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Notes on Viable Tourism

Robert H. Giles, 2002

See Developing a Commercial Site.

Tourism seems to be a well-known concept and activity. There are many glowing reports of the tourism industry in Virginia, of the visitors, and the gains. The source, assumptions, extrapolations, and accuracy of the included figures needs to be questioned, but especially the very concept that tourism is good for a county. Herein (www.LastingForest.com) I've presented information on tourism in the context of the broad concept of Ranging which sees no particular use in separating "tourists" from sightseers, hunters, anglers, picnickers, and bikers… I'll try to relate here specifically to the active people in ranging that travel from afar and spend money not otherwise likely to be spent in the county.

This clarification brings out of the shadows the objective of tourism - not more visitors, no communicating pride, not teaching history, not attracting industry or residents … but not just attracting increasing amounts of money to be spent in a county! The objective is increasing the net gains over a reasonable period, e.g., 5 years. Tallying the sales is easy; accounting all of the costs is difficult. Difficulty must not stop the work. The goodness of tourism must be expressed in net positive gains. The costs of erosion, lost argicultural lands to parking, increased crime, loss of family connections and ease of visiting, uncontrolled signage, and prospects for bad public relations must be estsimated. Tourism is not for profits for the few at the expense of the many.

Close scrutiny will require proponents of tourism to clarify "money spent." The proponents need to clarify who they are. Are they public representatives of the people of the county or of investors/owners of major local facilities like restaurants, motels, campgrounds, etc. Are they representatives of industries selling major tourist vehicles and equipment or clothing? There's a difference in their objectives and the flow of money that results from tourism programs.

Different groups need fairly constant or gradually increasing expenditures and depending on whether or how they confess having a public or private interest, they want positive net gains for the easily seen costs and income. There are other costs and risks that are rarely accounted and that is likely to continue. This brief paper provides minimum warning of the difficulty of clear accounting and the likelihood of over weighting income and gains and under-weighting costs, losses, and risks. By this I mean fairly conventional present-discounted expected costs must be included in the computations. Tourism has to be profitable - measured in long-term present-discounted expected net value of the total system.

I've benefited from 30 years of thinking about and writing about outdoor recreation. I've discussed ecotourism with leaders in Senegal, India, and Nigeria, read extensively, and studied the potentials for southwestern Virginia within its coalfield. I recall well one hotel manager in a world-park in Senegal saying to me: "Do not send us any Americans." He commented further that they could be satisfied iwth the accommodations. They request services and facilities that cannot be met and spread an undesirable report about his place.

I think a tourism system can be created that can be a living system, thus viable. Sustained is excessively difficult to describe. Something may be sustainable, have all of the characteristics, but due to management or almost random events, not actually be sustained - at least not by a set of criteria for that condition in current use.

The trick with tourism is that there are a set of objectives that need to be achieved and so in addition to easily-said profit comes the desire for:

The tourism system can be simplified to the following interactive parts

Casagrande and Rinaldt (2002) believed that it is "… difficult, if not impossible, to formulate policies that guarantee that tourism can be maintained for a long time without severely impacting on the environment. It can be sustained "… provided agents are prudent about reinvesting their profits and are willing to protect the environment." They warned, though, "…unforeseen shocks can easily trigger a switch from a profitable and compatible behavior to an unprofitable or incompatible one."

The relations are fairly evident (and the following sugget elements of a model with feedback)…

Not surprising, Casagrande and Rinaldt (2002) found many others "confirm the impression that human short-sightedness and greed can make sustainability an unattainable goal."

There has to be some way to achieve a proportion of the revenues generated by tourism to be invested (as suggested above). The tourism in a place needs to be managed (as a product life cycle or a pattern of ecological succession) or it will go though a life series, ending in stagnation and failure (when net gains are sparse).

Any failure in the above can cause a system to fail, thus unsustained. Whether it was unsustainable (by design or by initial condition) needs further analysis. If unsustainability can be determined before start-up, then failures (and their high human and financial losses) can be avoided often.

Sustainable systems seem to require:

Developing a Commercial Recreation Enterprise

You have indicated an interest in developing a recreation enterprise on your property. Before spending the money needed for the recreation development of your property, study your situation. The extent of your study will depend upon the investment capital available and the risks you anticipate. Studies can range from a quick, personal consideration of several of the factors listed below to a recreation feasibility study by a consulting firm. Your study should help to determine the practicality of such investments, the risks that are involved, and the return you can reasonably expect.

Some factors you should consider in conductive such a study are:

The Type of User. Will the individual be largely overnight or will he/she spend his/her vacation with you? What supplies and services will be needed?

Your Location. What attraction does your facility, or general area offer-scenic beauty, large lakes, national park or forest, or historic site?

Traffic Patterns and Accessibility. Is your property adjacent to an interstate or other major highway? Where does the passing traffic originate and where is it going?

Advertisement and Promotion. How will you inform the public of the facilities and services you plan to offer?

Existing Competition. How many similar facilities are there in your area? Are they operating at or near capacity? Are they making or losing money? Are other facilities planned or under development which may compete with your facility?

Management. Would you enjoy this type of business? Are you interested in meeting and serving the public? Do you have the knowledge, experience, and time to manage the operation, or will you need additional help?

Finances. How much capital investment will be needed? What operating costs, including daily operation and long-term maintenance costs (painting, replacement of facilities, etc.), will be incurred? How much profit can you reasonably expect per year? Will the expected profit be sufficient to justify the time and effort required to manage the facility?

Land Capability. If the planned facilities are constructed and utilized as anticipated, will extensive renovations be needed periodically to enable the land to support the heavy use? Do you really want the crowds on your property that will be needed to support a paying operation?

Laws and Regulations. Are there county, state, or federal laws government the type of facility you plan-zoning or sanitary laws, business licensing requirements, health codes? Will the development be objectionable to your neighbors?

Liability Risks. Are you aware of the liability risks you may ncur in opening your land to the public and the steps that may be taken to lessen your liability in operating a recreation enterprise?

Cooperative Enterprises. Would your neighbors be amenable to a cooperative development to provide more and better facilities with a higher profit potential? Do the opportunities exist to lease additional land from a large private industry or the federal government?

Complementary Uses. In some cases, the income producing potential of a recreation development may be enhanced if you offer a variety of recreation activities. For example, an overnight campground could be complemented by facilities for swimming, fishing, boating, or horseback riding. What supporting facilities would be needed-a camp store, playground, pools, etc.?

Various types of recreation activities and facilities that might be developed and operated for profit are listed below. Sources of additional information on developing commercial recreation enterprises are also provided.

References and Sources of Information

Guidelines to Planning, Developing, and Managing Rural Recreation Enterprises. Edited by George W. Cornwell and Carl J. Holcomb. Blacksburg, VA: Cooperative Extension Service, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 1966.

Moore, Elmer J. Rural Recreation Enterprises in New England: Investments, Returns, and Problems. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1964.

Rural Recreation Enterprises for Profit. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1963. The following publications are available from the National Recreation and Park Association, located at 1601 North Kent Street, Arlington, VA 22209.

Information on various types of shooting ranges and archery ranges can be secured from the following sources:

National Rifle Association
1600 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Amateur Trapshooting Association
P.O. Box 246
West National Road
Vandalia, OH 45377

National Skeet Shooting Association
2608 Inwood Road, Suite 212
Dallas, TX 75235

National Field Archery Association
Route 3, Box 514
Redlands, CA 92373

Affiliates of the National Recreation and Park Association may offer consulting services in planning, design, and management of recreation programs, operations, and systems.

See Park and Recreation Consultants


Casagrande, R. and S. Rinaldt. 2002. A theoretical approach to tourism sustainability. Conservation ecology 6(1): 13 [on line] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol6/iss1/art13

Crews, James F. and Ronald Bird. Reducing Liability Risks in Farm Recreational Enterprises. University of Missouri and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1963.

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Last revision July 13, 2001.