Evaluation of sustainable tourist destinations
– lessons learned and a proposal for future investigation of the effect of the project
The Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis, Growth Analysis, has been commissioned to follow and evaluate the 4-year project (2012–15) called “Sustainable tourist destinations”, done by the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth. The project is largely about development through collaboration, finding synergies and suitable priorities. The project consists of two main parts: firstly, efforts to increase the number of foreign visitors and secondly, to share lessons learned and spread the knowledge, methods and tools that the project has generated to the entire tourism industry. This is the final report from the assignment. Previously, Growth Analysis has presented three interim reports that have covered intervention logic, process and lessons
Throughout the assignment, the focus has been on learning at government, regional, municipal and destination level. The long-term task assigned to Growth Analysis has strengthened the national level of knowledge and the transfer of knowledge. Together with the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and Visitsweden, a somewhat better structured work method has been established. The national government agency group for the tourism industry has also participated in this work.
A number of lessons have been learnt during the project period, for instance, that the development of destinations is part of social planning which means municipalities are important partners when it comes to working with destinations. Since the work with destinations involves many different players at different levels, it is essential that the distribution of roles is made clear. It is a matter of clarifying what task and mandate the destination organisation has, who is responsible for what and who is authorised to place demands on whom. During the project, the work with destinations can be summarised as consisting of three parts: do something new, do something better and make something famous. All the destinations in the project have established new products for the international market, they have worked with hospitality courses, and they have established collaboration agreements with municipalities and worked with the spreading of information and communication. However, experience shows that it takes time to build up long-term, well-functioning collaboration. Moreover, the project has shown that at regional level and not least at national level, activities are fragmented and difficult to survey. Here, work is underway with, for instance, a government agency group for the tourism industry.
In the first instance, the project has been of a qualitative nature which means it is difficult to measure the direct economic effects of the project, i.e. to know whether the project has contributed to increased competitiveness for Sweden’s tourism industry as a whole. The problem is related to unclear national formulations of objectives, five selected unique destinations with different visions, ambitions, prerequisites, geographical location, accessibility etcetera.
In addition to the lessons learned during the four years of the project, two quantitative models are presented and a proposal for a possible future investigation of the effect of the project. Moreover, Growth Analysis has conducted a qualitative interview survey with the destinations that applied to the project but were not selected in order to find out whether knowledge, methods and tools have been of benefit to the tourism industry.
The way the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth has made the information accessible was described in positive terms by the interviewees but they are somewhat sceptical as regards what use the information is to them. Several respondents had hoped/hope for more concrete tools, methods and input for their own work and more detailed knowledge about the work with and development of the destinations (statistics, evaluation and contact persons). Growth Analysis believes therefore it is important to continue to make available and spread the knowledge gained and lessons learned from this project both to the tourism industry as a whole and to the intermediaries. Here, the municipalities play a central role. It would also be good if more systematic learning processes were developed at national level.
When it comes to measuring the effect of the project, Growth Analysis has made it clear that firstly, it is not possible to do so at the moment because not enough time as passed since the project was done, and secondly, there are problems generally speaking with evaluating this type of intervention. However, to be able to assess whether the project has had an effect, it is being discussed whether it could be possible in the future to study what effect the project has had on foreign tourism at each destination. The number of foreign guest nights are part of (and correlate well with) the export of tourist services. Insofar as foreign tourists are seen as part of the government’s export strategy, the outcome variable will be a natural choice.
The methods that are proposed are about how to create a control group for destinations by using synthetic control groups. The other method is about using the tourism consumption indicator by assessing and breaking out regional tourism exports at municipal level. By combining these two methods/models, we will be able to get a better picture of the effects in, for example, 2020. However, one essential prerequisite is that there is access to accommodation statistics that are broken down into municipal level and month.