Putting ideas into practice
Interested in the world at large and with more questions than one degree can reasonably address, I studied Geography, taking as many minor subjects as time would allow on the side. My first work experiences post-study was in planning and consultancy. Uninspired by the lack of tangible outcomes that a career as a consultant can sometimes bring, I was tired of my research being bounded by the restrictions imposed by policy, politics and working for those with limited appreciation of and interest in research. Clearly, carefully prepared strategies and plans collecting dust on shelves were a waste of all sorts of resources on a grand scale.
To this day, I seek to illuminate exactly why destination management is not the clear-cut, rational activity that it appears to be to those who have not tried to implement a tourism strategy in practice, that textbooks often make it out to be, and that tricked me as a young professional into thinking that a good project management plan, some funds, and lots of energy and optimism will get the job done. Ready to find out, I packed my life into a couple of boxes and moved to Dunedin where, at the University of Otago, I started my doctoral thesis on challenges pertaining to the implementation of tourism strategies in peripheral areas. Sixteen years since beginning my PhD research, this initial interest in practical challenges in tourism management and planning is still evident in my work.
Having learned that there is little likelihood of strategies being implemented largely as planned, my research investigated implementation challenges pertaining to tourism strategies in rural, peripheral areas. I had picked up a minor in political sciences as part of my Geography degree, and as there were hardly any implementation studies in tourism at the time, I utilised implementation theory. Dubbed ‘misery research’ (McLaughlin, 2008) and famously described as “the pathology of the social sciences” (Rothstein, 1998, p. 62), it suited my then perception of the study area quite well. This body of work originated in North America and tends to feature federal programmes and the various routes that lead to their failure. By introducing and applying some of its tenets in a local and regional tourism context, I could explain why tourism strategy was not fully (or, as was the case in one of my case studies, not even partly) implemented (Albrecht, 2010a). Whilst everyone including myself expected funding to be a key factor, I demonstrated that local and personal politics as well as the presence of a ‘local champion’ were in fact the decisive factors for strategy implementation at the local and regional destination levels. I further identified aspects of the implementation processes that I studied that were potentially applicable to other destinations (Albrecht, 2010b), and the extent to which evaluation practices might help destination managers to during strategy implementation (spoiler alert – much), Albrecht (2012). To the best of my knowledge, this study was the first to apply public policy implementation theory in a tourism destination context.
By now I was hooked on the dark side of destination management and strategy. I followed up with a national destination level study of strategy implementation in New Zealand which demonstrated the disconnect between strategy preparation and content, and implementation, but also why this disconnect ultimately does not matter (Albrecht, 2017). Furthermore, this study taught me that leadership arrangements in tourism are not well understood, a circumstance that I was lucky to explore a few years later in supervising postgraduate student Andrus Nomm. This work led to two papers which were among the first to illuminate the complex interplay of destination management, leadership, and advocacy (Nomm, Albrecht & Lovelock, 2020a; 2020b). More recently, and to identify the relative importance of advocacy for different stakeholders in tourism management, I have led a study that looked at advocacy by non-profit organisations in tourism (Albrecht, Haid & Faisal, forthcoming). This work demonstrates how non-profit organisations in tourism at times emulate private sector organisations to operate successfully, even if this goes against their mandate.
Since my starting out as a tourism researcher, awareness of sustainability has grown in destinations and destination management. Destination management strategies habitually cite sustainability efforts, though often without spelling out what is meant by the term and how it is going to be implemented. Having systematically ascertained the deep-rooted ambiguity regarding sustainability in destination management whilst writing a review paper on networking for sustainable tourism (Albrecht, 2013), I started shifting part of my attention to how destination managers translate sustainability into practice. What does the buzz word mean to the practitioners? In the first study that explores destination managers understanding, perception, and implementation of sustainability (Albrecht, Haid, Finkler & Heimerl, 2021), we have demonstrated a) how overwhelmingly destination managers prioritise the economic component of sustainability, and b) that colloquial, academic, and applied interpretations of sustainability are tangled and intertwined in day-to-day destination management. A follow-up study that investigated the implementation of sustainability in destination management (Haid, Albrecht & Finkler, 2021) focused on the processes of implementation rather than the content. It showed that sustainability implementation processes in the destination are non-linear and non-synchronous, that the different stages of implementation are subject to different external drivers, and that stakeholder communication and discretion can positively or adversely affect all stages of implementation. Based on these findings, we have subsequently assessed the possible usefulness of product development strategies for sustainability and assessed these in the context of destination management (Haid & Albrecht, 2021).
On occasion, I have strayed from this strand of work, though never far. My friend and colleague Eliza Raymond (of GOOD Travel) and I have recently investigated destination managers’ motivations behind the establishment of the national destination pledges (such as the Icelandic Pledge, Tiaki Promise etc.). While Eliza’s interest was driven by the pledges’ potential capacity for behaviour change, my own interest was in the pledges as a visitor management intervention in destination management for sustainability. Our results show that these social marketing initiatives are distinct from other, existing visitor management tools in that they aspire to engage visitor emotions and invite visitors to interpret destination concerns and act upon their interpretations (Albrecht & Raymond; forthcoming 2021). Other studies were in the areas of visitor management (e.g., Albrecht, 2014), intangible cultural heritage (e.g., Esfehani & Albrecht, 2019), and food and wine in tourism (e.g., Albrecht, Danielmeier & Bourdeau, 2019), but even within these themes I have generally focused on aspects to do with management or planning.
What next? Despite all research progress made in the field of tourism and thanks to our own unpredictability as human beings, there will be no shortage of fascinating, if at times uncomfortable, questions to ponder with regard to destination management and sustainability therein.
Written by Julia N. Albrecht, University of Otago, New Zealand
Albrecht, J. N. (2010a) Challenges in Tourism Strategy Implementation in Peripheral Destinations – The Case of Stewart Island, New Zealand. Tourism and Hospitality Planning & Development (now Tourism Planning & Development), 7(2), 91-110.
Albrecht, J. N. (2010b). Towards a Framework for Tourism Strategy Implementation. International Journal of Tourism Policy, 3(3), 181-200.
Albrecht, J. N. (2012). Implementation and Evaluation in Tourism – An exploration of bottom-up community planning. International Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 2(1), 28-41.
Albrecht, J. N. (2013). Networking for sustainable tourism – towards a research agenda. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 21(5), 639-657.
Albrecht, J. N. (2014). Micro-mobility patterns and service blueprints as foundations for visitor management planning. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 22(7), 1052-1070.
Albrecht, J. N. (2017). Challenges in national-level tourism strategy implementation – a long-term perspective on the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015. International Journal of Tourism Research, 19(3), 329-338.
Albrecht, J. N., Danielmeier, T., & Bourdeau, P. (2019) The importance of architecture in food and drink experiences within a tourism context. Journal of Gastronomy and Tourism. 4(1), 41–50.
Albrecht, J. N., Haid, M., Finkler, W., & Heimerl, P. (2021). What’s in a name? The meaning of sustainability to destination managers. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. doi:10.1080/09669582.2020.1868483.
Albrecht, J. N., Haid, M. & Faisal, A. (forthcoming). Types and relevance of advocacy in destination-based non-profit organisations – evidence from New Zealand ecosanctuaries. Tourism Management Perspectives.
Albrecht, J. N., & Raymond, E. (forthcoming). Best practice in developing and implementing visitor pledges. In H. Ramkissoon (Ed.), Handbook of Behaviour Change in Tourism (pp. tbc). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Esfehani, M., & Albrecht, J. N. (2019). Planning for Intangible Cultural Heritage in Tourism: Challenges and implications. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research. 43(7), 980–1001.
Haid, M., Albrecht, J. N., & Finkler, W. (2021). Sustainability Implementation in Destination Management. Journal of Cleaner Production, (312), doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.127718.
Haid, M., & Albrecht, J. N. (2021). Sustainable Tourism Product Development: An application of Product Design Concepts. Sustainability, 13(14), 7957. doi.org/doi.org/10.3390/su13147957
McLaughlin, M. (2008). Beyond ‘Misery Research’ – New Opportunities for Implementation Research, Policy and Practice In C. Sugrue (Ed.), The Future of Educational Change: International Perspectives (pp. 175-190). London: Routledge.
Nomm, A. H. L., Albrecht, J. N., & Lovelock, B. (2020a) Leadership in national level destination management – the case of Estonia. International Journal of Tourism Policy. 10(1), 68–87.
Nomm, A. H. L., Albrecht, J. N., & Lovelock, B. (2020b) Advocacy and community leadership as functions in national and regional level destination management. Tourism Management Perspectives, doi.org/10.1016/j.tmp.2020.100682.
Rothstein, B. (1998). Just Institutions Matter: The Moral and Political Logic of the Universal Welfare State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.