Tourism and Recreation Management: Strategies for Public Lands

Article excerpt

Public lands have played a long and important role in tourism and recreation in the United States. This role, especially on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, is becoming even more significant due to dramatic changes over the last decade. While multiple land use has been a driving force for these organizations for years, the last decade has brought major policy shifts in the areas of agricultural, mining and forest uses.

These changes have led communities, in and adjacent to the forest, to explore economic diversification strategies to help stem the resulting economic declines in their natural resource-based economies.

Tourism is one development strategy that these communities often view as having great potential. Tourism offers an appealing option for two major reasons: 1) there has been a dramatic increase in recreation use on public lands and 2) communities must identify "non-extractive" methods of capitalizing on this vast natural resource. In many cases sustainable tourism-development strategies based on ecologically sound planning principles-has been the goal.

Unique Characteristics of Tourism and Recreation

As communities and public land management agencies pursue a strategy of sustainable tourism development, it is critical that they are aware of the unique characteristics of the tourism industry. This will provide insight into the marketing and management challenges of development.

- Public Sector/Private Sector Split in Tourism Roles. In most cases, the public sector owns and manages the attraction. It may be a museum, beach, hiking trails, wildlife, recreational lands, community festivals, or dramatic scenery that draw people to an area. The private sector creates the jobs and services necessary to meet visitors' needs. Once the private sector is established, it often takes the leadership role in bringing more visitors to the area. In the past, these two sectors have not established effective coordination tools that are necessary to develop a sustainable recreation and tourism industry.

-Recreation and Tourism are Not Products. "Experiencing" tourism and recreation is different than simply buying goods or services. For many people, it is an emotional experience often shared with family members or friends and is remembered for many years. In today's busy world, a visitor's time is often more important than the cost of the experience. Unfortunately, both the public land management agencies and community organizations are typically unaware of this "experience" concept or don't have the tools to help direct and manage the experience.

-Partial Control Over Selecting Visitors and Users. Tourism is often defined as attracting visitors from 100 miles or more. Obviously marketing and information distribution play key roles in determining who will visit an area. The community and resource manager should develop a message for a particular target audience. Selecting specific target markets assures a better match between users and available experiences. Historically, tourism marketers have been effective in attracting visitors with a predetermined set of characteristics. These marketing techniques can be used effectively in community tourism development efforts as well.

-Quality and Service Are Keys to Competitiveness. While each community or area has its own unique characteristics and features, the quality of the experience and the services provided are often what distinguishes one area from another. The tourism industry is very competitive, and the key to competing in this industry is quality and service. Thus, all participants in the delivery of the tourism experience must work together to assure that each and every visitor has a memorable experience.

Management Challenges

These unique characteristics of tourism, combined with the increasing reliance on public lands for recreation and tourism purposes, clearly suggest a parallel increase in the need for new land management strategies. …