Q&A with Seleni Matus, Vice President of Global Programs

One of the most effective ways of  addressing the interrelated issues that impact a tourism destination’s economic, social and environmental well-being is to take a region-wide approach to planning and to equip local people with the information and tools they need to prepare for their future. Here, Sustainable Travel International’s Seleni Matus provides an overview of the regional alliance model and its promise for improving lives and protecting lands through tourism.

Could you explain the regional alliance approach?

The alliance model is designed to empower local leaders—government agencies, community groups and businesses—by bringing everyone with a vested interest in tourism to the table to come up with an actionable plan that evolves over time. And the key word here is actionable. We are not interested in planning for planning’s sake. Plans need to be action-oriented, resonate with local people, address key challenges and be realistic in terms of local capacity.

Why is this approach so effective?

Because it’s participatory and allows for shared ownership of the problem and the solution. Tourism planning, in general, is often very fragmented. While key agencies such as an environmental ministry or a tourism ministry may work together on specific projects, overall coordination tends to be limited. Our approach ensures a high level of coordination from the start. Local stakeholders are involved in every step of the process—from planning to execution to follow-up.

What’s an example of where the regional alliance model is working well?

In The Bahamas, which are very low-lying and flat islands, climate change poses a very real threat. While there have been a lot of regional conversations about climate change, when the various stakeholders actually looked at what they were doing to prepare for rising sea levels and erratic weather patterns, they realized that they hadn’t done enough. As a result of the collaborative planning we’ve done, they are now mapping coastal vulnerabilities and putting together a response plan along with an educational campaign for local communities.

Are there any other key factors that make this model so promising?

It’s a great example of the potential of public-private partnerships. For example in our Caribbean and Central America alliance, Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas, we’re working with private sector companies including Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. along with local government officials and the US State Department. When all those players sit down to the table to come up with a plan, that is a very promising combination and because of that, it’s very appealing to donors committed to using tourism as a social development tool and a means of protecting resources.

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