Johnson's Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, Gap Adventures, and Planeterra have partnered to assess the underlying costs and benefits of sustainable tourism for the country of Belize. The partnership kicks off with a project involving a team of Cornell graduate students in the Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion program, who are working with the Belize Tourism Board to measure the social, economic, and environmental costs of tourism development.
“Tourism brings large financial resources to countries around the world, but it is without a true understanding of the capital and operating costs to make this possible,” said Megan Epler Wood, executive director of Planeterra. “I am very excited to work with this talented group at Cornell to determine for the first time of the costs of managing a destination in the long term.”
The project addresses a growing need for better management tools for the hospitality industry, and destination tourism, in particular. International tourism is worth nearly $900 billion dollars today. It has a growing impact on developing nations, which seek foreign investment and exchange. Countries are trying to attract investment without having to sacrifice the unique social and environmental assets that attract tourism. In Central America alone, the value of tourism has risen to well over $4 billion in foreign exchange annually.
“We’ve introduced travelers to unique destinations and cultures for 20 years, and are working hard to continue to do so, far into the future,” says Richard G. Edwards, Gap Adventures’ Marketing Director. “The hope for this research is to help destinations better understand the value of preserving their natural environments and unique cultures, offering incentives to protect those destinations for new generations of travelers,” he adds.
The partnership between Cornell, Gap Adventures, and Planeterra seeks to more clearly identify the costs of managing the infrastructure, ecosystems, and social and historic fabric upon which the tourism industry relies. Historically, the true capital and management costs of a destination are largely unquantified. They are also frequently sacrificed in the pursuit of tourism growth. The goal of today’s collaboration is to make it easier for nations to ensure their citizens will benefit from tourism in the long term.
“We expect this new partnership to make a significant contribution to sustainable tourism,” said Mark Milstein, PhD, director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise. “Results of the project should provide the private sector, governments, and NGOs with better decision-making tools to more accurately assess the costs and benefits of managing local tourism in a sustainable way.”
In the coming months, a multi-disciplinary team of graduate students from Cornell’s Johnson School and School of Art, Architecture, and Planning will examine capital costs for managing tourism and the management costs associated with maintaining a sustainable destination. Working with the Belize Tourism Board, as well as researchers and students from the University of Belize, the team is focused on Belize’s top tourism destination, Ambergris Caye. The team will design a decision-making tool that accounts for the underlying fixed costs and benefits of tourism in the region.
“We welcome the Cornell student team here in Belize, because we understand that we must treat our country and its invaluable people, ecosystems, and cultural resources as the ’golden egg‘ upon which as much as 20 percent of our economy depends,” said Seleni Matus, Director of the Belize Tourism Board. “We must properly invest in and preserve our destinations to ensure tourism can be a reliable resource for the future of our nation.”
In addition to the current project work, the partnership established today will also support a fellow at the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise funded by Planeterra, who will continue working on activity related to sustainable tourism.
Planeterra is a global non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable community development and environmental conservation through travel. Founded in 2003 by Gap Adventures, Planeterra evolved out of a long history of travelers committed to finding ways to give back to the people and places they visit. Planeterra selects projects to benefit destinations where Gap Adventures travelers visit worldwide.
The Belize Tourism Board (BTB) is a statutory body within the Belize Ministry of Tourism, and it is governed by a Board of Directors appointed by the Minister of Tourism. The BTB works in conjunction with members of the private sector – including the Belize Hotel Association, Belize Tourism Industry Association and Belize National Tour Operators Association – and is dedicated to building tourism in the most economically and environmentally sustainable manner. As a part of its responsibilities, the BTB promotes Belize as a premier tourism destination to both in-country and international consumers. Among its outreach to the international travel market, the BTB markets the country’s unique attractions to travellers, members of the travel trade industry and media outlets in key markets. The BTB is also dedicated to developing and implementing tourism programs that will help strengthen and grow the Belizean tourism industry; promote good destination stewardship; and instill high quality standards for accommodations and travel experiences.
The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management views solutions to environmental and social problems as business opportunities, not a cost of doing business. The Center combines the business and entrepreneurship expertise of the Johnson School with the vast resources in science, technology, and the study of humanity at Cornell University to advance the practice of sustainable enterprise. The center focuses on building the skills and capabilities needed to formulate and implement practical, operational solutions that have value in today's marketplace.