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EXPLORING ECOTOURISM

The Value of Communication
by Ron Mader

COMMUNICATION WIKI

If you want to change the way people think, you can educate them, brainwash them, bribe them, drug them. Or you can teach them a few carefully chosen new words with the power to change the way you see the world.
- Communication Notebook

Why stop at jam? - Catherine Mack

FLICKR ALBUM: Communication


Many tourism stakeholders, aka players, are aware that improving communication is a worthy objective, yet they are stymied by how to put practice into action. Our challenge is to integrate feedback loops to provide valuable input and engage local hosts, visitors, media, policy-makers and everyone else.

VALUE

The value of communication is based on relevant and timely information. Without such information, there can be no effective communication.

Most of us are content to socialize with people who think like ourselves. When we wish to communicate with others, there are opportunities for conflict. That's ok! Think outside the bubble! Where there is conflict, there are also opportunities for change.

If we accept the idea that we need better communication, let's keep things as friendly as possible. Find ways to create incentives for communication.

Dialogues needs lively public forums -- online and in the natural world.

BACKGROUND

In 1996 I was invited to speak at the Coloquio Internacional sobre Ecoturismo. My presentation: The value of information AND communication. Basic lesson - The Web allows everyone to be connected in ways that were unimaginable ten years ago. The value of communication is based on good information. Without relevant information, there is no effective communication. Garbage in, garbage out.

WHY COMMUNICATION IS ELUSIVE

A colleague says the problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred. My response is the fact that communication is not necessarily desired. How else to explain the lack of adequate documentation and signage?

Many tourism stakeholders are aware that improving communication is a worthy objective, yet they feel stymied by how to put the practice into action. Communication is not as easy as it appears. Jargon is used, particularly by 'experts,' to make topics less accessible.

Sustainable tourism requires mindful communication. This means incorporating feedback loops that provide critical input to service providers, travelers, media, policy-makers and other players.

Sharing information needs to be structured into our interaction. We need to be demanding of green events. And we need to learn the skills the Web provides for those interested to become volunteer editors.

Dialogues need lively public forums -- online and in the natural world.

In July 2002 I participated in a review of a study commissioned by the World Bank about ecotourism in Oaxaca, Mexico. The report -- Oaxaca Ecotourism Study (Reference Contract #7118160) -- supported financing forestry projects that include an ecotourism component. All well and good!

That said, the document was prepared without public consultation, the study is not available online, nor has there been a single reference to the work on the World Bank website. This is not a critique of the loan nor the report -- just the lack of communication, which creates unnecessary risks in project implementation.

If the information were public from contract bidding through field research and interviews and leading to the publication, this and similar bank-funded initiatives would stand a greater chance of success. But how do you create synergies when the principal players (aka 'stakeholders') are not informed?

In the 2003 panel, it was difficult to critique the bank's lack of transparency during the meeting. "We know about stakeholders," said one official. My response: "But what do stakeholders know about you?"

WHAT DOES NOT WORK

During the 2002 Financing Sustainable Tourism Conference, one of the proposals was to create an independent directory of failed sustainable tourism projects. Knowing what hasn't worked would be good to know, but so far no such directory has been created.

Supposedly, of 100 internationally funded projects in Ecuador in the 1990s, 95 failed. It would be good to know why. I'm not interested in casting blame, but if we don't admit errors, we've learned nothing from our mistakes and the vicious cycle of project funding and project failure begins anew. The country has received more funding, but it's unclear how the projects are faring.

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SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS

Everyone - Create incentives for communication.

Event Organizers - Make sure there is plenty of lead time for organization and preparation. For face-to-face events, make them as eco-friendly, people-friendly as possible. Conduct parallel dialogues online. Offer free wi-fi to those in the audience and livestreaming video and audio to those engaged online.

let's talk

Environmental Groups, Development Agencies, Funders, Governments - Expand the rolodex. Make sure your networks for communication are as diverse as possible. If three or more people ask the same question in person or via email, the answer should be on your website.

Donors - Give credit for collaborative efforts, particularly those that respond to community requests. Also, insist that grantees provide regular updates to local constituents and that they post news and photos on the Web.

Journalists - Show your work to locals. Embrace open journalism. Participate in relevant online forums -- this may involve dedicating several weeks to several months in an online e-conference or relevant newsgroup. Do not cite unpublished reports. Provide a link in your story to resources you quote. Explain how others (including operators, government and non-government organizations) can submit a media release.


AUTHOR

Ron Mader is the responsible travel correspondent for Transitions Abroad and host of the award-winning Planeta.com website.


FEATURES

g Communication Notebook
g Tourism, Crisis and Communication
g Improving the Dialogue: Responsible Tourism and Conservation
g Fair Trade in Travel Writing and Photography
g Healing the Disconnect

LISTENING

g The Value of Listening
g Many Roads to Peace
g Listening to Locals
g Olancho Geography
g Ownership
g Everyone likes a debate, but a discussion is more fruitful - Peter Hutchison

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g Storytelling
g Language Gallery
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WORKSHEETS

g Worksheet: Storytelling Now
g Worksheet: Contando Historias
g Worksheet: Erzähle deine Geschichte – Jetzt!
g Web Toolkit: Be Engaged, Be Creative and Be Generous

WIKI

g Toward Effective Communication in Responsible Travel and Ecotourism
g Conversation
g Open Journalism
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