Sustainable practices of community tourism planning: lessons from a remote community.

Author:Grybovych, Oksana

This article examines community tourism planning practices through the theoretical framework of deliberative democracy, and provides an example of best practices of integrating tourism planning and development into community comprehensive planning. It illustrates how a small remote community on Vancouver Island, Canada embraced practices of participatory dialogic planning in its official community planning process. Having faced a threat of tourism development going out of control, this community decided to take a proactive stance and collectively design a policy framework to guide potential developers. Fresh and innovative planning and policy approaches not only helped safeguard community and social capitals, but exemplified fresh unconventional practices of embedding community based tourism planning into broader sustainable community planning efforts.

Keywords: community development; deliberative democracy; participatory planning; rural tourism


The decline of traditional industries and agriculture in recent times has forced many urban and rural areas to turn to tourism as a field of opportunities on the way to economic growth and diversification (adapted from Hall & Mitchell, 2000; Hall, 2005). As a result, tourism is now one of the target industries for communities of all sizes wishing to integrate it into their overall comprehensive plans (Blackstock, 2005; Murphy & Murphy, 2004). The promise of tourism is especially apparent in rural areas experiencing economic instability and disintegration of the local fabric (adapted from Gannon, 1993). While rural tourism development alone is not the panacea to the ailments of rural regions, it has a great potential when integrated in broader community development efforts. The latter scenario often means diversification of the economic base, provides opportunities for social, economic, environmental, and cultural development, and also ensures greater security for the community (Gannon, 1993; Murphy & Murphy, 2004).

For such an endeavor to be successful and sustainable, it has to be both community-led and participatory (1). Significant community development takes place only when local residents are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993); when it comes to rural tourism development and planning, the most successful examples of tourism occur in communities in which there is broadly based resident participation in the planning and development of tourism projects (Butler & Hall, 1998; Cooke, 1982; Godfrey & Clarke, 2000; Marien & Pizam, 1997; Pearce & Moscardo, 1999; Tosun & Timothy, 2001). In other words, for tourism or community development to be sustainable, local control over public decision making and planning is needed (Gibbs, 1994). This community based participatory planning and decision making implies a process of interaction within the community, which ultimately leads to the development of community (adapted from Marcus & Brennan, 2008). This process can be further enhanced by a policy framework at the national and regional levels that would favor the development of sustainable community based tourism practices (World Tourism Organization, 1994). Such a policy would also encourage successful partnerships of public, private and nonprofit sectors within the broader resident population, ensuring sustainability of outcomes and policy and financial support of community-backed initiatives.

While this sounds a rather complex task to undertake, examples of successful community tourism planning practices are readily available. This paper discusses the experiences of one such community through the theoretical framework of deliberative democracy. Following review of pertinent literature, we will examine new and unconventional practices of embedding community based tourism planning into broader sustainable community planning efforts.

On rural reflation, asset-based community development, and appreciative inquiry

During the 1950s, the United Nations' report Social progress through community development introduced community development as a "process designed to create conditions of economic and social progress for the whole community with its active participation and the fullest possible reliance on the community's initiative" (United Nations, 1955, p.6). In essence, community development was envisioned as a set of tools and techniques communities could use to improve their physical, social, and economic life conditions (Christenson, Fendley, & Robinson, 1989). In practice, it often involved organized efforts to involve a broad range of stakeholders in a process of public decision making regarding issues considered of critical importance to the community (adapted from Hutchison & Nogradi, 1996). Over time, community development came to be seen as a process encompassing citizen involvement and utilizing local resources for solving issues of local concern (Alinsky, 1971; Rothman, 1995). More recently the United Nations, World Bank and World Tourism Organization, among other important bodies, have also emphasized sustainable, rural and community development (as well as participatory governance efforts) in their funding and policy priorities. While keeping outcomes in sight, the focus has been on the process of bringing community residents together in a cooperative and collaborative fashion (Hutchison & McGill, 1992) with the purposeful attempt to improve communities under democratic conditions of participation (Phifer, List, & Faulkner, 1989). Some even argued that the development of community has become synonymous with the process of (or a restoration of) democracy (Stormann, 1996).

Review of community development literature reveals several themes of importance to this paper: (1) citizen participation and community involvement in decision making are essential to community development (Bridger & Luloff, 1999; Hutchison & Nogradi, 1996; Phifer et al. 1989); (2) there are numerous barriers to effective and sustainable community development (Bridger & Luloff, 1999); and (3) effective and sustainable community development demands a considerable investment in effort and needs to be rooted in the development of local capacities and place-based strategies rather than imposing standard cut-and-dry models from elsewhere (Day, 1998). Among others, two theoretical approaches stand out providing guidance to those seeking answers on how exactly can local community capacities be developed, namely rural reflation and asset-based community, development (2).

In 1989, Fendley and Christenson put forth an idea of rural reflation as a process of developing the character and abilities of rural communities in the global economy. Times had changed, they argued, so the community development practices must change as well. For communities wishing to affect the change rather than be affected by it, rural reflation provided "the dual attempt at building a community market in the world economy while maintaining and solidifying a community identity" (p. 106). The process emphasized the role of leadership and favorable policy framework, local government involvement, and an active probusiness interest group with the will to act and effect change; these provided the necessary conditions for developing a niche in the world economy through organizing and maximizing the use of community's human and financial capital. Among a wide range of opportunities for rural reflation, authors emphasized development of service industries (including tourism) as especially lucrative for creating unique area identity.

In 1993, Kretzmann and McKnight expanded rural reflation theory by suggesting a process of building communities "from inside out." Instead of traditional practices of creating what they termed "client neighborhoods," they advocated for an approach to neighborhood regeneration that would capitalize on local assets--individuals, associations and institutions, harnessing them for local development purposes. As such, an asset-based community development approach appeared, advocating the view of tangible and intangible community assets as strengths to be appreciated and used to create new economic and social opportunities. Today, an asset-based community development provides a framework for a broad range of community development projects (see, for example, Asset based approaches to rural community development project of the Carnegie Trust UK and the International Association for Community Development).

Finally, over the last decade community development practitioners and organizations such as the International Institute for Sustainable Development have been advocating the appreciative inquiry (AI) model of community development--arguing that asset-based community development and appreciative inquiry hold the greatest potential for a grass-roots community change. Modified from the fields of action research and organizational development, appreciative inquiry theory identifies the best of "what is" to pursue dreams and possibilities of "what could be," therefore focusing on community strengths to advance sustainable development at the community level (Flora & Flora, 2008; International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2000).

While providing parallel guidelines for community development practitioners, all these models emphasize the role of citizen participation and collective action in achieving significant community development goals. Rural tourism planning and development, as argued earlier, has a promise of assisting communities achieve these goals--but only if it is being integrated in broader comprehensive community development practices.

On community tourism planning and citizen participation

Community based tourism planning has recently attracted a fair amount of attention. This can be explained by a number of factors. As Hibbard (1999) pointed out, rural communities in the United States have undergone a process of...

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