Livingstone, Zambia Creates a ‘Forest of Faces’

? Destination Stewardship Report – Vol. 3 No. 2 – Fall 2022 ?

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 Zambia and Greece, that showcase different reasons for engaging the local community. Synopses by Josie Burd.

Top 100 submission by Rosie Mercer, Business Development Manager at Destination Livingstone Initiative

Tapping Local Wood-Carving Talent Gives Livingstone a Competitive Step Up – and a Lesson in Stewardship 

Just 10km away from Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Livingstone relies on tourism for its main economic activity. However, the town of Victoria Falls across the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe was getting most of the tourism traffic. So how could Livingstone draw those people back in?

In 2019, their community created a Destination Management Plan (DMP) to brainstorm opportunities to improve the situation. They also formed a new multi-stakeholder destination management organization called Destination Livingstone. With the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic drastically increasing their problem, decisive action was needed.

A traditional carved wooden sculpture featured in the ‘Forest of Faces’ art installation. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Peter Anderson, international designer and creative director of the DMP, with the help of Acorn Tourism Consulting, came up with a plan that would celebrate the talent of local sculptors and create an attraction to draw tourists into Livingstone. Their idea was to commission the first public art installation titled ‘Forest of Faces’ that would feature wooden sculptures celebrating the cultural heritage of the city.

Here are some of the steps taken:

  • Consulting meetings with the Visual Arts Council, the Livingstone Museum, the Livingstone City Council, Chief Mukuni, and the arts and crafts markets, committees produced a working group that would focus on how to execute the project, prepare the competition rules, and communicate with the artisans.
  • An open competition commenced that required artisans to submit a drawing of their intended sculpture, the narrative behind the sculpture, what kind of wood they preferred to use, the expected height of the sculpture, the anticipated cost, and a small sample of their work.
  • The working group selected and commissioned 21 sculptures from the submissions.
  • The artisans found tree trunks suitable for their sculptures and spent the next 6-10 weeks using basic hand tools to complete their projects.
  • The final sculptures were erected over a two-week period and opened to the public on March 23, 2021, with information boards detailing the artist and story behind each sculpture.
  • In May 2021 the Livingstone community hosted a family event to allow the artists to show off their work to loved ones.
Artists and their families at the Livingstone family event. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]


As it was free and open to the public, the sculpture park quickly became an attraction that drew both domestic and international travelers into Livingstone.

The project itself created a platform to discuss deforestation and the importance of harvesting trees sustainably. Artisans who usually worked with teak and ebony tree varieties, which were scarce in the nearby areas, were encouraged to use wood from dead trees in the local vicinity that had similar qualities. Replanting was also an emphasis that taught artists and community members the importance of maintaining biodiversity. In honor of the project and of World Forestry Day, celebrated on March 21, artists and dignitaries were given trees to plant in their home villages.

GSTC’s Crucial Criterion A1

? Destination Stewardship Report Summer 2020 ?

Its Importance by Randy Durband, CEO, GSTC

The GSTC Destination Criteria have well proven their value as guides to good destination stewardship. GSTC has chosen not to provide weighting to specific criteria, preferring to present a holistic system. Yet, it is natural to call out key elements.

For example, Criterion A8 on visitor management is essential, and destination management organizations should build strong internal capacity on the principles expressed there and knowledge of successful cases of its application. Criterion A5 is also essential, as community engagement is needed to minimize any harmful impacts of tourism to various community residents, including those who generally lack political voice.

But standing at the top of my list – as with many of us in the global community of experts in sustainable destination management – is Criterion A1, which summarizes the importance and composition of a highly inclusive planning group. Inclusive in terms of a “whole-government” approach and in terms of ongoing and meaningful engagement with stakeholders from the community and from tourism-related businesses.

GSTC Destination Criterion A1 and indicators

Creation of some form of council should not be seen as a diminution of the authority of any public agency. Rather, its application should be viewed as wise and effective leadership from the public authority. To make it work, it needs to function with a degree of regularity, and it must continue in perpetuity, surviving changes of government leadership. Because it is essential. Conforming to all the Criteria can be better accomplished with this type of management commitment and structure. — R.D.

The Context by Jonathan Tourtellot, CEO, DSC

Most tourism is about the place. The tourism industry relies on the character, appeal, and resources of the destination as a whole. Sometimes it may be one particular asset – wildlife, a beach, a historic district. More often it’s the interwoven combination of distinctive characteristics that constitutes sense of place. That’s why we travel.

Yet when governments and many other policymakers consider tourism, they tend to consider the industry in isolation, compartmentalized, seeing it simply as the aggregate of businesses where tourists spend money. Growth in transactions is a main metric of success, along with employment and tourist arrivals. But where does the money end up, who gets hired, and which tourists are arriving? Most important, who’s in charge?

Too often, the answer is “no one.” Different interests can work at cross purposes – preservation versus development, agriculture versus conservation, tourists versus locals.

Without holistic management that includes citizen participation, difficulties can easily arise, and have: overtourism, neighborhood disruption, cultural degradation, and various environmental problems. By contrast, well-managed tourism can enrich communities, improve public education, and provide the means to sustain natural habitats and elements of cultural heritage, from music and theater to architecture and cuisine.

The relationship between tourism and a destination is complex. It requires a collaborative approach. Criterion A1 takes care not to prescribe the structure – …an effective organization, department, group, or committee… – just that it be done in whatever way best suits destination stakeholders and citizens. Today’s coronavirus threat will eventually recede and tourism will return. Climate change looms in the background. Now is the chance to plan tourism recovery right. —J.B.T.

Western Balkans—Tourism on the Cusp

[Above: Trebinje, Bosnia. All photos by Cristina Angeles; videos by Juan Carlos Rodarte.]

Our video project on the Adriatic’s Balkan coast shows what tourism should do—and not do.

Here at the Destination Stewardship Center we want to encourage sustainable tourism practices that preserve today’s impressive places for enjoyment tomorrow.

The Adriatic coast of the western Balkan peninsula is one of those places—a destination of great promise and also at great risk. Imposing mountains rise only a short distance inland from the coast, a combination that supports a diversity of ecosystems. The region enjoys a warm to hot Mediterranean climate, which makes it an appealing destination for vacations—and hasty development. Similarly attractive parts of the Mediterranean have already been touristically exploited. Just look over at some of Greece’s heavily built-up islands to see what is coming.

So we on the video team went there to see how the area is doing, and why it’s special. Listen to the people who live there talk about their home, in their own voices:

The hope of course is for tourism in the region to generate jobs and raise local people’s quality of life. But is it being done in the best way? We found the answer was “yes” in some places, definitely “no” in others.

Thanks to the collaboration with Western Balkans Geotourism Network (WBGN), we spent 21 days documenting the Adriatic regions of Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and meeting the people associated with the WBGN. They are the heroes of this story, working against tough odds to turn tourism in a better direction.

Our expedition revealed three red flags signalling touristic overkill: the coastal city of Sarandë and the archaeological zone of Butrint in Albania, and the coastal development at Kotor Bay, Montenegro.

Auron Tare, Albanian National Coastline Agency Director, shared with us his professional experience as a pioneer in the preservation of Albanian culture. Listen to his observations on overcommercialized Sarandë, once a quaint fishing town:

“The town went completely crazy with its tourism concept.”

In the red flag areas, rocketing growth of globalized products was overwhelming more sustainable local commerce and sacrificing the cultural diversity of lifestyle, so basic to destination appeal. Tourist complexes deface the scenery with buildings that do not respect the landscape. Reinforcing all this are thousands of people hopping on and off all-inclusive cruise ships.

Now overtourism has come to the Greco-Roman ruins at Butrint National Park, the World Heritage site preserved and managed by Auron Tare. He explains what’s happening:

“Butrint is at an overtourism crossroads.”
As for Kotor Bay, we asked our guide Jack Delf, chairman of the Western Balkans Geotourism Network, why tourism was out of control on the coast of Montenegro. Is a change in direction possible? The only way, he says, is to emphasize value instead of volume:

“We can’t preserve this through mass tourism.”
Is everything lost? Not at all. Various NGO’s and companies are seeking to develop and promote tourism products under management plans that protect the land, empower the locals, and provide them with market opportunity.
Nancy Tare, Albania Regional Director for the WBGN (and Auron’s wife), told us that a key factor for sustainability is the important role that locals can play in taking care of what is theirs. They have in their hands the power to sell their land, or not. They are the only ones that can preserve their natural, cultural, and social resources. Here’s Nancy on the true meaning of sustainability:

“Keep it real is by keeping locals involved. That’s a success.”

As an example, we present the destination Nivicë, the first village in southern Albania’s Project Nivicë route. What is it about this initiative that has impressed us? Its authenticity. Auron Tare is project coordinator, working with an emphasis on restoring vernacular architecture:

“What we’re trying to do here is set an example.”
Auron has a personal connection to Nivicë. “He is building a house in Nivicë on his grandparent’s land and enjoys spending time there with his family,” notes our producer, Erika Gilsdorf, who sums up his difficult task this way: “The town was abandoned during war, and now people are coming back. He wants it to grow and thrive but keep its charm and authenticity.  He struggles with maintaining balance.  If you promote it, it is at risk of exploitation. If you don’t, it is at risk of poverty and abandonment. So, he’s trying to see if they can manage it sustainably, grow organically, and do so slowly to handle challenges as they arise.”
For projects like this and in general for the Eastern Balkans, is there an economic argument for their sustainability? Yes! Jack Delf explains why:
“Adventure tourism is now a 680 billion dollar business, growing at 23 percent per year.”

During our expedition we had the opportunity meet the various personalities who are charting the routes to sustainability. One of them was Kirsi Hyvaerinen, a board member of the Global Ecotourism Network, who calls for redefining tourism for her adopted home of Montenegro, confirming that the ultimate goal is to capture value and not volume, and that local people are the key:

“It’s not too late.”

Environmental millionaires?

In a globalized world, poverty is commonly equated with lack of money. We often heard that a main reason for growing tourism in the region is to generate jobs and so improve the people’s quality of life. Whereas the purpose may be noble and the solution correct in economic terms, it is precisely the migration of this concept into this region that we see as a major challenge. What we admired in the people we met was the means of production they already have, the freedom they have to enjoy their day, the air they breathe away from polluting factories, and their community lifestyles.

In this sense, they are environmental millionaires. They can feed themselves with pesticide-free produce harvested in their backyards, far from the problems that come with the processed products of the industrialized world. Many people in the Balkans that have no job can still live off their land.

Food of the land, Albania.
Bounty of the land, Albania.

To learn more about why we found so much of the western Balkans to be an unspoiled, immaculate, and authentic place, please see our account (originally posted on National Geographic Open Explorer) and soon to appear as an Esri StoryMap. It was sad that Open Explorer closed, since the WBGN came into being in conjunction with the National Geographic’s geotourism initiatives of the 2000s, which defined geotourism as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, geology, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”

What have we learned from this raw, unexpected travel experience? Erika offers an answer. She writes: “Hidden in stone, food, and ancient trails, far from the coasts, lies the hope and heart of old Europe. And in its past lies its future; not just for the western Balkans, but for destinations around the world who struggle to maintain the balance of growth and preservation.

Please let us know your comments, doubts, or questions about this beautiful region. We are Erika Gilsdorf, producer of the expedition, Juan Carlos Rodarte, in charge of videography and editing, and Cristina Angeles, your storyteller.

Borrego Springs, CA Establishes Stewardship Council

[Above: A house in Borrego Springs nestles against the backdrop
of the Anza-Borrego Desert. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Geotourism comes to the desert

The community of Borrego Springs, California gathered November 6 at the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center to formally establish the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council. Last evening’s ceremony was the culmination of a six month long process that began in April 2014 with Jonathan Tourtellot’s presentation of the principles of geotourism at the de Anza Country Club. Following Mr. Tourtellot’s presentation an Interim Steering Committee composed of community leaders was formed to distill geotourism’s principles of sustainability into a Mission Statement and a Charter to guide future development of this desert community.  The Charter was ratified by signature by the leading organizations of the community including the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park; the University of California, Irvine; the Chamber of Commerce; the Borrego Water District; the Borrego Unified School District; and numerous nonprofits.

Borrego sunrise with Wind God Bird sculpture. Photo: Sam Webb.

Borrego sunrise with Wind God Bird sculpture. Photo: Sam Webb.

Borrego Springs is an incorporated village at the heart of, and surrounded on all sides by, the 1000 square mile Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It is home to approximately 3000 full-time residents and is the gateway community to the State Park. Borrego Springs is the only Dark Sky community in California and one of two in the United States.

By ratifying its Mission Statement the community of Borrego Springs affirms its aspiration to be “a model desert community in terms of sound economic planning, beneficial year-round truism, world-class life-long learning, and exemplary stewardship of our cultural, social, and environmental heritage.”



News from the Alaska Geotourism Initiative

[Above: Lake Naknek, gateway to Katmai National Park. Photo courtesy Bristol Bay Borough]

Fall 2014 Update

The Alaska Geotourism initiative is a collaboration convened by University of Alaska faculty and program specialists and now includes rural tourism business and community leaders focused on identifying viable rural economic development management strategies that maximize beneficial tourism for their communities and seek to further good destination stewardship. Another outcome is to provide a source of information to re-introduce Alaska gateway communities to the US and international geotourism communities.

The following is a brief overview of Alaska geotourism projects currently underway.

1. Community Familiarization – Alaska Geotourism is looking at strategies to promote rural Alaska for those regions/villages that see geotourism as a viable approach to maintain community health and community viability. The communities of Naknek and King Salmon in association with the Bristol Bay Native Association will be hosting a familiarization tour for some small tour operators to visit the Bristol Bay region (Salmon Capital of the World and also gateway to Katmai National Park)

Bears feed on salmon, Katmai National Park. Photos: Adelheid Hermann

to participate in a planning session with village leaders to help plan the geotourism strategy for their communities. (See also


Local communities want to grab more bear-watching tourists flying into Katmai.

2. New Educational Curriculum – The University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development faculty member Cathy Brooks, Assistant Professor & Faculty Advisor for Festival of Native Arts Advisor ( is currently developing a geotourism class for undergraduate students. It will be offered both campus-based and distance. Jonathan Tourtellot and Larry Dickerson of University of Missouri have been project advisors.

3. OLE in cooperation with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service is presenting a non-credit 4-part course entitled Geotourism: Preserving a Sense of Place at the Anchorage Extension Center with hopes to introduce the geotourism approach to a wider Alaskan audience.

4. Cultural Exchange – The Asian Alaskan Cultural Center representing 8 Asian communities is working with the communities of Seward, Fairbanks and Wasilla to bring the story of 1890s Japanese Alaskan pioneer, Jujiro Wada, back to Alaska in 2015 via a musical play/cultural exchange in those communities. Wada, from Japan, was an early Alaskan adventurer, early explorer, and marathon runner and much much more ( )

For more information, contact: Alaska Geotourism Chair Willard Dunham via

It Takes Two To Tango: Hands Across The Med

Above: Artisans at the Cyprus-Egypt exposition. Photo: Inji Amr, MAWARED

Geotourism theme unites St. Catherine, Egypt and Troodos, Cyprus    

The St. Catherine region of Egypt’s Sinai and the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus are attractive Mediterranean destinations with a lot in common: UNESCO World Heritage recognition, substantial tourism potential, wealth of creative, nonpolluting community industries, and distinctive local agriculture. Both offer unique, self-contained, and unspoiled destination experiences ready for responsible and engaging tourists to visit and actively help develop. Both destinations struggle to keep growing their unique natural products in the face of commercial modernization pressures that affect land and society.

Photo: Tarek El-Baz

Troodos. Photo: Tarek El-Baz

To initiate a new economic collaboration between the two locales, more than 80 geo-travellers from St. Catherine visited Plattres/Troodos, the “Green Heart of Cyprus,” on September 12-15, 2013 to participate in a geotourism-themed dual-nation conference and exhibition entitled “From Bio-diversity to Geo-Diversity.”

This Cypriot-Egyptian event was the product of a new initiative called Connect to Grow (C2G), which uses the innovative concept of geotourism to help poor or vulnerable communities adopt a joint operating platform for marketing the local agro-food and creative industries essential to these rural communities. C2G is intended to assist any such rural communities that have unique business ideas and entrepreneurial vision.

Troodos is a protected area according to the EU Network; its churches are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage. The expo launched an initiative that builds on a history of cultural and economic links between Egypt and Cyprus. Egyptians, including the former King Farouk, have long favoured the Troodos Mountains as a resort destination. Both share a British colonial past as well. Supporting the visit were Egypt’s MAWARED foundation for Sustainable Development in collaboration with Cyprus’s Local Council of Platres and YPM Consulting,

The Egyptian party included three segments— civil society, responsible government officials, and responsible business entrepreneurs from the agro-food and creative industries, along with the St. Catherine’s Medicinal Plants Association (SCMPA), including Bedouin farmers and artisans.  Welcoming them were the Troodos Network (the leading local NGO) with the strong support by the local council of Plattres/Troodos and the governments of both Cyprus and Egypt.

 Mutual exploration

Activities during the Egyptian visit included seeing and sampling items unique to each of the natural reserves, such as herbs and spices, as well as exploring the forests and natural environment of Troodos and discovering the creative work of both destinations. This was the first time that a community NGO, representing St. Catherine, has had the opportunity to introduce its products abroad directly and not through a mediator.

Bedouin expo participant. Photo: Inji Amr, MAWARED

Bedouin expo participant. Photo: Inji Amr, MAWARED

Cypriot and Egyptian participants learned from each other.  Some discoveries were practical: Bedouin artisans learned a way to improve their traditional soaps; Cypriot artisans learned a new weaving technique. The two agricultural communities also gained new perspectives from each other on their respective climatic limitations—St. Catherine as a desert and Troodos as a winter-freeze zone.

Most significantly, each community learned that their own culture and way of life is of interest to others.

Geotourism as catalyst

Geotourism trips like this one can serve as a catalyst for helping targeted women and young entrepreneurs penetrate markets, access finance, and market their products—especially to geotourists who go beyond practicing eco-friendly tourism to sustaining and supporting community stewardship and human livelihood.

For these two destinations, developing food-related products is primarily an act of passion, of caring to keep local culinary traditions and artisanry alive. So by embracing the simple human quest of experiencing basics of a destination—traditional food, culture, nature, and knowledge—the geotourism approach becomes an engine for adding value, triggering collaboration between the two destinations in the form of:

  1. Growth in market demand for both places;
  2. Citizen participation, especially among women and young people;
  3. Increased “destination pride” (as emphasized by the “godfather of geotourism,” Jonathan Tourtellot)—in essence, the pride that people take in celebrating our diversity and special natural and cultural identity.

 Wide applicability

This geotourism-led solution can apply to vulnerable communities in various Euro-Mediterranean countries, such as Cyprus, Lebanon (Arz El-Choouf Biosphere), Tunisia, and of course to Natural and Biosphere reserves in Egypt. Along with the governorate of South Sinai (St. Catherine), Egyptian communities in the governorate of New Valley (villages of Bashandi & Mounira) and of Aswan (Nubia and Wadi Allaqi) all face similar challenges.

Such communities have the opportunity to sell their their creative artwork as well as traditional agricultural foods and herbs within their communities when geotourists travel to Egypt. St. Catherine’s has 472 species of rare medicinal plants, of which 19 are endemic. Poorly informed farming and tourism practices now put some species at risk. Raising their perceived value is critical. Responsible tourism that appreciates culture and nature can create market demand for such products, which these communities urgently need.

 Growth in knowledge

That has been a reason for communities to upgrade their products to be in compliance with tastes and technical requirements of EU markets.  C2G takes these vulnerable communities beyond production standards and compliance (which does not by itself guarantee access to market demand) to include learning about obtaining access to local and regional markets; l attaining sustainable value-chain integration, ownership and governance; and acquire business development skills and the ability to form microenterprises or SMEs.

During their visit, St. Catherine participants, for instance, were able to improve commercial exchange skills by learning about quality-control practices and business expertise from the Cypriot Plattres Council and YPM Business Consulting.

CREATE team artisan. Photo: Inji Amr

CREATE artisan. Photo: Inji Amr, MAWARAD

Keys to success

The success of the C2G model can be attributed to heartfelt desire by the vulnerable community to improve and get better. But dynamic knowledge and practice of commercial activities needs more than better information. Ownership of lessons learned requires generating and institutionalizing Hubs of Knowledge among participating countries.

This will materialize when responsible government members engage with responsible business people with a sufficiently long-term perspective. In the case of the Troodos visit, unparalleled representation ranged from Bedouins of St. Catherine, who had never before left Egypt, to high government officials of both Cyprus and Egypt. Representing Cyprus were H.E. Commissioner of Environment and Commissioner of Volunteering and NGOs; representing Egypt were the current and former H.E. Ministers of Environment, demonstrating continuity of effort.

The collaborative approach adds dimensions to the existing intrinsic value of both destinations:

  1. By sharing effort and resources, the two destinations can drive down the costs of exhibiting indigenous knowledge of medicinal and aromatic herbs from both destinations. Over 150 visitors at the Expo had an opportunity to buy traditional artwork from St. Catherine as well as indigenous Cypriot herbs and honey.
  2. Product enhancement: A local young group of designers called “CREATE Team” help generate knowledge that does not disrupt indigenous practices. Trained in Cyprus and working with local community producers and processors (majority of whom are women), the youth team helps develop products and add innovative techniques and designs to already distinctive cultural products.
  3. A joint twinning agreement between the Platres Community Council (PCC) and the St Catherine’s Medicinal Plants Association (SCMPA) formalized the steps by creating a network of NGOs in Egypt and Cyprus to materialize and foster what was learned, namely:
    • Capacity building: How to maintain market-driven products while keeping their authentic local nature.
    • Business acumen: How to make viable business deals and design systems for quality control.
    • Cultural awareness: Learning and building shared respect for differences in destination cultures.
    • Public relations: Teaming up to support advocacy programs for both destinations.

This process is replicable. It can generate and institutionalize Hubs of Knowledge among participating countries.

The “Connect to Grow” solution thus adds value to both host and visiting communities. This is how Two Destinations Can Tango.

For more information:


Editor’s note: The Connect-to-Grow approach was selected for one of the presentations this past February at the UNDP-affiliated First Arab States Regional South-South Development Expo in Doha. Of all presenting teams, only C2G’s included members of the target communities. An excellent innovation, we think.

Statewide Collaboration: “Alaska Geotourism”

The Alaska Geotourism initiative is a collaboration convened by University of Alaska faculty and program specialists and involves rural tourism business and community leaders focused on identifying viable rural economic development management strategies that maximize beneficial tourism for their communities and seek to further good destination stewardship. Another purpose is to provide a source of information to re-introduce remote rural Alaska to the US and International Geotourism communities. See Alaska Geotourism Charter.

Alaska Geotourism is a geotourism initiative, which is a statewide rural tourism collaboration that is now undertaking discussions to identify and promote projects currently underway as well as identify future collaborative endeavours.

Geotourism is very much a theme that is currently ongoing in several rural Alaskan communities well before the formal organization of Alaska’s geotourism efforts. Future Alaska Geotourism endeavors look to several Alaska communities to provide models for other Alaska communities interested in the geotourism approach. These pioneering communities are: the city of Craig, located on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska ; Seward, located on the shores of Prince William Sound at mile “0” of the Iditarod Trail ; and communities in southwest Alaska.

Alaska Geotourism is looking at strategies to promote rural Alaska for those regions/villages that see Geotourism as a viable approach to maintain community health and community viability.

For more information, contact: Alaska Geotourism project co-chair Corey Hester via

New Geotourism Activity on Canadian Border, Alaska, & Philippines

Above: Glacier National Park, Montana, part of the
Crown of the Continent. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

On the Border

The destination-based geotourism approach may be a way to join back together what the 9-11 attacks tore asunder 13 years ago: an easygoing U.S.-Canadian border. You still need passports to cross, but these geotourism projects focus on the destination as a whole, regardless of bisection by the political boundary.

Canoeists especially may welcome the latest entry: “Heart of the Continent. This new National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide program just launched in the border lakes region of northeastern Minnesota and adjacent portions of western Ontario, as reported on the U.S. side and the Canadian side. Supervised by the international Heart of the Continent Partnership, the project will create a cobranded geotourism printed map and website for the triangular area reaching from Thunder Bay, ON west to International Falls, MN and south to Duluth, also including Isle Royale.

This marks the third U.S.-Canada transborder geotourism project, following Crown of the Continent (Montana-Alberta-B.C.) and Lakes to Locks (N.Y.-Quebec). Exploration is now underway for yet a fourth, the Okanagan Valley (B.C.-Washington). Notably, one of the earliest MapGuide projects bridged a different, tougher border: Arizona (U.S.) and Sonora, Mexico. It yielded an excellent (I think) detailed print map of the Sonoran Desert but lacked a strong supervisory geotourism stewardship council that would keep the program going.

And in Alaska

Elsewhere in geotourism developments, a statewide group convened by the University of Alaska has launched a geotourism initiative and posted an Alaskan Geotourism Charter. The group is now reviewing ideas for bringing tourism benefits to Alaskan gateway communities. Many feel bypassed by tourists either on cruise-line package tours or transferring by charter flights to high-end wilderness lodges. We expect you will be hearing more about this effort.

And in Philippines

And I myself just finished a geotourism speaking tour in the Philippines, invited by a Manila-based event planner who believes Philippine tourism has lost a sense of identity. Two lectures in Manila and one each with press coverage in Baguio and Legazpi introduced the geotourism approach to some 3,500 Filipino university students and a variety of professional practitioners.

Sierra Nevada Geotourism Innovations

Lake Tahoe Geotourism Festival Sept 8-9, 2012: That icon of the Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe, is long on beauty but has become a bit short on character over recent decades,

Fisherman at Lake Tahoe. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

providing a travel experience dominated by generic ski resorts and Nevada-side casinos. But Tahoe does have character, plenty of it, and one determined group is working to profile it with annual geotourism festivals called Tahoe Expo. Continue reading


The holistic geotourism approach is designed to maximize tourism benefits for a destination community, minimize negative impacts, and build a responsible tourism strategy that celebrates and builds on sense of place.

Definition of geotourism put forth by National Geographic and the Travel Industry Association of America (now USTA):

geo·tour·ism n (1997): tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

Note—”Geology,” “Landscapes,” and other distinctive and authentic destination attributes may be added to the definition as appropriate.

This section contains information on:

This section’s purpose:

  • To provide a forum for exchanging methods and lessons learned;
  • To help civic leaders introduce the geotourism approach to their communities;
  • To help businesses adopt and profit from the geotourism approach;
  • To encourage the geotourism approach in destination management.

NOTE: The URL leads directly to this page.

The goal is for tourism to help preserve, protect, and educate in ways that support the natural and cultural distinctiveness of appealing places and the well-being of the people who live there.

Why geotourism? Because the various types of excellent place-based, responsible tourism tend to be fragmented and perceived as niches—ecotourism, heritage tourism, geological tourism, agritourism, etc. Even “sustainable tourism” is often seen as mainly environmental. The geotourism approach is not a niche. By featuring the destination as a whole, a geotourism strategy can strengthen the case for responsible, beneficial tourism by embracing all tourism assets uniquely distinctive to the locale. Thus allied, advocates for those assets can form a constituency of stewardship. Together they have enough political and economic clout to challenge local threats to the place’s natural and cultural resources while building a unique marketing case for their destination.

OAS endorsement In 2013 the tourism ministers of the Organization of American States gathered in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, declared geotourism to be the preferred approach for economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For more about the geotourism approach, download:

How to Start and Sustain a Geotourism Initiative—Some starting tips and an invitation to participate.

The Geotourism Study Read the Executive Summary of  Geotourism: The New Trend in Travel, the landmark survey of U.S. travelers’ behavior and attitudes about sustainable practices, commissioned by National Geographic Traveler and conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America (now USTA). Conducted in 2002-2003, the study established that approximately half of American households that travel fit the geotourist profile—truly interested in the destination and eager to be responsible visitors. The full report is now out of print, and its findings need to be updated. Similar studies would also be welcome for other regions of the world.
For an academic account of the geotourism approach, download J. Tourtellot in Riposte Turismo (pdf).

More About the Geotourism Approach from National Geographic »

National Geographic Videos:
What Is Geotourism?
See what real geotourism practitioners have done from around the world.
“Choices” Put American audiences in a proactive frame of mind with this acclaimed 3-minute video (high-resolution version).It ironically lays out in two parts the difference between well-stewarded destinations and places that aren’t.

World Award for Geotourism At the 2011 World Travel Market in London the highest honor goes to National Geographic Traveler for pioneering work in geotourism:

Geotourism Challenge participants
From 2008-2010, National Geographic supported three open-source competitions conducted by Ashoka Changemakers and garnering hundreds of entries from around the the world. Finalists and winners exhibited notable social entrepreneurship in geotourism and destination stewardship, but all entries are well worth browsing, including the opportunity to contact and even partner with the principals.

The other “geotourism”
Geotourism based on geographical character is an approach, embracing all distinctive aspects of a locale. But the word is also used to describe a niche topic, geological tourism. As of the 2011 International Geotourism Congress in Portugal, the two usages have been reconciled and clarified by the Arouca Declaration (downloadable in four languages), in effect incorporating and supporting geological tourism as an important part of the geotourism approach. Read Jonathan Tourtellot’s report on National Geographic Voices. See also Angus Robinson’s presentation in Australia 12 Nov. 2010. His co-authored article on Australia’s Red Centre illustrates how a geologically themed tour is enlivened by the same holistic approach, bringing in culture, history, and nature.