Within the last decades, tourism has become one of Europe’s most important and fastest growing sectors. Europe is the world’s largest tourist receiving region and is also one of the key tourism source markets. Thereby, tourism has a major impact on the natural as well as on the built environment. In addition to that, it can have positive or negative effects on the well-being and culture of the host population, depending on how tourism is developed and managed. In order to avoid the negative effects tourism can have, and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the tourism sector, there is a need for policies and plans at all levels but in particular at the local destination level where tourism takes place (UNESCO, 2007). Since there is a clear need for sustainable tourism development, this essay sets out to discuss what sustainable destination development looks like by using concrete examples what sustainable destination development is and which effects it can have to the different levels of stakeholders.
First of all, to guarantee a consistent understanding of what sustainable destination development is about it seems to be important to define the term sustainability as well as the term destination.
The term sustainability has become a not clearly defined buzzword. Nonetheless, most scientists agree that the term must compromise social/cultural, economic as well as environmental aspects to be holistic (Richards & Hall, 2000; Butler, 2007; Timur & Getz, 2009; Morelli, 2011). Having this in mind the UNEP and UNWTO have defined sustainable tourism appropriate as "Tourism that 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" (UNEP & UNWTO, 2005, S. 12).
Now, as the term sustainability respectively the term sustainable tourism is sufficiently defined it also seems to be appropriate to define the term destination. Referring to Bieger and Beritelli, a destination represents a competitive business unit in incoming tourism, which must be managed as a strategic business unit. Furthermore, the authors define a destination as a geographic space that a guest select as a travel destination. Moreover, does the destination include all facilities for accommodation, food, entertainment, and employment, which are of necessity for a stay in this area (Bieger & Beritelli, 2013, S. 54). However, the size of this geographic area is undefined, and referring to the work of Kelly and Nankervis, a destination may be seen as an entire continent, country, state, province, city, village, or just a single tourist resort (Kelly & Nankervis, 2001).
Since the terminologies of sustainability and destination have been defined introductory it is time to have a closer look at the theoretical framework of sustainable destination development.
The concept of sustainable destination development evolved during a series of international conferences and initiatives between 1972 and 1992 (Drexhage & Murphy, 2010). Furthermore, in the year of 1987, the concept of sustainability as a global issue was formalized by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Since than sustainability has become an important topic in relation to tourism planning and development due to tourism’s inherent nature which can have positive as well as negative effects on the community, economy and the environment. If tourism is not planed properly it can have devastating impacts on the very resources that are the foundation of tourism in the community. Therefore, tourism development must be planned and managed in a sustainable manner to be successful (Byrd, 2007).
In order to explain the theoretical concept of sustainable destination development another important term must be paid attention first, the term of development itself. Development is an ambiguous term which is used to describe both the process through which a society moves from one condition to another as well as the goal of that process per se. In former times this process’ only goal was to achieve economic growth while it nowadays also embraces social, cultural and political components (Sharpley, 2000).
Furthermore, as the meaning of the three constituent parts of “sustainable destination development” have been defined earlier it is now time to bring those terminologies together and to create an understanding of what the concept is about. Lélé (1991) suggested that the philosophy of sustainable development may be best understood by splitting it into its constituent parts sustainability and development since the author described sustainable development as an equation of those terminologies. The result of doing this would mean that a combination of sustainability and development would lead to an understanding of sustainable development (sustainability + development = sustainable development) (Lélé, 1991). That, in turn, would mean if we combine the terms sustainability + destination + development we would create an understanding of what sustainable destination development is. In other words, if we have a closer look at the equation of those terminologies, sustainable destination development rests on the assurance of renewable economic, social and cultural benefits to the host community as well as to the visiting tourists and the environment. Therefore, a holistic approach to sustainability requires that the social, cultural and economic well-being is continuously ensured respectively improved (Richards & Hall, 2000).
In short, sustainable destination development must combine the economic, ecological and socio-cultural sustainability dimensions (Timur & Getz, 2009). With this in mind, it seems to be important to illustrate what the single dimensions are about.
First, economic sustainability ensures that the development is economically efficient and that the used resources are managed in such a way that the future generation can also benefit of them. Second, the ecological sustainability is concerned with ensuring that the development goes along with the maintenance of ecological processes, biological diversity and the environmental resources. Third, the socio-cultural sustainability ensures that the development is compatible with the culture and values of people affected by it and it also maintains and strengthens the community identity (WTTC, WTO & Earth Council, 1995; Timur & Getz, 2009).
Having the complexity of sustainability itself in mind as well as the inherent nature of tourism, it is obvious that the achievement of a sustainable destination development requires the consideration of the interests of many different groups involved (Richards & Hall, 2000; Byrd, 2007; Timur & Getz, 2009). Those groups represent stakeholders according to the definition of Freeman (1984) who identifies such as “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organizations objectives” (Freeman, 1984, S. 46). In order to successfully integrate the different interests and also to include those into the destination development process it is important to first identify the different stakeholder groups and second to find a way to involve them into the development process (Byrd, 2007).
In general, four main distinct stakeholder groups can be named: the present tourist, the present host community, the future tourist and the future host community. By researching the needs and interests of those four different stakeholder groups the destination should be able to enhance the understanding of those groups for the actions taken during the development process. Moreover, it should lead to enhanced quality of the tourism products and services as well as to higher satisfaction within the community and customer groups (Byrd, 2007).
Now as the theoretical concept is defined, and the importance of stakeholder involvement is made clear, it might help to have a look at two practical examples to better illustrate what sustainable destination development is about. Therefore, two case studies in Europe: 1) The case of Lillehammer and 2) The case of Auronnzo di Cadore were chosen because of their regional as well as practical relevance.
The case of Lillehammer
This case study was conducted by Welford and Ytterhus in 2004. To guarantee fluent readability the authors are not cited in every single paragraph but at the end of the practical example. Moreover, the full details to find the source are provided to the reader in the reference section at the end of the paper.
The region Lillehammer is in Oppland county, in the southern part of Norway and the region is probably best remembered for hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1994. The town itself and the surrounding area of Lillehammer is home to almost 25.000 inhabitants. Furthermore, it is seen as a center for arts, culture, and tourism. As well as the administrative capital of Oppland county. The region is well known for skiing as well as for its’ natural beauty, museums and arts centers which make it to an all-year-round tourism destination. In general, tourism is very important in the region with 12.1 % of the labor force employed directly in hotels and restaurants. However, at the end of 1990 to the beginning of the new millennium, Lillehammer faced a sharp decline in tourism and visitor numbers. The main problem with tourism in the Lillehammer region was that it was uncoordinated and fragmented what further meant that it was often difficult to ensure a high-quality tourism product. Therefore, a group of researchers undertook a SWOT analysis of the region in the year of 2000.
The group thereby identified four priority topics to be addressed:
1) The potential for cooperation in terms of marketing, bookings, waste management and transport as well as for increased cooperation’s amongst different service providers.
2) Enhancement of the destination brand and the clear communication of an environmental profile to all stakeholders.
3) The development of new products associated with the regions typical characteristics.
4) Strengthening of the credibility between the tourist’s exceptions and the delivery of tourism services and products.
Based on these four topics and the other results of the SWOT analysis, the group identified three projects which were seen as achievable with the ability to create momentum in the region.
Project 1: “Eco-Lighthouse” certification of infrastructure in the travel and tourism industry
- The aim was to create a destination known for its’ nature. Therefore, small and medium-sized enterprises were encouraged to reduce their impact on the environment, reduce costs and make use of an environmental profile in their marketing. The outcome was that participants made significant energy savings and other cooperation and partnership projects have been started.