Engaging residents in planning for sustainable rural-nature tourism in post-communist Poland.

Author:Strzelecka, Marianna

This study attempts to draw attention to environmentally, socially and economically sustainable tourism development as a tool with the potential to generate social capital based on development of local ties in Poland. It uses the interactional approach to community to discuss the possibility of enhancing actors' efficacy and the building of trust among the actors influenced by participatory planning for sustainable tourism development. The interactional approach to community allows for the observation of how the realization of such inclusive planning processes can help in pursuing interactions and therefore developing local relationships. Because of interactions a community is capable of pursuing joint action toward the wellbeing of a locality. Consequently the function of such processes is not limited to pure and effective planning for development, which is its explicit and conscious purpose. The task of the paper is to expose possible latent effects occurring within the tourism development framework.

Keywords: participatory tourism planning; stakeholders' interaction; interactional community; relationships' development


Research within the tourism discipline has for a long time concentrated on the economic aspects of the industry (e.g., Dwyer, Forsyth, & Spurr, 2006; Elkin & Roberts, 1987; King, Dwyer, & Prideaux 2007), tourism influences on social processes (e.g., Crompton, 1992; Haukeland, 1984; Pearce, 1995) as well as environmental concerns (e.g., Blangy & Nielsen, 1993) each trying to document the impact tourism development has on localities, regions and national economies. However, research investigating tourism influence on local societies occurs usually when tourism is mature or in the final stages of its development and has not shown enough concern toward the social and political impact of the process of tourism planning. It has been the issue of involving local residents and other local stakeholders in decision-making that is of academic interest (Parkins & Mitchell, 2005). Not only is it important to consider the value of decentralized and inclusive decision-making for the sake of quality of decisions, but we must also realize the potential contribution of decision-making involving a wide spectrum of local stakeholders to increasing local dynamics.

Empowering stakeholders by including their voice in tourism development decision-making is a relatively new approach that became an indispensible element of the sustainable development process (Saarinen, 2006). In particular, the need for local participation and deliberation in decision-making has been stressed within the framework of "community based" or "community driven" tourism (Armitage, 2005; Saarinen, 2006; Tosun, 1998). Those who advocate stakeholders' inclusion also argue the importance of distributing power among primary users of local resources (Zanetell & Knuth, 2002; Tandom, 2008). Further they claim that balanced local power relations are critical conditions for sustainable development to happen.

Attention turned to social effects derived from a locally realized development paradigm, allows disciplines previously constrained by a one-site research perspective to evolve into more complex and comprehensive systems of knowledge contextualized in a locality. By applying different concepts this work demonstrates the potential effects that the participation of local stakeholders in planning for tourism development has on local social relationships and community cohesiveness. This study argues that even though local actors initially are more likely to become involved in a development project if they show personal interest in it and if they perceive opportunities to influence decision-making to ensure their benefits (Coleman, 1990), other, more lasting social impacts can accrue to the stakeholders. Through interaction, stakeholders are more prone to develop local relationships and shared values. They are more likely to turn their attention and later action to the general wellbeing of the locality and its prosperity. It is possible that stakeholders commit to a variety of actions that increase local dynamics and provide the opportunity to improve local connectedness (see Theodori, 2005).

This study adopts the interactional field theory significantly advanced by Wilkinson (1991) and the concept of social capital as the theoretical frameworks used to suggest a model of community field as a latent effect of an inclusive tourism planning process. An interactional perspective defines the community field as the emerging place-oriented process of interrelated actions over time carried out by actors usually, but not necessarily, working through various associations (Theodori, 2005). Therefore community is more likely to emerge from intensified interaction among local stakeholders (Wilkinson, 1991). It is postulated that participatory processes of tourism planning in Poland enhances the development of social relationships by providing spaces in which intensified interactions occur and which facilitate discovering and negotiating shared values and allow for argumentation about issues of local tourism among different stakeholders. By crossing more and more distinct social fields, development of the field of interest in tourism increases the potential for collective action and the emergence of a community.

Some actors involved in the tourism planning process also operate at the regional level and thereby link a locality to external environments by their individual vertical ties and thus increase the potential for the development of new kinds of relationships. Thereby, the social function of tourism processes cannot be perceived as limited to improving planning for specific developments--the quality of tourism decisions is only its explicit purpose. The aim of this study is to demonstrate that latent effects derived from a participatory approach to planning tourism development can have a positive impact on social dynamics in a post-communist locality. In particular, it seeks to discover how the tourism development project realized for the post-communist localities enhances the development of relationships among local stakeholders and community action. The paper introduces community field theory to tourism planning, and applies the concept of social capital to theorize about process of local interactions. Through a case study approach researchers demonstrate to what extent theory driven modifications introduced to the model of community action can be observed in tourism decision-making in post-communist Poland.

The developing argument begins with emphasis on the necessity of completing democratic consolidation processes by developing local democratic cultures in Poland and the arising need for purposeful actions to enhance the changes. We propose that a crucial element of these processes is the involvement of individuals and groups in local decision-making. Engaging them as stakeholders may happen along with local development projects such as planning for tourism. The following sections of the paper theorize how empowering local actors in tourism planning processes could result in new relationships and the emergence of the interactional community and hence in community action. The section including the case study aims to visualize those processes based on a real example.

Democratic consolidation and why sustainable tourism matters

Social and political distrust fostered by the Communist regimes are believed to have made post-communist democracies particularly prone to political instability (Putnam, 1993). For many years Poland has struggled to simultaneously build strong capitalist markets and develop democratic political systems. This is because recent governments have adopted a popular "Western" belief that economic growth relies heavily on the quality of the democratic regime. The event which significantly influenced the progress of the country's political-economic transition was the opportunity of accession to the European Union (EU). Starting on the path toward these ideological changes and the creation of the required political and economic environment permitted EU accession in 2004. Democratic consolidation, however, will complete the political transition by developing local democratic cultures founded on a "common commitment to a mode of reasoning on matters of public policy" (Habermas, 2001). Because the success of decentralized deliberative democracy implies that public participation in local decision-making will be present and discussions among citizens will be based on equality, strong local communities are essential. Hence, involvement at the local level of governance being the main component of political dynamics ensures the quality of local democratic processes (CEC, 2004d, p. 33-34). However, most citizens of rural Poland, have successively avoided engagement in any local collective action, even though participation has been voluntary (Howard, 2002). Whereas in many Western societies citizen activity in local affairs has become a central part of their social culture, in post-communist localities people are interested in their private circles and have felt little need to engage in this form of decision-making.

Pessimists may suggest that we should passively await the day when the younger generations finally replace the older mistrustful citizens still affected by years of Communist rule (Sztompka, 1999). Yet the argument that generational change would significantly affect the level of engagement in local affairs seems of doubtful usefulness, especially in reference to rural areas of Poland. It is difficult to unconditionally accept a popular belief that the new generations easily accept and assimilate proposed new local democratic practices, and thereby complete the transition toward a consolidated democratic regime (Howard, 2003). Therefore, instead of comfortably awaiting the replacement of a generation, local...

To continue reading