A protected area’s concession function can help it to achieve many goals, including generating income for protected areas, contributing to economic and rural development, managing overuse and impacts, protecting resources, enhancing conservation, and economic empowerment of people living in and around the protected area.
How do I develop a concession system that delivers the best outcomes? Despite significant progress in recent years, the scale of the global conservation effort required to protect biodiversity and ecosystems is still phenomenal – much larger than protected area agencies can achieve on their own.
To be successful, conservation needs to become more mainstream and not just the domain of rangers and other protected area staff. One way for protected area agencies to extend their conservation influence is by working with partners, communities and business. By establishing a protected area tourism concession system and creating opportunities to work with concessionaires, agencies can do more for conservation and visitors to their protected areas and help produce a range of financial, economic and social benefits which help to make conservation more viable in the long term.
The key issue facing government ministers and protected area managers is to determine and then rank the most important objectives for their protected area concession system. These should then be used to guide the development of the laws, regulations and policies that govern the system.
A protected area agency’s concession function may help it to achieve many objectives including:
- Generating income
- Contributing to biodiversity conservation
- Contributing to improved services and facilities for visitors
- Contributing to economic and rural development
- Managing overuse and impacts
- Economic empowerment of people living in and around the protected area
To help determine the most important objectives for a concession system and how to prioritize their importance, government leaders must consider what is important to them. The more focused a concession system is on its objectives; the more likely it is that the system will achieve its desired outcomes. A concession system is made up of a number of interrelated components, from staff management to law and policy, award processes, IT systems and monitoring. The concession system should be purposely designed, reviewed and improved over time.
There are four key elements that will assist protected area managers to develop or improve their concession system. The first of these requires the application of six principles of good process . Protected area agencies can assess their current practices against these principles, which are described below.
1. Well defined, transparent and consistent processes
2. Explicit, clear and transparent criteria
3. Decision-makers must be identifiable and independent from the process.
4. Conflicts of interest need to be avoided.
5. Natural justice principles need to apply.
6. Processing and decision-making separation.
The second key element is to take a systems approach to designing your concession function. No matter how small or large a system is, all of these components will need to be present to some degree. A frequently overlooked, but very important, component of concession management is the capacity and skill level of staff.
The third element helps to conceptualise concession work into three component parts: i) Planning, ii) Allocating, EIA and iii) monitoring.
The fourth element of a quality concession system is to realise that concessions have a life cycle and need to be managed through that life cycle.
- Critically define the objectives for your concession system, and then shape the system to achieve the outcomes expressed in these objectives. The outcomes need to be clear but the processes to achieve these outcomes should provide for some flexibility.
- Review the components of your concession system. Are all the components developed and in place? Do they help the protected area agency to achieve its core objectives?
If protected area agencies decide to develop the benefits that can come from concessions and avoid some of the negative consequences, they must understand where they already have strengths and where improvements are needed. To help assess their strengths and weaknesses, agencies should benchmark their practices with other agencies or with the practices presented in Tourism Concessions in Protected Natural Areas: Guidelines for Managers. They will then be able to run effective allocation processes that deliver outcomes that can greatly benefit both conservation and the communities that live in and around protected areas.