Reducing risk is the only way for community joint-ventures to get serious with commercial banks. Without commercial finance, this niche tourism sector might never deliver on its potential. Photo: World Wildlife Fund
Over the last 20 years, joint-ventures between local communities and the private sector have grown up as a feature of the sustainable tourism development agenda. Typically, the community provides the land, the heritage or the wildlife asset base while the private sector brings the capital, management know-how and business networks. When they work well, these partnerships contribute substantially to local economic and social development, as well as providing professional, unique and authentic tourism experiences for visitors.
Lena Florry is an Area Manager for Wilderness Safaris, the private-sector partner in a community joint venture (CJV) lodge in Namibia. ”What we have here at Damaraland really changes our lives,” she says. “Previously, in our village, I was herding goats. Now we have good jobs and a much better life.” Crucially, Lena is also a member of the local community and takes personal pleasure in sharing the model’s success story with the camp’s US$500-a-night paying guests.
Typical benefits include income for communities through lease or contract agreements, employment and supply-chain opportunities, skills and knowledge transfer from the private sector, and usually a kind of joint “tourism asset protection” like wildlife preservation or heritage protection. In Namibia, for example, community conservation generated about US$7 million in returns for local communities in 2013, and the elephant population doubled in 20 years.
While much emphasis has been placed on the development impacts of this model, the actual health of the businesses has often been overlooked. As long as the ventures continue to deliver a development dividend – such as contributions to a community fund, or increased biodiversity – all is believed well. For the venture’s supporters, it may then come as a surprise when applications for commercial finance are rejected.
“We would like to finance the sector,” says Christo Viljoen at First National Bank (FNB) Namibia. “But our biggest challenge is to determine the financial viability of the community joint-ventures. We find the risks involved are not properly addressed in the business plans.”
Banks report that risks typically have to do with corporate governance, low-quality financial data, collateral, the level of experience of the sponsor, and a host of structural problems in the CJV business – not least, the balance between the development dividend versus the profitability of the business. All these factors help to undermine a firm’s viability. A business that cannot demonstrate financial viability – and, thus, show how it will pay back a loan – cannot be financed.
This presents a very real problem. Without the means to make necessary investments in the business (such as refurbishment or expansion), the quality of the tourism product deteriorates, occupancies and rates decline, and funds for the community and for wildlife protection drop.
In an effort to help the various stakeholders increase the financial viability of CJVs, reduce risk and increase loans, the World Bank Group and the World Wildlife Fund released “nine tips” at the recent tourism trade show ITB Berlin 2015. Dr. Hannah Messerli of the World Bank’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice said, “We believe that destinations that address these issues are more likely to provide comfort to the banks in lending.”
Examples of this organic knowledge-sharing, born of individuals’ first-hand positive experiences with PPPs, can be found among thought leaders across a range of fields. Editors of Handshake, the World Bank Group’s PPP journal, have interviewed many of these experts about their experience with PPPs and have compiled some of their perspectives here.
Edward Glaeser, urban economist and Professor of Economics, Harvard University (Cities issue, p. 30, “Triumph of the PPP”), on the need for oversight of PPPs: “There is a lot to be gained in the marriage of public and private, but there are also enormous risks. There are cases where either the government has mistreated the private partner, or companies have figured out a way to mistreat the government. PPPs always require firm oversight. They are enormously valuable as a way to solve a financing problem, and the people who are fighting to solve this problem are doing one of the most important jobs in the world.”
Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture (Tourism issue, p. 26), on PPPs as a solution for World Heritage Sites: “Over the past 10 years we’ve had an increased level of attention to World Heritage Sites, and there’s been a subsequent expansion in the number of sites as a result. When you have an expansion of your core business the first question you ask yourself is 'How do I keep delivering the same quality of services?' For us, this includes monitoring services, support to member states, tracking and responding to trends, and trying to use tourism as a resources instead of just a force of destruction. We want to deal with tourism in a way that’s constructive. PPPs can help us do that.”
E-Visa allows the management of the visa application process to take place entirely in a virtual environment. Everything is done with the help of the Internet: the visa application and supporting documents are submitted online, the payment is made online and the decision on the application is communicated online. Some of the best examples of e-Visa services I have encountered are implemented by the authorities of Australia, Turkey, New Zealand and Georgia.
Serving as Chief Information Officer at the Moldovan Foreign Service, I had the opportunity to lead the development of the Moldova e-Visa Service in partnership with the World Bank’s eTransformation project.
The Moldovan e-Visa service was launched on August 1, 2014. So far, we can make the following observations and conclusions about the benefits of e-Visa:
With the Bardo museum reopening, Tunis based writer Christine Petré takes a look at some of the creative strategies being used to bring back tourists.
It was getting dark and the mist engulfing the jungle made the challenge of spotting the stripes even harder. My guide, a trained local tribal youth, was excited and kept telling stories about the sights and sounds of the jungle. In all fairness, I had enjoyed the trek. Every turn or straight path presented a beautiful landscape, majestic trees, bamboo thickets, gurgling streams, colorful birds, distant animal calls and the gentle fresh breeze. Sighting a tiger would only complete the experience. Will we? Won’t we, see one?
In many ways, the experience of sighting a tiger reflects the challenge its very survival is facing! Will it? Won’t it, survive? But more importantly, will someone notice if it is not around? Fortunately, I was in Periyar Tiger Reserve in the southern Indian State of Kerala, a turnaround success story where the World Bank’s India Ecodevelopment Project significantly increased income opportunities for the locals, improved reserve management and encouraged community participation in co-managing the reserve. Though this happened a decade ago, even today the incomes are sustained and communities are closely engaged! But such success stories are few and far between.
When you hear the words “top tourist destination,” do sandy beaches and national parks come to mind? Perhaps places with historical significance like the Egyptian pyramids or the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia? When we take a close look at the tourism data, we see that some of the top tourist destinations in the world are in low- and middle-income countries, specifically, in the East Asia and Pacific region.
Among the olive groves, almond blossoms, lush grass, and views of small towns nestled on hilltops and in valleys, World Bank colleagues and I hiked a trail in northern Palestine. Ducking into cool, dark, ancient aqueducts used by civilizations centuries ago, we paused for tea brewed by our local guide in a kettle over an open flame. A homemade meal by a local family topped off our trek.
When I was asked to produce a video about the Chiang Mai Sustainable Urban Transport Project, I thought it would be really interesting for me to see how Thailand’s second largest city had changed. The last time I visited Chiang Mai before this was 15 years ago, in the 1990s.
Chiang Mai is now very vibrant and full of potential. There is an energetic, creative buzz about it and yet it still manages to hold on to its unique heritage and identity.