Sustainable tourism development (2)

The second block of presentations under the session theme of Sustainable Tourism Development in mountain regions, was chaired by me (Carolina Adler). The session featured a number of very interesting and engaging presentations, each with very good contributions to make to the whole debate of tourism development in mountains. A brief outline of key points from each presentation follows, and conclude with my own reflections on transdisciplinary efforts and the need for transferability of lessons learnt.

First was Pierre Derioz, from the University of Avignon in France, who presented on lessons from a transformation process in a Pyrenean valley. The case study centrers on the closure of the industrial power plant complex Auzat in 2003, the subsequent demolition of industrial buildings in 2006 and ultimately transforming the infrastructure and landscape of the valley to accommodate a sports complex in 2011. Key factors raised as part of this transformation mentioned included: environmental considerations, leadership of key participants, and resources. Furthermore, three points were raised as key in questioning the sustainability of this transformation: passive elements, pastoral activities, second homes, and the “cultural stamp” and legacy of the industrial period in this valley.

Next we had Olivier Hoibian, from the Faculty of Sports Science at the University Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France, who based his presentation on the same case study in the Auzat-Vicdessos territory introduced by the first speaker, focusing on the landscape transformation from industrial land use to tourism and outdoor sports. An Important question and issue raised from this experience was how to legitimise the process of converting land-use from industrial use to a recreational use, using the theoretical framework of cultural change in the context of outdoor sports tourism. Trade-offs between the different meanings that the transformation has for each of the groups of participants concerned was a key issue. A number of challenges were also mentioned, including: the underutilisation of traditional sports infrastructure (e.g. tennis courts), local population that can potentially make use of these facilities is quite small, plans to build suitable accommodation that could service tourists and visitors has not yet been realised, and the legacy of the power plant itself, which is perceived by some as potentially “off-putting”. Values and perceptions of solutions matter.

Third presentation was from Nadine Houbé, from the Institute for Interdisciplinary Mountain Research (IMR) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who presented on the use of spatio-temporal website data streams for analysing changes in tourism product development. Using a case study of farm houses holidays in Austria, and the use of Google Analytics (GA), the research was about the extraction and use of web and internet monitoring (tourist behaviour) data visiting tourism product sites and using maps to illustrate where these web hits come from and spatio-temporal patters of web use and actual bookings.The utility of this tool rests on the use of open–source and openly available data and the transferable use of GA data to visually present it on maps, which can be used for better targeted marketing.

Next was Qobiljon Shokirov, from University of Zurich in Switzerland, who presented on a systematic review on the state of mountain tourism and sustainability research in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Mountaineering, hunting and organised tours were the main tourist activities in USSR times in the Pamir mountains, where tourism products were very organised and resort based rather than self-managed. The review yielded many insights, for example that the literature reviewed focused largely on economic growth and local prosperity, but very little (almost none!) with regards to environmental considerations/criteria. Importance of local perspectives is key, as well as the role and legacy of NGOs to support capacity building where long term investments have measurable impacts.

Next presenter was Valerie Thöni, a colleague of mine from the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, the UIAA, who presented on our project on a grass-roots effort to support sustainable tourism development in mountain regions by sharing experiences from our UIAA’s Mountain Protection Award (MPA) program. Valerie highlighted the important role that our fellow mountaineers and climbers can play in the monitoring and reporting of processes of environmental and socio-economic change in mountain regions, given how much time we spend in the mountains and constantly interacting with mountain communities! The UIAA can also play a very crucial role in facilitating a platform where scientists and mountaineering communities can come together. Our MPA program is also a great way of harnessing those key relevant issues for communities on the ground that could potentially benefit from scientific collaborations, by helping to set an agenda with the participation of the research community and support efforts to co-design and co-produce knowledge for solutions in a transdisciplinary manner. Valerie also raised an important call to the scientific community to take science communication more seriously by communicating more clearly and directly with the public. There is a need to better disseminate research results to end-users in a way that is accessible and actionable.

Finally we had Bruno Abegg, from the University of Innsbruck in Austria, who presented on recent results from an on-going project that focuses on the modelling of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of an alpine ski area, a case study of Alpbach, Austria. Bruno raised a key and important issue pertinent for modelling systems of this type, that of defining very well the system boundaries for these calculations.

Overall, one of the key take home messages from this second block is that we need to include more the perspectives and voices from tourism professionals, practitioners and communities who have actual experience in implementing measures for developing tourism in sustainable ways in mountain regions. Their experiences are key for learning about what works (for whom and how), as well as helping us scientists to focus more on the salient issues that matter on the ground. Furthermore, I believe these experiences also help us to learn more about the conditions under which certain measures work (for whom and how) to realise sustainable tourism development objectives that are necessarily complex and context-specific. It is important to learn about these conditions as mechanisms or models for scaling-up lessons learned and help us aggregate knowledge at scales that are relevant for decision-making, for example in context of synthesis or assessment efforts. In other words, focusing on the transferability (rather than generalisability) of these mechanisms and models as a means to scale and aggregate knowledge, is important. If we are serious about conducting research on the topic of transformations to sustainability in a transdisciplinary manner, then relevance of the problem or issue for those whom are affected is a key starting point for co-designing and defining the problem from multiple viewpoints, as well as the co-production of knowledge to elicit desirable, feasible and transferable solutions.

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