Tourist numbers are increasing around the world. This means growing numbers of visitors to natural landscapes. Tourism has an impact on these landscapes, but under the right conditions can also help conserve them. Jasper Heslinga researched the balance between tourism and nature conservation on Terschelling in a hunt for win-win situations and synergy. Although nature on the island of Terschelling is relatively well protected, socio-economic theory has had a significant effect on developments there, Heslinga concludes. He identified factors that either promote or hinder this synergy between tourism and landscape conservation, and has recommendations on how to develop and implement future sustainable tourism policy.
From the theoretical perspective, the idea of synergy looks promising, but it is important to look at whether the principle works in practice, Heslinga argues. On Terschelling, an island that is popular with tourists as an area of natural beauty, he studied the development of policy, the way in which public opinion changed and how decisions came about.
Policy had a significant effect on the development of tourism on Terschelling over the years, Heslinga concludes. Policy that promotes synergy is possible, but perseverance is needed to successfully navigate a complicated policymaking process full of stakeholder interdependencies . Although the island’s nature is relatively well protected, socio-economic theory has had a significant effect on developments there. Nature conservation is considered important, but public interest in this is often linked to external influences and trends, Heslinga concludes.
The role and attitude of landowners (such as the national forest management agency Staatsbosbeheer) are important in steering developments in an area. In addition, local authorities play an important role in promoting synergy between tourism and landscapes. However, when it is difficult to reach clear decisions or when risky plans and ideas are avoided and the ‘safe’ option is chosen, such synergy becomes more difficult to achieve.
To create synergy between tourist development and landscape conservation and to achieve sufficient support for this, it is crucial that tourist destinations that are dependent on attractive natural landscapes involve many different stakeholders in the making and implementation of policy. It is also important to seek shared values, despite the different positions and interests of, for instance, tourist businesses and nature conservation organizations. Policy can promote synergy to some extent, Heslinga concludes, but in the end whether it is achieved is strongly related to whether the different stakeholders in a tourist destination can find a common basis for shared values and whether they are willing to work together.
Jasper Heslinga conducted his research at the University of Groningen’s Campus Fryslân. The Waddenacademie helped fund the research. Heslinga now works as senior researcher and programme manager at Stenden University of Applied Sciences (European Tourism Futures Institute / Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality).
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