Sustainable Investments in Tourism Projects: Managing Impacts and Benefits

Answering Key Questions on Effective Sustainable Tourism Project Management

Three lessons on effectively managing small-, medium- and large-scale projects in sustainable tourism, with insights from our partners and expert contributors, and additional examples of sustainable tourism projects from around the world.

Expert Team at TrainingAid

As part of TrainingAid's ongoing efforts to support project management in sustainable tourism we organized an interactive live session with tourism and development experts from around the world, discussing key questions related to effective project management in sustainable tourism.

Building on some of the key ideas, guidance and advice shared by the panel, below are three lessons on effectively managing small-, medium- and large-scale projects in sustainable tourism, with insights from our partners and expert contributors, and additional examples of sustainable tourism projects from around the world.

Ensuring Project Success

What are some of the key considerations for donors and investors when evaluating project success?

The first step to measuring project performance, regardless of the size or scope of the project, is clearly defining how you're measuring success, keeping in mind that "success" based on the local community members' perspective may look very different from what your project donor may have in mind.

And when defining what you are seeking to achieve through the project, you must also spend time, from the onset, to actively engage the clients, counterparts, and beneficiaries of the project, and to ensure that you have their buy-ins.  

"If you want success, you have to involve the beneficiaries and stakeholders form the very beginning."
- Shaun Mann, Senior Tourism Specialist, IFC / World Bank


It's also important to keep in mind that you can't achieve everything in one project. So you need to be strategic about what you are going to prioritize, which requires a balancing act to discuss, understand, and address different interests and priorities of those involved in the project and finding the common ground.

If you've worked on any project involving different stakeholders with different interests, you know that this - "finding the common ground" - is much easier said than done. But the more you invest time and effort into achieving this at the onset, the more likely it will be that your project will run smoothly, with focused and concrete objectives addressing real needs. 

So here is a key takeaway:

Although evaluating project success is a post-project activity, a lot of what needs to happen in order to ensure project success takes place at the very beginning, including preparatory steps before initiating the project. As the project manager, you need to understand the different interests involved, and spend time facilitating conversations among different stakeholders, so you can find the common ground, which will be the basis of defining what success should look like* for your project.

*Theory of Change

The Theory of Change (TOC) model is a 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

Stakeholder Engagement

What are some of the key tools and approaches for effective stakeholder engagement in tourism projects?

Effectively working with the relevant stakeholders is a key part of any project success. At the same time, stakeholder engagement is one of the main challenges most often identified by project managers. 

Some of those challenges may include such factors as:

  • Lack of motivation.
  • Lack of commitment, unavailability.
  • Inability to deliver on time, according to the agreed requirements.
  • Ineffective communication among stakeholders.
  • Not achieving the shared sense of responsibility and ownership.

Also at the beginning of a project, you should make sure to consider these steps:

  1. Stakeholder Mapping: Mapping the "ecosystem" of different stakeholders with relevant interests in the areas covered by your project.
  2. Categorizing Your Stakeholders: Once you've mapped your project stakeholders, use that general overview, to think about additional details such as which groups are most important to have at which stage of the project.
  3. Identifying the Champions: In any project, it's important to have those chaimpions - the "change agents" - who are committed to the cause, motivated to lead, and ready to contribute their time and talent. These are the key players you can rely more heavily on at different stafes of the project, and are also likely to be the ones that will ensure the longevity of project results in the post-project phase.

For effective stakeholder engagement in your project, keep in mind:

Engaging and working with various stakeholders involved in your project is not just about checking the box on "create stakeholder management plan" or "organize a stakeholder consultation meeting". It's a process involving strategic approaches to encouraging and managing contributions by different project stakeholders, and making sure that they understand the project's objectives, are motivated to support its outcomes, and have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to make meaningful contributions.

Four Lessons on Successful Collaborative Factors

  • It is people who make partnerships work –  people who believe that something is the right thing to do and who choose to apply their energy, drive, commitment and creativity to work with others towards its achievement.
  • No two situations are ever the same – there will always be a need to design an approach specifically to meet the needs of the problem or opportunity that is being addressed within the specific context in which it occurs.
  • Multi-stakeholder collaborations are learning experiences – working with others will provide numerous opportunities to see and do things differently. Nowhere does this apply more than to finding new and creative solutions to problems that are encountered along the way.
  • All stakeholders need to see wins – this is important in encouraging and maintaining participation and action should be designed and spread accordingly.

Source: UNWTO, "Joining Forces - Collaborative Processes for Sustainable and Competitive Tourism" (2010)

Long-Term Benefits

How can project managers achieve lasting impact, and ensure the project results are truly sustainable and transformative?

Even if a project team "successfully" completes various tasks on time, if the project in the end fails to produce tangible and lasting benefits, it cannot be considered sustainable or meaningful.

This goes back to the point covered earlier about measuring the success of a project. If a project's performance is evaluated based only on activities completed during the project period, those implementing the project are not held accountable for actually achieving measurable impacts and benefits.

In such projects, it's almost always the case that some form of funding is raised and spent on project activities, and when the funding runs out the project "dies". To prevent this, again, there are key steps to be taken before the project starts, to understand:

  • The WHY: Building a solid business case for the project based on the actual needs of those who are supposed to benefit from the results of the project.
  • The WHAT: Building a clear vision and specific strategies for what the project should accomplish, in terms of tangible and lasting benefits. This is the "Theory of Change" as discussed above, for your project.
  • The HOW: Building plans with specific steps towards achieving the project goals, focused on the benefits to be produced and not on ticking off a check list. These are the building blocks your project team will work through at different stages of the project, making sure that you remain on track to achieve the desired change. And the part of the HOW must be preparing for what happens after the project.

The Travel Foundation - a charity that works to promote "tourism that brings greater benefits for people and the environment" - offers a great example of successful project management, with concrete steps to identify the needs, to collaborate with stakeholders to establish a shared vision for change, and to ensure the change achieved is sustainable.

"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."

- Salli Felton, The Travel Foundation

The "Taste of Fethiye" project by The Travel Foundation was a five-year project that officially concluded in 2015. The project created a local supply chain connecting small, local suppliers to large hotel chains in the Fethiye area in Turkey. The project successfully established a local "Taste of Fethiye" brand for fresh fruit and vegetables, supporting the commercially viable sourcing of quality local produce through improved sustainable farming practices, increased capacity for local suppliers, and enhanced visitor experience.

The project has successfully produced a lasting legacy, as seen below, by handing over the ongoing post-project work to a local NGO which is carrying forward the benefits of the project locally.

The Travel Foundation Newsletter Taste of Fethiye
Source: The Travel Foundation newsletter April 2019

In summary, we can identify a common theme across all of these key topic areas - measuring success, engaging stakeholders, and creating lasting benefits:

Managing your project successfully means effectively managing the impacts and benefits of your project, according to the shared vision (the "common ground") to be understood and supported by different stakeholders involved in the project. And importantly, there is a lot of work to be done before the start of the project - from defining the purpose and scope of the project, to mapping the stakeholders, to planning for the benefits to be produced as a result of the project.