The Benefits of Public Participation in the Tourism Planning Process
Environment TOBAGOFocus On Tobago´s Environment
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The Benefits of Public Participation in the Tourism Planning Process

Ladies and Gentlemen.

In June of 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit) the governments of 182 nations adopted Agenda 21 for securing the sustainable development of planet earth. Following upon the Rio declaration, the World Travel and Tourism Council, the World Tourism Organisation and the Earth Council have jointly produced a report which has sought to translate Agenda 21 into a programme of action for the travel and tourism industry. This report is Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry: Towards Environmentally Sustainable Development. This document identifies several guiding principles for tourism development. Included are the following principles:
  • That environmental protection should constitute an integral part of the tourism development process.
  • That tourism development issues should be handled with the participation of concerned citizens, with planning decisions being adopted at the local level.

Based on these and the other principles of Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry, priority areas for action have also been identified. Among these priorities are:
  • Providing for the participation of all sectors of society in tourism development.
  • Design of new tourism products with sustainability at the core: an integral part of the tourism process.
  • Partnerships for sustainable development.
  • Involving staff, customers, and communities in environment issues.

It is against this background that we in the Caribbean, and specifically, Trinidad and Tobago, have to examine the importance of public participation in the development of a sustainable tourism sector, particularly with respect to conservation of the environment.

Why involve John Public in the siting, design and even operations of our hotels, resorts and other types of establishments that form the back bone of the tourism industry?

The answer to this question lies within the understanding of three important principles. The first is that the citizens as taxpayers are economic partners in tourism development and as such have a right to participate in the decision making process. The second is that investors in the tourism sector can avoid problems and mistakes that can be very costly to themselves and the industry in general, if a proper programme of public collaboration and decision making is not adhered to.
The third principle is that of the moral obligation to consult those who have traditionally utilised the resources available in the environment to be developed and who may suffer the consequences of lack of access, resource deprivation or resource degradation.

Let us look more closely at the first principle.

The citizens as taxpayers contribute significantly to the development of tourism through state investment in infrastructure which is essential to the success of tourism. Where would our tourism industry be without the airports, roads, water supply systems, electricity generation plants and, of course, the education system? One example: the planned sewage treatment plant for Southwest Tobago to deal with pollution of the marine environment. Cost to the taxpayer: $300 million.

Also bear in mind that the public sector investments are often made before any investment from the private sector in tourism. As such, our taxpayers must be regarded as equal partners and have the absolute right to be consulted in the making of any important decisions relative to tourism development. There can be no silent partners in this scenario.

The second principle of public participation/consultation: to avoid costly mistakes and problems is one that is of direct importance to private investors in the industry, even in the absence of public investment.

This is something that has been recognised by the World Bank in its review of the role of community involvement and Non-Government Organisations in environmental assessment. The World Bank Technical Paper 139 - Environmental Assessment Sourcebook, states: "The purpose of taking the views of effected people into account is to improve project viability. The Bank has found that where such views have been incorporated in the design, the projects are more likely to be successful. The Bank has not found community participation to be an impediment to project execution. On the contrary, projects in which effected peoples' views have been excluded suffer from more frequent delays and poorer quality."

Some of the specific benefits to the developer from engaging in the process of public consultation and public participation in decision making are as follows.
  • Increased data on the physical and biological characteristics of the site, which may be critical in siting and design, and may not have been detected by the technicians conducting the scoping exercise for the EIA for the project. For example, an area may be prone to flooding under particular circumstances. This may not be detected by the EIA team doing scoping during a dry period. The people who have been living in the area for generations, however, could provide this knowledge, which the developer could then use to his/her advantage.
  • The early identification of potential user conflicts which, if not properly addressed, can lead to hostility towards the development from the local population and which also can, in the long term, affect the viability of the project. Presently, we are seeing such types of conflicts rearing up right here in Tobago and some of these could have been avoided if the proper approach had been undertaken in the conceptualisation phase of the project.
  • Public consultation and participation in the early stages of the project can prevent the dissemination of rumours and the rise of negative perceptions which are very difficult to change once they take root. It is important to avoid the emergence of an "us versus them" mentality which can manifest itself in various negative ways. The spirit of co-operation must be fostered within the local community if a project is to succeed. We need to appreciate that it is the community that will be providing the construction workers, office staff, housekeepers and various other categories of employees at our establishments.

Recently it was reported in the press that a developer in Tobago issued a call to officials in the Tobago House of Assembly to stop "rumour mongering". What this developer does not seem to understand is that until he provides the public with information about his project to satisfy the public's need to know, then rumours will persist to his detriment.

At the recent Caribbean Tourism Organisation's conference held in Trinidad and Tobago, the consensus was that community tourism is the way forward in developing a sustainable tourism industry. Consequently, developers need to bring the local community into the mainstream of planning and development so that they can see tangible benefits to them and which will lead to them embracing the projects as their own. The draft Development of Land legislation to replace the Town and Country Planning Act mandates public participation in the preparation of EIA process, including making the final EIA fully accessible to the public.

Ladies and Gentlemen, how do we go about this process of public participation? There are no easy answers. Two levels of public consultation, however, have been identified. The first is consultation with those directly and indirectly effected or involved. Since, in the early stages of project planning, it is not easy to identify those who may be effected, a broad grass roots approach is needed. The World bank document provides some sensible guidelines to achieve this.

The second level of consultation involves those, who because of a particular concern or expertise, may have relevant information regarding the project. Examples are environmental NGO's, archaeological societies, educators, religious groups, societies of engineers, chamber of commerce and grass roots organisations.

It should be understood that the scale of the project and the sensitivity of the natural environment and the socio-cultural environment are key factors in determining the type of efforts to be undertaken.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in concluding, allow me, on behalf of Environment TOBAGO, to commend the organisers of this training course for the initiative that they have undertaken. It is timely and necessary and our only regret is that it did not come two or three years ago when some of the projects presently being implemented in Tobago were in their early planning stages. We look forward, however, to the use of knowledge gained to build in Tobago a tourism industry that can be sustained and which will sustain us for the next century.

Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen.
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