Jonathan Tourtellot

About Jonathan Tourtellot

CEO & Portal Editor, DestinationCenter.org; Principal, Focus on Places LLC; former Geotourism Editor, National Geographic Traveler; founding Director, former NG Center for Sustainable Destinatio

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.

Video Your Success Story

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

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

We Can Help Fund and Shoot Your Stewardship Successes

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

“The World’s Inspiring Places”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under the leadership of DSC video producer Erika Gilsdorf,

➤ WE NOW INVITE APPLICATIONS

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

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

Don’t Trump Slovenia

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

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

Be afraid, Slovenia, be very afraid.

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

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

Recycling bins and bicycles typify Ljubljana's green policies.

Recycling bins and bicycles typify Ljubljana’s green policies.

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

And now, Trump looms.

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

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

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

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

Tourists disembark at a Slovenia railway station.

Tourists disembark at a Slovenia railway station.

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

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

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

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

#

Multilingual brochures welcome visitors to Slovenia's Soca Valley.

Multilingual brochures welcome visitors to Slovenia’s Soca Valley.

About the new list of 2016 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Way to Support Paris

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