National parks and other protected areas that accommodate recreation and tourism require a plan that describes how tourism and related development will be managed. Planning for tourism is no easy task. Planners need to take into account of the seemingly conflicting roles of nature conservation and public use and enjoyment. If managed effectively tourism planning can be the catalyst for engaging stakeholders and communities in managing and protecting parks that provide sustainable economic and social tourism benefits.
Management plans describe the goals and objectives for a park, consistent with a park agency’s legislation and policies. They convert the general parks legislation into management policies and actions. Management Plans generally have a life span of 10 years and involve public consultation and notification. Recently, management plans have become important tools in evaluating management effectiveness (See 'Visitor Monitoring and Research').
Tourism management plans can take different forms and may be a stand-alone document (also known as visitor services plan, tourism plan or visitor strategy) that is a subset of a park management plan or is incorporated into a park management plan. Or, they may address tourism management of lands (and waters) of various tenures beyond a single national park (e.g. Tourism Optimisation Management Model as used for managing tourism on Kangaroo Island, South Australia). Management plans are usually an articulation of policies, goals, objectives, decisions and strategies for managing a specific park or group of parks (see Tourism in National Parks and Protected Areas and Best Practice in Protected Area Management Planning).
An important aspect of designing a tourism planning process is to adopt procedures that are understandable, defendable and transparent. Stakeholder involvement and public participation and consultation are essential components of the planning process (see Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas).
Recent research and scholarly advice suggests that there are seven key elements (guidelines) to successful planning.
- Clarity in plan production – states how the plan will be produced, implemented and resourced and the timeframe for implementation and review
- Implementation oriented – indicates roles and responsibilities and identifies and involves local communities and others in the implementation process
- Socially acceptable – input from a wide range of interest, using consensus building processes and technical expertise.
- Mutual learning oriented – involve techniques that encourage social learning with two-way transfer of knowledge between planners, scientists, community and other stakeholders. Understand the impacts of decisions and actions/inactions.
- Responsibility and shared ownership – use a range of 'community involvement' techniques, encourage public participation and create responsibilities for stakeholder groups.
- Representative of a wide range of interests – the plan should embody a wide range of values, views and interests
- Relationship building oriented – use the process to strengthen relationships, secure community commitment and build support.
More contemporary forms of planning are emerging to guide the management of protected areas. Approaches include governance arrangements facilitating community and stakeholder involvement in planning, including deliberative inclusive processes that suggest collaborative, decentralised forms of governance (see Transforming Parks and Protected Areas).
Planning guidelines have been produced for special areas such as National Heritage Sites and World Heritage sites to meet their specific requirements (see Management Planning for World Heritage Properties).