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Around the world there are many examples of local communities empowered by tourism
The theme for this year's World Tourism Day is how tourism can empower local communities.
Tourism is a powerful driver of positive change across both so-called developed and less developed communities. The global tourism sector has many things to be proud of; the jobs it creates, the understanding of how others live and the preservation of the natural environment that it supports.
However, if tourism is to be a positive force for change, a balance needs to be achieved between the many benefits of tourism and also its potential costs to local communities. The only sure approach to creating tourism that truly empowers local communities is one that is well informed, proactively planned and actively managed. It's essential that communities play an active role in determining the nature of tourism in their area.
It's worth considering how trained tourism professionals can achieve this.
Like many things in life, it begins with conversations. We need to engage with community leaders and ‘people on the street' to understand the issues they're concerned about, whether political, environmental, social, technological, legal or economic. Using this knowledge, planning and/or management options can then be explored.
As tourism progresses, communities often need to be empowered through information. Key performance indicators need to be agreed upon. Data needs to be collected, analysed and distributed to allow for informed empowerment. Often this doesn't happen and great plans can quickly run off track leading to resentment and sub optimal results.
Empowerment of local communities can also come through active engagement in the tourism sector. While unskilled or low-skilled employment may produce an income and some level of empowerment, embracing new skills in the sector, senior management/leadership roles and entrepreneurial opportunities can be a meaningful pathway to longer term benefits.
This ideal future is most likely to come about using a collaborative approach that draws upon the combined skills and knowledge of the community, trained tourism professionals and innovative entrepreneurs.
Around the world there are many examples of local communities empowered by tourism. In Australia some of the best case studies are those where Indigenous Australians are intimately involved in the planning, management and delivery of tourism experiences in their country. Often this involves traditional owners combining their skills and knowledge of the landscape with the technical needs of management, tour guiding and the like. In these cases balance is achieved and the community is empowered through its management role, skills development and employment. The bonus for visitors is that they get the genuine experience they desire from a community that is passionate and proud about the destination they are presenting.
For this year's World Tourism Day, Sydney TAFE Tourism students, teachers and alumni will be celebrating with a 13km hike of the Coastal Trail from Bundeena to Jibbons Head and Wattamolla Beach. We have the honour of being accompanied by the legendary Dave Wright, an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger employed by NSW National Parks. He will emphasise how the Aboriginal people, the oldest culture in the world, used sustainability to improve their communities for over 60,000 years and how those same lessons can be used to benefit communities today. This event has been supported by the National Parks & Wildlife Service and sees the beginning of more positive engagement for the future between Sydney TAFE Tourism and National Parks, both communities themselves. It's also promoted on the World Tourism Day website as one of three to be held in Australia.
Participants at this event will also pick up all rubbish along the way to demonstrate the importance and benefits of social responsibility. The immediate objective is to leave the trail and beach in a better state than before. The overall objective is much bigger - to inspire tourism students to view their future tourism careers as an opportunity to make a positive change in this world. Their future endeavours will be proof of this success.