2H: Developing Visitor Management Plans

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It summarises the critical success factors and gives some case studies of successful visitor management plans.

Visitor management planning is an important tool in the management of sustainable tourism. It is a method of influencing visitor activities so that their positive impacts can be maximised and negative impacts minimised. The process has been used at natural and historic sites for years to reduce or prevent damage to fragile buildings, geological features, flora and fauna. It has become increasingly common on a larger scale, for example in National Parks and historic towns where visitor numbers create problems for the environment or the host community.

Many techniques developed in site visitor management can be applied to a destination, to maximise visitors positive impacts.

Visitor management plans can be introduced where there are problems arising from the number or movements of visitors in an area. Examples might include situations where:

  • the number of visitors to a place is damaging the landscape (eg footpath erosion on popular walking routes) and ultimately the experience for other visitors
  • the number, or behaviour of visitors is disturbing the tranquillity of an area (eg jet skiers operating close to a quiet beach)
  • visitor traffic movements or parking is a concern for local residents
  • small towns or villages within a destination are seeking to increase visitor spend in their area and encourage visitors out from the main centre.

Advantages of using visitor management plans are:

  • reducing damage to fragile environments and disruption to local communities
  • improving the visitor experience
  • spreading economic benefits from visitors across an area, and throughout the seasons
  • steering visitors towards places that are best equipped to deal with them
  • giving the management of a destination clear objectives and targets
  • engaging the local community in discussions about the impact of visitors in their community
  • helping guide the marketing of a destination.

Over the last 20 years, the city of Canterbury has wrestled with the negative impacts of too many visitors. The city's visitor management planning has evolved to meet the changing situation.

The aim for visitor management is to "ease the tension between the host community environment and visitors by controlling the physical and economic impacts of visitors during their visit". This has lead to four areas of activity:

  • operating three TICs across the district to deal with advanced information needs and enquiries during visits
  • managing the visitor welcome, through a team of "shepherds" to give directions and information to visitors arriving at the coach park and to encourage them to visit off the beaten track
  • promoting a programme of festivals and events to spread visitors throughout the year
  • developing a range of high quality merchandise in order to increase the level of spend by visitor.

The Canterbury Tourism Management Plan has a section on visitor management.

The stakeholders in a visitor management plan are:

  • those businesses or agencies that influence the activities of visitors
  • those businesses that may be affected by the actions of the plan
  • local residents and councillors in the plan's area
  • the visitors themselves.

Stakeholders may also include:

  • attraction or site managers
  • town centre managers
  • local residents associations
  • parish/town or district councils
  • local businesses (including the retail sector)
  • conservation or landscape management bodies
  • transport operators
  • coach companies
  • local planning and highway officers
  • the police.

There will inevitably be conflicts of interest between stakeholders concerned with the different economic, social and environmental needs of an area. A visitor management plan seeks to balance conflicting positions and will involve compromise.

It is important to bring stakeholders into the discussions and set aims and objectives at the start of the plan process. This is important to both understanding their issues and to let them feel that they are part of the solution.

Once the need for a visitor management plan has been identified, the destination manager needs to identify the key stakeholders and draw up a timetable for action.

The process should start with a wide-ranging audit of the destination to identify:

  • relevant existing policies, in community and local plans, the local transport plan, relevant local national and regional tourism strategies
  • specific designations applying in the plan area (environmental and heritage conservation)
  • where visitors go and what they do (their origins, seasonality and modes of transport)
  • who owns and manages visitors sites
  • how many visitors there are and how much they spend
  • each site's carrying capacity and which sites are close to, at or beyond their carrying capacity
  • businesses providing visitors services in the area under consideration.

A position statement describing the current situation and highlighting the problems to be addressed is a useful document and its preparation can help to bring stakeholders into the process. In order to ensure ownership and motivation to take the plan forward towards a common goal, it is important at this stage that the stakeholders come together to identify a vision and objectives for the plan.

Section 3 Destination Monitoring includes more information on auditing and monitoring, including 3C: Determining the Local Economic Impact of Tourism and 3E: Determining Local Recreational Carrying Capacity.

The second stage involves drawing together the information from the audit to identify the issues and the options for addressing them (SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats – is a proven technique). There are various ways to achieve this, but stakeholder workshops and annotated maps can be particularly effective.

Options for the future can then be evaluated against the degree to which they meet the objectives of the process (satisfying stakeholders needs) and other factors such as cost, management implications and deliverability.

Again, it is crucial for the development of the plan that the stakeholders are involved as this will ensure that there is adequate buy in at the later stage of development and implementation.

A draft management plan can then be formulated, comprising a number of actions to address the issues. At this stage, it is vital to identify key responsibilities for implementing parts of the plan. Deadlines for achieving these actions will help to ensure action is taken. The following techniques could be considered:

  • advance booking mechanisms
  • planning conditions
  • ticketing initiatives
  • traffic management
  • interpretative walks
  • signposting
  • alternative car parking
  • information boards
  • promotion of other areas in the destination.

This list is not exhaustive. Look at the examples suggested at the end of the article to explore what other solutions may be applicable.

For best results, the plans actions should be implemented through a partnership of all stakeholders and monitored to ensure that the required results are being achieved. It is important to make sure that the resources for monitoring the plans implementation over an agreed timescale are included in the early considerations.

Performance targets should be set and performance indicators agreed. Section 3 Destination Monitoring includes more information on monitoring performance.

As with all planning processes, there is a tendency, once the plan has been completed, to breathe a sigh of relief and sit back. However, implementation of a visitor management plan is only going to succeed if time and funds are allocated to the actions and if someone takes responsibility. Ideally, this may be through a partnership of stakeholders which may need a committed champion itself to be successful.

Table 1 shows the success factors of a plan and how to achieve them.

FactorWays to achieve
Ownership of the plan
  • Look at the process from the stakeholders point of view – how can it help them to achieve their objectives?
  • Involve the stakeholders in all stages of the process.
  • Show long-term commitment to the partnership.
Adequate resources
  • Be realistic about the resources needed and source adequate resources at the planning stage. If you don't, implementation will stall.
A champion to push implementation forward`
  • The right champion varies from one situation to another. In the case of whole destinations, it will probably be the destination manager.
  • Select a champion who commands respect from the stakeholders, who can influence the stakeholders and commit for at least three years.
Sphere of influence
  • Some visitor management plans fall down because they have omitted a key player. Ensure that all stakeholders and potential contributors are included from the start.

The English Historic Towns Forum (EHTF) has produced a guide Focus on Tourism which sets out their vision for tourism in historic towns based on reconciling the sometimes competing demands of residents, the environment, business and visitors. The document considers the challenges for historic towns, the visitor experience, and the roles of stakeholders and sets out six key principles:

  • integration
  • customer focus
  • positive management
  • valuing diversity
  • taking a long term view
  • care for the historic environment.

It explains how tourism can be integrated into sustainable communities that are safe, thriving, well managed, well serviced and environmentally aware. A score of practical examples illustrate success in tackling these issues. It costs $6 and can be ordered from the EHTF website

The Avebury World Heritage Site (WHS) Management Plan was Prepared by English Heritage working with Kennet District Council. This plan provides a framework for the holistic and proactive management of the landscape, helping to ensure that the special qualities of the WHS are sustained and preserved for future generations. In particular the plan aims to:

  • establish an overall vision for the long-term future of the Avebury WHS which will be widely accepted
  • explore opportunities for positive management with farmers, landowners, and other agencies which will enhance the landscape character of the WHS whilst respecting economic interests
  • provide guidance and attract widespread support that will lead to an increased understanding, respect and care for this exceptional cultural landscape.

A copy of the plan can be viewed on Kennet District Council's website

Oct 2008