The degree to which a protected area can sustain tourism and recreation is dependent on the physical environment, the behaviour of visitors and appropriate management and resourcing.
A number of planning concepts and frameworks have been developed over the last 30 years to assist park managers in providing quality experiences for visitors while at the same time minimising their impacts. The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS)
is a widely accepted system for providing a range of recreational experiences, based on the precept that a range of different settings offering different experiences is integral to good park management
(see Managing Protected Areas: A Global Guide
Other related frameworks such as the Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC), the Visitor Impact Model (VIM) and the Tourism Optimization Management Model (TOMM) identify the desired social and environmental conditions, ideally in consultation with stakeholders, and establish indicators as part of the process. While these three frameworks focus mostly on visitors, the Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) planning framework places visitor planning in the broader context of management planning and considers, as well as visitors, the area’s natural resources and associated values and threats.
The LAC, ROS and VIM planning frameworks are all based on answering the question: “how much change is acceptable?” rather than the impossible-to-answer question – “how much use is too much?”. Pursuing the latter question often leads to the unsuccessful pursuit of a single number or numbers for recreation carrying capacity. Research over 20 years has shown that it is very difficult if not impossible to determine recreation carrying capacity. In contrast, a focus on monitoring change and then acting when it becomes unacceptable (to managers/stakeholders) has a much better chance of success (see Natural Area Tourism).
These types of frameworks contribute to Experience Based Management (EBM). Rather than focusing on what people do EBM techniques seek to understand the relationship between how, why and where visitors recreate. Therefore management focuses on providing a mix of recreation opportunities targeting desired experiences, rather than providing opportunities for specific activities.
An extension of ROS and LAC is the concept of Levels of Service (LOS)
adopted by Parks Victoria. For Parks Victoria this strategic approach underpins the provision and management of visitor facilities and services. The LOS approach determines the most appropriate level of visitor facility or service to be provided in a particular location or park based a range of considerations including visitor type, site uniqueness, visitation levels and visitation growth, economic contribution to the park, local and regional economy, length of stay and the cost/benefit of site development. LOS allows all parks to be rated according to 3 levels: state/national, regional or local importance. A similar approach to LOS is the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service’s Reserves Standards Framework (RSF)
that recognises the need to integrate four essential elements of visitor planning; visitor needs, visitor risk management, asset management and resource allocation. Once data are collected and analysed and a level of service assigned, this information can be communicated to visitors who can make informed choices about recreation venues that align with the type of experience they seek.
Source: Mike Reid, Stephen Wearing and Glen Croy 2008 Marketing of Protected Areas as a Tool to Influence Visitors' Pre-Visit Decisions, Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre
At the site or destination level, good tourism planning considers and plans for the destination with an explicit acknowledgment of the status and potential of the broader tourism region and other external factors and influences likely to affect the destination’s tourism opportunities. The 5 A’s of tourism planning is a widely known approach for evaluating the ingredients essential for successfully developing a tourism destination.
A brief description of these attributes and why they are important follows (see Designing Tourism Naturally: A Review of the World’s Best Practice in Wilderness Lodges and Tented Safari Camps and Tourism WA's Successful Accommodation Design).
Access: This includes moving visitors from their origin to and within the destination. Access also includes having suitable transport services and infrastructure to meet market needs, including airstrips and airports, wharfs and ports and appropriate forms of ground transport.
Attractions: These are things of value that motivate people to travel to another location. Attractions can be natural, cultural, scenic or events related. They also include activities that can be undertaken including walking, snorkelling or relaxing. On the reverse side, if a destination has negative features these need to be minimised or removed. For example, unsightly rubbish, polluted beaches or poor environmental management are likely to deter visitors.
Accommodation: Most destinations require a range of accommodation needs (styles, quality and prices) to meet different market needs, experiences and preferences. Building the right facility to match the dominant markets is important. Accommodation types include hotels, backpacker hotels, bed and breakfast, camping grounds, resorts, lodges and safari camps.
Amenities: This includes any other service that is required to meet the needs of the visitor including signs, retail shopping, restaurants and cafes, tourist information centres, government services (e.g. customs and immigration), telecommunications (e.g. internet, mobile phone) public toilets and emergency services (e.g. medical centres and hospitals).
Awareness: Strong and effective marketing campaigns are essential for building destination awareness and branding. The local destination community must also have an awareness of the value of tourism, be positive about what it has to offer and train its frontline tourism staff and industry employers to have a positive attitude to tourists. A perceived lack of community support for tourism can have severe consequences for a tourism destination.