Project Management in Sustainable Tourism: 3 Key Success Factors


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January 23, 2018

project management in sustainable tourism

Why Sustainable Tourism Needs Smart Management

The importance of sustainable tourism has been receiving increased recognition in recent years, highlighting the potential of tourism as a positive force supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

On the other hand, successfully implementing sustainable tourism initiatives remains a critical challenge.

Since tourism is a diverse sector including and influencing a wide range of economic activities and social segments, the possible "ripple effect" of tourism can have significant impacts - both positive and negative - on the sustainable development efforts locally, regionally and globally.

"A well-designed and well-managed tourism can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development and has close linkages to other sectors and can create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities."

- UN Resolution 66/288 “The future we want” (2012)

To maximize the potential of tourism as a driver of sustainable growth, the tourism sector needs smart and effective approaches to development projects and sustainability initiatives, ensuring that funding and resources for delivering sustainable tourism projects lead to achieving substantial results for destinations and communities, with demonstrated impacts and lasting benefits.


Why Do Some Projects Fail?

It seems clear that lack of proper management is among the main factors for project failure. But what are the specific reasons behind those projects that are not properly managed?

They include:

  • Lack of a solid needs analysis: Without properly understanding the stakeholders and their needs, a project would not lead to optimal outcome.
  • Poor planning and project design: Project planning and design should follow a structured and systematic method in order to ensure an organized approach.
  • Inadequate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms: Project managers must be able to measure the progress being made, as "you can't manage what you don't measure".
  • No integration of planning the delivery of benefits: What happens after the project is just as important as what actions are taken during the project period.

With these failure factors and solutions in mind, the following are three key recommendations on effective approaches to project management in sustainable tourism.


1. Prioritize Good Governance

The tourism industry is characterized by a diversity of private and public stakeholders and community members who will be directly and indirectly impacted by decisions around tourism development within their destinations.

A key part of what underpins successful execution and delivery of tourism projects, therefore, are the "people factors": effective leadership, good team work and delegation, and stakeholder engagement.

What are some of the key conditions for good collaborative governance for effective project management?

  • Strong vision that reflects the needs and interests of various stakeholder groups in the project goals and deliverables.
  • Effective leadership that allows for constructive dialogue, information sharing and communication.
  • Transparent and accountable decision-making.
  • Public-private-community partnership that ensures shared decision-making about common issues.
  • Developing and sharing expertise and knowledge.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities among project team members.
  • Clear operational structures and processes, and effective and efficient allocation of resources.


2. Measure Success Based on Benefits

One of the most important aspects of successful projects is defining "success" based on results.

PM4SD Trainer Silvia Barbone

Successfully achieving project results means not just completing tasks and meeting deadlines, but also producing tangible and lasting benefits.

Tourism projects, upon completion, may deliver concrete results such as: organizing a cultural event, creating new touristic infrastructure, and implementing a new interpretation program for a better visitor experience.

The project manager must be able to measure and verify the benefits of the project, which may not be obtained until after the project. For example, do visitors return to the next cultural event or recommend the event to their friends? Or is the tourism infrastructure being used by the tourists and is it bringing enough funds? Does interpretation provide added-value to the visitors and increase their satisfaction levels?

In order for sustainable tourism projects to achieve concrete results and benefit stakeholders, a practical and structured approach to project management is needed. And the approach must take into account what the project produces as a result and what happens after the project is completed.

In project management terms, they are:

  • Output: A project output is the project’s product, e.g. a brochure outlining the tourist resorts available in a particular country.
  • Outcome: An outcome is the result of the permissible change allowed by the use of the output, e.g. improved promotion of the country using the brochure.
  • Benefit: The benefits are all the measurable improvements derived from a successful outcome, e.g. any increase in the number of tourists choosing to visit the country, which would be a measurable benefit from the improved promotion (outcome) made possible by the creation of the brochure (output).


3. Be Prepared for the Unexpected

No matter how thorough the project plan is, and regardless of the size or the scope of a project, within a project lifecycle, there will always be challenges, issues and problems that were not thought of before the project. Any project plan, therefore, must take into account contingencies for when the unexpected happens, affecting the project flow.

PM4SD Trainer Mike Dollin

Tourism projects are defined by a set of characteristics and variables that the project management team must consider and control throughout a project in order to ensure success.

Throughout the project life cycle, the project manager must monitor these variable factors, such as:

  • Cost: Projects need to produce value for money and their products are meant to provide added value to the stakeholders. For this reason, the projects need to be affordable. Cost is considered to be one of the major standard factors to be monitored during the project.
  • Scope: Scope is the definition of what a project is meant to deliver versus what it will not. The Project Manager must therefore have a clear definition of what is required from the project in terms of products to be delivered.
  • Risks: Tourism projects are inherently subject to a higher level of uncertainty because they cover activities for creating and/or modifying products outside of the established operational processes and procedures.


PM4SD Training and Certification: Improving Skills, Enhancing Performance

The methodology of PM4SD (Project Management for Sustainable Development) has been developed to empower project managers with tools and techniques to better plan and manage funding and investment in the tourism context, and to improve their management skills and enhance sustainability performance.

A project management method to support the process of making tourism more sustainable, PM4SD is a specialized training scheme developed and owned by FEST (Foundation for European Sustainable Tourism), and is an accredited certification administered through APMG International, the leading accreditation and exam institute.

The PM4SD methodology is dedicated to delivering long-term benefits beyond the project life cycle for all stakeholders - national governments, destination marketing bodies, tour operators and service providers, owners of tourism infrastructure and transportation as well as host communities.

As a holistic management system for sustainable tourism practitioners, PM4SD has been recommended by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) as a tool to implement sustainable tourism best practices, particularly relevant to the Sustainable Management pillar of the GSTC Criteria.


PM4SD Online Courses

Since 2013, 20+ PM4SD training courses have been delivered in over a dozen locations across Europe and beyond. Through a partnership between Jlag and TrainingAid, PM4SD practitioner training is now available as a 2-week intensive facilitated online course, open to all tourism stakeholders and project managers. By completing the online course, participants are able to satisfy the requirements towards the official PM4SD exam, administered through APMG International, the leading accreditation and exam institute.

*The PM4SD qualification consists of the following two levels:

  • Foundation Level: The Foundation training is designed to provide participants with knowledge and understanding to work effectively within a project management team to successfully deliver a sustainable tourism project. The Foundation level training is a prerequisite for the practitioner certification.
  • Practitioner Level: The Practitioner training is designed to equip participants with the skills to manage and deliver a sustainable project using PM4SD. Those who have passed the PM4SD Practitioner examination are officially registered as a "PM4SD Practitioner", which they can promote on their business cards and professional profiles.

See all PM4SD Training Options


TrainingAid is an international tourism e-learning company offering online training courses and skills development opportunities for tourism professionals.