About Jonathan Tourtellot

CEO, Destination Stewardship Center; Editor, Destination Stewardship Report; Principal, Focus on Places LLC; founding Director, former Nat Geo Center for Sustainable Destinations

Summer 2021 Destination Stewardship Report Is Out

[Above: The Pennsylvania Wilds. Photo: Ellen Rugh.]

The Summer (3Q) edition of the Destination Stewardship Reportwas released on 28 July 2021, beginning the DSR’s second year of online publication as a joint project with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. This issue includes articles from Vermont, Palau, Pennsylvania, and two from Chile, plus reports on two webinars, a set of resources for tourism recovery, new publications, news links, and upcoming events and webinars.

Topics range from overtourism avoidance and localizing supply chains to sustainable regional planning and collaboration, along with a human-to-human tourism approach and better conservation awareness.

To see the stories in this issue exactly as they appear in your in-box, go to: https://destinationcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Summer-2021-1.0.html You can subscribe for free here.

Spring 2021 Destination Stewardship Report Just Out

Longest Destination Stewardship Report Yet

On 14 April 2021 we were pleased to send out the Spring (2Q) edition of the Destination Stewardship Report, completing its first year of online publication as a joint project with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. You can subscribe for free hereStories in this issue:

  • The Nisga’a Offer an Indigenous Tourism Model – How to present an indigenous culture “written in the land” to tourists? Bert Mercer, economic development manager for Nisg̱a’a Lisims Government, describes the process of tying together a culturally sensitive tourism experience for visitors to the Nisga’a First Nation in British Columbia, Canada.
  • Saving Cultural Heritage: The Singapore Hawkers Case – Drives for sustainability may sometimes overlook the endangered arts and traditions that make a place and a culture come to life. The World Tourism Association for Culture & Heritage (WTACH) aims to rectify that. In Singapore, Chris Flynn, WTACH’s CEO, discusses a particularly delicious case – one recently recognized by UNESCO.
  • Doing It Better: Sedona, Arizona – Prompted by a restive citizenry and a responsive city council, the DMO for the city of Sedona, Arizona, USA, now acts in effect as a destination stewardship council. That’s unusual. For part of our ongoing project to profile places with effective, holistic management, Sarah-Jane Johnson takes a deep dive into Sedona’s story. This is the sixth in the Destination Stewardship Center’s profiles of exemplary places with collaborative destination management in the spirit of GSTC’s Destination Criterion A1.
  • Japan’s Journey Toward Sustainability –  It’s a tall order for a large country to change its national policy and commit to improving stewardship for hundreds of its tourism destinations, but Japan is taking tentative steps in that direction, spurred on by one young official and a lot of collaborators. GSTC’s Emi Kaiwa reports on how this tentative change of heart came about, what’s happened to date, and how far it has to go.
  • Once Overrun, Dubrovnik Plans for Sustainability – Dubrovnik, Croatia, a UNESCO World Heritage city, is known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic Sea’, its historic city center surrounded by original medieval stone walls – and until recently, thronged with cruise ship passengers. In 2017, that began to change.
  • Opinion: A Chance to Tame Cruise Tourism – Cruise critic Ross Klein argues that now is the time for port cities to gain control of cruise tourism crowds, explaining three ways to do that – and why it won’t be easy. But if not now, when?
  • Report: “Reset Tourism” Webinar Series – Destination Stewardship – Held on 25 March 2021, the first webinar of the Future of Tourism Coalition‘s four-part “Reset Tourism” series drew 500 registrants. These webinars are intended to help destinations emerge from the Covid crisis with new forms of governance and collaboration that will enable a more holistic and sustainable approach to tourism management and development.
  • Webinar Report: Measuring Destination Happiness – A massive webinar to mark last month’s “International Day of Happiness” yielded some serious pointers for destinations seeking a broader measure of successful tourism recovery than counting revenue and arrivals.“Covid has shown us we can’t be happy on an unhappy planet” was one message for destinations around the world, report DSC associates Marta Mills and Chi Lo – the point being that local contentment should be part of the tourism equation: “A good place to live is a good place to visit.”
  • New App to Assess Sustainability of Tourism Communities – Assessing the sustainability of destinations and acting on the findings can be a complex, expensive task. Dave Randle explains the workings of a new app that his Blue Community Consortium underwrote to assist with that process. Some university students gave the app’s first step, assessment, a revealing field test on seven Florida destinations. Here’s what the app does, and what the students found.

To read these stories plus information on announcements, upcoming events and webinars, and publications, go to the Spring (2Q) edition of the Destination Stewardship Report. And please comment!                       — Jonathan Tourtellot, Editor

Just Out: Winter 2021 Destination Stewardship Report

The third issue of the DSC/GSTC e-quarterly Destination Stewardship Report, Winter 2021, mailed out on 4 February. To get the next e-mail issue, subscribe for free. You can read the following feature stories in this issue live online HERE, with links to these feature stories:

The Riviera Maya’s Queen of Green: What She’s Learned Mexican activist Beatriz Barreal has worked for years to steer the booming Riviera Maya toward sustainability. Purdue’s Dr. Jonathon Day recently interviewed this one-woman force for improving stewardship to find out what lessons she has learned in the process.

Even in Affluent Norway, Innkeepers Have Struggled Pandemic closures have left the lodges of the fjords flirting with failure. Arild Molstad reports on one couple who – “showing true viking spirit and eco-courage” – believe they can beat the odds by going greener still. Their story holds a lesson for all destinations.

Doing It Better: ≠Khoadi-//Hôas, Namibia Namibia’s award-winning ≠Khoadi-//Hôas conservancy has often been cited as a success story in both conservation and community benefit. As part of our ongoing project to profile places with effective, holistic management. Our editor, Jonathan Tourtellot, takes a tourist-eye view of this community-run destination. This is the fifth in the Destination Stewardship Center’s series on collaborative destination management in the spirit of GSTC’s Destination Criterion A1.

Overtourism and Undertourism Ecotourism specialist Dr. Anna Spenceley has been thinking a lot about the issue of visitor management and overcrowding, limits of acceptable change, and carrying capacity in protected areas. So she wrote a report about it for the World Bank:Tools for Protected Areas.

For some tools in action, read A Taiwanese Island Boosts Tourist Capacity – Sustainably. For 20 years, ecotourists have been eager to tour a biodiverse volcanic island off the coast of Taiwan. But what happens when both locals and tourists complain about the stringent conservation limits on visitation set by government and academics? Monique Chen explains how stakeholders have harmonized ecological carrying capacity and local economics.

Neolocalism and Tourism Much tourism depends on sense of place, but unchallenged market forces often favor lookalike franchises over more distinctive local businesses. Dr. Christina Cavaliere has co-edited a new multi-author book that makes the case for neolocalism, a movement through which businesses can help destinations retain and deepen their identities, and which also supports Covid recovery. She summarizes the book’s contents.

See the e-mailed version of the Destination Stewardship Report for additional information:

  • Announcements, including events (online during the pandemic)
  • Publications
  • Upcoming webinars

Destination Stewardship Report is an e-mailed quarterly collaboration between the Global Sustainable Tourism Council  and the Destination Stewardship Center. You can read previous issues here:
   Autumn 2020
   Summer 2020 – Inaugural Issue

Note: If you use Gmail, look for your e-mailed copy where Google insultingly files it: in its “Promotions” folder. Despite our efforts, other services may also trap it in a spam folder.

Sustainable Top 100 Destinations – 2020 Winners

[Above: Vista of the #Khoadi-//Hoas Conservancy, Namibia, a Top 100 winner. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Europe Dominates the Competition

Albert Salman’s Netherlands-based Green Destinations group has released this year’s list of places the won a spot in the annual Sustainable Top 100 Destinations competition. Destinations must submit an application or nomination that meets 30 core criteria and which is then reviewed by sustainability experts. Destinations from 36 countries made the grade this year. As before, Europe looms large among the winners, with numerous Dutch, Slovenian, and Portuguese places dominating the selections. Estonia and Spain are also well represented. Beyond Europe, Brazil and Japan can each claim half a dozen or more destinations on the list as well. Most other countries had three or fewer winners, and of course many countries had no winners at all.

It’s important to note that the Top 100 is a vetted competition, not a rating of all the world’s destinations. The geographical imbalance may reflect a higher degree of effort in making nominations, as well as the presence of systemic multi-destination sustainability programs in countries such as Slovenia. After all, many European places do take better care of themselves than some other parts of the world. (The rest of the world should consider that a challenge. The rest of Europe, too.) The press release also adds, “The Top 100 committee stresses that selection for the Top 100 list does not mean the destination is sustainable. It means it is making good efforts and promising progress. Completely sustainable destinations do not exist.”

Well, not yet anyway.

 

 

Just Out: the Autumn Destination Stewardship Report

Welcome to the GSTC/DSC
e-quarterly
Destination Stewardship Report Autumn 2020
Summer 2020 – Inaugural Issue

How can destinations plan better for a post-Covid recovery? What have we learned about tourism during the ongoing crisis? The Autumn edition of the Destination Stewardship Report addresses both those questions with examples and practical guidance, providing links to these feature stories:

  • From sustainability leaders and destination mangers worldwide, a white paper laying out ten practical ways to plan a more lasting, regenerative, and community-compatible tourism recovery.
  • From Korea, the example of how a hard-working industrial city saved a natural bamboo habitat for migrating egrets, creating a new ecotourism attraction that revitalized the impoverished neighborhood next door.
  • From Serbia, its borders closed during the crisis, a look at what happens when a sudden influx of resort-pampered Serbs discover their own hinterland: lots of profits for rural residents – at a cost. [One anecdote reports a similar pattern in the US state of New Hampshire over the summer.  —Ed.]
  • From Mallorca, Spain, plans that attempt to anticipate and prevent overtourism as travel restrictions loosen, with mixed opinions on the likelihood of success.
  • From the Columbia Gorge, USA, the fourth in our series of “Doing It Better” profiles about destinations working toward holistic management – in this case, a tourism alliance that unites the two states bordering the Columbia River.
  • From another thought leader, a better way to calculate return on investment as destinations emerge from the crisis, demonstrating that by using data science you can measure the hidden benefits of good stewardship. “Not everything that counts is counted,” goes the saying, but now it can be – affecting policy accordingly.
  • Plus, selected news stories and the latest on the Future of Tourism Coalition, which now has over 300 companies, agencies, and NGOs as signatories to its Guiding Principles.

Please read the latest Destination Stewardship Report here, comment, and propose your own contributions by contacting us.


This jointly sponsored e-quarterly is a collaboration between the Destination Stewardship Center and Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)  – and in time, maybe others. Our goal is to provide information and insights useful to anyone whose work or interests involve destination stewardship. It’s an all-volunteer experiment, so its success will depend on your interest, feedback, and content contributions. Join us, and help each other. You can subscribe for free here.You can read the e-mail version here and the feature articles on our webpages.                                    —Jonathan Tourtellot, Editor

For more information and participation please contact us.

  • About  the Global Sustainable Tourism Council  GSTC establishes and manages global sustainable standards, known as the GSTC Criteria. There are two sets: Destination Criteria for public policy-makers and destination managers, and Industry Criteria for hotels and tour operators. The GSTC Criteria form the foundation for accreditation of certification bodies that certify hotels/accommodations, tour operators, and destinations as having sustainable policies and practices in place. GSTC does not directly certify any products or services; but it accredits those that do. The GSTC is an independent and neutral USA-registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization that represents a diverse and global membership, including national and provincial governments, NGO’s, leading travel companies, hotels, tour operators, individuals and communities – all striving to achieve best practices in sustainable tourism. www.gstc.org
  • About the Destination Stewardship Center  The DSC is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the world’s distinctive places by supporting wisely managed tourism and enlightened destination stewardship. We gather and provide information on how tourism can help and not harm the natural, cultural, and social quality of destinations around the world. We seek to build a global community and knowledge network for advancing this goal. Join us and learn more at www.destinationcenter.org.

“Future of Tourism Coalition” Launches Today

Nonprofits join in a call for the world to rethink tourism.

As destinations look forward to recovering from COVID-19, six nongovernmental organizations, advised by a seventh, today are uniting for the first time in a call for the world to reconsider how tourism works.

The Destination Stewardship Center is proud to be one of them.

Our new Future of Tourism Coalition calls for all who care about tourism, places, and the people live in them to endorse a set of 13 Guiding Principles that will sidestep the excesses of the past and put tourism on a renewal course for a more rewarding, more sustainable future.

Six organizations have come together with the global mission to place destinations at the center of recovery strategies: the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), Destination Stewardship Center, Green Destinations, Sustainable Travel International, Tourism Cares, and the Travel Foundation, with the guidance of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). 

Decades of unfettered growth in travel have put the world’s treasured places at risk – environmentally, culturally, socially, and financially.  The travel and tourism industries face a precarious and uncertain future due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, with international tourist numbers projected to fall 60-80% in 2020. As tourism moves forward and recovers, re-centering around a strong set of principles is vital for long term sustainable and equitable growth.

To rally global change, the Coalition has put forth Guiding Principles that outline a bold vision for tourism’s path forward. We are calling on tourism agencies, travel companies, governments, investors, nongovernmental organizations, and destination communities to commit to them.

The Guiding Principles provide a clear moral and business imperative for building a healthier tourism industry while protecting the places and people on which it depends. The Principles call for signatories to:

  1. See the whole picture
  2. Use sustainability standards
  3. Collaborate in destination management
  4. Choose quality over quantity
  5. Demand fair income distribution
  6. Reduce tourism’s burden
  7. Redefine economic success
  8. Mitigate climate impacts
  9. Close the loop on resources
  10. Contain tourism’s land use
  11. Diversify source markets
  12. Protect sense of place
  13. Operate business responsibly

The foundation of these principles was built on a firm belief that taking a holistic approach to responsible and sustainable tourism is the only way to secure the future the Coalition stands for.

Join the Movement

Twenty-two founding signatories who represent a diverse cross-section of key industry stakeholders have committed thus far. They are influencers in the movement, demonstrating leadership and adherence to the Guiding Principles in their product and business practices. They will provide guidance to the Coalition as plans are put in place to support travel and tourism entities long-term in their strategy to place destinations and communities at the core of their work.

Those signatories include Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), Ecotourism Australia, G Adventures, Global Ecotourism Network, Government of the Azores, Government of Colombia, Hilton, Innovation Norway, Intrepid Travel, Jordan Tourism Board, Lindblad Expeditions, MT Sobek, Palau Bureau of Tourism, Riverwind Foundation (Jackson Hole, WY), Seychelles Ministry of Tourism, Slovenian Tourist Board, Swisscontact, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, The Travel Corporation, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Tourism Council Bhutan and the World Wildlife Fund.

Interested travel and tourism stakeholders are invited to show their support and become part of the movement by joining as signatories to the Principles. Join us by visiting www.futureoftourism.org

“The recent crisis in tourism has shown us just how much tourism relies and depends on local and global communities,” said Maja Pak, Director at the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB). “We have already strengthened ties with local communities and tourism authorities from across the country. We now find that sharing our experiences and gaining best practice examples from other countries will be the key to successfully navigate the post-corona tourism universe. This is where the role of the Future of Tourism Coalition will be vital. The STB is looking forward to cooperating with the Coalition and to progress further with the reset of tourism, especially in this new reality, where sustainability and destination needs, as well as trust, will have to be placed at the center of tourism’s future.”

Destination Communities First

The Coalition recognizes that a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is fundamental to achieving its Guiding Principles. The travel and tourism industry has much work to do, and the Coalition will act proactively in addressing the role that racial and environmental justice play in creating a more equitable tourism economy. The Coalition members have made a commitment to listen, learn, and seek change by engaging with signatories and other entities as a part of that journey. This work will be guided by GSTC indicators and criteria related to equity, inclusion, and non-discrimination.

In a joint statement, the CEOs of the organizations represented in the Coalition said, “It is imperative that every organization evaluates how they will actively place the needs of destinations and equity within their communities at the center of tourism development, management, and promotion decisions. There is no stable future for tourism if this is not done now – together, responsibly, and vigorously. This is not a short-term effort, this is the future. Long-term resilient social, economic, and environmental recovery and regeneration will require all sectors of industry to rethink how tourism works, who it works for, and how success is defined.”

The path to change is a journey and lasting solutions take time. The Coalition will support the industry by providing the tools, guidance and collaboration to ensure a stronger path forward and encourage a diverse and inclusive set of signatories to sign on and share their perspectives and experiences to collectively work toward a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all.

Learn more at https://www.futureoftourism.org/

Corona-crisis: A Destination Management Opportunity.

[Where Now? The post-corona future may be hidden, but destinations should plan the road to recovery right away. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Start Your Destination’s Tourism Recovery Plan. Don’t wait.

This is one hell of a way to cure overtourism. Not at all what those of us working on the problem had in mind. The coronavirus has turned the destination-tourism relationship on its head, from “over” to “under” in the blink of an eye and the bark of a dry cough.

A powerful stream of revenue has suddenly dried up, possibly for a year or two, not to mention all the associated businesses and activities related to tourism. Economic and lifestyle stability may not truly return until we see the dream headline, “Coronavirus Vaccine Now Available.” The dip in global tourism growth will surely be worse than that created by the SARS outbreak in 2003. Destinations face tough times. Businesses will fail. Layoffs will become permanent.

And yet the forces that have powered tourism’s inexorable increase remain in place. Absent total collapse, economies will eventually recover. We’ll leave our homes again, planes will fly again, Instagrammers will post again. Children will grow into restless, questing adults, and affluent professionals into restless, questing retirees. The topic that has dominated my own work over the past year, overtourism, may well creep back, as inevitable as a rising tide.

That is, unless destinations take this accidental time-out to reassess.

“Never let a crisis go to waste,” Winston Churchill said (echoed by Rahm Emanuel). For the places we love, this crisis provides both a respite and an opportunity.

Researchers, step forward!

We are in the middle of an inadvertent experiment, global in scale. Already, for instance, we know that pollution has plummeted in locked-down cities. From the skies of Wuhan to the canals of Venice, smoggy air and murky water have cleared.

Researchers should seize the day. Take measurements! Establish some baseline data. In regards to tourism, now is a great time to measure changes in environmental impacts. Which types of tourism, now absent, were the worst offenders? Which the least? Which actually helped?

Even more important is for destinations to ask some questions – posed not just to leadership and business owners, but the residents themselves: What have you learned from the corona crisis? Many destinations have already learned that loss of overnight guests hurts their economies several times more than loss of cruise passengers on shore excursions. What businesses and types of tourism do you miss? What types would you rather not come back?

Some tourism benefits are obvious, and their loss more dangerous. Our great historic sites depend on tourism for upkeep; our nature parks and reserves depend on it for political defense against competing land use.

People will learn the hard way about tourism’s hidden benefits. Take this tale from my own city of Washington, DC: Its lively Dupont Circle neighborhood, a residential area with a few hotels, was once home to an independent bookstore called (if I recall correctly) the Mystery Book Shop, specializing in thrillers and whodunits from all over the world. A fun place to browse, but nothing to do with tourism. No souvenirs. Like many independent booksellers, the shop survived on a thin profit margin. When tourism plummeted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, only then did the owners discover that a key portion of their clientele had been, yes, tourists. That was their margin. The store closed, and Washington was poorer for its loss.

We’ll see many stories of loss over the next few months. If tourism helped keep a desirable asset or enterprise afloat pre-corona, then that contribution to destination’s distinctiveness and quality of life should be documented, not forgotten. And if tourism helped keep something undesirable in place, then its absence, too, should be documented so as to discourage its return.

Use the Respite

Destinations that were struggling to cope with too many tourists must now deal with the opposite. Before any recovery gets started – whether in months or years – now is an excellent time for destination leadership and citizens to plan for just how to recover. Documenting the effects of this crisis should help.

One priority: Shun the common impulse just to restore the status quo ante. Think about it. Nor should destinations grab desperately at anything that will bring back tourism, quality be damned. Beware of developers who will push quick fixes wrapped in promises of jobs that evaporate the moment construction is over or abandoned. Beware, too, the persistent practice of equating tourist arrivals with success and large-scale projects with triumph. Use better metrics.

Wise planning requires enlightened, collaborative destination stewardship. Now would be a time for each destination to convene – remotely, if not yet in person – a broad-based council to do that. Destinations should use the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Criterion A1 as a basic minimum. That criterion states in part:

“The destination has an effective organization, department, group, or committee responsible for a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, with involvement by the private sector, public sector and civil society. This group has defined responsibilities, oversight, and implementation capability for the management of socio-economic, cultural and environmental issues.”

Sadly, very few destinations meet even this minimum. We continue our work to find and profile the few that do. We hope other places will “seize the crisis” and establish their own.

Rather than returning to the currently interrupted Age of Wretched Excess, characterized at its worst by floods of cruise ship passengers and squads of day trippers armed with selfie sticks, collaborative destination stewardship councils can work with their citizens to take a new tack. With thoughtful plans at the ready, our recovery could grow instead into a new Golden Age of Tourism, a time of well-managed places and beneficial travel for tourists, for residents, and for natural and cultural preservation.

Is that too much to expect? Yes, of course. But now is the time to ask for too much. Communities torn between shell shock from tourism loss and relief from tourist crowds might actually go for it.

If not now, when?


 

Springtime on Furnace Mountain, Virginia. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

A Personal Afterthought

“Travel is so broadening,” wrote Sinclair Lewis a century ago. Now we are on a trip of a different sort: Time travel, back to the Middle Ages. All our ingrained 21st-century assumptions – reliable medical systems, wonder drugs, technical know-how, ready access to supplies – all are stripped away. Facing a deadly scourge that we cannot control, we are one with distant ancestors who had to accept such threats as a fact of life, and death. That perspective should spur some critical thinking on our own part about what is truly important – for our lives, our favorite places, and our future (someday!) travels.

Meanwhile, my wife, Sally, and I are self-isolating. We are high-risk for Covid-19, so we’re sequestered in our northern Virginia mountainside home. It’s a good place to wait, rich in sense of place. Being here forces the mind and heart to stretch far beyond their customary reach, trying to reconcile extremes. Yes, we might die. Yes, we live in an inexcusably unprepared nation under a psychopathically insecure president. And yes, spring came too early. Again.

But spring it is. The daffodils and bloodroot are in bloom, the bluebirds are reoccupying their house by the meadow, our view out toward the Blue Ridge frees the spirit, our friends are within digital reach, and our biggest annoyance is the hormone-addled cardinal that keeps attacking itself in the windows.

In the shadow of the virus, life has never seemed so good. May we all keep living it.
—J.B.T., 23 March 2020

Advice for a Basque Destination

[Above: Gaztelugatxeko Doniene hermitage sits on an islet on Urdaibai’s Bay of Biscay coast. All photos courtesy Urdaibai Magazine.]

How should undiscovered coastal destinations handle tourism?

Earlier this year, Urdaibai Magazine, based in the Basque country of Spain, interviewed Destination Stewardship Center director Jonathan Tourtellot about how to build  responsible tourism activity in this coastal region containing the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. With permission, we present an English-language version of that interview. The answers could apply to any seaside destination that is seeking a better approach to tourism. You can read the original, in either Basque or Spanish here.

Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1984, Urdaibai, northeast of Bilbao on the Bay of Biscay (Bizkaia in Basque) combines a maritime and rural environment with deep cultural traditions. The place is striving to be one where “humans and nature coexist in a framework of respect and sustainable development.” The interview follows.

  1. Urdaibai Magazine: What are the global challenges facing tourism today ?

Jonathan Tourtellot: Overtourism, climate change, and a decision-making mindset that assesses tourism value only in terms of industry transactions—money—with little if any regard to the quality and character of the destinations on which tourism depends.

Urdaibai’s marshes and estuary form core of the Biosphere Reserve.

  1. U.M.: What basic measures do you think should be taken by a small and still underdeveloped tourism territory, as is the case of Urdaibai’s Biosphere Reserve, to integrate tourism activity in a sustainable way?

J.T.: Measure tourism success in terms of value, not volume: Value in terms not only of revenue, but how well tourism benefits are shared by the community and how well they help preserve the natural and cultural heritage that visitors are coming to experience. Invite the kinds of tourism that bring other benefits to the community as well, from education and volunteer help to philanthropy and appropriate business development. Do not measure success just by number of tourist arrivals. That’s quantity, not quality.

  1. U.M.: In order for the tourism to be an activity with a positive impact on the population and the territory, what kind of actions should we avoid when planning our tourism promotion and promotion strategy? What could we regret?

J.T.: Well, let’s look at what not to do! Avoid developing look-alike tourism resorts, hotels, and attractions that could be seen anywhere. Generic facilities are a good way to attract generic tourists—people who seek only better weather than they have back home and who will happily go elsewhere if another destination offers the same thing cheaper.

Everything developed for tourism should reflect distinctive aspects of Urdaibai, or Euskadi, or Spain (in descending order of importance). That mix of authenticity can provide tourists with a rich experience that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. What’s more, revenues from visitors who are sincerely interested in the Urdaibai area will benefit local people and encourage them to protect of the natural and cultural heritage upon which their income depends.

  1. U.M.: You are the creator of a concept as attractive as “geotourism”: the geographical tourism, which could be interpreted today as a paradigm of sustainable tourism. How do you define geotourism? In this context, what should be the tourist’s attitude to make their impact positive and to help ensure that tourism does not become a global problem?

J.T.: The definition of geotourism as we put forth via the National Geographic Society is “Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, geology, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” Our research shows that people interested in those things—“geotravelers”—stay longer and spend more than the average tourist.

An aside: An alternate, much narrower definition of “geotourism” focusing explicitly on geology has gained traction in connection with the international geoparks movement. While clearly different, the two usages are compatible and complementary. In terms of tourism quality, each adds interest to the other, as set forth in the Arouca Declaration (downloadable in four languages) made in 2011 at the International Geotourism Congress in that Portuguese city.—J.T.

If you’re a traveler with a geotouristic attitude, you want your presence to help enhance a place rather than degrade it. The simplest way to do this is to support the businesses that support the quality of the place—businesses that not only practice basic sustainability but also showcase the nature and culture of the place. Spend your money there, not with an international franchise hotel or eatery just like the ones back home. Each Euro you spend is like a vote. Support variety, not sameness. You’ll have a richer trip and take home more memories.

Santimamiñe cave drawings in Kortezubi, Urdaibai date from more than 12,000 years ago.

And of course, you need to be a responsible visitor and encourage the same behavior in others: Recycle your trash if possible, respect local culture, and treat historic sites with care. And do put away that selfie stick. Sure, take a couple of shots of yourselves, but then turn the camera instead toward the place and what it has to offer. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? If you’re visiting just to prove you have been to one more destination, you’re no geotraveler, just a selfie narcissist taking up space and adding to the overtourism problem. Instead, learn everything you can and tell the people back home about it. Put those things on Instagram and Youtube, rather than your own face.

  1. U.M.: Compatibility: Is tourism interested in the culture, historical heritage, the character of the territory, its natural environment, and the peculiarities of the societies it visits—is such tourism compatible with what is understood as “the tourism industry”?

J.T.: Yes and no. Yes, if “industry” is defined as any business that relies mainly on tourism, then it certainly is part of the industry.

This open-air Erregelak dance is one of numerous traditional Basque dances.

No, if it is mass tourism, high on volume and low on value per tourist footprint. What’s more, destinations catering to mass tourism tend to repel the tourists with the geotourism array of interests. Crammed beaches, amusement parks, and lots of T-shirt shops are not what they are looking for.

  1. U.M.: As certifications for quality, process, origin, etc. gain importance in all areas of society, do you consider it necessary for destinations obtain tourism certifications of sustainability and commitment to the environment?

J.T.: Certifications or ratings (my preference) help, partly to differentiate yourselves from those destinations that care nothing about sustainability, partly to encourage any less-motivated stakeholders within your own destination, and partly to monitor your own progress.

  1. U.M.: The National Geographic Society has been a pioneer and a world reference in the dissemination of natural wealth, culture, heritage and science and of the combination of these disciplines with travel and adventure, coming to create a style, a way of seeing the world. From your perspective as a representative for sustainable destinations, what do you think is the role of the specialized press in the development of respectful, integrated, and non-invasive tourism?

J.T.: Travel media have a variety of ways they can improve the conduct of tourism. It’s better to honestly inform than promote. If you do a good job as a travel journalist, the story you tell and show your public will do the promotion job for you. Increasingly, media need to encourage alternative destinations and sites—some media have already started doing this—to avoid overcrowding the famous places. Media need to encourage responsible travel and do the same with their advertisers. Even more than other specialties, travel media are notoriously close to their advertisers, a reality forced by the expensive economics of travel. Now, media may need to help educate their advertisers in how to promote destinations, tours, and accommodations more responsibly. Better to take focus off of generic resorts and golf courses and encourage advertisers instead to focus on the unique characteristics of the destination they are marketing.

#

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 councilsproject@destinationcenter.org (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.”

2018 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.

“Overtourism” Sizzles This Summer

The rising buzz in tourism circles about overtourism is now spilling into the mainstream media, especially in Europe, which seems to have the largest numbers of unhappy, tourism-battered residents. This attention is long overdue, since the phenomenon has been building for decades. Even governments are reluctantly beginning to take notice.

Here are some of the latest sources of information.

One of the best is the 23-minute documentary Crowded Out: The Story of Overtourism, from Justin Francis and his team at UK-based Responsible Travel. Note the recurring question in the second half—”Who is in charge of managing tourism?”—and the recurring answer: “Nobody.” (Here at the Destination Stewardship Center, we will continue to stress the need to address this gap .)

Justin has also written possibly the best, concise explanation of overtourism pitched for the general public that I have seen.

Credit for promoting the term “overtourism” belongs in considerable part to the online travel-industry news service Skift, which has made a point of investigating the phenomenon. They offer their roundup of “5 solutions to overtourism,” of which numbers 4 and 5 go beyond mere mitigation to cope with long-term requirements in the face of relentless tourism growth.

What can overstressed destinations do to cope with millions of food-eating, beer-drinking, plastic-wrap-discarding, linen-using, toilet-flushing tourists? Megan Epler Wood presents environmental, business, and policy solutions in her new book, the scholarly Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet (Routledge).

Elsewhere, Freya Higgins-Desbiolles discusses the threat of overtourism in Australia, travel sites like Nat Geo suggest alternate destinations, and the South China Post suggests who is to blame: Everyone.

And what can travelers do to help? A new book with a new point of view is by Johan Idema, a Dutch consultant, not in travel, but in showcasing art: How to Be a Better Tourist (BIS Publishers), to be released in the United States next month. Many of his profusely illustrated tips offer ways for travelers to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Worth a look before your next trip.