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CU helps make it easier for developing nations to manage sustainable tourism

Cornell's Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Johnson School has partnered with Gap Adventures and Planeterra to assess the underlying costs and benefits of sustainable tourism in Belize. The partnership kicks off with a project involving a team of Cornell graduate students in the Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE) Immersion program, who are working with the Belize Tourism Board to measure the social, economic and environmental costs of tourism development.

The partnership 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, according to Mark Milstein, director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and lead faculty of the SGE Immersion program. They are also frequently sacrificed in the pursuit of tourism growth. The goal of the collaboration is to make it easier for nations to ensure their citizens will benefit from tourism in the long term.

"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," Milstein said.

International tourism, a $900 billion industry, 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, according to Planeterra's press release. In Central America alone, the value of tourism has risen to well over $4 billion in foreign exchange annually.

In the coming months, a multidisciplinary team of graduate students from Cornell's Johnson School and College of Architecture, Art 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 and researchers at the University of Belize, the team is focusing 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.

"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," says Richard Edwards, Gap Adventures' marketing director.

The partnership also will support a fellow at the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise funded by Planeterra, who will continue working on activity related to sustainable tourism.

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Joe Schwartz