Networks and networking in ecotourism promotion: Evidence from Ireland's Greenbox ecotourism destination
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This thesis presents the results of a study of the Greenbox, an ecotourism destination, situated in a geographically and economically marginal rural area on the northwest border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The initiative, which existed from 2003-2007, was funded primarily from European Union sources and administered by a management board consisting of representatives of local authorities, national tourism bodies, regional and rural development groups, and ecotourism providers. An ecotourism provider network was established which providers could join for a small fee. The International Ecotourism Society definition of ecotourism was adopted and modified slightly for use by the project and the EU Flower was adopted as a method of certification. Representatives of support organisations (21) and ecotourism providers (37) were selected purposively for interview. Four research questions structured the research. These investigated: the relationship between ecotourism as a particular form of rural tourism and the local resource base; how appropriately embedded and disembedded networks and networking among organisations operate to promote ecotourism; how appropriately embedded and disembedded networks and networking among providers operate to promote ecotourism; and, how ecotourism as an appropriately embedded and disembedded phenomenon, operating through networks and networking, contributes to balanced rural development. The Greenbox project was established as a 'top down' network led by government rather than growing organically, a circumstance which appears to have contributed to its short lived nature. However, a range of benefits arose in terms of increased awareness of ecotourism and the potential of the selected area for this form of tourism, incorporation of ecotourism into policy documents, awareness of the positive role of networks and networking in promoting and developing ecotourism and the emergence of a provider led promotional group. The experience suggests that even short term networks and networking can have more positive outcomes than is sometimes recognised.