos begin to be broken down by the vegetation and the algae and the snails. Fish populations start to recover from the fishing.  But with each added visitor and shorter periods for recovery, the carrying capacity of the lagoon is diminished. Because natural systems are living systems they are prone to uncertainties. Population explosions of organisms that are more tolerant of human activity can quickly upset the balance and lead to extinctions and collapse.  In water bodies this is referred to as “eutrophication”.
Proponents of strong sustainable tourism, using the knowledge based platform that we spoke of in Chapter 1, apply the “PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE”, the idea that “a course of action should be avoided if its consequences are unknown.”  Disney resorts laudably  applied this principle recently  when they learned that a proposed resort on a tropical island could cause severe damage to a unique coral reef system.  Where tourism is allowed, alternative options such as small-scale tourism, are preferred, but in extreme cases, like the voluntary decision by Disney not to develop, the rational approach may often be the prohibition of all tourism activity from certain areas.
In effect this is an acknowledgement that development almost always has negative consequences and that all development, to be sustainable, needs to be done in a way that allows natural ecosystem services to repair that damage.  You can think of tourism like a night on the town for a natural ecosystem… it needs time to get over the hangover before it can go drinking again.
This is why the crux of the argument between anthropocentric weak sustainability approaches and cautionary strong sustainable tourism strategies often revolve around the question “just how degraded is the area to begin with?”  Weaver points out that theme parks are a difficult call since they are more or less completely artificial environments which nonetheless were often  carved out of a  natural ecosystem and still have a huge impact on surrounding ecosystems. 

One of the burning questions that we will address in Chapter 6 when we discuss “Attractions” is “can theme parks actually be used to ENHANCE the environment rather than always degrading it? The Zeche Zollverein Coal mine example I gave is one indication that the answer may be yes, but ironically enhancement may be predicated on first destroying an environment completely and from that untenable baseline working to repair the damage and bring new life to an area.  The question then becomes, are the developers sophisticated enough in their understanding of ecology to recreate a functional ecosystem that will not collapse in time?  Unfortunately the Biosphere II experiment in Arizona, where scientists and developers tried to create a completely anthropogenic hermetically sealed simulation of the major biomes on the earth to see if we could create viable colonies on the moon or Mars, failed completely as insect populations and so called weeds and other vegetation got out of control, food production systems fell apart, and even the oxygen levels plummeted to dangerous levels.  This showed that we aren’t quite ready to create living systems that can perpetuate sustainably, even with intense management and enormous amounts of money.
Another big problem that Weaver points out about Sustainable Tourism is that even if we ignore the problematic of what “Development’ means or does, even the term “Sustainable” is loaded and unreliable as a predicator of positive outcomes.  Weaver reminds us that “The term sustainability has steady state connotations that suggest the maintenance of the existing situation” He cautions us that sometimes “the term actually encourages the perpetuation of an unsustainable status quo.” (p. 20). 
We ask ourselves, “sustain what?” Sustain poverty, sustain injustice, sustain monocultures with vast stands of pines or single species grasslands?  There is an undercurrent discussion among sustainable development and tourism planners to dispense with the term sustainable altogether.  For example the wealthy retired banker and tourism developer Don Roberto Hernandez and his wife Claudia who run the expensive Hacienda Mundo Mayas resorts in the Yucatan, Mexico, flew me to their planning retreat in the jungle and took me to stay at several of their fanciest resorts where they are experimenting with biological waste water treatment and biodigesters and rain forest reclamation.  They told our planning group, “we prefer the terms “thriving development” and “regenerative tourism”.  We don’t want to sustain the status quo, because the way things are and the way things are going are bad.  We want to change, not sustain.  We want the local Maya communities to thrive, we want the forest ecosystem and the coastal ecosystems to thrive.  This is why we talk about thriving tourism. We don’t just want to survive, we want to thrive.”
Status quo sustainability, according to Weaver, is only warranted where a natural or bucolic rural setting is not stressed.  In these cases “doing more of the same” is possible to sustain. In other areas the argument now revolves around “enhancement dynamics”.  This follows the recommendations of the Bruntland report and the very definition of sustainability as conceived then – that it would not affect future generations in a negative way.  What about making things actually BETTER for future generations. Can tourism do that?
Could tourism be used to guarantee intragenerational as well as intergenerational equity?   Weaver worries that intergenerational SUSTAINABILITY could be seen as “an elitist principle that deliberately perpetuates societal and regional inequalities in the distribution of power and wealth”
Even the desire to preserve wilderness, untouched by human beings, can be seen through this lens of inequality.  At a time in history when 7.4 Billion people are competing for land and resources, the very act of setting aside areas that most human beings are not allowed to touch is controversial and can lead to tragic conflicts.  Add tourism into the mix, where some privileged people are now permitted to have  access to those forbidden  areas, particularly to engage in leisure activities, while the “other 90%” are forced to eke out a living in degraded habitats that have lost their ecosystem services, and you have the seeds of war.  The literature abounds with case studies where gorillas and elephants and other charismatic megafauna were exterminated and large trees deliberately cut or burned down as acts of protest and in an effort to remove the attractions that draw tourists so the land could be used by those living at the margins.  These are extreme examples of what are called the indirect and induced impacts of tourism.
Tourism systems have Fuzzy boundaries. It is hard to say precisely what tourism is responsible for and what other factors are responsible for.  Tourism is imbricated in a world system and implicated in almost everything that happens.  As soon as human beings and our current industrial and economic systems overlap with natural ecosystems and more traditional cultural systems there will be an impact and we must carefully examine the role of indirect and induced impacts and the crucial influence played by external human and natural systems.  The law of unintended consequences is always present, and even the accidental introduction by tourists and tourism operators of non-native species of animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, protozoans and viruses can have a huge and mostly unwanted impact.  It is for this reason that customs agents in Australia for example, swarm with their sniffing dogs around tourists arriving to their airports, forcing visitors to dispose of all food items.  I once had a slice of frozen pizza taken away from me and was scolded.  Unpredictable cause and effect relationship are yet another element of complexity that complicate the engagement with sustainable tourism. (p. 21)
Pages 21 through 24 of the book give more examples of the influence of external systems and the unintended and unpredictable cause and effect relationships.  The complexity illustrated, Weaver tells us,  “warrants a holistic approach toward sustainability that entails indirect, ‘macro’, instersectoral  and pan-realm  assumptions about the scope of engagement with sustainable tourism. 
The holistic approach is contrasted by the “confined approach” which has a narrow business focus, only looks at direct impacts and keeps a ‘micro’ rather than ‘macro’ perspective. The confined approach also confines itself to either environmental impacts or sociocultural impacts but rarely both.
Defenders of this narrow outlook claim that this Minimalist sustainability, with more restricted parameters of engagement is still appropriate primarily as a temporary framework that expedites entry into the sustainability arena. 
The  Comprehensive model on the other hand, is more expensive and difficult to implement with its  holistic, pan-realm assumptions that focus on enhancement sustainability, intragenerational and intergenerational equity, indirect and induced impacts with an  expanded space/time continuum.  Expanding the space and time horizon when analyzing impacts, requires sophisticated training and critics point out that both strong and weak sustainability approaches must  include financial sustainability “without which the pursuit of environmental and sociocultural sustainability is irrelevant.”
For this we turn toward INDICATORS.

INDICATOR IMPLEMENTAATION is a major issue in Sustainable Tourism today. How to select appropriate indicators of course is a major field of study. Even after we have selected the indicators, how do we effectively measure and monitor them?
Evaluation of indicators depends fundamentally on Timing , on  the identification of benchmarks and theresholds, and on proper indicator prioritization.  But even when we get that right, Weaver points out that  Threshholds and benchmarks and priorities can often be “arbitrarily manipulated for political or ideological purposes… for example a manager might give priority to indicators that show less stress in the system or are less expensive to redress.”

One way around this manipulation is to have governing bodies that have a more panoptic perspective make the decisions.  The WTO has played a lead role in creating 11 core indicators that “would provide a basic framework for sustainable tourism management in any destination”. These are shown in Table 2.1.
They delineate specific measures for indicators like “Site protection, Stress, use intensity, Social impact, Development control, Waste Management, Planning Process, Critical ecosystems, Consumer satisfaction, Local satisfaction and Tourism Contribution to the Local Economy.”
 They also  created supplementary indicators of sustainable tourism for selected environments, illustrated in Table 2.2.  These suggested measures for “Levels of beach erosion and beach intensity, the extent of erosion caused by tourism in mountains, Human populations in wildlife parks and levels of poaching , air pollution  measurements in urban environments, use intensity and restoration costs and disruptive behavior observed in cultural sites, changes in flora and fauna mixes and  concentrations in unique ecological sites, social impacts in traditional communities and measures of capital flight and fresh water availability in small islands.

These indicators were very useful to mediate the debate about what we are talking about when we use the nebulous concept of sustainable development as applied to tourism.  With these indicators finally all stakeholders could come to the table with a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve.
Subsequently, in 1996 a group of experts met in the  Italian town of Bellagio and established general guidelines to inform  the implementation of sustainable development strategies that  included tourism. These so-called  Bellagio Principles are now one of the main source of concepts supporting the specific indicators for the tourism industry, grounding them in an agreed upon philosophical framework rationalized by the recognized  non-viability of the ‘do nothing’ alternative.
  Having the principles has allowed progress has been made in a short period, because now clear concepts exist upon with debates can focus.  There is growth in support even though the indicators are imprecise, and for those who reject most of them, since both the WTO indicators and the Bellagio are based on a “clear preference for the comprehensive model and the holistic, system based approach with adequate spatial and temporal scopes taken into account”, a recognition of the need for practicality makes a  minimalist entry point available so that nobody throws the baby out with the bathwater.
The Bellagio Principles encourage the following 10 principles:
1.       Have a guiding vision and goals.
2.       Have a Holistic perspective
3.       Include essential elements such as equity, the ecological conditions upon which life depends and non-market activities that contribute to well being.
4.       Have an adequate scope
5.       Have a practical focus
6.       Maintain Openness so that methods and data are accessible to all.
7.       Engage in effective communication
8.       Encourage Broad participation, especially of key grass-roots and otherwise voiceless groups
9.       Be iterative and adaptive and responsive to change through ongoing assessment
10.   Build institutional capacity.
Beneath each of the 10 headings are much more specific subheadings with key indicators.
The case study at the end of the chapter shows how Scandinavia is successfully employing these sustainable tourism indicators and gives a set of 21 even more specific indicators that they use in the Network Evolution for Sustainable Tourism (NEST) project that even includes such things as the number of red-listed animal species, ecolabelled restaurants, bike paths and footpaths,  and eco-friendly products sold.
As these types of  indicators evolve to be the norm, the industry begins to shape itself according to existing best practice models and a feedback loop among tourism operators and tourists with better defined expectations begins to grow. 
Says Weaver, “With its alluring  premise of continued development that does not unduly harm a destination’s natural and sociocultural environment, the idea of sustainable tourism has emerged as a priority objective of the global tourism sector since the mid-1990s. “
Let’s hope that the number of tourist operations using these indicators and seeking  their fulfillment  grows faster than the damage the ever expanding sector continues to cause.  In subsequent chapters we will explore even deeper ideas for how tourism can perhaps enhance rather maintain the status quo so that both people and the places they love to visit, can thrive.

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