How to Deliver Viable and Impactful Tourism Projects: The Travel Foundation Interview

 

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Travel Foundation Project Management
© The Travel Foundation

As part of the recent PM4SD (Project Management for Sustainable Development) online course, Salli Felton (Chief Executive Officer, The Travel Foundation) has presented on The Travel Foundation's approach to developing and delivering projects, with examples of sustainable tourism projects:

  • Cape Verde: The project brought local authorities, private businesses and NGOs together to form a Destination Council, creating a culture of shared ownership and management.
  • Measuring Tourism's Impact: A pilot study in Cyprus conducted using the Total Impact Measurement and Management (TIMM) framework developed by PwC to measure and analyse tourism's impact impacts on society, the economy and the environment.

The following is an extended Q&A with Salli, offering additional insights into effective project management approaches in the field of sustainable tourism.

 

Scoping: Identifying and Selecting Project Ideas with Sustainability in Mind

How do project ideas usually come to the Travel Foundation team? Are you proactively seeking ideas that can turn into sustained projects, or do partners and stakeholders suggest project ideas?

Salli: In terms of scoping projects, we tend to develop ideas based on the outputs of our existing projects; for example, where projects can be replicated on a bigger scale, or where we’ve discovered a new, more effective way to address a particular barrier and we want to apply it to test it.

Many ideas also come from destination assessments that we conduct if we are looking to develop projects in a new destination or if we are asked to do an assessment by a destination. In these instances we generally will identify projects that tackle the most material impacts.

In addition, project ideas can also come from a variety of other sources, including:

  • Partners: Our long term funding partners usually have areas of focus that they want to address mostly based on issues/challenges that they are encountering at an operational level. In these instances we then look to scope projects around these issues in a way that will address the tourism impact in the most positive way.
  • Donors: When we apply for grant funds we have to work in with the criteria set by donors but usually only apply for grants where there is a match between their criteria and existing project ideas we have been scoping. More often than not, we identify grant funding opportunities that suit our style and then scoping projects to fit.
  • Internal: We use a small amount of our unrestricted funds to scope and develop or own projects but this is a very small part of our project portfolio.

 

Situational Analysis: Understanding the Stakeholder Needs

You discussed the importance of situation analysis during the Scoping phase, before a project idea is accepted. Do you sometimes also have project ideas that are rejected, and if so, why are those ideas considered not viable?

Salli: The likelihood of project rejection or failure is increased tenfold without a situational analysis. This is why we see Scoping as an essential step in our process.

If you want to get the best result on the ground, all the key stakeholders need to buy into the idea of the project and they won’t if they don’t consider it to be relevant to them. So the situational analysis allows us to identify not only what’s important in terms of tourism impacts, but also what’s important to stakeholders politically, socially, culturally and economically.

You need to combine all of these factors to actually get change to happen. This means sometimes we have to forego working on a project even if it can tackle the biggest tourism impact. If we can’t get buy-in from those who manage or control the issue the project is aiming to address, we won’t try to force the project into being.

Instead, we play the long game, working with the stakeholders on issues that are important to them, winning their trust and respect, and using the opportunity to show them why they might need to think about other issues in the longer term.

Properly conducting situation analysis during the Scoping phase is also important in understanding the funding opportunities that exist and the criteria that has to be met. And it's a combination of all of these things that is required to have a "viable project".

Too many times we see sustainable tourism projects where someone has decided in isolation that they have the answer to an existing challenge. The problem is, if they haven’t done a situational analysis, how can they really understand what the challenge really is, how it’s been created, or the best way to solve it?

We call these projects "feel good" or "build it and they'll come" projects – they are not based on any evidence or real understanding of need, and thus unlikely to be viable.

Quote Salli Felton

 

Financial Buy-In at the Destination Level

You mentioned that one of the key aspects of ensuring the “sense of ownership” among local stakeholders is to have them also financially invest in the project (rather than simply handing out money). How and from whom do you seek such financial commitment?

Salli: In our project it is often key to ensure financial buy-in from destination authority stakeholders (i.e. government).

Trying to make destinations more sustainable without government buy-in is not going to be effective in the long term. Nor should such work be the sole responsibility of the private sector, so we need to bring both sectors into a project to collaborate willingly.

Does this always happen? No, but this is what we try to push for wherever we can.

 

Exit Strategy: Ensuring Long-Term Benefits of Your Project

You also discussed the importance of the hand-over or exist strategy in the project closure phase to ensure lasting impacts. Do you consider the eventual handover of the project before it starts, and what can be done during the project to help make the handover smooth?

Absolutely – that’s another one of the key reasons for the Theory of Change*. The Theory of Change identifies the problem and what is required to solve that problem at its root, this means that your exit strategy (which in our case is often about making the project initiative self-sustaining) is generally incorporated into the development of your project activities.

And the activities you may define when working backwards through the theory of change will include things such as training and capacity building and creating guidance material as needed, so that the benefits of the project can be carried forward by local stakeholders post-project.

 

*The Theory of Change (TOC) model is a useful management and planning technique that creates a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. TOC starts from a vision of a desired future, and working backwards to identify what needs to be done to achieve that future (Source: Center for Theory of Change).

 

About The Travel Foundation

Travel FoundationThe Travel Foundation is an independent charity that works with tourism businesses and destination stakeholders to create partnerships that unlock the positive potential of tourism.

The Travel Foundation's mission is to bring together stakeholders to develop practical solutions which maximise the benefits and minimise the negative impacts of tourism in destinations. To this end, the Travel Foundation helps tourism stakeholders to:

  • identify, measure and manage the impacts of their tourism activities.
  • embed sustainability into core policies, supporting frameworks and operational practices.
  • share the results of their work with their peers and competitors, inspiring change in others.

With a background in environmental science, Salli has spent the last 20 years of her career working with the private and public sectors to help them recognise and address the social and environmental impacts of their activities, creating stronger, more resilient and more sustainable models of ope