Partnership with a Purpose: Takeaways from the Power of Partnership Summit

Last October’s Power of Partnership Summit wasn’t just an event; it was a collaborative accomplishment, dedicated to exploring the intersections among culture, climate, and community within the realm of travel and tourism. Held in Richmond, Virginia, the conference was a joint effort by the Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance, Inc., Tourism Cares, The Travel Foundation, and the U.S. Cultural & Heritage Marketing Council. The goal among the attending industry leaders, visionaries, and change-makers was to amplify multicultural experiences, leverage cultural assets, and propel accelerated climate action. Jonathan Tourtellot, CEO of the Destination Stewardship Center, and Alix Collins, Director of Marketing & Communications at the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) share some of their takeaways.

Seleni Matus leads a panel discussion on destination stewardship.

Tourism Must Aim to Benefit All Community Members

“Build it for the community first.” – Richard Peterson, U.S. Cultural & Heritage Marketing Council.

Adam Burke, CEO of LA Tourism, described their community-first approach, including adopting a new mission statement that puts the community at the forefront (“To improve the quality of life for all Angelenos through the economic and community benefits of tourism), creating community welfare initiatives (such as creating a multiblock community mural initiative), and implementing a 30-person community advisory board independent of the DMO.

Kelly Galaski, Tourism Specialist at The Travel Foundation, mentioned the need for destinations and tourism practitioners to “challenge the assumptions of the way things should be done” when it comes to destination management “because it leaves a lot of people out.”

Understanding and celebrating the whole story

“Cultural heritage tourism is understanding the story of a people.” Paula Robinson, Bronzeville Community Development Partnership

Bobbie Chee Bigbee, a PhD student, spoke of “Indigenous resurgence” and the use of “toxic tourism” as a means for highlighting the issues indigenous communities are facing. Multiple panelists also discussed the imperative of understanding the story of people in cultural heritage tourism, steering away from exploitative narratives.

While discussing a project in Taos, New Mexico, Wes Espinosa, Executive Director of CREST, observed that “destination stewardship is a tool for community empowerment.” As for the planning process, “allow for lofty notions,” he urged, but then “focus on the do-ables.”

In a DEI session, J. Dontrese Brown urged using tourism as a way to engage youth and preserve oral history: “Once the old person’s stories are gone, they’re gone forever.” Many locales have untold stories, he argued, and the name of his website makes his point: “Hidden in Plain SiteTM”

Sustainability must be inclusive, not additive

“Don’t think of sustainability as an additional burden in your job. Think of it as part of your job.”

This was a common theme throughout the week. This work we are doing, to make the travel and tourism industry more sustainable, cannot be additive. Sustainability has to be woven throughout the work, not relegated to a niche within the industry.

Additionally, we need to be holistic in our sustainability efforts – we can no longer think of climate change, cultural heritage, diversity, equity, accessibility, or inclusivity as separate issues. We must understand that they are interconnected and the best solutions are the ones that treat them as such.

(Back left to right) Kelsey Wermager, Wesley Espinosa, Samantha Bray; (Front left to right) Jonathan Tourtellot and Alix Collins

Placemaking is a way to bring the community and visitors together

“Placemaking is a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize our shared value.” – Ethan Kent, PlacemakingX

Ethan Kent, PlacemakingX CEO, articulated a comprehensive approach to placemaking, urging collaboration and shared ownership. “Place tourism is moving beyond consuming places”  to actively becoming part of and even contributing to them. He outlined five steps for successful placemaking: collaborate on community evaluation, compile short-term experiences, agree on a vision, identify spaces for placemaking, and define the place with local ownership. Success, he said, should be measured by “place capital,” encompassing economic, environmental, physical, and cultural values.

The need for different metrics

While there is some discussion in our industry that focusing on metrics is reductive, especially at a time when regenerative tourism is gaining popularity, the reality is we still need to measure success. How, then, should we be doing that? We need better metrics, especially ones that focus on the quality of life of residents, the quality of experiences for visitors, and the health and well-being of the environment and local culture.

Marco Lucero offered two sample metrics from his work at Cuidadores de Destinos in Chile that go far beyond the customary key performance indicators: The percentage of women who feel safe walking at night and the diversity of bird songs in the environment. Another speaker mentioned measuring the increase in conversations and connections happening within a community.


Those are just a few takeaways. Numerous stimulating sessions addressed  African-American Heritage, climate and community, DEI (Fort Lauderdale slogan: “Everyone under the sun”), funding via Federal grant-giving programs, better uses for lodging taxes, and much more. Attendance even on the final day was robust, always a good sign.

Tourism and Natural Disaster Recovery: Keys to Success

What is the impact of natural disasters on tourism and how can the tourism industry itself promote recovery for the destination? Examining Nepal’s recovery following the Gorkha Earthquake in 2015, Jacqueline Harper shares insights into the role of tourism in disaster recovery, emphasizing the significance of swift recovery, effective destination marketing, strategic partnerships, and the opportunity to build back better through sustainable and community-focused approaches.

How tourism can help a tourist destination recover after a natural disaster 

In the wake of the Maui fires, earthquakes in Morocco, a new 2023 quake in remote western Nepal, and other recent natural and manmade disasters, tourism officials have been contemplating when to resume their tourism operations. This dilemma is not uncommon. Re-opening too soon can endanger tourists’ safety; add pressure to already taxed infrastructure, accommodations, and resources; and re-traumatize residents when tourists ask how they were affected by the disaster. On the other hand, tourism and the resumption of business activities is urgently needed to fuel the speedy recovery and rebuilding of the devastated local economy.

The Gorkha Earthquake in Nepal is a case study of how tourism can aid in disaster recovery. On April 25th, 2015, the Gorkha region of Nepal was the epicenter of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Hundreds of aftershocks occurred for months afterward, leaving a serious impact on the country’s infrastructure, including many heritage sites that double as tourist sites. Thousands of people were injured and died. Damages cost approximately $7 billion USD, and impacted about one-third of the population. In terms of tourist arrivals, after 6 months, visitor numbers had declined by 42%.

Before and after pictures of Durbar square in Kathmandu. [Photo courtesy of National Geographic]

I spent 3 months in the Kathmandu Valley researching how tourism can help a tourist destination recover after a natural disaster and gained four key insights:

1. There was a quick time frame for tourism to return to normal levels.

As shown in Figure 2 below, there was initially a decline in tourist arrivals following the earthquake. However, starting in 2016, tourist arrivals bounced back and continued to grow. In 2017, Nepal hit over one million international arrivals – a goal they set before the earthquake – and achieved a few years ahead of schedule. By 2018, Nepal was the third fastest-growing country in Asia based on tourist arrivals. Like many countries around the world, COVID-19 hit tourism in Nepal hard in 2020 and 2021; however, the number of arrivals is now back on the incline.

Tourist Arrival Numbers from 2010 to 2022. [Tourist Arrival Numbers received from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation]

2. Destination marketing played a critical role in the post-disaster tourism recovery.

One of the keys to getting tourism started again after the earthquake was marketing and the media. Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), the country’s destination marketing organization, worked diligently to restore the country’s image following the earthquake. In the media, Nepal was being shown as being destroyed – places in ruins; collapsed temples; people in hardship – an unappealing image for travelers selecting their next destination. However, this narrative was not completely true. The earthquake impacted a few regions; only 31 of 75 districts were hard hit. The earthquake did not impact popular tourist destinations like Pokhara and Chitwan. This is where marketing and the media were key to bringing tourism back.

NTB invited celebrities in key market groups to come to Nepal and highlight its tourism offerings: Jackie Chan, David Beckham, and Prince Harry, to name a few. This sparked conversation in the international news and demonstrated to international markets that Nepal was once again open for tourism. Additionally, representatives from NTB were sent on international roadshows to promote Nepal to tourism agencies, who would then promote traveling to Nepal within their own countries.

Prince Harry visiting Patan Durbar Square to view ongoing efforts to restore one of Nepal’s cultural treasures. [Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Harper]

Unfortunately, NTB had limited funding, so one strategy they employed was user-generated content. By doing so, they could receive maximum impact with little resources. The few tourists who were visiting at the end of 2015 and 2016 would photograph their travels and pose with a sign saying, “I am in Nepal Now” and then post it on their social media feeds. This demonstrated to their followers that it was both possible and safe to travel to Nepal after the earthquake.

Norie Quintos, a communications and content consultant, posing in front of an “I am in Nepal Now” sign in June 2019, while visiting the Himalayan Travel Mart conference. [Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Harper]

Between 2017 and 2019, NTB organized travel conferences inviting international press and journalists to come to Nepal and experience a location, such as Pokhara. In turn, they would write about it, and promote Nepal to foreign audiences.

These different methods allowed the NTB to rewrite the narrative of the country post-disaster and promote tourism once again.

3. Partnerships are key to disaster and tourism recovery.

The success of Nepal’s disaster recovery was also due to partnerships. NTB worked with news outlets like BBC, CNN, and TripAdvisor to get the message out that one could safely travel to Nepal. They also had financial and technical support from other countries like Japan International Cooperation Agency, China Aid, USAID to rebuild heritage sites. International Knowledge of tourism recovery came from PATA, the World Bank, and UNWTO to help with the tourism recovery. International partnerships were key for rebuilding and financing the recovery, but also marketing the country to foreign markets.

4. Disasters are an opportunity to build back better within the tourism industry.

Based on my observations, tourism is being promoted heavily post-earthquake and COVID-19 to attract as many visitors as possible. My main criticism of this process is that the NTB government is adopting the “heads in beds” strategy, in which they try to maximize growth by bringing in as many tourists as possible. Immediately following a disaster, this may be important to restarting an economy; however, once tourism has returned, it should not be the long-term strategy. Natural disasters are an opportunity to build tourism more responsibly. The NTB (and many DMOs around the world) should be incorporating sustainability and accessibility principles into their national and regional tourism strategies. As they are rebuilding the brand image of a destination post-disaster, there is an opportunity to make tourism better for the community in which it operates.

Tourists and locals make their way around the Bouddha Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. [Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Harper]

For example, New Zealand’s response to the Christchurch earthquake, with its focus on sustainability and community involvement, is a prime example of (1) sustainable rebuilding, (2) community engagement, (3) promotion of local businesses, and (4) resilience and adaptation.

  1. After the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch embarked on a journey of sustainable rebuilding. This involved not just reconstructing damaged infrastructure but doing so with an emphasis on eco-friendly and resilient designs. Many buildings incorporated modern earthquake-resistant features and energy-efficient technologies.
  2. A critical aspect of the recovery was the involvement of the local community. Residents were encouraged to participate in the decision-making process, allowing them to have a say in how their city would be reimagined. This engagement ensured that the rebuilt city reflected the desires and needs of the people who call it home.
  3. In the aftermath of the disaster, there was a concerted effort to support and promote local businesses. The “Shop the Sirens” campaign encouraged residents and visitors to shop at local stores, helping these businesses recover and thrive.
  4. The earthquake catalyzed Christchurch to become more resilient in the face of future disasters. The city implemented comprehensive disaster preparedness and risk reduction strategies to mitigate the impact of any future seismic events. By following the path of building back better, destinations can not only recover but emerge stronger, ensuring that the benefits of tourism extend to all and that they are better prepared to face any future challenges that come their way.

In conclusion, the case of Nepal’s recovery after the Gorkha Earthquake serves as a valuable lesson for destinations worldwide facing the aftermath of natural disasters. As we’ve seen, quick recovery in the tourism sector is possible with effective destination marketing, partnerships, and a clear message of safety and opportunity. Yet, it’s equally important for destinations to look beyond short-term recovery and use post-disaster periods to “build back better” by embracing a sustainable, community-centered approach. That means investing in eco-friendly infrastructure, supporting local businesses, engaging the community in decision-making, and integrating sustainability and accessibility principles into their tourism strategies.

Jacqueline Harper is a Masters of Environmental Studies in Geography student at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Her masters research focuses on looking at the role social and cultural capital plays in aiding tourism recovery in the Kathmandu Valley post-Gorkha earthquake. As an inspiring destination stewardship practitioner, Jacqueline hopes to work in tourism after grad school. As such, she has volunteered with the Destination Stewardship Center, researched the impacts of cruise vs layover tourism, and interned at the Center for Responsible Travel and Solimar International.

The Surprising Value of Geoparks

All around Canada’s northern Georgian Bay, an intriguing proposal is stirring both local and international interest. Tony Pigott, a retired J. Walter Thompson executive, is leading an effort called then “Aspiring Georgian Bay Geopark,” aiming for the coveted UNESCO geopark designation. But what is a geopark and how can it promote destination stewardship? Jonathan Tourtellot, CEO of the Destination Stewardship Center, explains.

The prestigious UNESCO designation is not what you think.

“Grand Dad, will you tell us again about the Giant’s Tomb?” So recounted Tony Pigott to show how geological formations can hold important stories, and how those stories can engage tourists in what might otherwise seem like an arcane subject, if not downright boring.


He’s addressing a meeting in Killarney, Ontario, Canada, convened to present the idea of an “Aspiring Georgian Bay Geopark” to interested citizens. His audience lives around the northern part of that Bay, the vast, island-studded body of water attached to Lake Huron.

The pink-colored zone represents the proposed geopark around Georgian Bay, Ontario. [Photo courtesy of Dobbin International]

Pigott, a retired J Walter Thompson executive, is spearheading the Geopark bid. The proposition is that a UNESCO Geopark designation could improve tourism in a region that needs it, especially for the numerous indigenous communities around the Bay.

To a geologist, Giant’s Tomb Island is a drumlin. It lies out in the Bay, an oval mound of glacial drift deposited thousands of years ago under flowing ice. But to the local Anishinabek people, it is the sacred resting place for the giant god Kitchikewana, who was big enough to guard the whole Bay. (More of his story shortly.) Geopark advocates call this dual point of view “two-eyed seeing.” It’s essential here for assuring equal time for both Western scientific and local traditional perspectives.

The profile of Giant’s Tomb Island resembles the shrouded body of the great god Ketchekewana. Photo: Mike Robbins

What Are Geoparks?

The first time I heard of geoparks, I pictured some kind of interesting rock formation, perhaps a few hectares in area, protected by a fence.


For one thing, they aren’t usually parks at all, although some form of protection is necessary for the UNESCO nod. A geopark is a geographical designation that might cover a large area. The entire Azores archipelago is a geopark (main feature: volcanoes). And while some geological attribute of significance is required, the mandate steers closely to the holistic concept underlying good destination stewardship. According to the UNESCO website:

UNESCO Global Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. Their bottom-up approach of combining conservation with sustainable development while involving local communities is becoming increasingly popular. [My italics.]


While a UNESCO Global Geopark must demonstrate geological heritage of international significance, the purpose of a UNESCO Global Geopark is to explore, develop and celebrate the links between that geological heritage and all other aspects of the area’s natural, cultural and intangible heritages. [My italics.]

The links between geology and all the other sides of a destination reveal themselves in stories

Killarney’s St. Bonaventure church is built of gneiss, quartzite, and feldspar, each with a story from deep time, eons before Ontario existed. [Photo by Jonathan Tourtellot]

– the terroirs that flavor different wines, the strategic mountain pass that determined a battle, certain cultural predictions for bathing in hot springs, tales of evolution recorded in the fossils within limestone, ancient sunlight captured and transformed into seams of coal, the histories of people who mined it, and perhaps most important, the story of Earth itself, of the jostling continents that could fold granite like soft putty into the ribbons of rock we see beneath our feet today here in Killarney. All is connected.


The geopark movement grew from a 1991 symposium of Earth scientists concerned about growing risks to important sites. Europe hosted the first geoparks. In 2004 the 17 existing European geoparks joined with 8 new Chinese geoparks to form a Global Geopark Network under the auspices of UNESCO. It grew to a membership of more than 100 geoparks around the world and prompted creation of a Global Geoparks Council, appointed by the UNESCO director-general, to vote yay or nay on new applications, starting in 2016.

The initial impetus for these types of UNESCO programs has been the goal of protecting and celebrating their stated raisons d’être. Just as Biosphere reserves focus on biodiversity, World Heritage sites on history and nature, and Intangible Heritage on cultural practices, so do Geoparks focus on geological heritage – “the memory of the Earth,” as geologists call it.

For many if not most of these programs, preservation for its own sake doesn’t secure sufficient political support, so advocates achieve success by dangling the carrot of tourism in front of government bodies.

Rarely does the carrot come with instructions. That may result in overtourism in affluent accessible places, undertourism in needy remote ones, or simply missed opportunities. So UNESCO now requires a geopark to have a holistic, national-government mandated management body in order to win its stamp of approval. (Oddly, the geopark movement has yet to gain traction in the United States, possibly due to lingering right-wing suspicion of anything beginning with “UN.”)

Swimmers enjoy a hot-spring warmed ocean inlet amid cooled lava in the Azores Geopark. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

How To Become a Geopark

The process for gaining the UNESCO designation is not simple. The agency offers detailed instructions for “Aspiring Geoparks” and lays out numerous requirements that include:

  • Management by a body with legal recognition under national legislation;
  • Participation in the management body by all relevant stakeholders, including partners and scientific, local, and Indigenous (if any) communities;
  • Means of connecting the area’s geological heritage with its cultural and natural heritage;
  • Engagement in appropriate branding, visibility, and communication efforts extended to both visitors and local people;
  • And more.

A volcanic vineyard: Stonewalls made of lava protect grape vines from Pico Island winds, Azores Geopark. [Photo by Jonathan Tourtellot]

Approval by the Global Geoparks Council is known as receiving a “green card,” good for four years. Then the Council requires revalidation. If conditions have deteriorated, the geopark receives a “yellow card,” requiring that it take remedial steps within two years. If there’s inadequate improvement, it loses its UNESCO status – the “red card.”

“UNESCO Global Geoparks are living, working landscapes where science and local communities engage in a mutually beneficial way.”  UNESCO

The Aspiring Georgian Bay Geopark still has a long way to go for its green card, especially given its size and the 40+ Indigenous communities (First Nations and Métis Councils) scattered around it. Organizers were disappointed that only one Indigenous person showed up for the Killarney meeting. Still, the project leadership seems smart, dedicated, and in it for the long haul.

Indigenous Heritage

Their daunting task seems suitable for, well, a giant god. The story of Kitchikewana, however, does not end well.

Rebuffed in love, so goes the tale, Kitchikewana grew so angry that he grabbed up great gobs of earth and rocks, casting them across Georgian Bay and so creating its 30,000 islands. He then died of a broken heart, and the profile of his body can still be seen today: Giant’s Tomb Island.

Hmm. If you substitute “glacier” for the rampaging Kitchikewana in that story, you’ve got a pretty good characterization of what the melting ice sheet left behind.

Seems a lot like two-eyed seeing.

A Historic Thai City Finds Ways to Solve Tourist Waste

Another winner from the Top 100 – Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. From the winners announced this year, we’ve selected two more stories, this one from Thailand, that showcase the importance of engaging all stakeholder groups within a destination. Synopses by Ailin Fei. Top 100 submission by Mrs. Suparada Karndissayakul, Managing Director of DASTA 6.

Nan’s overtaxed historic center engages the elderly to clean up after visitors

Local volunteers stand ready to improve the waste management in Nan Old City. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Nan Old City is a part of Nan, the provincial administrative center of the Nan province, in northern Thailand. Nan Old City, with its rich history and cultural significance, faces overtourism issues, primarily at nights and weekends. To meet tourist demands at the old square of Nan Old City, the municipality opened weekend outdoor markets. This created a surge in waste generation and the challenge of managing unfamiliar types of waste. The municipality needed a suitable waste management solution to address the increased waste, mainly food waste and plastic. A comprehensive study assessed waste types, visitor and merchant behavior, waste amounts, and generation methods. This municipality decided to ban foam container usage in favor of biodegradable paper ones. The municipality is struggling to enforce the ban among merchants. They plan to train local merchants to improve their understanding of the waste issue and foster better cooperation.

Bins are marked for different types of waste, as locals contribute to the waste separation process. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

To improve recycling and reduce pollution, the municipality categorized waste into 9 types with designated separation points and engaged local volunteers to assist visitors. The municipality recognized the value of involving elderly volunteers in waste separation and provided them an opportunity to earn a modest income while promoting sustainable waste management. Given their strong community ties, available free time, and potential income need, the elderly provide a cost-effective and sustainable solution to support waste management efforts. This approach contributes to waste reduction and enhances the stability of the elderly population without the need for a costly new waste management system. The municipality sustains compensation for their efforts through a fund established from recyclable waste sales and stall rental fees. The fund is used to improve waste separation equipment, directly support the program, and address local needs like scholarships for underprivileged children.

The municipality’s report shows that waste separation practices significantly reduced daily residual waste from 1-1.5 tons to around 0.2 tons in Nan Old City. Nan’s success in waste management serves as a model for other local organizations in Thailand and highlights the importance of efficient waste management in small cities.

Introducing the GSTC Destination Stewardship Starter Kit

How can a destination get started with the destination stewardship process? Tiffany Chan, GSTC Destinations Coordinator, shares best practices outlined in the new GSTC Destination Stewardship Starter Kit, developed by GSTC’s Destination Stewardship Working Group.

Defining destination stewardship

Destination stewardship is a process by which local communities, governmental agencies, NGOs, and the tourism industry take a multi-stakeholder approach to maintaining the cultural, environmental, economic, and esthetic integrity of their country, region, or town. In other words, to ensure that the destination retains and enhances the distinctive attributes that appeal to both residents and tourists. It requires a clear mandate, measurement of standards, community buy-in, and stakeholder collaboration. Practicing destination stewardship is crucial in ensuring that a destination remains attractive, authentic, and sustainable.

The Destination Stewardship Starter Kit has been developed by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), led by their Destination Stewardship Working Group (DSWG), to support destinations in their transition towards a stewardship approach. It is intended for destination managers, policymakers, and other stakeholders who are involved in tourism development and management, including public and private sectors, community members, and non-governmental organizations. It is particularly relevant for destinations where there is external pressure to better manage tourism impacts, or when an essential shift to destination stewardship is recognized.

Getting started

This starter kit aims to provide a set of initial steps that destinations can take to shift towards a stewardship approach, though it is important to acknowledge that the process is distinctive to each destination. The steps offered in this starter kit serve as a guide and, therefore, it is not mandatory to follow them in a specific sequence. The recommended steps are below.

Destination Stewardship Starter Kit – Recommended Steps

Although the starting point for each destination may differ based on their specific needs and circumstances, sustainable management is foundational when it comes to a holistic approach to destination stewardship. Criterion A1 of the GSTC Destination Criteria (GSTC-D) summarizes the importance of a highly inclusive planning group. It is inclusive in terms of a “whole-government” approach, as well as ongoing and meaningful engagement with stakeholders from the community and tourism-related businesses.

What does a governing body look like? Criterion A1 takes care not to prescribe the structure of a council, whether it be an effective organization, department, group, or committee. A model destination council should comprise an area with permanent inhabitants and multiple stakeholders. It may or may not be the official DMO, but should incorporate DMO participation. Council activities should also involve a diversity of destination stakeholders and encourage the engagement of local communities.

Collaboration is key in the sustainability journey

Build a team of leaders

Get started by involving one or two individuals. Implementing a comprehensive sustainability program is challenging. There needs to be someone who leads the process and is dedicated to making it successful. Once the leader(s) has been identified, a planning team should be formed. The team should consist of a small group who have a clear role and responsibilities. Identify and bring together individuals who are passionate about sustainable tourism and committed to a long-term vision. Organized the team in a way that allows continuity for when members leave and are replaced by others.

Identify key stakeholders

Stakeholders also play a vital role in developing and implementing sustainable tourism practices. Identify potential stakeholders and partners within the destination, including local government officials, tourism organizations, hospitality businesses, and community leaders.  Look at potential projects with partners that are easy to get started and will have a big impact. Establish a stakeholder committee that includes the public & private sectors, NGOs, and the community. Include marginalized stakeholders that may be left out of the planning process. Many of the elements of sustainability plans are done by people outside tourism. Understand the work being done by those that can have a big influence.

This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a baseline of potential stakeholders. Each destination will have a variety of different stakeholders. Conduct stakeholder mapping to identify all the potential stakeholders that exist within your destination.

Involve the local community and engage stakeholders

Raise awareness among the general public to ensure the active participation of the entire community. Involving the local community and relevant stakeholders helps to create a sense of shared responsibility for the long-term sustainability of the destination, which can lead to greater success in achieving sustainable tourism goals. Gauge how residents feel about tourism in their community through surveying and/or public forums. Consider creating a listening advisory council. Engage with a diversity of stakeholders and include specific key players who can bring value.

Overall, the Destination Stewardship Starter Kit provides a practical roadmap to prioritizing governance and management strategy, creating a baseline for measurement, and setting achievable targets for sustainable tourism development. The outlined criteria and steps serve as a starting point for destinations to adopt a stewardship approach. It is important to note that destination stewardship is a continuous process of growth and improvement, and not simply a one-time checklist. Ultimately, prioritizing holistic governance, a multi-year management strategy, and continuous monitoring with adaptations will help kickstart your sustainability journey.

Download the Destination Stewardship Starter Kit

Architectural Tactics for Dispersing Tourism: Lessons from Australia’s Great Ocean Road

In the idyllic landscapes along Australia’s famed Great Ocean Road, the economic and social impact of architectural interventions has become a focal point, addressing the dearth of accommodations in the inland regions. The challenge of attracting tourists to these areas while strengthening the local communities unveils compelling success stories in three distinct domains: the towns, the hinterlands, and a thematic trail. Amidst this exploration lies a crucial lesson: the renovation of small town centers and innovative repurposing of buildings can revitalize these regions, preserving their heritage and bolstering local economies. Clara Copiglia tells us more.

[Above: The 12 Apostles sea stack formations, a highlight on the Great Ocean Road, visible at top of frame. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Inspiration along the Great Ocean Road

Back in September 2018, I embarked on a weekend trip to the renowned Great Ocean Road, a scenic drive along the south coast of Victoria, Australia. Due to our modest budget, my partner and I opted for an overnight stay away from the seashore. As night descended, we journeyed an hour north from the coastline and found the inviting glow of the Mount Noorat Hotel, the sole source of warmth and light in the tranquil rural darkness. We were the only tourists staying in the hotel that night, and during our short visit, we learned from the hotel’s owner that it was the only place left in the area for local inhabitants to meet and for tourists to sleep.

From that day on, I was determined to understand the economic and social impact of places like this hotel. Were there others?

A map of the research area. The red dots represent points of interest for visitors such as hotels, restaurants, lookouts, and recreational areas. [Map courtesy of Clara Copiglia]

The Great Ocean Road is the most visited destination in Victoria. While it attracts around 6 million visitors per year, half of them being day-trippers, the inland region lacks much accommodation for visitors and has been losing population. How could architectural actions increase tourism appeal and strengthen the local community?

At the beginning of 2023, two years after completing my architectural degree, I returned to this area to study renovated buildings located inland that impact visitor numbers. You can download the complete report as a pdf.

Here are examples from the research, focusing on success stories and organized in three parts: The towns, the hinterland, and a thematic trail.

The Inland Towns

As most visitors travel by car or tourist coach, they will likely pass through many regional towns and see their streetscapes, usually composed of storefronts and hotels. Originally, storefronts were food shops, blacksmith shops, bakeries, etc., while hotels provided accommodations for visitors and a pub. Today, many storefronts are abandoned or have been converted into private houses, and many hotels are closed.

In Noorat, I found that the previous owner of the Mount Noorat Hotel had decided to sell during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Blain Family, a couple and their parents, bought the place to save it from closing down or being converted to housing. They took over the hotel while running a dairy business at the same time. The hotel is a place of meeting for the community, where locals and tourists encounter and sometimes gather, during bushfires, a place of refuge.

The historic Mount Noorat Hotel, built in 1909. [Photo courtesy of Clara Copiglia]

The Mount Noorat Hotel had been renovated first by the previous owner, who I met back in 2018. He took off the fake ceiling and repainted the interior, giving it a warm atmosphere. On the second floor, the hotel has a few well-renovated rooms that bring travelers to Noorat who discover the area or visit relatives. Aided by some local-government funding from Corangamite Shire, the Blain family has taken over the renovation and plans an outdoor seating area.

Lesson learned: In small regional communities, there is often a space that can both serve as a gathering place for locals and host visitors. It is essential to identify these types of buildings and care for them. In the case of Noorat, the hotel is kept open thanks to devoted locals and government help.

In other towns in the area, in addition to hotels, these buildings might include converted churches, storefronts, halls, etc. There are many simple ways to upgrade those spaces like adding openings, creating an outdoor covered space, which would transform it into a welcoming place for both community and visitors. Storefront establishments, for instance, can gain appeal by sprucing up the façade and adding skylights or a back terrace.

The Hinterlands

In between the towns inland from the Great Ocean Road, the landscape varies from tropical forest to plains punctuated by extinct volcanoes, lakes, and farms. But relatively few visitors come compared to the seashore.

I found one demonstration project that does bring tourism inland. Innovative accommodations such as tiny houses are a great way to promote these regional areas, as they bring visitors to the doorsteps of the locals wanting their business. Ample, an Australian company specializing in transportable living spaces, was approached by Visit Victoria – the state’s primary tourism and event company – to propose a touristic off-grid tiny house called ‘Stella the Stargazer’.

Stella was moved every eight weeks to different locations in Victoria, including the Great Ocean Road region. The tiny house is placed on farm properties to highlight the natural landscape, and a chef collaborates with locals to provide visitors with food products from the area. The farmers get paid rent and don’t have to manage the bookings.

The remarkable tiny house, ‘Stella the Stargazer’, with its clever design and unique amenities. [Photos courtesy of Brook James and Greta Punch]

Stella was mostly built with reclaimed materials; its truss and cladding come from an old local farm shed that Ample dismantled. Stella is entirely off-grid with solar panels; it can harvest rainwater, and the grey water goes into into holding tanks. Nothing is left on-site.

Lessons learned: Having the tiny house as an accommodation for tourists is a great opportunity for a second revenue stream for locals by bringing visitors to areas outside towns. It offers visitors a chance to stay in a natural landscape while connecting with local residents with products to share.

Thematic Trail

To connect town centers on the coast with businesses in the hinterlands, the ‘Gourmet Trail’ grew from adaptive re-use of an old building.

Two local dairy farmers, Caroline and Tim Marwood, converted an abandonned railway shed in the town of Timboon into a distillery. They created an extension, added large windows and an outdoor seating space.

This new attraction brought many new visitors, and Caroline and Tim opened an Ice Creamery and accommodations in Timboon. They received $200,000 from the Victorian Government to fund the renovation of the Distillery. The Distillery and Ice Creamery generated a visitor hub within the community, encouraging visitors to explore the streets of Timboon. The two establishments have around 70,000 visitors per year and employ between 25 and 30 local people each.

Family-owned Timboon Distillery specializes in single malt whisky. [Photo courtesy of Clara Copiglia]

After the renovation of the railway shed, local producers started formalizing an itinerary between the Distillery and other production places, such as a cheesery and a winery. The idea was to promote each other’s products, make visitors stay longer, and disseminate visitation in the area. The main support for extending visitor reach is a map distributed in visitor centers and all gourmet trail businesses.

Today, the trail is comprised of nine members, located within a radius of 30 km, all producers from the Corangamite Shire. They created a membership system with a monetary contribution to fund the branding, and they meet regularly to enhance the trail and evaluate new memberships.

The businesses in rural areas on the Gourmet Trail repurpose commonly found types of buildings on farms, such as metal sheds, converting them for tourism activity. For example, the latest member of the Gourmet Trail is Keayang Maar Vineyard, located between Cobden and Teerang. The building has one part for storage and another for wine tasting. You can see this dual use in the shape of the building, which shows a large and high space on one side, and the form of the roof adapt its shape to create  a covered outdoor area for visitors.

Lesson learned: The Gourmet trail works well because creative renovation of old buildings combined with local products helps entice tourists to detour inland from the popular Great Ocean Road. Some of these businesses also provide new meeting spaces for locals.

A diagram mapping the buildings in the Hinterlands area and possible renovations. [Photo courtesy of Clara Copiglia]


My research area covered two shires. I found that renovating buildings in small town centers, such as hotels, storefronts, and standalone buildings, is crucial for attracting tourism and combating depopulation. This investment can help create a more vibrant atmosphere, preserve historic landmarks, and boost the local economy.

In the rural hinterlands farmers and entrepreneurs can introduce new buildings, such as tiny houses for tourists, or work with the existing metal shed landscape by introducing new purposes for this common building.

While working on this project, I stayed at the Mount Noorat Hotel – one of the first guests to book a room for a longer stay. While talking with some of the locals in the Hotel’s pub one evening, I heard the rumor that the abandoned butter factory near the center had found a new owner. I wonder what the plan is for this building and if it will bring more visitors to Noorat? Will it serve the community? An opportunity awaits.

Using Handicrafts and Cultural Tourism to Alleviate Poverty in Kyrgyzstan

Another winner from the Top 100 – Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. From the winners announced this year, we’ve selected two more stories, this time from Brazil and Kyrgyzstan, that showcase different reasons for engaging the local community. Synopses by Devika McWalters. Top 100 submission by Imanaly Turkbaev, Project Manager, the Swiss Small Business and Income Creation Programme Bai Alai Program

Tulpar Kol Lake offers stunning views of the Alay Mountains and Lenin Peak. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Supporting Women Through Community-Based Tourism

Although the mountainous valleys of Alay (or Alai) in southwest Kyrgyzstan had been attracting alpinists from around the world for mountaineering and trekking, tourism and cultural experiences in the picturesque community were largely untapped. To diversify the subsistence-based agricultural district and to alleviate widespread poverty, “Community-Based Tourism (CBT) Alay” was formed in 2007.

CBT Alay developed a ten-year tourism development strategy aligned with the national sustainable development agenda. Tourism offerings included nomadic home experiences with the Kyrgyz people, staying in a yurt, and nature- and Great Silk Route-oriented activities.

One of the development targets was to support local women, who – like other artisans around the world – were making handicrafts as a hobby or leisure activity but did not see the benefit or income potential of integrating it into tourism experiences. As a result of a partnership with the local business women’s union, poverty has been reduced by 9% in just four years by engaging women and providing them with income-generating opportunities in the handicrafts and tourism sectors.

Key Steps Taken

  • Partnering with the Business Women of Alay Public Union (BWA) to give artisans financial, technical, and organizational support to produce, package, and sell a wide range of products to tourists.
  • Retail and commercial channels were established to sell ethnic clothing; accessories;

    Women showcase handmade decorative rugs and other handicrafts at the annual mountain tourism festival. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

    national ornaments; naturally dyed wool- and cotton-based products; and other traditional crafts that were at risk of disappearing or being forgotten.
  • Training workshops that included women of all ages, providing mentoring and cross-generational knowledge-sharing.
  • Involving spouses to mitigate conflict due to patriarchal and cultural norms being challenged by empowering women.
  • BWA members support each other by taking turns with daycare.
  • Creating partnerships on all levels, including local producers; business partnerships; public authorities; tourism companies, associations, operators, and hotels; as well as local and online retail and commercial channels.
  • Working with the local municipality’s leadership on legal barriers, disseminating information, and coordinating with the regional and national government bodies.


  • Poverty in Alay was reduced from 57% in 2017 to 48% in 2021.
  • New tourism nature-based and cultural experiences for Alay include master classes and showcases for local handicrafts and demonstration of Kyrgyz traditions and games.
  • Tourist numbers have grown from 4,000 to 16,500 in four years. The average spending increased from $15 to $50 USD/day. CBT Alay sales more than doubled from 2017 to 2021 ($1,400 vs. $3,020).
  • Alay has received international coverage in blogs, reviews, and publications for its sustainability principles and cultural experiences.
  • BWA’s beneficiaries rose from 10 women in 2014 to 324 in 2021, with an average age of 40.
  • Sales by BWA members went from $0 to KGS 317, 000 ($4,000 USD) in just four years.
  • CBT Alay’s partnership with BWA has led to the international exporting of handwoven fabric made from sustainably sourced organic cotton and final products certified from Kyrgyzstan. (Europe 39%; USA 29%; Russia 13%; Kazakhstan 11%; Japan 8%.)
  • BWA distributes and sells products on multiple foreign and domestic online platforms, making up 40% of their sales.
  • The female artisans of Alay have not only gained valuable business and financial skills and income but have also increased their self-esteem and support from their husbands.
  • Alay women now serve as mentors and trainers in neighboring communities interested in replicating their success.
  • Kyrgyzstan’s cultural and national heritage and artisan crafts are being preserved and passed on to new generations and visitors from around the world.

Redefining Tradition: How Diamantina’s Carnival Embraced Change

Another winner from the Top 100 – Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. From the winners announced this year, we’ve selected two more stories, this time from Brazil and Kyrgyzstan, that showcase different reasons for engaging the local community. Synopses by Ailin Fei. Top 100 submission by Camila Guedes – Tourism Board / Municipal Secretary of Tourism / Diamantina City Hall.

Crowds flood the streets in Diamantina to join the party and dance to local samba band Bat Caverna. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Embracing tradition and adapting to change

For decades, people have celebrated Diamantina’s carnival. However, in recent years, the carnival has evolved into a mass tourism event. Diamantina is a Brazilian municipality in the state of Minas Gerais with an estimated population of 47,825 people (2020 census). Diamantina’s carnival highlights cultural heritage with the potential to set an example for other cities, promoting tourism, local culture, income generation, and social inclusion.

About 10 years ago, the city of Diamantina noticed a decrease in visitors, so they “resurrected” the carnival through increasing cultural diversity prompted by a national initiative to change the carnival scene and embrace the traditional and historic values of Brazil, which altered the itineraries and tourist flows. Unfortunately, this reconfiguration led to an increased presence of low-budget tourists, intense overcrowding that provided no substantial financial benefits to the municipality, and structural issues such as disruption in water supply and pollution.

A new management strategy, Carnaval Radical, includes a focus on encouraging more local participation. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

By 2017, the carnival management acknowledged the need to adapt to the changing environment and engage in dialogues to make the carnival more beneficial for citizens, visitors, and the city’s development. This involved creating ‘University Space’ to confine the young, low-budget carnival-goers from the local population and revitalizing the street blocks included in the carnival perimeter by recognizing the oldest “caricato” (carnival) block as “a material Cultural Heritage of Diamantina.”

The carnival management launched the newest redesign of the carnival, entitled ‘Carnaval Radical,’ in 2020, which included curated space for adventure sports, increased gastronomy experiences, and raised awareness of attractions and traditional historical monuments, further diversifying the tourist profile, including family tourists. These strategies reduced mass tourism, included more locals in the carnival, alleviated pressure on urban services, and enriched the city’s culture, nature, and economic development.

Diamantina’s Carnival holds significant symbolic value and can serve as a model for Brazilian cities and any other city that faces challenges due to mass tourism and seeks to revitalize their own events in a sustainable manner.

Resistance to mega-tourism is rising in the South Pacific – but will governments put words into action?

As mega-tourism’s negative impacts on the South Pacific region become increasingly evident, resistance is on the rise among local communities. However, the crucial question remains: will governments take decisive action to address these concerns and protect the unique environments and cultures of the South Pacific islands? A thought-provoking article delves into the growing tensions between the tourism industry’s expansion and the urgent need for sustainable, community-centered solutions. This article, written by and was originally published in The Conversation.

With COVID-19 travel restrictions largely a thing of the past for Australian and New Zealand tourists, Pacific destinations are enjoying the return of visitors – albeit at a slower pace than in other parts of the world.

Tourism in Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands was hit hard by the pandemic, but patience and resilience are starting to pay off. Foreign dollars are once again circulating in those small economies. Recently, Kiribati welcomed its first international cruise ship since 2020.

Extreme overtourism in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, has been a consistent challenge for the island to manage. [Photo from Shutterstock]

But this isn’t a simple case of returning to normal. The past three years have allowed time for reflection, leading to a rising awareness of possible alternatives to pre-pandemic tourism models.

From senior levels within governments to grassroots tourism operators and citizens, there has been serious discussion about the resumption of business as usual, including several regional symposiums hosted by the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

Issues of sovereignty and future resilience have been very much to the fore – quite untypical in a global tourism industry largely focused on boosting numbers as soon as possible. Questions remain, however, about the gap between rhetoric and reality.

With COVID-19 travel restrictions largely a thing of the past for Australian and New Zealand tourists, Pacific destinations are enjoying the return of visitors – albeit at a slower pace than in other parts of the world.

Tourism in Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands was hit hard by the pandemic, but patience and resilience are starting to pay off. Foreign dollars are once again circulating in those small economies. Recently, Kiribati welcomed its first international cruise ship since 2020.

But this isn’t a simple case of returning to normal. The past three years have allowed time for reflection, leading to a rising awareness of possible alternatives to pre-pandemic tourism models.

From senior levels within governments to grassroots tourism operators and citizens, there has been serious discussion about the resumption of business as usual, including several regional symposiums hosted by the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

Issues of sovereignty and future resilience have been very much to the fore – quite untypical in a global tourism industry largely focused on boosting numbers as soon as possible. Questions remain, however, about the gap between rhetoric and reality.

Flipping the narrative

The Pacific Sustainable Tourism Leaders Summit in November 2022 brought together tourism ministers and industry stakeholders to discuss the future of regional tourism. This led to a regional commitment signed by 11 countries focused on promoting sustainable tourism.

Essentially, the aim is to flip the narrative: rather than Pacific nations being seen as dependent on tourism, regional tourism itself depends on the Pacific and its people surviving and thriving. Accordingly, Pacific countries are calling for fairer and more meaningful relationships with tourism partners.

Cook Islands’ associate minister of foreign affairs and immigration, Tingika Elikana, urged other Pacific leaders at the summit to rebuild tourism in a way that was equitable and inclusive:

[It] is crucial that lessons are learned from recent crises and that steps are taken to embed long-term inclusivity, sustainability, and resilience into our tourism offering as it faces evolving challenges and risks.

Vanuatu has been heading in this direction since early in the pandemic, when it made “destination wellbeing” central to its tourism recovery. The aim of “moving beyond solely measuring visitor arrivals and contribution to GDP” then fed into the country’s Sustainable Tourism Strategy, launched at the height of the pandemic.

Push-back on resorts and cruise ships

This reappraisal of scale and priorities has perhaps been most evident in Fiji where there has been strong opposition to a US$300 million mega-project proposed by Chinese developers.

The hotel, apartment and marina complex would be built in an area containing one of the last remaining remnants of mangrove forest near the capital, Suva. Conservationists and local residents have been critical of the environmental and infrastructural impact of the proposed development, as well as the authenticity of its design.

There is now doubt about whether the government will renew the developer’s lease, due to expire in June. The minister for lands and mineral resources has said “there’s been a lack of transparency” from the developers, and that he “will continue to monitor the remaining conditions of the development lease”.

A leading opponent of the project, Reverend James Bhagwan, told Radio New Zealand:

We’re not anti-development, but what we’re saying is we need to look at development from a perspective that places the environment at the centre, not at the periphery.

There is a precedent here: approval for a multi-million-dollar resort and casino development on Malolo island was revoked in 2019 after another Chinese developer, Freesoul Investments, destroyed part of a reef, dumped waste and disrupted traditional fisheries. In 2022, the High Court fined the company FJD$1 million. It was the first time a developer had been punished for an “environmental crime”.

Environmental concerns are also causing other Pacific countries to resist a return to mass tourism. In Rarotonga, Cook Islands, annual visitor numbers before the pandemic were ten times the island’s local population. The ability to cope with that level of tourism has since been seriously questioned.

And in French Polynesia, the government has banned port calls for cruise ships with a capacity greater than 3,500 passengers. The decision was based on concerns about air pollution, stress on the marine environment and social impacts. Daily cruise arrivals to Bora Bora are now restricted to 1,200 passengers, much to the relief of locals.

A new kind of tourism?

In the face of uncertainties due to climate change and geopolitical tensions in the region, it’s encouraging to hear local voices being heard in debates about the future of Pacific tourism – and political leaders appearing to respond.

The hilly and volcanic Nacula Island, Fiji. [Photo by Gabe Gerson]

The Pacific Island Forum leaders’ retreat in Fiji late last month discussed the tourism industry. The forum’s signature Blue Pacific Strategy for regional co-operation recognises tourism is an important component of national development, and the need to balance economic pressures with environmental and cultural protection.

But despite the apparent political will and regional focus on building resilience, tourism development will undoubtedly continue to challenge the desires and initiatives of Pacific peoples seeking more sustainable futures.

While the policy rhetoric sounds good, it remains to be seen whether Pacific governments will remain steadfast and united under mounting pressures from major cruise operators, Chinese commercial interests and large hotels looking to maximise occupancy rates.

Many Pacific people reported the natural environment – along with social, spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing – improved during the pandemic pause in tourism. But the reality of putting local wellbeing ahead of profits and increased tax revenue is yet to be fully tested as tourism bounces back.

Preserving the Personality of Place: The Importance of Cultural Heritage

Historic city centers often do well at preserving their structures but may falter when it comes to cultural preservation. Heritage expert Cheryl Hargrove reports from the Greek island of Rhodes and offers seven tips on how destinations can retain a cultural sense of place.

[Shortly after Ms. Hargove’s visit, Rhodes suffered catastrophic fires on parts of the island. The old town was not directly affected, but as she notes, “there will be impacts from resort loss, agricultural loss, and community devastation – [a] long tail of recovery.” This renders all the more important her points about preserving culture in the following story.]


Old Town Rhodes – Bones Alone Do Not Make a Living City

After my husband and I spent a day in Rhodes in 2021, we loved it, so we decided to come back for a month two years later. We had high hopes of learning more about Greek food and wine, traditions, and life and gaining a deeper understanding of the history and culture of this ancient island.

We loved our longer visit, too, but that’s when we discovered something disconcerting. While the historic character is being preserved, the cultural character is disappearing.

The medieval Marine Gate is the main entrance from the harbor to the town center, constructed in 1478. [Photo courtesy of Cheryl M. Hargrove]

Why Rhodes? Our first visit (via cruise ship in December 2021) included only a glimpse of the Medieval City’s vibrant historic and magnificent Gothic architecture. We were enthralled by the stories about the ancient Order of the Knights of St. John the Hospitaler, responsible for fortifying the city and protecting pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land for over two centuries. A brief walk along pebbled paths had us peering at public buildings and mosques dating back to the Ottoman period when Rhodes was under Turkish rule. We both wanted to learn more.

A highlight of our short visit was meeting a local artist who made leather belts, bags, and hats. When I purchased a beautiful satchel, she gave me a note about how she learned her craft and started her shop, along with instructions on how to care for my leather bag. Following this cultural exchange, we met other local shop owners willing to tell us about their wares. We took home several mementos to help us remember our visit to this incredible city, including locally woven scarves and melekouni (a traditional sweet made of sesame, honey, spices, and almonds). While we only spent a day touring the Medieval City, designated a World Heritage City in 1988, Old Town Rhodes left an indelible impression.

Inspired by our initial visit, we booked a 16th Century Airbnb for the month of June 2023 in the heart of Old Town and started exploring. We found that Rhodes’ architecture and archaeological excavations – its bones – have a strong foundation and are obviously under the watchful eyes of preservationists and government authorities protecting its historical integrity. The Greek Culture Ministry, which owns 365 properties within the Medieval City (50 located on the main street in the historic area), is in the process of implementing a plan to create three zones – the monumental, the residential, and the commercial – that will continue to preserve the city’s ancient structure while allowing sustainable development and growth.

“Tourism does not go to a city that has lost its soul”

All well and good, but we only experienced a limited amount of quality local or regional art and craft. Most merchants on Socrates, the main street in the Old City, now sell trinkets (notably the “blue eye” pendants) that are mass-produced elsewhere. Even shops displaying higher-end pottery and decorative arts carry the same design and styles. Only two galleries we visited could tell us about the artists and their work. We enjoyed our traditional coffee at Mevlana, the 14th Century Turkish Coffee House operated by the same family for 200 years, and daily Greek pastries from Fournariko Bakery, but only two restaurants in Old Town – Marco Polo and Pizanias (The Sea Star) – offer a quality Rhodian dining experience.

Shoppers browse the display outside of an olive store in Old Town Rhodes. [Photo Courtesy of Cheryl M. Hargrove]

During our month-long stay, it was almost impossible to find local artists working in galleries, participate in a cooking class, hear authentic Greek music at any of the restaurants/bars/nightclubs, or schedule other immersive cultural experiences that were not pre-arranged for groups – largely marked-up tours for cruise ship passengers – rather than for independent travelers.

With the decline of local – and high quality – retail, music, and food, I was reminded by the Arthur Frommer quote, “Tourism does not go to a city that has lost its soul.” Old Town Rhodes is in many aspects on the cusp of losing its cultural soul.

While the island’s sustainability plan, Rhodes Co-Lab (launched in January 2022 by the South Aegean Region Administration and the TUI Group/TUI Care Foundation), will focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and EU’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, there is no mention of preserving and protecting the local cultural and intangible resources. The program cites that “the promotion of cultural heritage benefits the island’s society and tourism.”

But cultural resources need more than promotion.

They need policies that protect them from commodification, incentives to offset the proliferation of imports, provide access to the supply chain so artists can benefit more directly from tourism, and be recognized as an important contributor to the destination’s personality and brand.

“Handicrafts play a vital role in the economic development of a country as they are a prominent medium for foreign exchange revenue, require low capital investments, and offer employment opportunities. In addition, handicraft items are perceived as a symbol of status owing to their uniqueness, quality, usage of natural materials, and the essence of vibrant art and culture.” (Business Wire reporting for, February 2022)

UNESCO offers Cultural Tourism Policy Guidelines to help direct cultural tourism development and management in and around World Heritage sites. These policies are sound recommendations for any destination seeking to retain its cultural identity, integrity, and its unique personality of place.

Efforts must be made to preserve as well as promote its authentic cultural resources. Through my years of international work with place-centric destinations, I’ve observed several strategies that foster greater cultural resource stewardship – and promote opportunities for more authentic visitor engagement.

Seven Strategies for Cultural Resource Stewardship

  1. Recognize and value the role of artists and tradition bearers. Add a representative from the cultural community to your Destination/CVB board, invite them to strategic planning retreats, include them in visitor guides, and promote them on your website. The artistic voice often provides a different perspective to the more traditional tourism industry and business development deliberations.
  2. Conduct market research on retail purchases by visitors. If shopping is a visitor’s number one activity, shouldn’t we know more about the types of items they are inclined to buy and what they purchase? Doesn’t this information help identify the cultural assets to preserve and promote? Drilling down to the specific types of purchases unique to each destination validates the importance of cultural resources. For instance, sweetgrass baskets in Charleston and turquoise in New Mexico are signature souvenirs for these destinations; their purchase also helps support the local artists and the entire community. The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area tracks the impact of their Craft Trails in Western North Carolina. Sales can be directly attributed to the product and its promotion.
  3. Distinguish locally made items from imports. Presenting a certificate of authenticity when an original piece of art is purchased is another way to convey provenance. For instance, the Made in Alaska program certifies and recognizes the work of both native and non-Native craftspersons through a permitting process that awards the use of an official emblem. This recognition also serves as an opportunity to educate visitors on what is involved in the artistic process. Hence, they understand and value the time and talent required to create an original work.

    Old Town Rhodes, illuminated for shopping at night. [Photo courtesy of Cheryl M. Hargrove

  4. Offer different types of cultural experiences. Art helps tell your destination story. Murals, sculptures, and architecture are three ways residents and visitors visually capture the essence of a place. More interactive activities – artist demonstrations, guest lectures, language classes, instructional workshops, and special exhibitions at galleries – will draw visitors and residents at other times of the year and for various reasons. These activities offer artists additional opportunities to generate revenue and may extend visitors’ stay – or encourage them to visit the destination during low or shoulder seasons. The Golden Isles Convention & Visitors Bureau (on the coast of Georgia) partners with Glynn Visual Arts to display paintings from local artists in their visitors center. Along with branded merchandise, they also sell handmade jewelry, cards, pottery, and other items in their gift shop.
  5. Reduce barriers to purchase. Finding locally made and sustainable shopping options can be difficult.’s 2023 Sustainable Travel Report cites some challenges: “Despite good intentions, 44% of travelers don’t know where to find more sustainable options.” For example, 75% seek authentic experiences representative of the local culture. Yet, in stark contrast, 40% don’t know how or where to find these tours and activities that will ensure they give back to the local community.” There is also a “buy local” consensus among travelers, with 43% favoring small, independent stores. Shipping large items–such as artwork, rugs, or baskets– may be a deterrent to purchase, especially if the visitor travels by plane, on a group tour, or cruise. Promoting locally made items and arranging for shipping can help stimulate sales. For instance, Turkish rug merchants waive or include the cost of shipping and customs in the purchase price for the customer’s convenience.
  6. Recruit legacy owners to retain local businesses. Many long-time retail businesses close when owners decide to retire without a succession plan in place. As these retail businesses are often magnets for residents and repeat travelers, finding entrepreneurs or apprentices willing to continue operations is vital to the cultural legacy of a destination. Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates in Cleveland, Ohio, has been family-owned since 1939. When the second-generation Mitchell decided to retire in 2016 but had no heirs, local customers Jason & Emily Hallaman purchased the business to maintain the recipes and traditions of Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates for the enjoyment of future generations.
  7. Grow the cultural entrepreneurial ecosystem. Governments and economic development authorities often incentivize large corporations to relocate to the area and bring jobs. Perhaps a similar strategy should be extended to artists, craftspeople, and long-standing retail establishments to help retain local jobs and contribute to the destination’s brand. A Main Street America research study indicates that 70% of small businesses in commercial districts are launched by people who live in the local community. This validates the importance of investing in local capacity building to grow and sustain healthy small businesses, including artists, craftspeople, and retail shop owners.

Thinking Beyond Retail

Retail is just one aspect of a destination’s tourism product, but its sameness can lead to a decline in cultural identity. Applying these seven strategies to other local businesses, such as food establishments (favoring independently-owned restaurants and eateries over national chains) and music venues (promoting local musicians and other performing artists) can retain and stimulate other cultural engagement opportunities.

My Rhodes visit helped me understand how important creative and cultural resources are to the destination story and experience. When embarking on destination stewardship, be sure to engage all human and physical assets of the community – historical, cultural, and natural – and recognize the important contributions of each in defining the essence of the place.

Cheryl M. Hargrove is the author of Cultural Heritage Tourism: Five Steps for Success and Sustainability (Roman & Littlefield, 2017) and former director of heritage tourism for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is a consultant to communities to help preserve, protect, and promote their cultural heritage as part of an asset-based economic and sustainable development strategy. Cheryl has tried her hand at pottery, fused glass, jewelry making, and mosaics but finds it easier to enjoy and buy local artists’ work. She currently lives on St. Simons Island with her husband, John, and five-year-old beagle, Tanner.