Jonathan Tourtellot

About Jonathan Tourtellot

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

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.”

News Roundup: Grenada, GSTC, and Nat Geo Initiatives

Above: View over Cariacou, Grenada. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Grenada Rebrands Itself a Geotourism Destination

The PR firm Inglefield/Ogilvy & Mather Caribbean Ltd. has announced a geotourism rebranding for the Caribbean island nation of Grenada: “Pure Grenada.” Local sustainable development expert Jennifer Alexis, of Ethical Ideas, spent months working on the cllarorative public-private initiaitive. See more at Yahoo finance or the Grenada blog. It now remains to be seen whether Grenada can live up to its promise of becoming an exemplary, authentic, sustainable  Caribbean-flavored destination.

In a supportive move, the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) will host its 3rd Symposium and Sustainability Expo for Innovators in Coastal Tourism, in Grenada from July 8 to 11, 2014.

GSTC Names Randy Durband New CEO

The  Global Sustainable Tourism  Council (GSTC)  has announced the appointment of sustainable-tourism consultant Randy Durband to head the organization, replacing Mauro Marrocu, who resigned last year. Durband hopes to revitalize an organization that has been a bit wobbly ever since its U.N. Foundation grant ran out a couple of years ago, the efforts of its dedicated volunteer professionals notwithstanding. The GSTC has overseen the closest thing we’ve got to an international consensus on sustainability criteria for destinations and tourism businesses. Since these criteria need constant review and updating, a stable and vigorous GSTC is in the interest of all.

World Legacy Awards Revived

National Geographic Traveler magazine has relaunched its World Legacy Awards program for sustainable tourism in cooperation with the annual ITB travel show in Berlin. Successfully conducted for two years in partnership with Conservation International, World Legacy was suspended after organizational changes a few years ago. The renewed program will give awards in five categories:

  • Eco Innovation
  • Cultural Heritage
  • Biodiversity Conservation
  • Community Engagement
  • Sustainable Destination

Applications will be accepted this summer. World Legacy now offers awards parallel to the World Responsible Tourism Awards hosted at London’s WTM annual travel show.

Gulf States Geotourism MapGuide Rolls Out

In an Alabama ceremony, the National Geographic Gulf States Geotourism MapGude project has rolled out its website, now populated with hundreds of locally submittted nominations. Accompanying the website is a National Geographic created 37 inch by 25 inch print version with 200 distinctive points of interest in the four participating states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Funding has come from the state offices of tourism, BP’s Gulf Tourism and Seafood Promotion Grant Funds, and a federal grant given via the U.S. Public Lands Highways Discretionary Program.

Look for more posts on each of these topics in the future.

 

New Geotourism Activity on Canadian Border, Alaska, & Philippines

Above: Glacier National Park, Montana, part of the
Crown of the Continent. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

On the Border

The destination-based geotourism approach may be a way to join back together what the 9-11 attacks tore asunder 13 years ago: an easygoing U.S.-Canadian border. You still need passports to cross, but these geotourism projects focus on the destination as a whole, regardless of bisection by the political boundary.

Canoeists especially may welcome the latest entry: “Heart of the Continent. This new National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide program just launched in the border lakes region of northeastern Minnesota and adjacent portions of western Ontario, as reported on the U.S. side and the Canadian side. Supervised by the international Heart of the Continent Partnership, the project will create a cobranded geotourism printed map and website for the triangular area reaching from Thunder Bay, ON west to International Falls, MN and south to Duluth, also including Isle Royale.

This marks the third U.S.-Canada transborder geotourism project, following Crown of the Continent (Montana-Alberta-B.C.) and Lakes to Locks (N.Y.-Quebec). Exploration is now underway for yet a fourth, the Okanagan Valley (B.C.-Washington). Notably, one of the earliest MapGuide projects bridged a different, tougher border: Arizona (U.S.) and Sonora, Mexico. It yielded an excellent (I think) detailed print map of the Sonoran Desert but lacked a strong supervisory geotourism stewardship council that would keep the program going.

And in Alaska

Elsewhere in geotourism developments, a statewide group convened by the University of Alaska has launched a geotourism initiative and posted an Alaskan Geotourism Charter. The group is now reviewing ideas for bringing tourism benefits to Alaskan gateway communities. Many feel bypassed by tourists either on cruise-line package tours or transferring by charter flights to high-end wilderness lodges. We expect you will be hearing more about this effort.

And in Philippines

And I myself just finished a geotourism speaking tour in the Philippines, invited by a Manila-based event planner who believes Philippine tourism has lost a sense of identity. Two lectures in Manila and one each with press coverage in Baguio and Legazpi introduced the geotourism approach to some 3,500 Filipino university students and a variety of professional practitioners. Watch for more on this country’s tourism profile in an upcoming post.

Nat Geo Roundup on Geotourism Notes OAS Nod

Geotourism in 2013 on NG NewsWatch

Check out the National Geographic NewsWatch roundup of new geotourism goings-on for 2013.

The most sweeping event has been the San Pedro Sula Declaration on Sept 6, 2013 by tourism ministers of the Organization of American States that geotourism is now the preferred model for tourism development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Also of note are new Geotourism MapGuide projects, a unique Cypriot-Egyptian geotourism conference, the fourth edition of Montreal’s social-enterprise Geotourism Magazine, and much more.

 

Massive Geotourism Project Underway in U.S. Gulf Coast States

A sprawling new geotourism project is wrapping up its initial request for map-guide nominations in four American states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Organizations in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi have joined in the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism project. Years in preparation, the project is funded partly by BP in compensation for damage to tourism in the wake of the 2010 DeepWater Horizon oil well blow-out. For a full description see the NatGeo press release.

A key goal of National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide projects is citizen participation. Local media have been spreading the word, for example: in Louisiana, including New Orleans, in Mississippi, in Alabama, both coastal and inland. (Note: these media links may expire.) James Dion of National Geographic Maps and Solimar International have been managing the project from the Geographic side. A regional committee, the U.S. Gulf States Southern Crescent Stewardship Council, must now complete review of the nominations in preparation for the official roll-out of the Geotourism MapGuide later in the year.

With four states participating, this Geotourism MapGuide project obviously comprises many destinations. One can hope that the process will deepen local appreciation for their own distinctive natural and cultural heritage, raise perceived value of those assets, and help to build a more sustainable approach to tourism and destination stewardship, especially along the coast.

 

 

9 Tough Lessons from SE Europe

Managing tourists at popular World Heritage sites has long been a focus for Englebert Ruoss, who formerly headed up the UNESCO office in Venice and has now launched a sustainable-destinations initiative called Global Regions. Its new 164-pp publication is SUSTAINABLE TOURISM AS DRIVING FORCE FOR CULTURAL
HERITAGE SITES DEVELOPMENT
– Planning, Managing, Monitoring Cultural Heritage Sites in South East Europe,
which he describes as “a compendium focused on the broad field of interactions between heritage conservation and sustainable tourism.”

The nine examples of what to do—and not do—include Aquileia, Berat, Bitola, Cetinje, Dubrovnik, Hallstatt, Idrjia, Nafpaktos and, most notoriously, Venice. A major focus Continue reading

New Link Goes Live to the Tourism “Best Practices” Show

Qantas, Zeitz, Roteiros, Bhutan Among Those Named at Lucerne Forum

The World Tourism Forum in Lucerne, Switzerland, has now provided a direct link to the 2013 illustrated showcase of best practices. The 20-minute sustainability-themed showcase “Green—And Beyond” ranges through various realms of tourism. Your portal editor was privileged to present it at the main plenary session April 18 before a 400-strong international audience of travel CEOs, government tourism officials, heads of civic organizations, and—unique to this forum—rising young talent.  You can also download the slides as a PDF.

Entlebuch Biosphere Reserve, near Lucerne, recognized for holistic practices. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Entlebuch UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, near Lucerne, recognized for holistic practices. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Cosponsored by National Geographic Traveler, the showcase sought to demonstrate how the sustainability movement in travel and  tourism is evolving from such basics as recycling and low-energy light bulbs into a more holistic approach that encompasses cultural and natural heritage, aesthetics, endemic arts and artisanry, and destinations as a whole. Selections drew from the suggestions and support of colleagues and affiliates of the Destination Stewardship Center.

The showcase selections represented good practice trends from around the world. They included: Continue reading

Geotourism Launches in Newfoundland

Eastern Newfoundland Geotourism MapGuide Rolls Out

The latest National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide project rolled out for eastern Newfoundland last week, providing both a living website and a print map. As typical for these projects, a lot of Newfoundlanders helped.

Summer festivals are one place to find Newfoundland's delicious but scarce mooseburgers. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Summer festivals are one place to find Newfoundland’s delicious but elusive moose-burgers. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

This geotourism project is personal for me. When my wife and I first decided in 2005 to flee the steamy Washington DC summer and visit St. John’s and the Avalon Peninsula, I rapidly came to the conclusion that Newfoundland was a perfect geotourism destination—deep sense of place, with distinctive nature, culture, history, architecture, and plenty of local pride. Further explorations westward only confirmed our impressions. Continue reading

Study Says Scenic Beauty Pays

Minnesota’s Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway generates $21.6 million for local economy

Minnesota research demonstrates the tourism economic value of scenery and scenic routes, says Max Ashburn of Scenic America. For more such studies, go to Scenic America.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center found that the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway is a major draw for travelers and has a significant positive impact on the local economy.pbscenicbyway The study found that in 2010 an estimated 23,800 travel parties visited the region specifically because of the byway.  These visitors spent a total of $21.6 million dollars while in the area including $14.6 million on locally produced goods and services.

Of course, Scenic Byways do more than just contribute to the local economy.  They also help preserve and promote the natural, historic and scenic character of a region and are a source of pride for local residents and businesses.MN_PaulBunyan map

The Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway is one of 150 designated roads in the National Scenic Byways Program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.