Jonathan Tourtellot

About Jonathan Tourtellot

Portal Editor, DestinationCenter.org; Principal, Focus on Places LLC; former Geotourism Editor, National Geographic Traveler; Founding Director, NG Center for Sustainable Destinations.

Controlling Overtourism Requires Destination Councils

Overtourism and Destination Councils: Hot Topics at September’s International Sustainable Tourism Conference in Chile.

Meeting in Coyhaique, Chile, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council addressed a variety of issues. I moderated a key panel on Visitor Management—notably, overtourism—and the need for stewardship councils to help cope with it. (See David Randle’s report in HuffPost for other issues discussed at the Sept 6-9 conference.)

Overtourism cropped up repeatedly. Here is a sample of recent news reports and commentary on a topic that’s not going away:

Two related pieces in the Guardian, one by Elizabeth Becker and another quoting Xavier Font.

Norie Quintos looks at ways to mitigate overtourism for ATTA’s Adventure Travel News.

Tourism impacts on Venice, on World Heritage sites and (below) on Barcelona:

Documentary: Barcelona and the Trials of 21st Century Overtourism

At Machu Picchu, implementation of a revised protected area management plan ~ after years of neglect.

The Master Plan: Machu Picchu Reconceptualized

I myself have written about overtourism in Nat Geo Voices, most recently on Oct 28, 2017, , also citing Florence before the word was entering common use. We have addressed it here on the DSC website as well, including a piece written by Salli Felton of the Travel Foundation.

The new WTTC President tells Skift she will to work on the issue, but TUI Group CEO Downplays Overtourism ThreatPatrick Whyte, Skift – Aug 10, 2017 10:00 am

Destination Stewardship Councils: Background
The tourism industry provides services, but the destination and the people that live there are the ultimate tourism product. In most cases, however, no entity—not even the government—takes care of the destination as a whole. A permanent task force can help destinations cope with tourism impacts and general stewardship. That’s why a council type of arrangement is called for in GSTC’s destination Criterion A2, which reads:

“The destination has an effective organization, department, group, or committee responsible for a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, with involvement by the private sector and public sector. This group is suited to the size and scale of the destination, and has defined responsibilities, oversight, and implementation capability for the management of environmental, economic, social, and cultural issues. This group’s activities are appropriately funded.”

The only problem: Rather few of these holistic, council-type arrangements exist. The Destination Stewardship Center has begun to compile information on those that do meet at least some of the indicators put forth by GSTC and via National Geographic’s former geotourism program; see About Geotourism Stewardship Councils (PDF).

➤ We welcome any additional recommendations for notable stewardship councils anywhere in the world. E-mail us, and we will send a questionnaire to the contact that you recommend.

Video Your Success Story

[Above: Shooting the concept video in Wisconsin. Photo: Erika Gilsdorf]

ANNOUNCEMENT:
The nonprofit Destination Stewardship Center is launching a new video tool for helping you show and distribute your stewardship success stories across multimedia platforms for travelers, practitioners, and the general public.

We Can Help Fund and Shoot Your Stewardship Successes

The DSC’s new pilot program is intended to help destinations tell their stories by means of the most rapidly growing and influential medium of all: video. Proposed series title:

“The World’s Inspiring Places”

Short-form videos now power social media. They help tourists make travel decisions. They help practitioners learn from each other. They help governments learn how and where to find needed methods and expertise.

“Video is a mega trend, in a decade, video will look like as big a shift in the way we share and communicate as mobile has been.” —Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

According to Insivia, using video in various forms has almost become a staple in digital marketing tactics:

  • By 2017, online video will account for 74% of all online traffic.
  • 55% of people watch videos online every day.
  • Including video in a landing page can increase conversion by 80%.
  • 82% of Twitter users watch video content on Twitter.
  • 51% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI.

Our goal is not standard promotional videos, but rather a video series that showcases stewardship success stories—ways in which people have helped protect and enhance a distinctive natural and cultural assets of a place, and thus enrich both the travel experience and local quality of life. Any kind of destination may have a qualifying story, whether urban, wild, or rural, as recently described by DSC Director Jonathan Tourtellot on National Geographic Voices.

To see how this will work, take a look at our brief Video Pilot Invitation deck (pdf).

Our concept video illustrates the basic idea by using the case of a rescued trout stream, Wisconsin’s Kinnickinnic River, known among locals and anglers as “the Kinni.” You can watch it as a short clip, 15 seconds to a minute, suitable for social media . . .

. . . or longer, up to 4 minutes, suitable for Youtube and for websites:

Under the leadership of DSC video producer Erika Gilsdorf,

➤ WE NOW INVITE APPLICATIONS

. . . for your stewardship success story to be featured this summer in the pilots for the online series. We will assist with arranging the necessary tax-deductible funding and distribution options. There are lots of ways to do this. For a conversation and more details, contact us: info@destinationcenter.org.

This information also appears on our dedicated page, Tell Your Video Story.

Don’t Trump Slovenia

[Glasses await a wine-tasting event in Slovenia’s vineyard region.
All photos by Jonathan Tourtellot]

Try this: Google the words “Melania tourism.” Now watch your computer screen fill up with reports on how some Slovenians hope to cash in on their new renown as the birthplace of the U.S. First Lady, especially around her small hometown of Sevnica.

Be afraid, Slovenia, be very afraid.

For me, this is a stomach-clencher. Over my career I have become sadly used to revisiting destinations I remembered fondly from some previous decade, only to find them spoiled to varying degrees by irresponsible tourism development.

What a joy it was then to revisit Slovenia last year after a 10-year interval. It was even better than before—and before had been pretty good. The capital, Ljubljana, had expanded its already charming traffic-free core, the food and wine selections had grown, the citizenry was affable, tourism was not yet out of control, and environmentally friendly policies were in place seemingly everywhere. Conveniently for monolingual me, English was spoken widely.

Recycling bins and bicycles typify Ljubljana's green policies.

Recycling bins and bicycles typify Ljubljana’s green policies.

Outside the capital, the area around impossibly beautiful Lake Bled was imposing its own tourism traffic controls, and assorted sustainability practices were underway in the gorgeous Julian Alps. Recycling and bicycling were strongly encouraged even in the modern city of Nova Gorica, Slovenia’s nod to mass casino tourism for numerically challenged Italians from across the border. More than a dozen municipalities around the small country have signed into the Slovenia Green plan.

And now, Trump looms.

No not Melania. She seems an amiable sort, perhaps with questionable taste in choosing a husband and by extension his taste in resort development and his need for gold-plated seat-belt buckles on his plane. (True. Google it.) No, it’s the shadow of Donald himself.

He may choose to pay a state visit at some point! That’s what worries me. Be afraid. Not so much the impact on Slovenia of Trump the president, but of Trump the developer.

Long before Trump was a force in politics, I would counsel destination tourism planners: “Look at whatever Donald Trump is doing, and do the opposite.” Trump-style development has typically ignored local culture, environment, history, ecology, and destination economic benefit (while loudly proclaiming otherwise), and instead celebrated a fixation not on destination character, but on self-indulgent luxury and, of course, the Trump brand. His zero-sum, you-lose-I-win approach to deal-making flies in the face of the symbiotic relationship that sustainable tourism should have with its surrounding communities.

In short, Trump is the antithesis of everything that has made Slovenia such a success as a genuine, well-cared-for destination. Not long after my first visit, National Geographic’s former chairman of the board, Gil Grosvenor, cornered me and said he wanted an idea for a European vacation—“Europe the way it used to be.” Charming. Was there any place left like that? “Have you ever been to Slovenia?” I asked. No, he hadn’t. He went. He liked it.

Tourists disembark at a Slovenia railway station.

Tourists disembark at a Slovenia railway station.

Well, I like it, too. And the idea of Trump appearing and spewing his notions of tourism success across this pleasant land? I can only hope Slovenia’s wiser heads prevail.

Rather than Trump swaying Slovenia, could Slovenia sway Trump? Of course not; Trump is apparently unswayable. But Slovenia would lose few points in the eyes of the world by launching a tourism information campaign on the theme, “We’re better than that.”

Rather than boasting about increased U.S. arrivals coming for a trivial reason, I would hope Slovenians would work to send those Americans home with a deeper appreciation for Slovenian values. Melania’s town of Sevnica should join the Slovenia Green program. (They say they will!). Boast about that, instead. Let the Trump notoriety become a tourism teaching opportunity. Let people see how to put charm, health, and authenticity into the travel experience. Let every visitor leave with a deeper appreciation for the sophistication of this small country.

Is it sophisticated enough to survive some future Trump visit? I’m betting so. Melania herself, they say, speaks five languages. Now that’s very Slovenian.

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Multilingual brochures welcome visitors to Slovenia's Soca Valley.

Multilingual brochures welcome visitors to Slovenia’s Soca Valley.

About the new list of 2016 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations

[Above: An alpine landscape evokes “Slovenia Green,” the country’s national program for destination management, recognized as one of the Top 100. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

The winners of the 2016 Sustainable Destinations Top 100 contest were announced in Ljubljana, Slovenia on 27-28 September. You can see the complete list below. A word of explanation on what this list is, and what it is not:

The Top 100 is a competition, not a systematic survey of all the world’s destinations to see which are the most sustainable. As a contest, it requires entries—either applications filed by the destinations themselves, or nominations filed by anyone else. The Top 100 are the best of those entries, reviewed, evaluated, and screened by an international panel of experts.

We at the DSC were pleased to co-direct the competition, headed by Albert Salman of Netherlands-based Green Destinations. As previously noted, we consider it the closest thing so far to the National Geographic’s surveys of destination quality conducted 2004-2010. There are differences. The Nat Geo surveys polled experts on a pre-assembled list of destinations, who rated them from excellent to poor based on six criteria. Top 100 winners, on the other hand, derive from voluntary entries subsequently subjected to expert evaluation. The Top 100 competiton does resemble the Nat Geo stewardship surveys in a key way: It measured destinations against an entire range of 15 criteria, shown below, that define the broad spectrum of destination excellence—environmental performance, of course, but also such elements as historic preservation, scenic appeal, cultural integrity, and so on.

Here, then, are this year’s Top 100:top100listYou can see these destinations mapped and illustrated at the Top 100 website.

Below are the Top 100 criteria. Winning destinations did not have to meet all 15, but did have to measure above a minimum acceptable standard. Destinations that came close will receive recommendations on how to improve.

15criteriaEach of the winning destinations has a story to tell. We will incorporate the better-known places into our Destination Monitor list. Over the next few weeks we will look at a selection of them and report on what they are doing right.  For starters, here’s Valere Tjolle’s report on County Down, Northern Ireland, a Top 100 listee. And here is my own commentary about Slovenia Green in Nat Geo Voices.

Perhaps other destinations will find some of the Top 100 achievements inspirational. The value of a competition such as this is to show what can be done, provided people care enough to do it.

 

One Way to Support Paris

FranceDo you want to help bereaved Paris? If you were planning a trip to Paris, don’t cancel it. If you were thinking of a trip to Paris, do it. Terrorists hope to damage national economies by scaring away tourists—Egypt knows this!—and media coverage by its very nature can inflate perceived risk. Look at the true risks, and you’ll see you’re probably in more danger driving to the airport than from being in another attack in Paris. Cancel your trip and then, yes, the terrorists do win.

Two Billion Footprints: Good News Or Not?

[Above—A two-hour wait: Tourists queue in drizzle for the cable car up Mt. Huangshan, China, a World Heritage site. Annual visitation c.4 million.  Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Celebrated on Sept. 27, World Tourism Day is an observance championed by the U.N. World Tourism Organization and intended to point out the value of tourism. Initiated 35 years ago, much of the impetus for World Tourism Day sprang from the desire to convince governments and industry that tourism was bigger and more important than they realized. This is understandable, because tourism is bigger and more important than almost anyone realizes. When tourism works well, it’s fun and beneficial. It boosts the economy, helps preserve cultural and natural sites, and educates the public. When it doesn’t…well, that’s the dark cloud inside the silver lining.

This year’s theme was “One billion tourists—one billion opportunities!” Nice and upbeat, but it smacks of the more-is-better boosterism led for years by an officialdom that calls for ever-increasing numbers of arrivals.

This attitude is naïvely out of date. Better to think more realistically of “One billion tourists—two billion footprints.” Tourism, counted among the very largest industries on Earth, is changing the face of the planet and posing challenges with its relentless growth.

Of all the famous malaprops attributed to the late, beloved Yogi Berra, none rings truer in the tourist world than: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Over the past half century, international travel has increased almost 20-fold in terms of arrivals. Domestic tourism worldwide has kept pace, at four or five times the volume. Growth continues unabated, but the places all these people visit are still the same size. Resorts and vacation homes gobble up coastlines. You can see the press of numbers most clearly in the world’s great cultural sites, from Venice to Angkor to Chichén Itzá.

Early this year, I was privileged to visit Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier, famed for steadily calving into an Andean lake. It’s in Los Glaciares National Park, a World Heritage site. It lies far, far south in Patagonia, down toward the end of the inhabited world, 1700 miles (2700 km) south of Buenos Aires. In short, not a place you’re likely to visit on the way to some other region. Yet annual visitation ranks in the hundreds of thousands, with over 600,000 people moving through the airport at the booming gateway town of El Calafate.

If we now see that much tourist traffic about as far as you can get from the human population’s center of gravity, it’s no wonder more accessible, better-known destinations are drowning in it. Florence, for example, must cope with 16 million tourists a year, many of them day-trippers who clog the streets while contributing little to the quality of the city.

World Tourism Day should now carry an additional mission. Not just: “It’s big! It’s great!” But also: “We will learn how to manage it better!” We need deeper, more meaningful and memorable travel experiences and fewer busloads armed with selfie sticks.

Another one of Yogi’s sayings was “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That impossible ambiguity fits tourism leaders who maintain: Quantity, quality, can’t we have both?

In most cases—no, you can’t.

A First: 440 Destinations Rated by Nat Geo Experts Compiled in One Place

[Above: Portion of the 2006 Traveler cover featuring the stewardship survey of 94 World Heritage destinations. Courtesy, National Geographic Traveler.]
Landmark Research There has been nothing like them, before or since. For seven years, from 2004 to 2010, I was privileged to oversee National Geographic’s  Destination Scorecard surveys of experts’ opinions on stewardship for hundreds of places around the world. We published the numerical scores annually as a cover story in National Geographic Traveler.
Now, for the first time, we at the have compiled in our Destination Watch section a master list of most of the destinations surveyed by Nat Geo since 2006. For ease of understanding, we’ve translated the numerical scores into letter grades for 440 places, listed on these five pages:

Those links show destinations by grade. Download this pdf to see all 440 destinations and grades listed by country.

The surveys polled a panel of hundreds of experts on destinations that they knew well. For each place, we asked these panelists to consider six stewardship criteria: environment, built heritage, social/cultural impacts, aesthetics, tourism management, and overall trend. After exchanging comments anonymously, they then rated each destination on a scale from 0 to 10. We calculated the averages and published the results.

You can read more About the Surveys and their methodology. Basically, it was a “wisdom of crowds” approach—in this case, a very knowledgeable crowd. It proved remarkably consistent. In our first survey, conducted in 2003-4 with fewer than 200 panelists, the Norwegian Fjords won the top place, and the Costa del Sol came in with the lowest score. After a five-year interval, we surveyed many of the same destinations again, this time with a very different panel of over 400 experts. Those 2009 results? Norwegian fjords best, Costa del Sol worst.

Please Join In

Some of these grades need updating, and we will be soliciting your opinions on whether they should go up, down, or stay the same.

As administrator of the surveys, I did not rate any destinations myself. In some cases I thought the consensus was way off, but more often than not it would turn out that the experts knew some things that I didn’t. In few cases, I still disagree! More important, new developments in some places suggest a new grade. I’ll be offering a few comments in those cases at the bottom of each list. You can, too.

We plan to start featuring individual destinations from month to month and asking your opinions about them. If there’s a particular destination whose condition interests or concerns you, please contact us.

 

 

Tourism Conflict in the Galápagos

[Above: Souvenir blue-footed boobies for sale in a Puerto Ayora shop, Galápagos. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

A squabble over gift-shop tourist dollars on Santa Cruz island is now threatening to close the renowned, if often troubled, Charles Darwin Research Station, whose work is fundamental to helping keep the islands’ ecosystems as healthy as possible under difficult conditions, including soaring tourism rates. Please read my complete post on the topic at National Geographic Voices.

There has been an unfortunate history of distance between the Research Station and the Puerto Ayora community at its doorstep. One has to wonder: If there had been a geotourism stewardship council in place—with representatives from government, the Research Station, and the retail community all at the table—could this politically motivated impasse been avoided?

Casinos: A Bad Bet

Atlantic City’s recent woes provide a lesson for any destination hoping to find gold in the glitter of casino development. By last month, four of the New Jersey beach city’s 12 casinos were closed, with two more reportedly teetering. Some 8,000 people are now out of work.

What happened?

The key point: Casinos are a manufactured tourist attraction. Usually, their architecture, decor, and guest experience have nothing to do with their geographical location—no inherent link to the character of the destination. (Indeed, they often try to evoke some other place, theme-park style. For some reason, Italy seems to rank high in providing such fake ambiance, from Caesar to the Renaissance to Venice.)

Without sense-of-place as a unique selling point, any destination dependent on casinos is vulnerable to new competitors in more convenient, cheaper locations.

That’s what happened to Atlantic City.

The resort city had been on the decline in the early 1970s. By then, it was known mainly for its street names featured on the Monopoly game board and the Miss America beauty pageant, itself a franchise of shrinking prominence. Introduced in 1976, casinos were to be the city’s salvation.

For nearly a generation, they were. Atlantic City was monopoly come true: the only legal gambling destination east of the Mississippi.

But laws changed, and new casinos sprouted in neighboring states and on Indian reservations. Adding to all this new competition, the strain of the 2008 financial collapse signaled the beginning of the end for the tiring gambling mecca. During the years of casino success, the city had failed to develop its character in other ways, to make itself inherently an interesting, attractive place to visit and live. It depended on the monoculture of gaming, a fatal error.

Even at their height, Atlantic City casinos attracted a large proportion of day trippers, people who rode in on buses from Philadelphia, Baltimore, or New York just for a few hours of gambling. They didn’t buy hotel rooms, dinners, breakfasts, or much of anything else. Many didn’t even go to the beach. The economic juice came almost solely from staffing and supplying casinos.

Casinos tend to be generic, hardly ever reflective of the locale. They do not attract tourists interested in the place; they attract people who want to gamble. Given the relentlessly increasing demand for beach tourism, there are few seaside cities that really need casinos for economic success. What’s more, the casino scene may deter more desirable overnight tourists who are looking for a less glitz and more focus on the pleasures of he shore.

Atlantic City shows that casino success may be fleeting. Long term, casinos are a bad bet for places that have their own inherent and distinctive attractions such as scenery, nature, and history.

Such destinations would be wise not to go “all in.”