Jonathan Tourtellot

About Jonathan Tourtellot

CEO, Destination Stewardship Center; Editor, Destination Stewardship Report; Principal, Focus on Places LLC; former senior editor, National Geographic Traveler; founding Director, former NG Center for

A New E-Mail Quarterly Launches

Summer 2020 – Inaugural Issue!

 

Welcome to the GSTC/DSC Destination Stewardship Report. This jointly sponsored quarterly newsletter 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.

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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.

Overtourism, Airbnb, and the Numbers Problem

[Above: Tourists pack a walkway at China’s Hongcun Village, a World Heritage site. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Airbnb Addresses Overtourism

My Foreword to Airbnb’s recently-released report, Healthy Travel and Healthy Destinations (download it here) sets up some basic issues of destination stewardship and the problem of overtourism. The balance of the report makes Airbnb’s case for its support of sustainable tourism over mass tourism, which you can judge for yourself.

While nonresident units on home-sharing platforms obviously contribute to overtourism disruption in popular city centers, the balance of Airbnb’s effects on destinations may equal or surpass the benefits of conventional tourism, all while dispersing a portion of visitor traffic. Full reveal: Airbnb paid me for the Foreword, but they let me write it the way I wanted, and—barring new information—I stand by its content.

Part of Airbnb’s conundrum stems from its swift evolution, morphing from a true home-sharing platform—i.e., a room in a home or in the mother-in-law unit next door—into one that also lists hosts’ often-empty vacation units and eventually those of commercial “hosts” who buy up and rent out multiple units dedicated only for tourists—not home sharing at all. Each of these rental patterns can have very different impacts on the destination.

Airbnb has at least demonstrated a (sometimes reluctant) willingness to work with communities in coping with overtourism. Meanwhile, other players keep trying to pack in the crowds like commuters on the Tokyo underground. Most concerning are the government and tourist authorities that continue to call for ever more tourist arrivals, as noted in our GWU/Travel Massive webinar held in February.

Last year I addressed overtourism in National Geographic Voices. That platform may be soon replaced, so I repeat the Nat Geo post here, as it ran on 29 October 2017:

Tourism has a numbers problem.

The world’s population explosion has finally arrived. It has manifested itself not in global waves of famine as was feared half a century ago, but in waves of Airbuses, tour buses, and minibuses. Tourists by the millions.

This population explosion overwhelms St Mark’s Square in Venice. It pushes through the streets of Barcelona, angering residents. It forms hours-long queues in China for the cable cars up Mount Huangshan and fills all the lanes in the World Heritage Village of Hongcun. It paves the beaches of the Mediterranean in simmering northern European flesh. In the Louvre it blocks your view of the Mona Lisa with forests of smartphones held high in selfie mode. It pushes through the ruins of Tulum in Mexico with busloads of Spaniards, Americans, Chinese. It even creates traffic jams on the climbing routes up Mount Everest.

It has spawned a new word: Overtourism. Too many tourists.

Taking selfies with the Mona Lisa. Photo: Krista Rossow

Overtourism has been manifesting itself for over two decades in popular countries like Spain, Italy, and France. But somehow the population pressure hit the red zone this year. Says one colleague, “It’s the topic du jour. The phrase is on the lips of every travel expert, every pseudo-expert, and every travel industry opportunist.”

“Too many tourists!”

No surprise. From Barcelona to Venice, from Reykjavik to Santorini, residents have raised a chorus of protest: “TOO MANY TOURISTS!” Plenty of visitors chime in: Not what we came for. How can a visitor experience the delights of a foreign city if the streets are packed with thousands—yes, thousands—of cruise-ship passengers and lined with global franchises to cater to them? Serious travelers increasingly dismiss such places—“too touristy.”

Pressed beyond tolerable limits, some destinations are fighting back. Dubrovnik is instituting severe caps on cruise passengers, as is Santorini. Italy’s Cinque Terre is ready to impose quotas on people hiking between the five picturesque villages. The Seychelles wants to limit hotel sizes to protect their reputation as an Indian Ocean paradise.

Yet Some Insist: More Is Better

Despite all this backlash, development bankers, government planners, and tourism ministers—many of them political appointees with little knowledge of sustainable tourism principles—still continue to press for yet more tourists. And boast about it.

Just see what I discovered as I was getting ready for this year’s [2017] international conference of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). It convened a few weeks ago in the cool air of one of the most sparsely populated places on the planet: Chile’s northern Patagonia region of Aysén. Even here, overtourism was the hot-button topic.

Tourists in still-uncrowded (sometimes) Patagonia. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

GSTC’s purpose is to work with governments and companies to help protect both the planet and the delights of travel—a delicate balancing act. In addition to countering such threats as climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and overdevelopment, GSTC now confronts the predictable but long-disregarded threat posed by tourism itself.

I moderated the panel addressing overtourism. To prepare for it, I went online and did a search. It took only 30 minutes to find these statements, all published in the previous week:

  • “Jamaica is on target to hit its record goal of 4.2 million visitors for 2017.”
  • “For 2017, Bali’s foreign arrivals target is an ambitious 6 million.”
  • Peru hopes to “double tourism arrivals to 7 million by 2021.”
  • Vietnam “has set the target of attracting 13 million-15 million foreign visitors…year-on-year growth of 30-50 percent.”
  • Sharjah, U.A.E.: “Draw 10 million visitors a year by 2021.”
  • Maldives:Tourist arrivals have crossed the one million milestone, on course to reach an ambitious target of 1.5 million.”

And those announcements were issued in just one week!

Quantity, not Quality

For government officials it’s easy to set goals by using the convenient turnstile of a passport check to count international arrivals. It’s more trouble and expense to collect more significant data: How long did visitors stay? What did they do? How much did they spend, on what, and who got the money? How did their presence affect local society, culture, and environment? Or the question rarely asked: How many is too many?

Tourists explore atop Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher. The geopark wants fewer tourists; the county wants more. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Simply striving for more arrivals leads to tourism quantity over quality. That doesn’t seem to bother national leaders who favor a simplistic “more is better” approach to economics, especially if guided by the World Economic Forum’s very informative but flawed Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, which among other oddities measures a country’s cultural wealth by number of stadium seats, as noted in a previous post.

Officials and businesses seeking only to boost tourist quantity can undermine the stewards who try to protect destination quality. An official at western Ireland’s popular Cliffs of Moher, for instance, told me that the number of coach tours was getting out of hand, raising fears that the clifftops would gain a reputation as an overcrowded tourist trap. So geopark management wants to raise the fees for buses, but the County Clare government has so far refused. It might hurt their tourist arrivals target.

Could overcrowding be a problem even down here near empty Patagonia? Yes, it could. On my panel, Hernan Mladinic, Executive Director of the Fundación Pumalín, described traffic jams and competition for camping sites in Patagonia’s great national parks. In only three years, camping demand has more than doubled in Chile’s new Pumalín Park. This problem can at least be solved, as there’s room for more campsites.

Tour buses at the Perito Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentine Patagonia. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

So the overtourism situation is far from hopeless.  An art-history buff we know spent a week last summer visiting crowd-plagued Florence. She avoided the tourist routes, hit the museums at slack times, stayed in a charming neighborhood across the river, and had a great time. Fine, but overtourism is a bullet one should not have to dodge. Its negative impacts on Florence and many Florentines are undeniable.

Population + Technology + Money = Boom!

The tourism explosion is due not just to more people, but more people with money. A significant portion of the Earth’s population has grown more affluent—think India, China, Brazil, among many others—and travel technology from jumbo jets to the sharing economy has grown cheaper, bigger, and faster. The result: According to figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, international tourism has grown 40 fold since commercial jet traffic began some six decades ago. The places that these people visit, however—the museums, the archaeological ruins, the natural attractions, the narrow medieval streets of historic cities—are still the same physical size. These cups runneth over, as I somewhat clumsily demonstrated for the Reinvent project (3:00 on the video) earlier this year.

That means that if there were, say, five people admiring a painting at a given time back in 1960, there are 200 trying to see it today. Unpleasant, and ultimately unsustainable. Last year saw more than 1.2 billion international arrivals. By 2050, according to David Scowsill, former head of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), some 3 billion people will be affluent enough to make such trips.

Overtourism Has Come to My Beloved Iceland.

Since my first visit in the 1970s, I’ve loved Iceland for its wide views, its unique culture, its geological wonders, and, well, its freedom from crowds. The saddest compliment I ever received was from a long-time friend in Reykjavik, where tourists now seem to rule the downtown throughout summer. “Everything that you said would happen,” she told me, “has happened.” She was wrong actually; while I had warned of the changes that high-volume tourism could bring to Iceland, I never imaged just how much volume. According to a Skift report, almost half a million tourists visited Iceland in 2010, far exceeding the national population of 330,000. That was then. Now quintuple it: Some 2.5 million tourists are expected to have visited this year.

Tourists visit Skógafoss waterfall in southern Iceland. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Her husband, a former captain with Icelandair, tried to talk his old employer into providing passage for me to visit and speak about the value of improving the quality of tourism rather than boosting the quantity. He didn’t get far. The response was along the lines of “Are you crazy? You want us to bring a guy here to argue for fewer tourists?” Airlines like to add more planes and fill more seats.

Thus the tourism industry is both victim and vector of overtourism. Even as some hotels and tour operators seek ways to avoid crowding, other elements of the industry that benefit from high volume—cruise ships, airlines, taxi services—continue to encourage tourism quantity over quality. That dissuades the true travelers, who don’t clog the streets for a couple of hours just to take some selfies, buy a T-shirt made in some other country, and then go back to the ship for dinner.

Solutions, or stop-gaps?

The good news, if long overdue, is that tourism media now brim with opinions on how to deal with overtourism.

Pollock is on to something. Most of those overtourism recommendations merely mitigate the problem. The population explosion has already happened. The term “overtourism” may lose its cachet from overuse, but the problem is here for generations. It cannot be solved until world leaders face a simple geometric reality:

It is impossible to pack infinitely growing
numbers of tourists into finite spaces.

So what to do? A world of more than 7 billion people requires rethinking tourism, namely:

  1. Change the prevailing paradigm: More tourism is not necessarily better. Better tourism is better.
  2. Governments and industry should therefore abolish the practice of setting tourism goals based only on arrivals.
  3. Instead, incentivize longer stays and discourage hit-and-run, selfie-stick tourism.
  4. To help do that, destination stakeholders should form stewardship councils that help government and industry plan according to limits of acceptable change.

Who’s a stakeholder? You are.

If you are a thoughtful traveler, voice your opinion and vote with your wallet. Spend your money on destinations that take care of themselves, and on businesses that help them do it.

If you are a resident, team up with your neighbors and civic groups to take charge of how tourism is managed there. If you don’t, someone else will. With their own interests in mind, not yours.

That’s how overtourism gets started.

——————-

For more on overtourism, watch my February 2018 webinar, conducted in cooperation with the George Washington University and Travel Massive.

 

“Inspiring Places” Pilot Video Released

[Above: A Sierra Gorda panorama. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Featuring Sierra Gorda, Querétaro, Mexico

We chose the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve as the international pilot for this series because of one organization’s well-established success in their approach to conservation: Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda. In the videos, our two millennial hosts enjoy exploring the region as they discover how Grupo Ecológico has achieved its success.

Video hosts Ian and Christian at Cuatro Palos, Sierra Gorda. Photo: Hassen Salum

By working closely both with the local rural population, many of whom live at subsistence level, and with a succession of state and local governments, Grupo Ecológico has helped protect a wide variety of natural habitats while gradually making northeastern Querétaro into a scenic paradise for international travelers seeking an authentic Mexican experience.

You can now see and link to the Sierra Gorda videos on our YouTube channel, World’s Inspiring Places.  There are three versions:

Subscribe to the channel to see additional videos about Sierra Gorda and shooting World’s Inspiring Places pilot.

The World’s Inspiring Places is a short-form online travel series created by Erika Gilsdorf, owner and producer of South Shore Productions, and Jonathan Tourtellot, director of the Destination Stewardship Center, both based in the United States. The series aims to showcase stewardship success stories around the world where people are working to help conserve or preserve the cultural and natural heritage of a destination, or creating a unique travel experience the supports and builds on that heritage.

Destinations do not pay for the videos; we look instead for external support free from local conflict of interest. In the case of Sierra Gorda, we are grateful for generous support from Freightliner.

The mission of World’s Inspiring Places is to encourage travelers to visit, enjoy, and appreciate authentic destinations that protect their nature, culture, and sense of place; to help individuals, businesses, and governments care for these places and the people who live there; and to inform and inspire leaders to secure a solid economic future through wise destination stewardship.

For two reasons, we encourage you to enjoy the Sierra Gorda videos and link to them through your own social media, blogs, or websites. First, Grupo Ecológico’s work is truly a model for the rest of the world, worthy of dissemination. Second, we seek new topics for World’s Inspiring Places and, of course, ongoing sponsorship support for a series that will, we hope, showcase the world’s best examples of great stewardship and rewarding travel.

Our thanks to Grupo Ecológico for their help with our six-day shoot this past August, and with my own visit in October. Our appreciation also to Freightliner for their financial support and to Antonio del Rosal of Experiencias Genuinas  for his assistance in serving as our Mexican liaison.

If you have a proposal for the next World’s Inspiring Places, please see our page on how to apply, or contact us to begin a conversation.

Contact us, too, if you would like to download your own copy of a video, including a high-resolution version for audience presentations and the like.

Best Wishes for 2018

…from the Destination Stewardship Center.

Keep an eye out for news on the January release of our first “World’s Inspiring Places” video, on further developments in the battle to control “overtourism, on exemplary stewardship councils, and on a new initiative to measure destination stewardship, as well as our continuing news aggregation on stewardship successes and failures worldwide. Join us and post your own blog about stewardship techniques!

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.