Information Exchange

Sustainable Destination News—November Notes

[Above: Olympic Mountains, Washington State, USA. Overtourism affects the national park here in high season. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

In this post, TWO CALLS for your recommendations,
video from the Balkans, conference notes, and an overtourism challenge

Your recommendations? #1: We are renewing last year’s call for identifying holistic destination-stewardship arrangements, generically called “destination stewardship councils”—this round in cooperation with an American University graduate program. Nominated organizations can be from anywhere in the world and go by any name. They should meet at least part of the GSTC’s Destination Criterion A2 and/or the description of a geotourism stewardship council as originally posted by National Geographic. Learn more about such council-type arrangements here.
> All we need from you is your recommended destination-stewardship organization, coalition, or collaborative council. Send the council’s name, its URL, and—if you have it—a key person’s contact information in an e-mail to Project Manager Ellen Rugh at (Please do not post an email contact in any comment to this blog.) Nominations made before Dec 4 would be helpful.
> We intend to profile the selected destination organizations  and publish the results for free distribution in hopes of providing models to inspire other destination activists. I may be able to mention early nominations at GSTC’s upcoming annual meeting 7-10 December in Maun, Botswana.

Your recommendations? #2: Our colleagues at the Sustainable Destinations Top 100 competition are seeking nominations for the 2019 list. The deadline is 15 Dec. 2018. Winners will be announced at the March 2019 ITB travel show in Berlin. Candidate destinations need not have a stewardship council (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt). Organizers are eager to have more nominations from beyond Europe. Download the Call for Nominations here: 2019 Top100 and ITB Awards 1.7.

We were pleased to help our associates at the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and the George Washington University with the World Tourism Day Forum on Overtourism, held here in Washington DC on 27 Sept. 2018. I moderated the session on how Iceland and Lake Tahoe are coping with overtourism, including tourism-forced changes in the character of Reykjavik and routine traffic jams at Lake Tahoe. You can read more about the Icelandic situation in my “Why It Matters” column on overtourism in National Geographic Traveler. Watch for it in the the December/January issue.

One happy outcome of the forum was the meeting between Jill Taladay of Care for the Cape (Cod, that is) and Julie Regan of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (Lake Tahoe, that is). The Cape now plans to adopt the same public service toolkit developed by Take Care Tahoe, which recently won the Tahoe Chamber’s Blue Ribbon Award for geotourism.

An aside: Enabling this kind of inter-destination communication is a prime goal for us here at the Destination Stewardship Center, and we would welcome practical  suggestions, funding, and help for doing so.

World’s Inspiring Places video program: Our video maven, Erika Gilsdorf, has just returned from Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia at the invitation of the Western Balkans Geotourism Network. Her team filmed a story of gross overcommercialization along parts of the coasts, counterbalanced by some enlightened and inspiring tourism developments in the hinterlands. Follow their footsteps, just posted on National Geographic Open Explorer.

Too many customers? That’s a problem?

I had the privilege over the past few weeks to speak at a variety of other venues—on sustainability in tourism at the Foro de Sustentabilidad en la Promoción Turística in Mexico City and on overtourism at two other gatherings of people who were not (refreshingly) regulars in the sustainable-tourism choir.

The experience was educational for me, and (I hope) the audiences. At the annual meeting of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants—this year in Miami Beach—two of us gave plenary presentations on overtourism, two other speakers on sustainability. Kudos to the organizers for presenting these topics for a group accustomed to focusing most of its time on such things as RevPAR (revenue per available room), occupancy rates, and the like—in short, the business of being in business.

The same business concerns could apply to many of the attendees at the 2018 Tourism Summit for  Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I was invited to speak on “how to avoid overtourism.” Many destination marketers hate the overtourism term—”what, we’re doing too good a job?”—so I agreed to the more invitational title, “Coping With Success.”

Olympic Peninsula Tourism Summit

While our observations were well received, these two conferences made one reality clear: Despite the threat of explosively relentless long-term growth in tourist numbers, it’s hard for anyone whose livelihood depends on tourism customers to see a problem with “more tourists.” The nuances of the situation demand a deeper look. Which tourists? Doing what? The real issues then emerge—”more tourists who are not your customers” or, worse, “more tourists who drive away your customers, whose presence raises your rents and taxes, and whose numbers lower the quality of your community.”

I remain concerned. In the face of global trends, overtourism is not going away, even if a global recession provides a temporary breathing space. We must be clear in researching and presenting the negative—and positive—impacts of the tourism explosion.

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