In Australia and other developed countries, community members and other stakeholders have an expectation that they will be involved in tourism and recreation planning for protected areas. Furthermore, recent research by the Sustainable Tourism CRC shows that communities can develop high levels of attachment to places including national parks and other protected areas. This research indicates that:
- The identification of locations with protected areas represent important attachments for a range of users and this helps to identify significant historic, cultural and natural resources;
- Understanding attachment to place allows park managers to make informed decisions about appropriate long term balance between use and protection, and
- Protection and interpretation of such places help form part of a community’s regional identity and character.
Recent research also suggests a range of benefits and costs of involving stakeholders in visitor planning (see Natural Area Tourism). Some benefits include:
- The potential for better decisions;
- Increased accountability;
- Stakeholder acceptance, local community empowerment and
- Clarifying visitor preferences.
Some of the costs of community involvement include:
- Requires more time and staff, and
- The potential to lose control of the planning process.
Fundamental to achieving stakeholder involvement in the management of protected areas for conservation and recreation and tourism outcomes are the processes of 'governance' and in particular the decision making approaches within the 'planning process'. While park planning is guided by legislation, most is flexible enough to incorporate inclusive deliberative processes that facilitate information and knowledge transfer, engender ownership and encourage participation and involvement in plan implementation.
Tour operators in protected areas need to have certainty about how a national park, group of parks or state-wide park system will be managed. Significant changes to national park policy and park management practices and operations can have significant operational and financial impacts on tourism operations, local communities and related businesses. As such, there are good economic and equity reasons for including the tourism industry in decision making that is likely to affect their livelihoods. Such inclusion can also help park managers better understand the implications of their decisions and actions, contribute to better decisions and more efficient operations, and help build trust and relationships between operators and park managers.