Principles For Developing Your Ecotourism Business Plan

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FOR237Principles for Developing Your Ecotourism BusinessPlan1Tinelle D. Bustam and Taylor Stein2Florida is host to a variety of natural settings, which offergreat potential to develop ecotourism businesses throughout the state. Developing such a business can providecountless benefits to individuals and communities such asgenerating incomes, providing jobs, developing new skills,and conserving natural areas. As with any business, anecotourism business requires strategic planning to ensureeffective delivery and sustainability. In particular, designinga strategic plan for business operations may prove advantageous in reducing future challenges. Current ecotourismbusiness owners have expressed their lack of expertisein tourism operations as a challenge in managing theirtourism businesses (Best and Stein 2007). This publicationintends to provide those wishing to begin an ecotourismbusiness or modify an existing business with a detaileddescription of the diversity in ecotourism business modelsand the components necessary to develop an ecotourismbusiness plan.What is an ecotourism business?Ecotourism is diverse in the benefits provided, businessownership types, and program delivery opportunities.Ecotourism is commonly understood as tourism thatpromotes environmental conservation and providesopportunities for communities to benefit economically andnon-economically (Wearing and Schweinsberg 2018). Thesetypes of businesses are comprised of various ownershipmodels that offer a range of services or products. In Florida,ecotourism business models include private ownership,public agency ownership, and public-private partnerships(Wyman and Stein 2007).Private ecotourism businesses are independent entities thathave the natural, physical, and human resources needed toprovide ecotourism services or products. For instance, individuals with private ownership of ecotourism businessesown the land and natural attractions needed to put theirecotourism activities in operation as well as those resourcesneeded to accommodate visitors and manage the business(e.g., transportation, accommodations, food service, andhuman resources). Examples of these types of businessesin Florida include nature study areas such as FloridaEco-Safaris (; day andovernight experiences on working farms such as Long andScott Farms (; andwater-based recreation attractions such as IchetuckneeFamily Canoe and Cabins ( and Ginnie Springs Outdoors, LLC( agencies also participate in ecotourism businesses byproviding visitor services within protected and conservednatural areas. For example, public agencies offer fee- andnon-fee-based education and interpretation programs tovisitors such as guided recreation trips (e.g., backpacking,canoeing) and Junior Ranger programs. In addition,public agencies operate ecotourism businesses under1. This document is FOR237, one of a series of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publicationdate May 2010. Revised June 2019. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.2. Tinelle D. Bustam, director, Conservation Education. USDA Forest Service, State and Private Forestry. Washington, DC; and Taylor V. Stein, professor,School of Forest Resources and Conservation; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other servicesonly to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status,national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of CountyCommissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

public-private partnerships. Such arrangements are oftensought by public agencies lacking financial or physicalresources to offer visitor experiences as directed in publicagency legislation. Public-private partnerships often resultin profit sharing between the private business owner andpublic land agency. These forms of partnership, as well aspublic-agency-driven ecotourism businesses, are commonin the United States and Florida. Like private ecotourismbusinesses, public agency and partnership models offer agreat range in tourism offerings. For example, businessesthat have partnered with public agencies include KayakAmelia ( and Blue Moon OutdoorCenter ( These privately ownedand operated ecotourism businesses are the official serviceproviders for Big and Little Talbot Island, Oleta River, andRainbow Springs State Parks (,respectively. Variety in ecotourism business ownership andtourism offerings makes strategic planning for businessdevelopment or adjustment a necessity.What is a business plan?A business plan is a strategic planning tool to providecommunication, management, and planning (Cothran,Wysocki, and Mulkey 2005; Evans, 2008; US. Small Business Administration 2009). An effective business plancommunicates to lenders, employees, and owners thepotential problems and challenges associated with operating a business. A business plan also identifies potentialalternatives. For instance, a business plan may considerstrategies to secure funding, manage personnel, and marketthe business. A business plan also serves as a tool thatguides the actions of your business to ensure all aspectsof sustainability (Despeisse, Mélanie, et al. 2017). Such aplan would prove useful to ecotourism operators who areplanning to develop or alter an ecotourism business. Inparticular, a business plan provides: a strategy to ensure streamlined efforts for effectiveness intourism service or product delivery; a strategy to develop a service or product meets thedemands of a variety of consumers including tourists,local residents, and visiting friends and relatives; the opportunity to communicate business objectives,chart the tourism service or product sales goals, and pursue evaluation through research and development; and descriptions of job positions to eliminate duplicationof efforts and ensure clear communications betweenpersonnel.Principles for Developing Your Ecotourism Business PlanComponents of an EffectiveEcotourism Business PlanA typical business plan includes descriptions of the business, marketing strategy, financial structure, and management (US Small Business Administration 2009). Withineach of these components are particular topics or plansthat must be considered by ecotourism business owners indeveloping a business plan (see Table 1). The remainder ofthis publication provides a detailed discussion on each plantopic, written for ecotourism business owners intending tobegin or change an ecotourism business.Business DescriptionIn offering ecotourism services or products, you are providing people with unique experiences they cannot achievein urban environments; however, careful considerationmust be used in clarifying your business mission (i.e., thepurpose of your business) and vision (i.e., descriptionof how your business will achieve the mission). In mostcases, ecotourism businesses are small operations on alandowner’s property that complement other land management activities of nearby protected areas (Best and Stein2007), but it is ultimately up to you to decide how largeto make your ecotourism business. This section allowsyou to specifically define the size and composition ofyour business.Business description. A business plan should include thestructure of the ecotourism business (e.g., private, publicprivate partnership). In addition, this section would includeidentification of personal values, creation of a mission andvision statement, and development of goals and objectives(Geissdoerfer, Vladimirova, Evans 2018). For ecotourismbusinesses, this component of the plan is particularlyimportant since ecotourism operations are often not totallydriven by profit maximization. Ecotourism business goalsoften include environmental protection and improvedquality of life in addition to economic profit.Internal resources. Internal resources include human,financial, and physical resources available to assist indeveloping an ecotourism service or product. These mayinclude personnel skills, existing finances to fund ecotourism development (e.g., marketing and initial gear costs),existing infrastructure (e.g., passenger van for transportation, adequate space for lodging and food service), andnatural resources to which there is direct access. A completeinventory of all such resources would be presented in thissection of the plan.2

External resources. Similar to internal resources, externalresources are public agencies and other private tourismoperators that are available to assist in ecotourism development. On a public level, these may include local conventionand visitor bureaus, local UF/IFAS Extension offices,tourism industry associations, and local parks departmentsfor access to natural resources (e.g., municipal, county,state, federal lands).Marketing DescriptionClearly defined marketing strategies are essential to thesuccess of your ecotourism business. The marketingdescription of your business plan allows you to identifyyour intended customers, focus on their ecotourismdemands (e.g., activities offered) and demographic needs(e.g., family-friendliness, cost-effectiveness, accessibility), aswell as develop a plan to cater to this market group throughservice or product development and marketing techniques.Market analysis. The market analysis identifies the targetconsumer market. To conduct an effective market analysis,you must measure the potential demand for the serviceor product you offer, identify the intended audience forthe marketing plan, and analyze the segmentation of thetarget audience in order to effectively market programofferings to diverse subsets. For example, nature study isone of the fastest growing outdoor recreation activity inthe United States (Roberts, Hall, and Morag 2017); thisdemand should be considered in the market analysis of anemerging ecotourism business. In addition, considerationfor the diverse demographic characteristics that supportthis activity and segmentation of the market into subsets forgreater effectiveness of tourism delivery might also becomepart of the market analysis for this tourism offering.Competition. Identifying other ecotourism operators in thesurrounding area is critical for development of an effectivebusiness plan. This section identifies competition, similarityof service or product, as well as comparative advantages(e.g., resources) and competitive advantages (e.g., effectiveness in using resources) (Goeldner and Ritchie 2009).Private ecotourism business owners should consider otherprivate business owners as well as publicly owned naturalattractions (e.g., state parks, county parks, and nationalforests) when identifying competition. Often entry to publicnature-based recreation areas is either inexpensive or free,so you must determine the unique experiences you willoffer if you are to compete with public entities. Throughthis type of analysis, you might discover working with yourcompetition to be more beneficial. For instance, you mightfind that forming a partnership with a public entity is morePrinciples for Developing Your Ecotourism Business Planattractive than beginning an independent business. Youmight also find that packaging your service or product withthose of a competitor might provide greater business. Forexample, cave diving in north central Florida is a majorlocal tourist industry because of the many springs and cavesin the area with multitudes of dive operators providing suchservices. Packaging your tourism offerings with those ofa competitor (e.g., establishing a cave diving trail) mightprovide for greater tourist opportunity, synergy of localbusiness owners, and greater profits.Service or product development plan. A service orproduct line development plan identifies ecotourismservices or products to be offered to customers, describeshow this supply will meet the identified demand, and offersguidelines for diversifying the service or product to meetchanging demands. Consider contemporary economic,social, political, and technological dynamics (e.g., theeconomic recession, aging population with retiringbaby-boomers, climate change and fuel consumption, andon-line social networking) that may influence purchasingof ecotourism services or products. Efforts to conductresearch and development would also be identified in thissection of the business plan.Marketing plan. A marketing plan is devoted to identifyingan effective marketing mix that unites customers withecotourism services or products for the greatest profit,while providing environmental protection and quality oflife opportunities. The marketing plan would identify theproduct, place, promotion, price, programming, peopleinvolved, and potential partnerships (Paley 2017). Thiswould include the services or products being marketed,distribution channels through which the service or productwill be marketed (e.g., travel agents), how the serviceor product will be promoted (e.g., newspaper, internet,television, radio), considerations for price (e.g., determination of user fees), activity programming (e.g., diversifyingtourism offerings in an effort to expand services or products offered), steps to ensure customer satisfaction (e.g.,quality control), and level of collaboration (if any) throughpartnerships with other agencies.Financial DescriptionWhen starting or modifying an ecotourism business,paying close attention to the financial organization ofyour intended business will prove profitable in achieving asuccessful business operation. For instance, ecotourism mayoften be considered a low expense option for landownerssince it seemingly does not require much infrastructure ordevelopment; however, potential customers expect a certain3

level of comfort to aid them in experiencing the opportunities you provide. Such demands often dictate unexpectedcosts and expenses. For example, some private ecotourismoperators who have opened to visitors their personalhomes for use of restroom facilities have found this use toincur a cost to their privacy beyond what they expected.The financial description of the business plan allows youto take into consideration the capital costs associated withstarting or altering your ecotourism business as well as theopportunity to project anticipated revenues/expenses andcontemplate financing options.Capital costs. An effective ecotourism business plan mustconsider all costs associated with launching a new or alteredbusiness. This section of the financial description is whereyou would identify your cash needs to put your ecotourismbusiness into operation. Start-up cost estimations shouldbe based on operation expenses for at least the first severalmonths of business implementation. These expenses mightinclude one-time costs prior to business implementation(e.g., land purchase and business incorporation fees) as wellas ongoing fixed (e.g., utilities and insurance) and variableexpenses (e.g., equipment purchasing and personnel forguiding tours) (US Small Business Administration 2009).Revenue/expense projections. A business plan mustinclude clearly identified, itemized financials, includingbreak-even analysis and projected cash flows. Theseprojections include profit and loss statements based on athree-year projection with a current balance sheet.Financing. If you require additional funding to start oralter your ecotourism business, you will need to seek andcompare various options for financing the venture. Here iswhere you identify your financing preferences, includingoptions for equity and debt financing as well as any applications to secure additional funding.Management DescriptionManaging an ecotourism business requires familiarity withecological and social concepts and challenges. You mustunderstand how to bring people into contact with naturewithout damaging the very attraction they are comingto see and clearly communicate these practices to yourfront-line staff. This section of your business plan lays outthe activities you will need to account for in managing yourecotourism business.Operating procedures. This section explains the stepstaken to operate the ecotourism business. For instance, thiswould include a detailed description of how the servicePrinciples for Developing Your Ecotourism Business Planor product will be offered to customers through practicesthat support ecotourism principles. Special considerationsfor ecotourism operators include regulatory policies thatcould influence your operation (e.g., permits, taxes, zoning,educating visitor code of conduct), service or productevaluation, and protection from risk and liability. Formore information on: permits for public land use, see yourpublic land agency representative; business permits/licensesand taxes, see US Small Business Administration (; zoning, see your county office; visitor code ofconduct, see The International Ecotourism Society (; and risk/liability, see US Small BusinessAdministration.Sales plan. A sales plan includes a strategy for the salesteam and sales activities (US Small Business Administration2009). The plan will define who will comprise the salesteam, specify whether these individuals are internal orcontracted agents, list any extra compensation provided,and identify all sales activities (e.g., teacher workshopsto generate school group attendance, open house opportunities for community stakeholders to participate inecotourism offerings, and membership with local travelassociations). The plan will establish sales goals and astrategy to reach those goals.Management plan. An effective management plan clearlyidentifies the organizational structure of the ecotourismbusiness, profiles the management team, and provides a description of ownership (US Small Business Administration2009). The organizational chart should reflect the structureof the management team and personnel requirements anddefine roles of responsibility for each position. This willensure every function within the ecotourism operation iscovered and avoid duplicated activities. This section wouldalso include a profile of the management staff, includinga description of their backgrounds and skill sets. Themanagement plan also must describe the ownership of theecotourism business, such as incorporation, partnership, orindependent proprietorship. More information on businessownership models can be obtained from US Small BusinessAdministration ( plan. The personnel plan describes the employeecomponent of the business, including hiring, training,compensation/benefits, and volunteer program considerations. For an ecotourism business, some considerationsmight include specialized training and certificationsneeded by guide staff and business operations training formanagement staff. Clearly defined responsibilities can keepbusiness owners from duplicating skill sets of employeesand ensuring role responsibilities are clear.4

ConclusionNatural resources available for ecotourism abound inFlorida. However, before embarking on an ecotourismbusiness venture, establish a business plan. A good businessplan will provide a streamlined, profitable strategy forsuccess. Developing a business plan that clarifies business,marketing, financial, and management considerations isintegral to effective and sustainable ecotourism operations.BibliographyU.S. Small Business Administration, (2009). Small BusinessPlanner. (accessed May 2019).Wearing, Stephen, and Stephen Schweinsberg. ECOTOURISM: Transitioning to the 22nd Century. Routledge, 2018.Wyman, M.S. and T. V. Stein. (2007). Introducing Ecotourism to Florida’s Counties and Landowners: An Ecotourism/Nature Based Tourism Fact Sheet. FR163. Gainesville:University of Florida Institute of Food and AgriculturalSciences. (accessed May 2019)Best, M. N., and T. V. Stein. (2007). Nature-Based Tourismin Florida: Letting Nature Work for You. FR178. Gainesville:University of Florida Institute of Food and AgriculturalSciences. fr178 (accessedMay 2019).Cothran, H. M., A. Wysocki, and D. Mulkey. (2005). TenFrequently Asked Questions for Small Business Start-Ups.FE571. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Foodand Agricultural Sciences. fe571 (accessed May 2019).Despeisse, Mélanie, et al. “Sustainable value roadmappingframework for additive manufacturing.” Procedia CIRP 61(2017): 594-599.Evans, E. A. (2008). Primer for Developing a Farm BusinessPlan. FE720. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute ofFood and Agricultural Sciences. fe720 (accessed May 2019).Geissdoerfer, Martin, Doroteya Vladimirova, and SteveEvans. “Sustainable business model innovation: A review.”Journal of cleaner production (2018).Goeldner, C. R., and J. R. B. Ritchie. (2009). Tourism:Principles, Practices, Philosophies 11th Edition. Hoboken,NJ: John Wiley & Sons.Paley, Norton. How to Develop a Strategic Marketing Plan: Astep-by-step guide. Routledge, 2017.Roberts, Lesley, Derek Hall, and Mitchell Morag. Newdirections in rural tourism. Routledge, 2017.Principles for Developing Your Ecotourism Business Plan5

Table 1. Business plan topics and questions for consideration.Business Plan TopicBusiness DescriptionMarketingDescriptionFinancial DescriptionManagementDescriptionQuestions for considerationBusiness DescriptionWhere do I want my ecotourism business to go?Internal ResourcesWhat resources do I have at my destination that can assist with myecotourism business development?External ResourcesWhat resources are available to develop my ecotourism business?Market AnalysisTo whom will I cater my service or product?CompetitionWill I be offering an ecotourism service or product similar to those otherecotourism operators are offering in my area?Service or Product Development PlanWhat ecotourism service or product will I offer and how can I diversify them?Marketing PlanHow can I market my ecotourism business?Who are my customers and what do they want?Capital CostsWhat costs will I sustain to start or modify my business?Revenue/Expense ProjectionsHow much revenue and expense will my ecotourism business incur eachyear?FinancingWill I require additional funding to start or modify my ecotourism business?Operating ProceduresHow will I implement my ecotourism business?Sales PlanWhat are my sales goals and how will I reach these?Management PlanWhat will my organization structure look like?Personnel PlanWho will assist me in my ecotourism business?Principles for Developing Your Ecotourism Business Plan6

FOR237 Principles for Developing Your Ecotourism Business Plan1 Tinelle D. Bustam and Taylor Stein2 1. This document is FOR237, one of a series of the School of Forest

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