Project Management in Sustainable Tourism

Strategies for Effective Project Management in Sustainable Tourism: Ensuring Success and Achieving Lasting Benefits

Successful projects in sustainable tourism should ensure that tourism development funding and resources lead to achieving substantial results for destinations and communities. Learn about key strategies - from stakeholder engagement and continuous evaluation to achieve long-term sustainability - for effective project management, so you can apply best practices in your sustainable tourism projects.


Expert Team at TrainingAid

Ferdinand Weps
Ferdinand Weps

Head of Operations and Learning Solutions at TrainingAid

Ayako Ezaki
Ayako Ezaki

Director of Training Strategy and Development at TrainingAid

  1. Make sure you start with a solid foundation based on a shared understanding of the sustainability principles, as well as an assessment of the project’s potential sustainability risks and impacts.

  2. Identify relevant stakeholders, and learn about their needs, interests, concerns and aspirations, so that you have a strong basis for your stakeholder engagement strategy to be applied throughout the project.

  3. Know what to measure and how, according to the clear and measurable objectives that you set for your project according to your project’s specific context and the overarching sustainability aims.

  4. Build a comprehensive project plan, addressing key questions around the roles and responsibilities of those involved, how to engage and communicate with relevant stakeholders, and how to respond in cases of unexpected changes and problems.

  5. Implement monitoring and evaluation processes to track project performance, identify areas for improvement, and ensure alignment with sustainable tourism principles throughout and beyond the project period.

Here are a few questions to consider as you get started on your project ideas and plans.

  • Can you clearly formulate the WHY of your project? Why is this project needed? What existing problem(s) should your project address and how will it be effective in creating relevant solutions?
  • Have you identified WHO might be (positively and negatively) affected by the project, and be able to contribute to the objectives of the project? How will you engage and communicate with them?
  • And HOW will you approach the design, development and management of your project plan? How will the project team be structured, and what management approaches will you take to ensure tasks are managed effectively and milestones achieved according to plan?

In this How-To Guide

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.

In this guide, you will gain a solid understanding of such smart and effective approaches to the development and management of tourism projects that prioritize environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Applying good project management principles and techniques will help you better execute your own development projects and sustainability initiatives, with the goal of minimizing negative impacts on natural and cultural resources, while maximizing benefits for local communities and promoting long-term viability.


How to Build Strategies for Effective Project Management in Sustainable Tourism

1Build a Solid Foundation

A starting point when defining your projects in sustainable tourism should be ensuring a reliable knowledge base to guide you and your project partners. It’s therefore necessary to invest time and effort into building a solid foundation: a good understanding of the sustainability principles, and how sustainability concepts apply to tourism.

Here are key steps you can take to strengthen your knowledge of sustainable tourism principles and best practices, as well as to ensure your project team has a solid knowledge base.

Sustainable Tourism Principles and Standards

Sustainable tourism, in essence, is about tourism managed well. To make sure your project approaches are in line with internationally accepted standards, take advantage of the existing principles of sustainable tourism, which stand for minimizing negative impacts and maximizing positive benefits in socioeconomic, cultural and environmental spheres. There are various relevant standards addressing sustainability related topics in travel and tourism. However, as a valuable reference point for your project, use the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, which are the baseline standards for sustainable tourism, developed and managed by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

The GSTC Criteria cover the following four pillars:

  • Sustainable management
  • Socioeconomic impacts
  • Cultural impacts
  • Environmental impacts

Sustainable Tourism Examples and Best Practices

Stay updated on the latest findings, trends, and innovative practices in the field through industry reports and resources by organizations such as the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), and local, national and international industry associations.

You will also benefit from learning about other successful sustainable tourism projects and case studies from around the world. Examine projects that have effectively implemented sustainable practices and learn from their experiences, challenges, and achievements. This will provide valuable insights into effective approaches that could be adapted for your own project.

Other venues for continuously updating your knowledge and staying informed about new developments in sustainable tourism include academic research papers, journals, and publications focused on sustainable tourism. Being part of relevant industry conferences, workshops, and seminars can also be a good way to stay up to date on emerging trends and latest developments.

Risk and Impact Assessment

Travel and tourism constitutes one of the most important forces for global economic activities and development opportunities. At the same time, the diverse and cross-cutting nature of tourism means various threats and challenges posed by seasonality, climate change and socioeconomic and geopolitical instabilities, adding significant challenges for project managers in the tourism sector.

As part of your efforts in evaluating project feasibility, be sure to conduct a thorough sustainability assessment including the project's potential impacts and associated risks, and identify strategies for minimizing negative consequences while maximizing positive outcomes. Make sure that the impact and risk areas you consider cover all the spheres of sustainability:

  • Environmental: Assess the potential environmental impacts of the project on the surrounding ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources, as well as potential risks and limitations such as new rules and regulations related to emissions, resource consumption, and climate impacts. Identify opportunities for implementing environmentally responsible practices and minimizing negative footprints.
  • Sociocultural: Examine the social implications of the project on local communities, cultural heritage, and social well-being. Consider the potential effects on community cohesion, livelihoods, cultural values, and social infrastructure. Identify strategies to ensure inclusive participation, respect for local cultures, and preservation of social fabric.
  • Economic: Evaluate the economic effects of the project on local economies, job creation, income generation, and local businesses, as well as the long-term economic viability of the expected economic benefits of the project. Consider the potential for leakages, where tourism spending does not circulate within the local economy, and the opportunities to maximize economic benefits through local sourcing and supporting local enterprises.

The assessment provides a solid foundation for developing an effective and sustainable project plan, ensuring that the project aligns with the principles of environmental stewardship, social inclusivity, and economic viability in the context of sustainable tourism.

2Know Your Stakeholders

Identifying and engaging stakeholders is a critical step in project management for sustainable tourism. Stakeholders are individuals or groups who have a vested interest or can be affected by the project.

Stakeholder involvement enhances project credibility, improves decision-making processes, and contributes to the long-term success and positive impacts of sustainable tourism initiatives. On the other hand, not properly understanding the stakeholders’ needs can lead to the project failing to achieve its objectives.

Here are some of the key considerations related to stakeholder engagement in sustainable tourism projects.

Identify Relevant Stakeholder Groups

Begin by identifying key stakeholders relevant to your project. This includes local communities residing in or near the project area, government agencies responsible for tourism and environmental regulations, NGOs involved in community development or environmental conservation, and local businesses directly or indirectly impacted by the project. Ensure a comprehensive list to capture diverse perspectives.

What are some techniques for identifying stakeholders? Here are a few practical examples:

  • Brainstorming: Gather with your colleagues / partners to identify who the main stakeholders for your project are.
  • Consultation: Connect also with other groups outside of your organization (such as local residents network in the destination where you operate), and add their ideas and suggestions to your list.
  • Snowball System: Speak directly to some of the main stakeholders you’ve identified, and ask them to suggest other stakeholder groups.
  • Open Calls: Publish calls for expression of interest, to invite those interested in becoming involved in the project. Select the platforms for publishing such calls carefully, in order to avoid excluding some groups (e.g. older residents may not see your social media posts).

Analyze Stakeholder Interest and Influence

It’s important to realize not all stakeholders are equal. For the purpose of your project, you need to consider which of the stakeholder groups are most relevant in terms of their likelihoods of impacting and being impacted by the project outcomes, and their motivation, ability and interest in contributing to the success of the project.  

To determine how you can approach and work with different groups of stakeholders with different levels of interest and influence, you can use a stakeholder mapping tool to categorize those that have high or low level of interest / high or low level of influence. The most important and relevant group for your project will be the group with both a high level of influence and interest, which you should aim to manage closely.

Stakeholder mapping is a way of analyzing different stakeholders according to the positive or negative influence they can have on the project, the likelihood of being affected by the results of the project, and how to engage stakeholders with different levels of interest and influence. You can divide relevant stakeholder groups into one of four groups, each placed in one of the categories in a four-space grid:


Stakeholder mapping is a way of analyzing different stakeholders


You can download TrainingAid's Stakeholder Mapping Template as a resource for your own stakeholder mapping.


Analyze Stakeholder Needs

In addition to identifying who the relevant stakeholders are, you also need to properly understand their needs and motivations, otherwise your project would not lead to optimal outcomes.

Engage in open and transparent communication to gather insights into their expectations, desires, and potential reservations regarding the project (for example by using the Theory of Change approach), and understand their perspectives, needs, and concerns, taking into account their cultural, social, and economic contexts.

What are some of the ways of defining stakeholder needs? Here are several examples:

  • Economic concerns: To what degree is the project expected to affect the economic situation of its stakeholders? For example, positive impacts such as boosting local businesses, and negative impacts such as tourism activities negatively affecting local livelihoods.
  • Social impacts: What are some of the expected social changes (e.g. improving representation of minority groups) that the project will create?
  • Environmental impacts: In what ways is the project expected to influence environmental issues such as resource conservation or pollution?
  • Health and well-being: How might the project generate health effects (e.g. availability of medical services in the community) on its stakeholders?

Note that these are not independent and separate areas of concerns, rather many of these areas are related to each other. 

3Set Clear Objectives

By setting clear and measurable objectives that align with sustainable tourism goals, project managers can guide their teams and stakeholders towards a shared vision of sustainability. These objectives should provide a roadmap for project implementation, help prioritize actions, and enable the project's positive impact on the environment, communities, and the local economy.

Know What to Measure

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.

An important starting point for setting clear and measurable objectives for your sustainable tourism project is to understand what to measure. When considering your goals for what you would like to achieve as a result of your project, these are key areas to measure:

  • Output: A project output is the product developed through the project, e.g. a new local map highlighting unique local experiences available in the destination.
  • Outcome: An outcome is the result of the permissible change created by the use of the output, e.g. improved promotion previously unknown areas and attractions through the use of the map.
  • Benefit: The benefits are all the measurable improvements derived from a successful outcome, e.g. any increase in the amount of tourist spending staying within the community, or the number of days visitors choose to stay in the country - these can be measurable benefits from the improved promotion (outcome) made possible by the creation of the map (output).

Define Success Based on Benefits

One of the most important aspects of successful projects is defining "success" based on tangible results. This means not just completing tasks and meeting deadlines, but also producing tangible and lasting benefits.

Tourism projects, upon completion, may deliver concrete outputs such as: organizing a cultural event, creating new touristic infrastructure, and implementing a new interpretation program, which can lead to positive outcomes such as extending tourist seasons with new offers, and attracting new market segments.

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?

Measure and Compare

Project objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART), enabling effective monitoring and evaluation. For each goal / benefit you identify, be sure to ask yourself whether it is actually SMART.


Are your project management goals SMART?


In addition to considering the changes and improvements you seek to enable through your project, select key benchmarking indicators for your project, so that you can monitor and evaluate the progress and results of your project in a useful and reliable way.

Benchmarking means to evaluate something (e.g. the outcome of a project) by comparing it with an accepted standard. Doing so as part of evaluating your sustainable tourism project can be helpful in understanding how your project is actually addressing key sustainability needs and concerns, and how impactful your project is within an overall context of sustainability and sustainable development goals (locally, regionally and globally).

Benchmarking is also a useful way to guide the overall direction of your sustainability efforts. Here are some examples of existing frameworks that you can incorporate into your project as benchmarking indicators.

  • UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Addressing all areas of sustainability, the 17 goals of the SDGs also provide targets and indicators. Since the SGDs are a well-known and internationally recognized framework, incorporating the SGD targets into your evaluation can be a reliable way to address your sustainable tourism project’s strengths and weaknesses.  
  • Quality, Health and Safety Standards: It’s likely that most tourism organizations and stakeholder groups are already gathering and tracking data on quality, healthy and safety-related practices and incidents. If your sustainable tourism project seeks to create benefits related to this area, it’ll be useful to consult relevant national standards and benchmarking mechanisms.
  • Decent Work and Employee Well-Being: In the area of socioeconomic sustainability, you can also look at existing frameworks addressing decent work and worker well-being, such as: global and local living wage standards, CEO-to-Worker Compensation Ratio (distribution of wealth within a company), Gini Index Coefficient (distribution of wealth within a country), Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) standards.

4Develop a Project Plan

Developing a comprehensive project plan is crucial for successfully managing your sustainable tourism project. For effective planning, project managers need:

  • Systematic approach: Project planning and design should follow a structured and systematic method in order to ensure an organized approach. The project timeline should clearly indicate major milestones and key deliverables.
  • 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". Set achievable deadlines for each phase of the project and regularly monitor and track the project's progress, measure performance against objectives, and assess the effectiveness of sustainable practices.
  • Intended benefit delivery integrated into project planning: What happens after the project is just as important as what actions are taken during the project period. Regularly review and report on the project's sustainability performance, making necessary adjustments to ensure continuous improvement.

In addition, below are a few key strategic considerations for good project planning.

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 teamwork 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. Assign responsibilities to team members and stakeholders, ensuring that each task is clearly defined and understood.
  • Clear operational structures and processes, and effective and efficient allocation of resources. Determine the resources required for each task, including financial, human, and material resources.

Stakeholder Engagement Strategy

Integrate stakeholder engagement throughout the project plan. Based on the stakeholder mapping and needs analysis you’ve conducted for your project, ensure that stakeholders are engaged in decision-making processes, and their perspectives are reflected in the project.

An effective stakeholder engagement strategy needs a detailed communication plan. According to your stakeholder group (interest and influence) categories, establish clear communication channels and mechanisms that are suited for different groups. Your communication plan should outline how and how often you share updates on the project (e.g. project progress, milestones, and sustainability achievements), methods of communication (e.g. reports, meetings, and other communication channels), and how you gather stakeholder input and feedback.

For engaged and significant stakeholder groups, it’s also important to communicate regularly about the positive impacts your project is achieving, in order to foster support and engagement.

Depending on the levels and depths of engagement you are seeking from each stakeholder group, here are some of the main stakeholder engagement approaches to consider:

  • Inform: Providing information and updates on your project in a mostly one-way communication, e.g. email updates, posters and brochures, reports, public presentations.
  • Consult: In addition to sharing information, inviting stakeholders to give feedback and recommendations, e.g. surveys, focus groups, meetings with selected stakeholders, public meetings and workshops.
  • Involve: Collaborating with stakeholders in an interactive manner, e.g. multi-stakeholder forums, advisory panels, consensus building and participatory decision-making processes.
  • Empower: Giving some forms of accountability to stakeholders, e.g. integration of stakeholders into the formal governance mechanism, with direct influence on decision-making around the project strategy and operations.

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.

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. As such, throughout the project life cycle, the project manager must anticipate, monitor and respond to variable factors including:

  • 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. Identify potential risks (e.g. environmental risks, community concerns, regulatory changes) and develop contingency plans to address and mitigate them, so you can respond to unforeseen circumstances effectively.

5Execute, Monitor and Evaluate

Once you are in the project implementation phase, it’s time to put into motion all the good practice steps you’ve implemented in building a solid foundation, identifying and engaging stakeholders, clearly defining objectives and planning for tangible benefits to contribute to the smooth execution of your project plan. While it’s important to have strong discipline to follow the established plans for the project timeline, tasks, and resource allocation, the project manager also needs to allow for flexibility and responsiveness and be prepared to make adjustments as needed. In any tourism project, it is expected that changing circumstances, emerging risks, and new opportunities can impact the course of project execution.

To guide your project effectively through various changes and adjustments, while ensuring consistency, you need a comprehensive evaluation framework to monitor and assess the project's performance, sustainability impact, and stakeholder engagement and benefits. Below are some of the key components of this framework.

Regular Reviews

Make sure to incorporate regular reviews throughout the different stages of the project so you are checking the project's outcomes, impacts, and success against the defined indicators. Regular evaluation and adjustment enable proactive management of challenges and maximize the project's positive impacts.

Such reviews should look at both quantitative and qualitative measures to capture both tangible and intangible outcomes.

  • Monitor sustainability performance: To assess the project's performance against sustainability objectives, define key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with environmental, social, and economic aspects of sustainable tourism. These KPIs should help inform your project team on where you need data collection and monitoring, so you can measure progress.
  • Identify areas of improvement: A main objective of conducting regular reviews is to spot issues, and correct the course as needed. Based on your reviews, identify areas where the project is falling short of sustainability objectives and develop solutions to address them.  
  • Measure stakeholder satisfaction: As part of your regular reviews, be sure to engage your main stakeholders to gauge their satisfaction and gather feedback. Utilize surveys, interviews, and focus groups to capture their perspectives on the project's impact on their lives, the community, and the destination as a whole.

Regular Reporting and Communication

Maintain regular communication and collaboration throughout the project lifecycle. This helps foster a culture of cooperation, trust, and transparency, which in turn helps your project team members and other stakeholders feel engaged, empowered - and importantly - motivated to continue contributing to the goals of the project.

Based on the achievements, challenges, and lessons identified in the review steps throughout the project implementation phase, establish a system for measuring and reporting the project's sustainability impacts on a regular basis.

The scope and schedule of your reporting should be determined according to the roles and priorities of different stakeholder groups, for example:

  • Project funders: Commit to regularly sharing progress updates, providing evidence of achieved milestones, sustainability metrics, and the effective utilization of funds. Use your communication as a way to demonstrate transparency and accountability, and to showcase the project's commitment to sustainability.
  • Project team members: Provide updates on overall project progress and big-picture impacts, as well as relevant information on key milestones and challenges. Your communication with team members can also serve as an important way to share useful resources that help their work, as well as maintaining morale by celebrating milestones and success stories that demonstrate the positive impacts of the project.
  • Stakeholders: Communicate the project's progress and sustainability performance, and share updates on achievements and improvements. In addition to keeping your stakeholders informed about the project, you should also encourage their active involvement in monitoring and evaluating the project, their feedback, perspectives, and insights on the project's progress and sustainability performance. This helps foster a sense of ownership and a shared responsibility for project success.

Continuous Improvement

A fundamental pillar of sustainability is continuous improvement. As a tourism business or destination, or any initiative working on sustainable tourism, the approach to sustainability should not be about reaching one static point in the future when you have “become sustainable”. Rather, the aim should be to have good processes in mind for making progress and implementing improvements on an ongoing basis.

And this principle applies to any sustainable tourism project. In the planning phase and throughout the project, use monitoring and evaluation findings to drive continuous improvement. In addition, consider the big-picture context of your organization, program, or destination and where your project fits in. Beyond the project phase, you also have opportunities to apply the principle of continuous improvement through the lasting values and legacy you create through the project.

Below are a few key questions to consider:

  • Sustainability of the project legacy: Beyond the initial implementation phase, and once the project funding period ends, how will the outcomes and benefits of the project be maintained? Your project should have a solid “exit strategy” to ensure the viability of the project’s legacy in the long-term. For example, who will be responsible for the ongoing management and maintenance of the outputs of the project, and who will be the owners of project assets?
  • Replicating benefits: What are some of the ways in which the project’s results and lessons can be replicated by other destinations or communities? How can the benefits from your project be scaled beyond the scope of the project?
  • The ripple effect: How can your project's benefits create lasting impact beyond the initial funding phase? In what ways does the project contribute to the overall destination competitiveness, resilience, and local community well-being?
  • Lessons learned and best practices: What findings and lessons from the project can help inform other organizations as best practices or a model for future sustainable tourism initiatives? What strategies and approaches worked well in supporting your project’s objectives and how can your experience support others in effectively developing their sustainable tourism projects?