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The COAST Project’s Governance and Management Mechanisms for Sustainable Tourism in Coastal Areas in Africa

By Marcel Leijzer, UNWTO
The COAST Project’s Governance and Management Mechanisms for Sustainable Tourism in Coastal Areas in Africa

The future of sustainable tourism

Figure 1: School children planting trees in Kribi Demo Site. Sustainable coastal tourism is about investing in the future.

What is the Place of Sustainable Governance in the Tourism Industry?

The Collaborative Actions for Sustainable Tourism (COAST) Project is a five-year project in its fourth year of implementation. It is a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded Project with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as the implementing agency; United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as executing agency in partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). At the very outset during the formulation process of the project, the nine participating countries (Cameroon, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, The Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria and Seychelles) identified the need for a more integrated approach to planning for coastal tourism. They all had appreciation of the need to protect biodiversity alongside socio-economic and cultural priorities, and the need for a comprehensive and effective regulatory framework to ensure the long term sustainability of the tourism sector.

It is important to note here that even those countries that had already started developing a policy and strategy framework for sustainable tourism (good examples being Seychelles and Senegal) identified the need to strengthen their policy and regulatory framework for sustainable tourism as a key priority. In this regard, it was felt that the lack of mid to long term planning mechanism of tourism developments and regulation of tourism activities impacted directly on the health and well-being of the marine and coastal environment, and the quality of life of people who live there.

The COAST Project therefore included a Sustainable Tourism Governance and Management (STGM) component titled “Development and Implementation of Mechanisms for Sustainable Tourism and Management”. This component is being implemented by UNWTO through desk and field research into the mechanisms for sustainable tourism governance and management in coastal areas of Africa.

The purpose of the research on sustainable tourism governance and management is:

  • To determine whether the nine countries’ policies facilitate the long term sustainability of tourism and identify gaps, needs and options for sustainable tourism governance and management;
  • To provide a vision and recommendations for the most appropriate type of mechanisms for sustainable tourism governance and management;
  • To provide guidance for key stakeholders in the nine countries on the reform of sustainable tourism governance and management as it relates to coastal tourism.


Towards Sustainable Tourism Governance: The UNWTO Approach and Methodology

The UNWTO has adopted a methodology based on literature review and wide stakeholder consultations in the nine COAST Project countries. The research addresses mechanisms for sustainable tourism governance and management at both country level and local (Demonstration site) level. It starts from the understanding that the fundamental requirement of governance for sustainable tourism is to have effective engagement of the key public and private stakeholder bodies whose policies and actions can affect the impact of tourism.  It also builds on the understanding that sustainable tourism governance requires engagement and coordination of tourism, environment, community and wider development interests at a local level.

Indeed, it is at this level that much of the necessary planning, networking, capacity building and information delivery occurs and where tourism needs to be effectively integrated into local sustainable development.  A particular issue is how national policies and governance processes are reflected and implemented at a local level, which may be influenced by decentralization policies and actions as well as local governance capacity and community engagement structures. To attain the foregoing, the research has taken its approach and direction partly from the UNWTO and UNEP publication ‘Making Tourism More Sustainable, a Guide for Policy Makers’, which contains guidelines on governance structures, sustainability aims and management instruments relevant to all types of destination (UNWTO and UNEP, 2005).


Field Missions in the COAST Project Countries

Dr DenmanFigure 2: The UNWTO Consultant Dr. Richard Denman posing with tourism stakeholders after a consultation meeting in Watamu, Kenya

The first phase of the research was based on a series of field missions to each of the nine COAST partner countries conducted between March and July 2011. These missions lasted approximately seven days each and involved time in the capital cities consulting with government and other national level bodies and in the COAST Project Demo Sites, consulting with local stakeholders and observing the situation on the ground. Based upon recommendations from the Mid-Term Review of the COAST Project, a second phase has been added to the study, which looks particularly at financial incentives for sustainable tourism governance. Field and desk research for this phase were completed in the fourth quarter of 2012, including missions to Tanzania and Ghana and phone interviews with selected key-stakeholders from other countries.

The initial field and desk research looked particularly at policy aims related to:

  • Environmental impacts – Biological diversity, physical integrity and environmental purity. This reflects the GEF funding and ultimate project aim of conserving coastal and marine ecosystems and biodiversity. It relates to coastal landscapes, terrestrial and marine habitats, waste management, and pollution control among others
  • Sustainable livelihoods – Local prosperity, social equity and community wellbeing.  This recognises the positive and negative impact of tourism on coastal communities and the interrelationship between poverty alleviation and conservation.

The study investigated the extent to which policies and management in the nine countries are covering potential areas for intervention in order to achieve more sustainable tourism.  Areas of particular relevance to coastal tourism, assessed during the research, include providing strategic direction for coastal destinations, and influencing tourism development, the operation or tourism enterprises and the behaviour of visitors. The research identified and assessed the current policy frameworks in the nine countries which do, or could, influence tourism sustainability.

Particular attention was paid to:

  • Tourism policies, which may be contained within national tourism strategies and may or may not embrace sustainability aims
  • Environmental policies, which may or may not have specific reference to tourism but should provide a basis for influencing tourism development and management
  • Sustainable development policies and/or more specific poverty reduction strategies, which may or may not have specific reference to tourism
  • Policies and programmes aimed specifically at coastal management, including integrated coastal zone management strategies and plans

Some preliminary results from ongoing work

    • Sustainable Coastal Tourism Results from Coherent Policy at National Level

      As we move to policy development issues, it is important to note that the research has Demonstrated that effective governance of sustainable coastal tourism requires a coherent policy framework to guide and drive action and appropriate bodies to see that the policies are implemented. To strengthen policy frameworks for sustainable coastal tourism, it should be ensured that development policies accurately identify the role of sustainable tourism and that sustainability aims are mainstreamed in updated tourism policies.  Similarly, coastal tourism opportunities and challenges should be clarified in national tourism policies and strategies. Specific emphasis needs to be placed on destination-level sustainable tourism planning and action, and wider policies and legislation needs to be pursued to support transparent land use planning and tourism development processes.

        • Importance of Participation and Sound Coordination

          To be effective, a primary requirement for governance structures for sustainable coastal tourism is the effective engagement of different stakeholder interests at all levels, while clarifying roles and responsibilities and ensuring sufficient capacity to deliver. Strong liaison and coordination should be maintained between government ministries, departments and agencies on tourism and environment issues, and the private sector should be encouraged to engage with sustainability, for example through public-private coordination bodies. The development and operation of multi-stakeholder destination management bodies can be seen as a key to effective sustainable tourism governance and management at destination level.

          • Environmental Conservation is Essential for Sustainability

          From the study, all the COAST Project countries have procedures in place for the assessment and control of development on the coastal areas, but this could be significantly strengthened to make the process more effective, while also encouraging positive sustainable tourism development outcomes. Effective application of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for coastal tourism developments can be strengthened by clarifying and being consistent about EIA requirements and procedures for tourism projects while also strengthening community consultation and engagement in EIAs.

          • Coordination of Environmental Issues is Critical

            Practical guidelines should be drawn up by tourism ministries on the kinds of development considered most suitable to particular types of location, including guidance on design, impact on biodiversity, energy, water and waste management. Developers should be provided with a single point of contact that can help guide the procedure and provide advice on requirements. In some countries development promotion agencies can fulfil this function. To improve the monitoring of the operation of tourism enterprises, the reach and potency of inspection processes should be strengthened and enterprises should be stimulated and assisted to improve their environmental and sustainability management.

              • Financing Conservation Measures from Tourism Revenue is Essential

                Several coastal management issues, including waste management, coastal erosion and biodiversity conservation, may have a strong bearing on the future of coastal tourism in destinations.  These issues can be addressed by generating resources from tourism to support conservation and management and by raising awareness and facilitating community engagement in conservation and management. The delivery of benefits to local communities from tourism should be seen as an important sustainability goal in its own right.  This can be encouraged through strengthening supply and demand conditions for growing local employment, building and maintaining local supply chains, managing informal local trading and fostering community-based initiatives that meet conditions for sustainability and success.

                  • All Stakeholders have an Important Role to Play  (Governments, Private Sector and Civil Society)

                    The overall responsibility for the proposed actions to improve governance and management for sustainable coastal tourism in Africa should rest with government, who should provide the policy and legislative framework for protection and sustainable development, and ensure that effective management processes are in place.  Of course, tourism enterprises and their associations should also commit to acting responsibly towards the environment and communities, backing this up with appropriate action.  In addition, NGOs and civil society bodies have potentially a very important role to play in the area of advocacy, facilitation and capacity building.  A key opportunity is the involvement of local NGOs in destinations to bring together the different interests and provide assistance and expertise.  Academic and research bodies, training institutions and local consultants can also provide highly valuable knowledge and services.

                    Last but not least, international agencies should continue to help African nations in the planning and management of tourism on their coasts. They should recognise tourism as a key issue linking the economy and the environment, relevant to international programmes in both these fields.  International assistance can help both through providing financial and technical support, and through enabling the sharing of experience and knowledge between countries.

                    Conclusion and Way forward

                    Emerging from the work of the COAST Project in the Sustainable Tourism Governance area, individual reports for each country have been prepared, which look in detail at the policy context, governance structures and management processes relating to coastal tourism and at the experiences and needs in the Demo Sites.  These country reports contain recommendations for the country as a whole and for the Demo Sites, and will be used as the basis for preparing an action framework for sustainable tourism governance and management in coastal areas for each of the COAST countries. The final overall report of the sustainable tourism governance study will be published in 2013, and used as a basis to organize regional capacity building workshops for stakeholders in the COAST Project. In the workshops, the focal points can exchange views and experiences on how to implement the recommendations from the sustainable tourism governance study, and further guidance will be given regarding the use of the action framework to strengthen the mechanisms for sustainable tourism governance and management in each of the COAST countries and Demo Sites.


                    Some references for this article, for further reading

                    Making Tourism More Sustainable: a Guide for Policy Makers UNEP/UNWTO available at;

                    UNWTO site

                    COAST Project Site available at :;

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