A great business plan and strategy are important first steps in developing sustainable tourism in an area, but real results are a direct reflection of the operations and management on the ground. Take for example, Solimar’s work in the Pearl Cays region of Nicaragua or Big Bend-Rio Bravo, Mexico. Both of these projects, which started in 2012, required developing sustainable tourism strategies that empowered conservation efforts—among these, in both destinations, was protecting sea turtles.
But how does a destination go about implementing the strategy to ensure the protection of sea turtles?
The destination will develop operating guidelines or a ‘code of conduct’. These operating guidelines will build off regulations that may already exist in the protected area and incorporate further regulation with scientific input to mitigate the negative effects of tourism. It is also extremely important to successfully develop and promote these operating guidelines before a destination becomes popular. Operating guidelines will be more difficult to implement and much less effective if the destination is already a popular tourist spot.
One strategy to optimize the effectiveness of those operating guidelines is promoting them to your visitors. When visitors know the sustainable guidelines, they become empowered to make sound judgments and decisions when visiting the natural areas.
In the cases of Pearl Cays and Big Bend-Rio Bravo, the code of conduct addressed restrictions of flash photography, group size, waste management, and visitor behavior around the turtles. You can promote these operating guidelines through 4 main avenues:
- Guided Interpretation – Local guides are the most effective strategy in promoting your code of conduct, because they have a deep knowledge and appreciation for the destination. The effectiveness of guided interpretation relies heavily on educating and training the tour guide. In Pearl Cays and Big Bend-Rio Bravo, Solimar conducted a one-day guide and tourism training workshop to community members and provided a “Tourism Toolkit” for future trainings.
- Interpretive Signage – Because beaches where the sea turtles lay their eggs are typically unmanned and open, visual signs are essential to reaching visitors. Signs should be in all languages common in the area, and provide interesting information in addition to restrictions.
- Signed Statements of Understanding – The code of conduct may also be presented to visitors on a document that requires them to review and sign, acknowledging their understanding of the code.
- Promotional Materials – Websites, brochures, and other promotional material are platforms to display your code of conduct as well. Displaying the code of conduct on these materials not only prepares visitors by exposing them to the code, but also appeals to potential eco-savvy clients.
Promoting the code to your visitors is only one possible avenue. Ideally, the promotion of your operating guidelines will take a multifaceted approach—promoting to visitors, through the travel industry, and through social media. How well you can promote these operating guidelines will directly impact how effectively you can reduce the negative impacts of tourism on species and habitats in a destination, and will be helpful when seeking sustainable tourism certifications.