Evaluation of sustainable tourist destinations
– Interim report 2: Process evaluation
In January 2012, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth was given SEK 60 million and a government commission to select a number of tourist destinations mature enough for export for the “Hållbar destinationsutveckling” [Sustainable destination development] project.
The project has two principal parts: efforts to attract more foreign visitors and disseminate experiences and knowledge gained in the project. The five destinations are different¹, are governed by different local authorities, are organised differently and have different forms of funding, and are to develop methods, models and tools to improve the supply of products to the international market. The Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis, Growth Analysis, has been commissioned to monitor and evaluate the project. The present interim report is the second and focuses on evaluation of the process. The starting point for the evaluation was the questions: What is new? What has been done better? What experiences and methods have been passed on? Do we see any added value from the project as it has been run so far?
It is clear that there are challenges in both designing and evaluating projects that involve many players at different levels who have different expectations linked to multisectoral- and multilevel-dependent projects. The project has been developed over the period and has now begun to settle, and the following general observations can be made:
- Being selected led to great commitment and gave legitimacy to the destinations’ work in the different regions.
- There is little national control – a conscious choice by the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth. The effect of this is that the destinations themselves are relatively free to design their own project and project plans.
- There is still some uncertainty concerning some issues in the project, for example support for companies and sustainability.
- Linkages to the project’s focus, increase the number of foreign visitors and disseminate experiences and knowledge generated in the project, continue to be weak. There are no structures for knowledge transfer.
- The Stockholm archipelago will conclude its project during 2014.
What is new?
The face-to-face meetings arranged through the project where the destinations’ experiences are discussed at national get-togethers, where new initiatives and lessons are presented that may be of interest to the other destinations, for example regarding product development, new ways of collaborating, information tools, and work on sustainability.
The work methods chosen by the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth is much appreciated by the destinations but it also requires the agency to allocate extensive human resources. This may seem somewhat contradictory considering the demand/request for flexibility from the destinations at the same time as a desire has been expressed for clear directives and routines.
Also new is the concrete collaboration between the destinations and the authorities’ coordination groups on the visiting industry, which it is hoped will lead to increased knowledge and greater national coordination of resources.
The destinations are working to develop new methods and new products that will be presented during the spring and these are therefore not taken up here.
What has been done better?
The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth’s administrative routines have been improved, which makes it easier to transfer knowledge, conduct research, develop new methods, etc.
More collaborative projects are under way between region, local authority, destination and tourism companies.
The exchange of knowledge between the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and Visit Sweden AB has been intensified, among other things regarding their collaborative work in the project’s steering committee.
What experiences and methods have been passed on?
Methods, experiences and knowledge at the destinations have not hitherto been developed in any systematic fashion or begun to be communicated at national level. Linköping University was commissioned by the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth to make visible knowledge, methods and tools that key people at the destinations can identify as being results of the project. There is at present no common communication platform. The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth is working on a communication plan for the project that will be completed in spring 2014.
Do we see any added value from the project as it has been run so far?
There is a great value in being selected, which made it easier to get politicians and officials to collaborate on the tourism question; being selected in itself gave the work legitimacy. All the destinations see great added value in the get-togethers, where they have been able to discuss, give and receive support, and learn from each other.
The intense effort put in has to some extent given the municipalities and other co-funders greater insight into the process of developing a destination while providing knowledge of the individual tourism companies’ conditions. Face-to-face meetings are very important. The extra resources that the destinations have been given have meant that they have been able to strengthen and prioritise measures, primarily as regards development issues and competence development.
From anecdotal to systematic learning
Might a more systematic view of how knowledge is created and of how learning takes place improve and strengthen the prerequisites to also function in practice?
¹The selected destinations are (in no particular order) Kiruna, Åre, the Stockholm archipelago, Vimmerby and Bohuslän