Archive for February, 2017

Tourism Business Improvement Districts – new collaborative model or just privatizing the governance of public space?

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Geographically, tourism is developing in uneven patterns. Some destinations are thriving, while others are lacking behind. Some areas may have potential, but even then, the stimuli to exploit those potentials are insufficient, and investors are reluctant to act. The development cycle of tourist destinations can imply that after a period of success and prosperity, an destination will decline again and will need a systematic rejuvenation.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) is a governance concept that was “invented” in Canada in the 1960’s as a response to dramatic downward spirals of urban centers with substantial neglect of buildings and infrastructures, rising crime levels and loss of attractiveness. The idea is to create funding for rapid and targeted urban improvements and promotions. Over the years, the concept has become well-known in particularly North America and later to some extent in other parts of the world. More recently, the BID ideas have been modified to address needs to revitalize touristic destinations and resorts – Tourism Business Improvement Districts, TBIDs.

TBIDs are basically expressions of governance structures and mechanisms. In more general terms, it is worthwhile emphasizing that governance is also subjects of innovation, and such innovations include changes in content and methods of rulemaking, rulesetting and rule implementation. They are innovations in the way that actors make something happen and the way that they change incentives. Governance innovations can embody new approaches for institutions to be built and modified, and they can include new arrangements that rearticulate the state-civil relationship, thereby repositioning the meaning of citizenship (Swyngedoduw, 2005).

Mammoth Lakes in California is a small community with less than 10,000 permanent inhabitants. Mammoth Lakes’ economy is primarily tourism-based.  It is a top ski destination in California. There are numerous rental units in Mammoth Lakes and the lodging industry generates the majority of the economy of the place. Winter extreme sports are particularly important, but Mammoth Lakes also caters for tourism in the summer, serving people who visit to hike and fish.

Mammoth Lakes works with the TBID concept. A TBID is a voluntary association of local businesses which volunteer to levy a “bed tax” upon themselves. In Mammoth assessments are provided from hotels, restaurants, retail units and ski service operators. In the case of Mammoth Lakes, the funds are used to raise the destination profile, work for the quality of life in the area, improve transportation infrastructures and attract strategic events. Evaluations of the Mammoth Lakes TBID determines that the initiative has helped to increase the promotional effects of the destination.

In 2013, the council approved the TBID for a five year period, after a petition process supported by more than 50 % of the business owners. The TBID was approved by the Town Council. The Town Council collects the assessments, but still it is important for the TBID to emphasize that the Town Council in no way gets hands on the funds. The stability of the funding to be spent is a key argument for the contributions. It is a target that all enterprises contribute, and considerable pressure is put on them by the TBID to do so.

”The Mammoth Lakes Tourism Business Improvement District Management District Plan is the governing document behind the development, management and oversight of the business assessment.  The plan contains information on the District boundaries, what business are included, what rate each segment pays, who collects the funds, who oversee the marketing efforts and how Mammoth Lakes Tourism anticipates using those funds. The purpose of the TBID is to drive visitation and revenue specifically to those business segments who are involved in raising funds through the TBID assessment.” (Website text from Mammoth Lakes)

The Town Council has identified Mammoth Lakes Tourism, a California non-profit corporation, as the organization which serves as the Owner’s Association for the Mammoth Lakes Tourism Business Improvement District. The Mammoth Lakes Tourism board of directors represents the various assessed businesses, and the board consists of minimum the following representatives:

1 director selected by the Town Council

 1 director representing Mammoth Mountain Ski Area

 1 director representing the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce

 2 directors representing assessed lodging businesses

 1 director representing an assessed retail or restaurant business

 1 director at-large with an interest in tourism.

According to the annual reports from Mammoth Lakes TBID, the funding is mainly spend on promotional activities, and those enterprises contributing also enjoys a priority in the promotional programs. The TBID thereby attempts to avoid the tendency of free-riding that characterizes many DMOs, and which may undermine the efficiency of the promotional activities.

Across the many TBIDs and from a tourism business point of view, the typical motivations for business stakeholders to put a pressure on governments to allow and accommodate for such constellations are:

  • ·         They provide increased and more stable funding  for promotional purposes, and they are not dependent on sometimes restricted and decreasing public budgets
  • ·         The objectives and activities are designed, created and managed by the business community and the business leaders who choose to pay the assessments, not “bureaucrats”
  • ·         Funds raised cannot be diverted to governments to pay for other public services
  • ·         The concept eliminates some of the free free-riding among particularly smaller business enterprises, particularly if assessment is compulsory.

Examinations of the BIDs and the TBIDs tend to show good returns from the investments. However, critics underline also that counterfactual aspects are not always addressed: whether the development would have taken place also without the TBID, or whether other types of organizations could have managed to the same or better levels.

While Mammoth Lake TBID is mainly concerned with promotional activities, other BIDs and TBIDs agree with the local governments to take over and administer far more comprehensive tasks. BIDs have also been implemented in such city centers that were emptied for activities as an effect of suburban sprawl.  For example the Downtown Helena in Montana works with not only city and destination branding, but is in charge of the management of public space, with the aim of promoting historic preservation and context-sensitive design and capitalizing from the historical assets.

Some BIDs have become genuine property developers, taking on board  – and profiting from – brownfield developments, for example along harbor fronts. A physical decline and dissolution of urban space and beach areas and the related social and economic problems facilitated the emergence of BIDs. BIDs are often by leading business actors launched as an absolutely “last chance” to create benefits for citizens and businesses alike.

However, there have been numerous concerns about the basics of Business Improvement Districts and the implementations in specific contexts. First and foremost critics notice that the democratically elected governments through the implementation of TBIDs accept to outsource decision making to new governing bodies. These bodies mainly consist of business representatives, and in reality mostly the larger and more powerful of them. In this process the transparency may suffer, and the distance from normal citizens to the urban governors is likely to become much longer. Citizens and groups of citizen who do not approve of development plans end up with a reduction of possibilities to make their opinion heard trough the normal democratically elected channels. Even if BIDs claim to benefit whole communities, the external and democratic control of the endeavor is likely to become more difficult, when embodied in privatized or semi-privatized formats.

When they operate as in-situ city policymakers and administrators, the BIDs may come up with extremely visible results in terms of better kept outdoor environments, nice street furniture, well-function parking areas, control over littering in streets, beaches and parks, etc. The coordinated investments through a BID can raise the aesthetic appearance of the environments, when derelict buildings are refurbished. However, the critics point to the fact that these benefits often come at a steep price. The places usually become more uniform, as less profitable (original) business owners and entrepreneurs cannot pay higher rents in the improved areas. In terms of tourism, this may compromise the variety of services and vibrancy of the place, when only chain outlets can survive, and artists, small food providers and less standard entertainment offers are squeezed out. Some of the BID’s work de facto as real estate developers alongside the administrative or promotional tasks, and the transparency of the opportunity creation and cash flows tend to suffer. In the more extreme situations BIDs employ their own security and surveillance systems, paralleling the public police departments and setting up own behavioral rules that may deviate from the society outside the boundaries of the area. It may be safer, but sometimes through the violation of civil rights.

As a matter of definition, BIDs are to some extent detached from the “normal” society. A BID becomes a quasi-public entity, an autonomously operating body. There is a risk that it contributes further to the territorial segregation: socially, economically and culturally. When “real” local public authorities give up possibilities to collect taxes and redistribute funds across geographical space and social purpose, they also limit their own long-term possibilities to prevent spatially bounded social and economic problems.

BID’s are put in place to stimulate private investments, and in many cases such effects are seen as a direct or indirect effect of the focus on the area. There is a belief that the positive effect trickles down, but as a principle embedded in the concept, benefits will be contained mainly within the boundaries. There is a distinct knowledge gap concerning the wider spin-off effects inside and outside the BDIs. Commentators conclude that unequivocally, BIDs represent neoliberal ideas, and that they are part of an agenda which, with all means, legitimizes and facilitates the possibilities to make profit.

The partnership formats and the regulatory models in BIDs come in many variants. In the best variants, the BIDs can, when transparently implemented and with firm public supervision, lead to the stimulus of a multitude of economic and social activities without risking that democratically elected bodies lose authority and legitimacy. In the worst cases, of which there are many around world, the BIDs contribute to a commoditization of space that erodes geographical and social cohesion. The best models in terms of tourism are not easy to determine. Research of BIDs urge public authorities to assess carefully alternatives to the outsourcing and privatization of city management.  Based on studies, they recommend extreme care and full transparency when they establish governance models of BID.

Further reading

Carta, M., & Ronsivalle, D. (2016). The Fluid City Paradigm. Regeneration as an Urban Renewal Strategy. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Cook, I. R. (2008). Mobilising urban policies: The policy transfer of US Business Improvement Districts to England and Wales. Urban Studies, 45(4), 773-795.

Mak, J. (2016). Creating business improvement districts to raise stable funding for destination marketing and promotion. Working Paper 2016-2,The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii.

Steel, M., & Symes, M. (2005). The privatisation of public space? The American experience of Business Improvement Districts and their relationship to local governance. Local Government Studies, 31(3), 321-334.

Swyngedouw, E. (2005). Governance innovation and the citizen: the Janus face of governance-beyond-the-state. Urban studies, 42(11), 1991-2006.

Governing tourists’ foraging of mussels and oysters

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

In tourism there is a continuous claim for innovative products and services. Culinary experiences are highly valued and a distinct focus in the branding and promotion of many local areas. Food tells good stories. A new and upcoming trend in tourism and gastronomy is foraging: experiences where tourists collecting their own food in nature, and potentially subsequently prepare and eat the food in or in the close vicinity of the place where the food was collected. This suggests a totality of landscapes, weather conditions, and edible materials constitute an experiential symbiosis. Hunting and angling tourism are well-known examples of foraging tourism, and practices and facilities have developed. But these years the trend is supplemented by for example the picking of berries, mushrooms, herbs, wild fruit, and even insects.

On Denmark’s west coast, oysters and mussels are found, and often in quite substantial amounts. The resource of mussels and oysters is increasingly becoming a leisure foraging resource exploited by locals as well as tourists. Commercial fishing is an activity that is rigidly controlled and governed, among others by the EU fisheries policies, but also in national implementations. However, the governance structures are, however, generally geared towards commercial fishing, not fully the leisure exploitation. The case study looks into the governance and the potential need for governance innovation concerning foraging of oysters.

Overall, governance innovations can be characterized as changes in content and methods of rulemaking, rulesetting and rule implementation. They are innovations in the way that actors make something happen and the way that they change incentives. Governance innovations can embody new approaches for institutions to be built and modified, and they can include new arrangements that rearticulate the state-civil relationship, thereby repositioning the meaning of citizenship (Swyngedoduw, 2005).

The oysters on the Danish Westcoast are controversial in the sense that it is an invasive species. The population has been increasing on the expense of other habitats, for example mussels. Collecting oysters may be an environmentally positive activity, as it leaves space for the mussels, which are far more important than oysters for the feeding of millions of migrating birds. The Wadden Sea is a national park and designated as UNESCO World Heritage, a fishing regulation is a matter of importance for the subtle nature balances. The shellfish feed the birds. Fishing is an activity that, when undertaken unsustainably, can disturb the ecosystem as a whole.

If the risks with the capricious tides are taken into account and trips are planned accordingly, it is quite simple to forage oysters and mussels in the Wadden Sea. The water is normally shallow and the oyster beds are accessible from the shore. Foragers bring a bucket, and with some endeavor they can collect themselves luxurious evening meal. If they do not wish to conquer the elements on their own, local tour guides provide tours to the oyster beds. Some of the guided tours include not only interpretation and assistance in the collecting, but also champagne and accompanying food items for the party on the beach after the colleting. These oyster safaris are becoming more popular. Oyster festivals have been inaugurated lately as an element in a comprehensive Wadden Sea Festival, the restaurants eager to contribute to the portfolio of experiences.

For private people there is an open and free access to the oyster resource, and they can collect for their consumption. Fishing with tools requires a license, but picking the product with the hands not. In the Wadden Sea there is (for the time being) no commercial exploitation allowed, because of the Natura 2000 status. In this context tour guiding companies are not considered commercial fishing entities. This is a matter which has been examined by legal experts, and no reasons have been identified to change it.  

One of the main concerns about foraging oysters and mussels in the Wadden Sea is connected to the food safety. The oyster seasons are autumn and winter. In the summer period there are risks of toxic phytoplankton in the area. The touristic seasons and oyster season are not in sync. Tourists who, during the summer, are not aware of the risks, may be in danger of getting sick if they eat the oysters and mussels.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration is in charge of the continuous supervision of the quality of the oysters and their living conditions. Weekly tests are made in a surveillance program. According to the regulations, only commercial providers of fish are obliged to take samples to be sent to examination with authorized test institutes. The authorities can prohibit fishing and landing of oysters if problems are determined with toxic phytoplankton.The findings constitute the basis of quality control. However, insights into the sources of contamination are not fully mapped. 

The tour guiding companies underline that collecting and eating is at the tourists’ own risk. If the authorities identify quality problems, warnings are issued. Guided tours will normally be cancelled. Contrary to the Wadden Sea in Germany and The Netherlands, where the tourism pressure is heavier, there is no access control the foraging areas and, at the moment, no possibilities to close the areas efficiently.

Warnings of toxic contamination are communicated via the press and through The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s Facebook wall, which has 16,000 followers (not all interested in oysters, though). The algae situation is discussed a lot in the local area, a matter of great concern for the citizens and the media, who want to see the environment “clean” and “safe”. However, the communication from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration is undertaken only in Danish, even if the area is a popular touristic destination for particularly visitors from Germany, who do not necessarily understand the language. There is no clear knowledge about how efficiently information is disseminated to potential oyster pickers.

Systematic surveillance and information are the main governance instruments. Information is possibly fully sufficient as long as the number of foragers for oysters and mussels remain fairly low, and as long as they participate in guided tours. The oyster stock is plenty enough, and keeping the invasive species somewhat down through the recreational picking is regarded as environmentally beneficial. However, an increase in the popularity of foraging could demand the development of new and wide-ranging communication instruments or regulation of access. The inclusion real-time in touristic apps is an opportunity might fit the problem well, but no such app has been developed yet.

Around the world, “early warning” and “safety tips” systems have been introduced to mitigate risks for tourists, for example in earthquake area or in destination in risk of flooding. Such apps could also be informative in the sense that they could lead tourists to well supplied (and safe) resources. Neither the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration nor the tourism DMO’s and interpretation bodies have yet worked with such opportunities.

Efficient information systems real-time can prolong the possibility for tourists to act freely and without restrictions and supervision in their foraging endeavor. On the other hand, radically increased interest in the foraging in nature, and/or decreased aquatic quality can provoke discussions of such types of access control. However, in a wider perspective, access restrictions are not considered very compatible with the Danish tourism policies that favor open exploration opportunities in nature environments.

In terms of regulation, the food policies have gradually recognized the importance of local food provision, among others for the benefit of tourism. In 2016 the authorization regulations were changed for fish and shellfish, now allowing fishermen to sell smaller amounts to local retailers and directly to consumers right off the boat or off the shore. In fact this is largely a modest legalization of a widespread illegal practice. A former requirement to sell via safety certified dealers has been removed for such smaller amounts. The change in regulations might stimulate locals to start businesses with mussels and oysters as products. Due to EU fisheries regulations and quota, commercial or semi-commercial fishing licenses are matters of quite some entry barriers. The costs of the weekly testing for toxins are carried by the single fisherman or collaborative groups of fishermen, a regulation that does not favor small scale fishing communities. There is a growing interest in the Wadden Sea area to develop sustainable fishery and adequate governance structures, including such initiatives that go hand in hand with foraging, culinary services and interpretation. Efforts will be made after a more accurate scientific investigation of the size of the stock in 2017-2018.

The efforts to allow an expansion is highly controversial, as long as the stock assessments are lacking, and as long as the fishing methods are unsettled. Both guiding companies and nature scientists refer to the ecosystems, which take long time to recover after mechanized harvesting methods. Accordingly, this case demonstrates that touristic oyster foraging in the Wadden Sea is matter that is likely to be a continual issue in regulatory interventions, directions of such still to be settled.   


Further reading:

Christoffersen, M., Dolmer, P., Sørensen, T. K., Dinesen, G. E., Geitner, K., Larsen, F., … & Lisbjerg, D. (2014). Fiskeriforvaltning i Natura 2000 områder.

Dolmer, P., Holm, M. W., Strand, Å., Lindegarth, S., Bodvin, T., Norling, P., & Mortensen, S. (2014). The invasive Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas, in Scandinavia coastal waters: A risk assessment on the impact in different habitats and climate conditions. Institute of Marine Research.

Hall, C. M. (2013). Why forage when you don’t have to? Personal and cultural meaning in recreational foraging: a New Zealand study. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 8(2-3), 224-233.

Mossot, G., & Duvat, V. (2013). The establishment of a sustainable management policy for coastal foraging (Oléron, France). In F. D. Pineda (ed). Tourism and Environment, Boston: Wit Press. 1-12.

Swyngedouw, E. (2005). Governance innovation and the citizen: the Janus face of governance-beyond-the-state. Urban studies, 42(11), 1991-2006.

Climate adaption as governance innovations in tourism

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

In tourism there is a continuous claim for innovative products and services. In Denmark, the small and medium-sized coastal towns are hotspots of very important tourism resources. They contain a range of services, such as restaurants, shopping facilities and attractions. Many of them represent a cultural heritage, and there are enjoyable and picturesque city centers, historic houses, churches, harbors, parks etc. Coastal towns’ harbors are key visual and structural elements in the townscape. However, the economic importance of the harbors has been declining, and new use of the waterfronts is suggested and implemented, among others for the benefit of tourism. Simultaneously, the climate development is a distinct challenge for the harbor space in coastal towns, and the risks of flooding are rising. If not addressed adequately, climate change is likely to have a long-term damaging effect on tourism and destinations.

High water situation in Lemvig. Photo: Mads Krabbe

In order to maintain the townscapes and the facilities both for tourists, citizens and enterprises and to respond to climate change, there is increasingly an emphasis on climate mitigation and adaption. In built environments it has to happen in close conceptual and functional coordination. The mitigation and adaption activities are found to stimulate technical and functional innovations, which also take into consideration that stakeholders in the townscapes must operate in new ways. Hence, innovation in tourism also regards a range of governance mechanisms. Such innovations are changes in content and methods of rulemaking, rulesetting and rule implementation. They are innovations in the way that actors make something happen and the way that they change incentives. Governance innovations can embody new approaches for institutions to be built and modified, and they can include new arrangements that rearticulate the state-civil relationship, thereby repositioning the meaning of citizenship (Swyngedoduw, 2005).

Lemvig is a coastal town in Denmark, beautifully located in the bottom of the Limfjord. It is in the immediate hinterland of the west coast’s touristic zones, and a popular place to come for shopping. The fjord accommodates for recreational sailing and water based events. Over the past decades the use of the harbor for transportation, fishing and industry has declined. The large central area closest to the city centre has been an open space mainly used for car parking. This area is a particular risky zone for flooding. In the 2010 harbor plan the municipality recognized that the flooding protection already was and in the future definitely would be insufficient.

Touristic activities on a nice day in Lemvig. Photo: Lemvig Kommune

In 2012 a project was initiated with the purpose of unifying the city development and flooding protection – for the benefit of tourists, citizens and business enterprises. The architect came up with a design of a 350 meters long wall that wrings its way along the harbor. The wall is supplied with gateways that, in times of no flooding risks, remain open, but can rapidly and automatically be closed if necessary.

The municipality is the owner of the harbor space and of the infrastructures. The municipality was the leading actor in the entire transformation process, and it financed the construction work. However, many others took part, not the least members of the Harbor Council that organizes business and leisure users of the harbor. The Habor Council is an informal advisory entity for the municipality. Participatory processes with larger groups of citizens were organized as essential strategy to mobilize the development of knowledge networks, but also to legitimize the changes on the harbor. The processes generated and importantly communicated knowledge that is relevant, credible and co-produced by stakeholders. DGI, the national sports association, undertook, on a co-creative base, feasibility studies of the opportunities of the use of the areas for a variety of sports. A lot of ideas emerged, also such ones that could be attractive for additional numbers of tourists.

In the specific and detailed design process, the architect invited groups of 12-years old school children to design the plates in the wall that cover the locking mechanisms. The designs were produced in ceramics, the children were enormously proud of their achievements. The benches were produced in a school for rootless youth, and also in this case their commitment was very visible. The hope is to create a genuine attachment and ownership, but also to diminish the risk of vandalism.

The wall efficiently shields the space from traffic. Tools for playing have been added, and that has created a place for children’s enjoyment, and for strolling and gazing. The design qualities of the place have benefitted the restaurants and shops in the immediate vicinity.

After the inauguration, the renovation has shown its worth in a wider sense. For example the space has been taken in use for markets, concerts and other events. For the first time, a crab festival will be launched in 2017. In the branding of the town the harbor is more crucial than ever. Food activities will be one strand of branding, climate issues another. The wall is, in its own respect a showpiece, helped by the fact that the design won the “Concrete Price”. Delegations of professionals come to Lemvig to learn about climate adaption, and this is an important way to increase a touristic awareness.  

Ideally, destinations, businesses, and tourism organizations should thus seek to address mitigation and adaptation simultaneously. In Lemvig, the municipality is the lead actor. On the daily base, the handling of the use of the space has been outsourced to the tourist association, with the event manager as a primary actor. The event manager is supported jointly by the 2 retailers’ organizations, the tourism association and the municipality. He ensures coordination with other activities. A fee is collected from commercial users, and this funding is added to the tourist association’s budgets. The maintenance is on the hands of the municipality.

In 2016, the municipality obtained support from Realdania, a large foundation stimulating urban refurbishment and visionary development, for an extension of the recreational facilities on the other side of the harbor. A large skating area has been added. The town has become eager to speed up renovations in several places, learning from the good experiences. A small slipway and blacksmith enterprise will be moved to another location on the harbor, and the endeavor is to ensure that the business can thrive safely in its new location. However, it is also about giving visitors on the harbor the possibility to “gaze” on whatever happens in the enterprise.

Design for a kayak shelter island. Drawing: DGI Facilitetsudvikling

During the creative processes with DGI, many ideas for projects came up. Floating kayak sleeping-bag shelters was one of the ideas, still to be implemented. Installations like this raise further questions about governance and regulation and will, possibly, demand innovations in this respect. The harbor water surface and harbor land territory in Lemvig belongs to the municipality, but the sea territory is nevertheless co-regulated with the sea and coastal and shipping authorities. Changing the use from transportation to something like housing or recreational facilities will require a change in the planning of the specific area. The Danish guidelines for planning issued by the ministry make is possible, under very specific precautions, to use the sea territory for floating installations such as kayak shelters, restaurants etc. There are building regulations related to floating objects, addressing issues as safety, technical supplies, materials, onshore facilities etc, and the municipality is responsible for the planning process. There is a certain reluctance to work with installation that bridge land and water, as the planning is complicated. Municipalities might want to own the facilities and make them available for recreational use, so as to be able also to shift the use, if either the needs or the climate situation should change in the future. If private enterprises or leisure associations take possession as tenants, they need to sign a contract and pay a quayage. The length of the lease has to be determined.

Further reading

Anker, H. T., Kaae, B. C., & Nellemann, V. (2014). Forvaltning af kystzonen: Rammer, udfordringer og scenarier. Institut for Geovidenskab og Naturforvaltning, Københavns Universitet.

Becken, S., & Hay, J. (2012). Climate change and tourism: From policy to practice. Routledge.

DGI Faciliteter & Lokaludvikling (2014). Lemvig i bevægelse.

Hamin, E. M., Gurran, N., & Emlinger, A. M. (2014). Barriers to municipal climate adaptation: Examples from coastal Massachusetts’ smaller cities and towns. Journal of the American Planning Association, 80(2), 110-122.

Köpsel, V., Walsh, C., & Leyshon, C. (2016). Landscape narratives in practice: implications for climate change adaptation. The Geographical Journal.

Simpson, M.C., Gössling, S., Scott, D., Hall, C.M. and Gladin, E. (2008) Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the Tourism Sector: Frameworks, Tools and Practices. UNEP, University of Oxford, UNWTO, WMO: Paris, France

Swyngedouw, E. (2005). Governance innovation and the citizen: the Janus face of governance-beyond-the-state. Urban studies, 42(11), 1991-2006.




Voluntary agreements with private landowners as governance innovations in tourism

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

In tourism there is a continuous claim for innovative products and services. As traditional touristic areas are crowding, visitor experiences in nature areas and rural districts become more tempting than ever, necessitating the development of a range of infrastructures, delivery services, supporting facilities etc. It is of importance to allow tourists adequate access, interpretation, entertainment, and relaxation opportunities while visiting. However, as landscapes, flora and fauna are the main attractions, it is also critical not to compromise the quality of the natural environment. Ensuring a balance demands new types of innovations.

Photo: Mads Fjeldsø Christensen

Thus, innovation in tourism also regards a range of governance mechanisms. Such innovations are changes in content and methods of rulemaking, rulesetting and rule implementation. They are innovations in the way that actors make something happen and the way that they change incentives. Governance innovations can embody new approaches for institutions to be built and modified, and they can include new arrangements that rearticulate the state-civil relationship, thereby repositioning the meaning of citizenship (Swyngedoduw, 2005).

Odderbæk Vandløbslaug (The Otter River Waterway Cooperation) in Denmark can be considered a governance innovation. Its activities and emerging mode of operation have had and will potentially in the future encompass positive implications for both the crucial environmental nature protection and the resilience among citizens and farmers in the local area. In addition, the totality of the operation may enhance prospects for tourists who pay a visit.

The Odderbæk is a small river system in rural Denmark, connected to a larger system of rivers and lakes. The lake area and forests in the vicinity are popular for tourism, but the Odderbæk is located in mainly agricultural landscapes where tourism is not developed.

The Otter River Waterway Cooperation came about after a council meeting in the municipality in 1999, where the alarming results of investigations of water quality, the flora and fauna diversity and sediment movements were presented. The river was clean, but also “dead”. One of the members of the municipality council was Niels Clemmensen, a local farmer owning property at the riverside. The environmental monitoring authorities identified the need for action, but emphasized also that landowners were vital as principal actors. The authorities lacked prohibitory rules or other regulations that could be efficient in a case like this.

Niels Clemmensen contacted 10 neighbors owning land at the river border, and in a working group they started a process of collecting information about the farming practices and nature quality. The group identified a geographical space of action that exceeded the 10 landowners’ property, in fact it made sense to include the whole river system of Odderbæk for nature improvements. Thus, a holistic approach was found to be essential. The local authorities agreed to pay for small but strategically important interventions, in particular removing barriers and drainage items in the river, established over the years by farmers. The conditions proposed by the local authority were that the locals should create a formalized waterway cooperation on a voluntary base and with open membership. The cooperation should have enough muscle to take over the obligations in terms of the improvement of the nature qualities of the Odderbæk. The authorities advised the locals in the legal processes, setting up statutes and electing a board. It is critical to understand, that a formalized association could be the legitimate counterpart for government agencies, ensuring a systematic strategy. Formalization took place, membership increased over the year, and in 2017 the cooperation has 106 members. Statutes and guidelines are issued that describe precisely the obligations and the privileges of landowners along the riverside.

The first thing to do for the cooperation was to establish riverside maintenance obligations for the landowners, and to ensure to get these approved by the municipality council, which is the formal waterway authority. At that time, in 2000, this was an entirely new type of agreement, which decentralized power, influence and initiative to the Otter River Waterway Cooperation. It is considered a very special case, as the private cooperative association achieves a legal power to work with the waterway.

The agreement has been a clear motivator for landowners along the river to start the removing of barriers and thus to create small new biotopes. Biologists and nature enthusiasts walked along the river together with the members, and the cooperation members and landowners have been greatly inspired by the continuously new information and knowledge made available for them. New ideas were created by walking around, and suggestions were integrated in a more comprehensive nature protection plan for the whole area. Copenhagen University’s landscape biologists assisted in this process, and students helped to enhance the nature planning to the farm holding level, 49 farmers accepted to participate actively in this part of the development.

At this time, the nature areas were fairly closed to the public, but the local villagers soon started to express a clearer wish to get access. Successfully, the Otter River Waterway Collaboration applied for external funding to establish tracks and trails. The planning of the trails was undertaken as a bottom-up process. The landowning farmers suggested the places for tracks, again mainly during walks in the area. It was found to be extremely essential that the exact situating of the tracks was not imposed on the farmers, but rather a matter of hands-on negotiation in the fields. Some farmers were nervous that visitors would frighten the grassing animals or cause damages. However, as the first farmer got his trails established, others saw that the pride of area was increasing, and good stories were told. The whole system of 40 kilometers of trails was finalized in 2007, all landowners now on board. There are agreements with every single landowner to provide the access and to ensure that the areas are grassed so as to maintain the original landscape values. To help this happen, the collaboration has had a spinoff in the format of a grassing guild, practically managing that cattle can move fairly freely in the area across properties.

The otter, from which the river has its name, has been extinct from area for many years, but it has been seen again. The bio-diversity is part of the voluntary agreements, and the landowners have become more aware of the details in landscape management that help nature improvements along without compromising the agricultural production opportunities.

Where is tourism in this? The area is not by any means a mass tourism destination. However, the invitation of the locals has gradually increased the interest for others to visit as well. Locals bring guests to come along for walks. The part of the trail which links up to a summer-cottage area is the most used and popular. The Otter River Waterway Cooperation puts a quite substantial energy into the interpretation, both in the area with sign boarding, a pamphlet, but not the least through a very well operating website. The trails are also promoted on a national website “Sporet”, which includes many rural trails in Denmark. Approximately 15,000 people visit the Odderbæk area every year. The trails are used by organizers of pilgrim walks and by a number of outdoor organizations. Every year on the “Trail Day”, the Otter River Waterway Cooperation and voluntary associations from the community experience with forms of entertainment and involving, such as music and singing during the walking.

Working with voluntary agreements is particularly interesting in a Danish context, as many nature areas of potential importance for tourism are not publicly owned. Negotiation skills are critical competences for government officials and other initiators to get the process going. The Odderbæk is a prime example of how it is possible to unify a range of objectives in voluntary agreements: economic, access and environmental targets. The incentives to participate – and to give and take from the project – vary significantly, and an accurate understanding of the incentives are essential. It requires an open dialogue. In Odderbæk, the incentives to be part of the development have clearly increased. Membership costs a very modest annual fee. Most services delivered the board and others are non-paid voluntary work, and the municipality offers some help. The strong commitment by a variety of stakeholders makes it possible for the Otter River Waterway Cooperation to apply for external funding from governmental and private foundations for specific projects.

Photo: Mads Fjeldsø Christensen

The tourism objectives are typically not the first to be considered in waterway projects, but the Odderbæk shows that tourism is adding up gradually, as locals and visitors let the word go, including with the use of social media. The press has provided a media attention, and a TV series for children has used the area as a location. Overall and till now, the Odderbæk area has established only small scale and unsofisticated tourism facilities, such as the trails, a picnic house, and benches on viewing places. Nonetheless, it is interesting to observe that the trail and tracks have been re-interpreted for winter use – the crucial thing being that this helps to strengthen the reputation even if there is not often snow in Denmark. This is an indication of the way that tourism may, based on the local objectives and small-scale, go hand in hand with advanced nature protection measures on a voluntary base. It is not certain what the future brings to the area, but more agritourism and outdoor activities might be sustainably developed alongside to supplement the existing types of day visits. The mode of operation and the statutes established make it likely that the Otter River Waterway Collaboration can be able to accommodate for new types of touristic use of the area, in the least as long as the pressure is still quite modest. However issues have to be addressed, for example as some landowners are not keen on accommodating for riders or mountainbikers. The Otter River Waterway Cooperation thinks about ways to incorporate these groups without corrupting the benefits achieved already.

After the implementation, the Odderbæk project and development has become a pilot in an international collaboration that works with nature conservation bottom-up: Smart Natura. Information about the methods is more systematically disseminated to other similar areas in Denmark and in several European countries.

Further viewing:

Further reading:

Church, A., Gilchrist, P., & Ravenscroft, N. (2007). Negotiating recreational access under asymmetrical power relations: the case of inland waterways in England. Society & Natural Resources, 20(3), 213-227.

Primdahl, J. (2014). Agricultural landscape sustainability under pressure: Policy developments and landscape change. Landscape Research, 39(2), 123-140.

Primdahl, J., Kristensen, L. S., & Swaffield, S. (2013). Guiding rural landscape change: current policy approaches and potentials of landscape strategy making as a policy integrating approach. Applied Geography, 42, 86-94.

Swyngedouw, E. (2005). Governance innovation and the citizen: the Janus face of governance-beyond-the-state. Urban studies, 42(11), 1991-2006.