“Adventure tourism often occurs in difficult to reach places and often affects vulnerable people. Ideally, prior to any tourism development, the network of potentially affected stakeholders or communities should give input. This is referred to as ‘social license’. Social license is an intangible priority, but it is critical to the success of the development of any project. Social license must be earned and maintained” (UNWTO, 2014, p.47).
Thomson and Boutilier identified four levels of Social License: Withdrawal (rejection), acceptance, approval, and co-ownership (psychological identification). In order to gain a community’s social license to operate, tourism operators and organizations have to overcome three critical boundaries: legitimacy, credibility, and trust.
“Legitimacy must be established by demonstrating that the development project adheres to cultural and social rules. It typically involves an initial consultation process, which includes preparation of accurate and accessible communication to community members and other stakeholders about planned projects. Mechanisms to receive community views, suggestions, and concerns need to be established, and community input should be taken into account in project design. It can be useful to establish forums, such as local community advisory committees, to ensure ongoing community engagement through the life of a project or program” (UNWTO, 2014, p.47).
“Credibility must be created by providing accurate and consistent access to information about the project, which may involve a signed agreement” (UNWTO, 2014, p.47).
“Trust will be gained between the parties when both sides feel that they are benefitting from the project and that the other is maintaining their best interests as much as possible. Destinations both large and small should strive to obtain social license before adventure tourism development occurs. Social license should also lead to another intangible characteristic, which is referred to by the World Travel and Tourism Council as an ‘affinity for tourism’. This is demonstrated by characteristics such as the society accepting foreigners’ presence, which is especially critical for adventure tourism” (UNWTO, 2014, p.47).
Since the community may keep the social license status confidential, Thomson and Boutilier suggest measuring it based on indicators. Indicators can be physical (actions) as set out in the following table, or verbal (key words and expressions).