NZx – September 30th : how to boost your social license to operate

Monday, October 2, 2017
posted by malcolm


Last month we looked at some views on why NZ tourism needs to develop it’s social license to operate.

As previously noted, there are many definitions of how to obtain and maintain a  social license to operate. At the micro level it’s about the concept of  a project achieving ongoing approval of the local community and other stakeholders. That may be formal through processes such as the RMA or the DOC concession process or informal such as access agreements.

At the macro level it is how industry sectors work at a national level along similar lines, and particularly how they influence government.

The opportunity to achieve a social license to operate can be seen as an overall outcome. There is no rule book which defines the process, a method, tools or ways to achieve such an outcome.That is both an advantage and disadvantage.

Gavin Shepherd in the Te Awamutu Courier argues, that for the farming sector, “long-term profits on farm are more linked to these social perceptions than efficiency in production or scale at all costs”.

Dan Ormond, formerly partner at Ideas Shop, notes that, along with knowledge of who your market is and its size, “all aspects of engaging with stakeholders and developing sustainable business practices need to be communicated well in order to keep your business’s social license to operate”.

So how do we achieve such a license?

There seems to be general agreement on the following processes:

  • identify key stakeholders (people affected by the project/sector) and continue to review these
  • gain social acceptance based around legal, social,and cultural norms – both formal and informal
  • gain credibility based on accurate and transparent information and importantly delivering on promises and representations that have been given
  • gain trust from the local or national community based on being accountable, collaborative and sharing experiences
  • deliver extensive and wide ranging communications across all channels that integrate all of the above.

In terms of a tourism perspective we note Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) comments that “globally tourism is today the 3rd largest export industry in the world after chemicals and fuels. Last year alone, 1.235 million travellers crossed international borders in one single year. By 2030, this 1.2 billion will become 1.8 billion”. Globally tourism has sustainable development as a key plank in all its 5 pillars:

  1. Economic: yielding inclusive growth;
  2. Social: bringing decent jobs and empowering communities;
  3. Environmental: preserving and enriching the environment and addressing climate change;
  4. Cultural: celebrating and preserving diversity, identity, and tangible and intangible culture, and
  5. Peace: as an essential prerequisite for development and progress.

As an aside the UN General Assembly declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Who knew?

In NZ tourism faces some political issues and community fears. As Professor Chris Ryan noted immediately after the election, all major parties played lip service to developing integrated tourism policy. This remains an ongoing challenge for the industry but should not deter Tourism Aotearoa  Tourism New Zealand local Regional Tourism Organizations and tourism operators doing more in this space.

Regular snapshots of how NZ communities view tourism show a trend towards less acceptance at the current and particularly the projected levels of international tourism.

In summary, achieving and maintaining a social license to operate is a dynamic, long-term, holistic and vitally important process for both key industry sectors and individual operators. The difference being primarily the scale of the input.

As social scientist Kate Brooks states “Any industry, that operates, particularly using common resources like water or land, forests, has to concern themselves with social license to operate issues. It’s like somebody saying I want to come in and use your front yard (for my own profit).”

Ka kite ano

Cruise ship passengers      Whangara Marae





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