Sustainable Tourism - The Boring Part - Legislation
First, let’s get done with the truisms. Tourism has significant social and economic benefits. It also had – and continues to have - serious, adverse consequences. Both are affected by vested interests – a completely different set of issues. Those of us involved in sustainable economic development know this pretty well so there is no need to create a laundry list. Take judicial notice that there are benefits and adverse consequences – sometimes not balanced toward the former – and vested interests need to be addressed.
Second, major conferences – where representatives from various groups fly long distances for a couple of days of discussions and networking – produce no evidence of actual, concrete impact. Sorry – but other than agreements to agree, there needs to be another vehicle to share experiences and results of actions taken locally.
This brings us into the weeds at the local level. The legislative foundations of the travel and tourism sector for each country differ. Legislation theoretically seeks to improve both tourism and local livelihoods and sometimes acknowledges UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Make the assumption that tourism-related legislation is intended to improve economic conditions for all stakeholders, protect ecological heritage and preserve culture. The whole purpose is intended to attract tourists because of those goals. The legislation in a particular destination may intend to do that, but in practical terms do the results reflect intentions? Additionally, there are always unintended consequences but that is a different topic.
The hard part is auditing the legislation and implementing regulations, identifying gaps, contradictions and unintended consequences of existing legislation and then, hopefully, improving the legislation and regulations to actually preserve the culture and ecology that produces the livelihoods in the first place.
For the tourist, this is about as interesting as reading the technical specifications of a washing machine; but this “into the weeds” audit is critical to creating a strategic tourism plan, legislation and implementing regulations that seek to improve the lives of the people who live in the destination, preserves the historical and social culture and protects ecological heritage while also attracting responsible tourists.
So, what legislation affects tourism? Tax legislation is one. Agritourism can be particularly impacted by tax legislation which may provide that income generated by tourism cannot exceed income produced by the main activity – farming. The objective is clearly to make sure farms don’t vanish. Therefore, tax legislation must be analysed for any impact it may have on an otherwise fine government program to promote agritourism as value-added income diversification.
Other legislation is also important to review and harmonize where necessary, such as land use regulations which may need strengthening to avoid land degradation and abuse of ecologically sensitive sites. Then, in no particular order, there must be an examination of health and safety laws, labour legislation, environmental and historic preservation laws, and consumer regulations.
If you are in the tourism management sector, what should you be concerned about, in addition to the above? Well, how about these? Who is responsible for tourism and how to get in touch? Related to this is how and who plans and promotes tourism. It helps to know whom to contact if you run a destination. Inspections? Well, the regulations need to specify who regulates what and how the destination needs to comply and what penalties might be imposed if you don’t.
Finally, legislation that directly affects the rights of the consumer (if any) should be reviewed. Without the customer, the puzzle is not complete.
In other words, it is not just as simple as exploiting a tourism asset, marketing and hoping tourists will come. This is not a movie. The legislation needs to be drafted, harmonized and transparently discussed so that the interests of the destination are protected.
Finally, whatever strategic plans are prepared and legislation enacted, they must be flexible and sensitive to changing social and economic environments through the use of a regulatory system that does not require parliamentary approval.
The tourist only sees the results of a well-designed and comprehensive tourism plan that incorporates legislative change and will return and recommend the destination. If executed haphazardly, they won’t be back and the multiplier effect of bad reviews will be felt by