These initiatives are especially important now because unemployment remains high in the Northern Territory today (Mohatt, 1994), and a lack of educational and employment opportunities has resulted in a paucity of a skilled workforce by mainstream social standards that has contributed to an increased incidence in criminal activity throughout the region (Smith, 2001). According to one authority, "The notion of economic barriers such as job ceilings does not necessarily create disincentives toward schooling or create folk theories which make for ambivalence. Where subsistence living and mixed cash economies form a central part of people's lives, then these so-called economic barriers to school success are much less a factor in school failure in places such as the Northern Territories of Australia" (Mohatt, 1994 p. 183). Nevertheless, the Northern Territory has much to offer domestic and foreign visitors alike today, providing them with a unique glimpse into what is essentially another world for many people: "It is still the case that the Northern Territory of Australia is not only what white people experience; it remains another country for black people. The paintings of Rembarrnga artist Paddy Wainbarrnga, reproduced in a study of modern Australian art, are a rich and dramatic example of the other meanings of history, of country, of morality and of race" (Cowlishaw, 1998 p. 9).
Likewise, there is a rich heritage of myths from the Northern Territory that suggest that people there "live in two kinds of 'space.' To make sense of a native landscape requires a recognition of its limits and beyond -- cosmological (imagined) space" (Hirsch, 2003 p. 817). Indeed, while the Northern Territory may be off the beaten path for some tourists, these foregoing attributes and other opportunities for growth and development are readily available if the wherewithal and resources are available for their development. In fact, like their counterparts in central Australia, the indigenous people of the Northern Territory have a vast cultural and artistic heritage that could be used to their advantage.
For example, the people of Ramingining, Northern Territories, call themselves the "Yolngu"; many of these inhabitants are artists who are being renowned around the world for their rock and bark paintings, sculptures, and weaving: "In contrast to desert painters from central Australia, whose dot paintings have found international renown, Yolngu painters usually employ a distinctive cross-hatching pattern that can cover an entire painting" ("Yolngu Dreamings - Aboriginal Art from Australia's Northern Territories," 2003 p. 86). A recent exhibition of art from this region was held in the United States which could well represent the beginning of an important trend for these indigenous people's efforts to develop a sustainable approach to tourism management: "Exhibitions of art made by Australia's indigenous people are rare in the United States; rarer still are shows devoted to works from Arnhem Land, in which Ramingining is situated" ("Yolngu Dreamings - Aboriginal Art from Australia's Northern Territories," 2003 p. 86).
Place-based communities such as the Northern Territory are good examples of how communities must seek out holistic approaches to achieve sustainability; this approach must taken into account a wide range of environmental, economic, political, cultural and social considerations and remain sufficiently flexible to be responsive to shifts in the tastes and preferences of the tourists they seek to attract. According to Hall and Richards (2000), "In this way there is an implicit recognition that to be truly sustainable, the preservation of the 'natural' environment must be grounded in the communities and societies which exploit and depend upon it. Most natural environments are culturally constructed, and local communities and economic systems may hold the key to their survival or destruction" (p. 5).
This point is also made by Harrill and Potts (2003) who emphasize that it is vitally important to draw on the expertise, knowledge and insights available from the local residents themselves early on in formulating any strategic tourism management initiative "before key, and often irreversible, decisions are made" (p. 233). In this regard, Hall and Richards also emphasize that, "Environmental sustainability is inexorably bound up with concepts of economic, social, cultural and political sustainability. The 'principles of sustainable tourism management' indicate the need to involve local communities in the process of sustainable tourism management and development" (2000 p. 5). Therefore, any such tourism management initiative should seek to include the local populace to the maximum extent possible in the decision-making process as well as how such initiatives are implemented and administered over time.
Guidelines for Developing Effective Tourism Management Programs.
The NT Strategic Plan represents a good start but the competition for domestic and international visitors to Australia remains fierce today and is expected to increase in the future. Notwithstanding the value of the eco-tourism and cultural approaches to tourism development articulated in the plan ("Why adapt the environment to suit tourists...why not attract the tourists who are interested in the natural environment?" -- Kathy Ashford, Information and Resource Officer, NTTC, May 2002 p. 26), there are some changes that are going to be required on the part of the local populace as well as the regional authorities in terms of responding to this dynamic and increasingly competitive environment.
According to the NT Strategic Plan, to ensure its continued viability in the future, the nature-based tourism development advocated in the plan will be guided by three fundamental principles:
Sustainable - ecologically and culturally sensitive development. This should provide an appropriate return to the local community and long-term conservation of the resource;
Interpretive - quality explanation and education of the environment, culture, heritage and tourism experiences;
Destination integrity - consistent and identifiable theming to reflect the Territory's image and uniqueness.
The strategic plan suggests that this responsible and measured approach will provide the basis for sustainable growth without sacrificing the very aspects of the Northern Territory culture that make it attractive to such visitors in the first place. "These principles will help shape future tourism development and will encourage the growth of responsible, ethical and viable business operations" ("NT Tourism Strategic Plan, 2007, p. 26).
While every community and region is unique, of course, a strategic approach to tourism management can be guided by some fundamental principles that appear to apply across the board to almost any region in need of development as follows:
The approach sees policy, planning and management as appropriate and, indeed, essential responses to the problems of natural and human resource misuse in tourism;
The approach is generally not anti-growth, but it emphasises that there are limitations to growth and that tourism must be managed within these limits;
Long-term rather than short-term thinking is necessary;
The concerns of sustainable tourism management are not just environmental, but are also economic, social, cultural, political and managerial;
The approach emphasises the importance of satisfying human needs and aspirations, which entails a prominent concern for equity and fairness;
All stakeholders need to be consulted and empowered in tourism decision-making, and they also need to be informed about sustainable development issues;
While sustainable development should be a goal for all policies and actions, putting the ideas of sustainable tourism into practice means recognising that in reality there are often limits to what will be achieved in the short and medium term;
An understanding of how market economies operate, of the cultures and management procedures of private-sector businesses and of public- and voluntary-sector organisations, and of the values and attitudes of the public is necessary in order to turn good intentions into practical measures;
There are frequently conflicts of interest over the use of resources, which means that in practice trade-offs and compromises may be necessary;
The balancing of costs and benefits in decisions on different courses of action must extend to considering how much different individuals and groups will gain or lose (Hall & Richards, 2000 p. 6).
This inextricable relationship between a community's "environment" in its broadest scope means that social communities and the tourists that visit them are vital components of many models of strategic tourism management initiatives today. Indeed, as Hall and Richards emphasize, the English Tourist Board's guidelines for sustainable tourism describe a triangular symbiotic relationship that exists between the "host community," the "place," or the environment and the "visitor" or tourist. While this concept is straightforward enough, it does bring up yet another issue concerning the nature, scope and function of the community and its residents and how the strategic tourism management function can contribute to its sustainability and development.
In this regard, Hall and Richards suggest that, "Community-led sustainable development requires an understanding not just of the relationship between local communities and their environment, but also of the political, economic and cultural tensions within communities. The relationships of 'local' and 'global' communities also needs to be better understood, particularly in the context of tourism" (2000 p. 6).
Some recommendations that emerged from a study of sustainable tourism development reported by Chatelard (2003) were as follows: