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.


Indigenous Guardian Programs as a Destination Stewardship Tool 

Indigenous Guardian Programs in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii of British Columbia are emerging as powerful tools for destination stewardship. Developed by local Indigenous communities, these Guardian Watchmen programs play a critical role in protecting and managing traditional territories, preserving cultural heritage, and fostering a thriving conservation economy. Mike Robbins tells us more. 

Indigenous Guardian Programs as a Destination Stewardship Tool 

The first time I experienced Coastal Guardian Watchmen on the British Columbia coast was back in 2009 on a trip to an ancient village site and hot springs in Haida Gwaii. The local indigenous Guardians took turns living in the small remote Guardian cabin at Gandll K’in Gwaay.yaay (Hotspring Island). These Guardians were there to protect the site and cultural features, monitor tourism activity, and provide cultural interpretation.

The Guardian Watchmen on Haida Gwaii were some of the first members of
an Indigenous Coastal Guardian Watchmen program, working alongside a strong Indigenous ecotourism sector in BC. Together, they have reconnected the Indigenous communities to their traditional territories, and that plays a critical role in all aspects of stewardship along the entire coast.

BC’s Guardian Watchmen are at the leading edge of a global movement toward Indigenous-led destination stewardship.

Along the coast of B.C.’s expansive Great Bear Rainforest. [Photo by Mike Robbins]

The Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii

The Guardians operate in the Great Bear Rainforest (GBRF) and Haida Gwaii regions of British Columbia, encompassing the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest remaining in the world. Stretching along BC’s coast north from Vancouver Island to Alaska, the GBRF covers 6.4 million hectares (15.8 million acres). This is an area rich in biodiversity with ancient old-growth forests providing home to a multitude of species including grizzly bears, black bears, and the iconic Spirit Bear. Spirit bears are rare white or cream-coated black bears with colouration caused by a recessive gene. They inhabit onl a small portion of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Twenty-seven First Nations live along this coast, many in communities accessible only by air or water. The rich Indigenous cultures have evolved over the past 10,000 years since the ice receded, living in harmony with the landscape.

Colonialism changed that, forcing the Indigenous peoples away and out of their traditional territories to make way for a  lucrative economy, largely based on logging, fishing, and shipping, but with minimal benefit accruing to the First Nations.

A Conservation Economy

In 2016 the Premier of BC and First Nations of the GBRF announced a conservation agreement of global significance securing:

  • 85% of the rainforest is legally protected (North America’s most stringent commercial logging regulations in place on the remaining 15%)
  • First Nations shared decision-making over their traditional territories
  • Active support from forestry companies and environmental organizations

This agreement culminated following years of collaborative protests, market campaigns, land use planning, and negotiations orchestrated by environmental groups and First Nations.

Today this incredible intact Canadian wilderness area hosts a thriving conservation economy (an economy that sustains itself on income earned from activities that conserve and restore rather than deplete the natural capital).

The Guardian Watchman Program

Guardian Watchmen programs vary from Nation to Nation in the GBRF depending on their priorities. Activities typically include:

  • Scientific data collection and analysis
  • Upholding and advancing cultural knowledge
  • Restoration work
  • Monitoring fish and wildlife harvests
  • Emergency response
  • Tourism monitoring and protocol agreements with non-Indigenous companies
  • Planning and management
  • Education and interpretation for visitors

There is a lot of overlap in the work and skill sets of Guardians who monitor and protect their territories and tourism guides who bring guests out on the territory to view wildlife, see archaeological sites, and learn from storytellers. In the GBRF there is work progressing towards a combined Guide/Guardian training designation to support growth in the conservation economy.

Marvin, Guardian and Spirit Bear guide. [Photo by Mike Robbins]

The Kitasoo Xai’Xais Model

In the remote community of Klemtu (population 500), for instance, the Kitasoo Xai’Xais people have successfully developed what has become a best-practice model for community-based tourism in Canada. At the center of this effort is the Spirit Bear Lodge, a profitable community owned/operated ecotourism venture with a 12-room lodge. The Lodge works closely with the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Guardian Watchmen program.

As part of their stewardship efforts the community created the Spirit Bear Research Foundation, a collaboration between the community and conservation scientists, together conducting research that is: community-driven, locally relevant, and ecosystem-based.

The people of Klemtu do not view any separation between the people, the land and the sea. Every living thing is interconnected.

The Klemtu Big House, a symbol of Kitasoo/Xia’xias culture and resilience. [Photo by Mike Robbins]

As tourists started to arrive at Spirit Bear Lodge back in 2006 the village’s youngsters began to take an interest and started to drop by in the evenings to chat with guests. Out of this initial connection was borne the concept of Sua, a Kitasoo/Xai’Xais youth cultural program sponsored by the Lodge. Sua is a Xai’Xais word meaning thunder, and the youngsters now involved in the program are encouraged to be ‘loud and proud’ in sharing their identity and culture as they stage song and dance performances in the Big House for guests of the Lodge. Further accommodating youth, the community decided to integrate a new conservation arm of the Nation called SEAS (Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards) with the guardian and tourism programs.

Today the community of Klemtu is benefitting from a thriving ecotourism venture and guardian programs that have helped to protect their traditional territories, act as a catalyst for cultural renewal, and helped in re-connecting community members back to their ancestral territories. The result is a healthier community, building capacity, and engaging youth in learning cultural traditions and language.

The Wei Wai Kum First Nation Model

Another southern GBRF First Nation, the Wei Wai Kum First Nation, many of whom live on reserve in Campbell River, are monitoring and gathering data in their traditional territories through a Guardian program launched in 2018.

Through their Guardian program, the Wei Wai Kum are applying traditional knowledge and using scientific techniques to carry out their stewardship responsibilities in a modern way, keeping watch over what’s happening and ensuring that visitors and resource users are following local rules.

Today, within their traditional territory, several industries from fish farms to forestry to real estate are competing for resources and space. The Discovery Passage, which narrows to just 750 metres wide in some parts, runs along the northeast coast of Vancouver Island and sees heavy traffic from cruise ships, cargo ships, fishing boats, and passenger ferries. Community members began expressing concerns over resource depletion, spill risks, and environmental impacts that could threaten the fisheries the community has relied on for generations.

A Spirit Bear scans the shallow creek for running salmon. It is believed that only about 400 Spirit Bears exist in the world. [Photo by Mike Robbins]

Through Nanwakolas Council, the regional Indigenous organization, the Wei Wai Kum receives a large and increasing number of referrals each month for consultation on development and resource use within their territory. As a member of the Council, Wei Wai Kum began to participate in the Nanwakolas regional stewardship network, which provides technical, logistical, and data management support for Indigenous Guardian programs in the region. Wei Wai Kum stewardship staff members participate in training and joint monitoring initiatives with other Na̲nwak̲olas members, learning how to run a modern Guardian program.

As an example, Wei Wai Kum Guardians conduct a kelp biomass survey in their territory. Kelp is an important habitat, food source, and carbon sink – and has been declining along the coast, due to climate change and increased predation from purple sea urchins.

The Benefits of Guardian Programs

Research suggests that places protected and stewarded by Indigenous peoples in Canada, Australia, and Brazil have levels of biodiversity as high or higher than lands protected by those countries’ national governments.

In 2016 research conducted by Coastal First Nations and Nature United evaluated the benefits of Guardian programs for their communities. The research determined that the programs returned benefits at least 10 times the dollar investment. As a result, Nature United helped develop an Indigenous Guardians Toolkit and through a Technical Support Team are offering additional hand’s-on technical support.

Indigenous communities across Canada have launched more than 30 guardian programs modeled after the successful Coastal Guardian Watchmen program in the GBRF and Haida Gwaii.

This model could be replicated in many other destinations where Indigenous communities still remain and  can resume their historical stewardship role in  their traditional territories, resulting in healthier communities, engaged youth, and enhanced capacity for research and tourism.


Mike retired as Chairman of the Board of Directors with CREST (The Center for Responsible Travel) based in Washington DC in December 2021. Mike is part of the TAPAS Group network (IUCN Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group) holds numerous other positions, including Board Member for the Aspiring (UNESCO) Georgian Bay Geopar,Member of the Trebek Council, Board Member of the Escarpment Corridor Alliance, Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, Fellow International Member of the Explorers Club, and Royal Penguin LT&C (Linking Tourism & Conservation).


The Bahamas Destination Stewardship Initiative: A Conversation

The Bahamas Family Islands have created not one but four destination stewardship councils and consistent communication, collaboration, and community engagement has been the key to their success. In 2023, the Bahamas Destination Stewardship Initiative won the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Destination Stewardship Award. GSTC Program Director Kathleen Pittman discusses the initiative with Janel Campbell, Senior Project Manager at The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

Kathleen Pittman: Congratulations to The Bahamas Family Islands on this prestigious CTO Award. Why is destination stewardship so important to the Ministry of Tourism and communities in The Bahamas?

Janel Campbell: The COVID-19 tourism stoppage hit local communities especially hard. The Ministry of Tourism has long prioritized empowering communities to take a greater leadership role in the development and management of tourism within their communities. Harnessing tourism for good and getting this recovery right is a top priority for the Family Islands, and the recent fiscal crisis has made a boot-strapped, cross-sector, and everybody-come-to-the-table approach more critical than ever before.

The crystal clear waters and the natural beauty of the Bahamas Family Islands continues to attract visitors from all over the world. [Photo by Jorge Fernando]

Tell us about The Bahamas Destination Stewardship Initiative. 

The Bahamas partnered with GSTC in June 2020 to provide structural support and training to establish Destination Stewardship Councils (“DSCs”), following GSTC Destination Criterion A1. The Tourism offices on each island initially acted as the Council Secretariat, guiding them in GSTC-led orientation, stakeholder mapping, and preparations for Council establishment. Through webinars, Councils are exposed to capacity building in tourism planning and development. The Ministry of Tourism has provided seed funding for the first projects that the Councils could then leverage to seek additional financial support. This approach has put communities in the driver’s seat for rebuilding tourism on their terms. It also boosts resilience to future shocks, including regular changes in government, by putting civil society at the helm of destination stewardship.

Which islands have installed Destination Stewardship Councils, and how did these communities recruit the wide-ranging stakeholders needed for a thriving Destination Stewardship Council? 

Four of The Bahamas Family Islands have Destination Stewardship Councils thus far: Eleuthera, Exuma, Harbour Island, and South Andros / Mangrove Cay. GSTC’s Stakeholder Mapping Tool was used to identify the many stakeholders across government, private sector, and community leaders we wanted to bring to the table. They were invited to a GSTC training and orientation on destination stewardship and DSCs, which piqued the interest of many. Once we had some core champions involved from each sector, and once they identified priorities from the GSTC Destination Criteria for their Councils to advance, they conducted targeted outreach to bring more organizations and community members to the Council.

Council Priorities identified aligned with various GSTC Criteria such as D9 which involves sustainable solid waste management, B7 focusing on the safety and security of visitors and residents traversing the streets, and C3 focused on the protection of intangible cultural heritage through documentation of destination history by consulting elders within the community.

What are some of the positive outcomes you and the communities are most proud of so far?

We at the Ministry of Tourism envisioned what success would look like at this early stage of the project, and we are very pleased with the progress. Four independent Destination Stewardship Councils are robustly operating on our islands with wide cross-sector stakeholder representation and partnerships. In addition to legally incorporating and effectively branding themselves and regularly engaging their community members, the Councils are well on their way with a mix of short- and longer-term projects that advance the GSTC Destination Criteria in their communities.

The volunteer crew from a recent community clean up project. [Photo courtesy of Ocean Aid 360]

Initial projects included sustainable waste management partnerships, protecting and interpreting cultural sites and assets, enhancing safety and security by installing solar streetlights, and more. The Councils are also engaging in innovative marketing based on stakeholder involvement, strengthening resident buy-in and engagement while raising awareness of the Councils and destination sustainability. For example, one of the Councils held a competition to generate their Council’s logo, which enhanced the Council’s visibility as well as marketed the destination’s sustainability initiatives. After two years of this initiative, some DSCs have already secured grants and/or partnerships with international NGOs for the execution of project work.

A year after forming, the Councils instituted simple monitoring and evaluation indicators to measure their performance in key areas based on input from their membership. The results of that exercise were positive, also yielding recommendations for improvement, which the Councils are following. The monitoring indicators focus on the level of stakeholder engagement, Council stability, and effectiveness of capacity-building exercises conducted during the project. The indicators are standardized across Councils, which further enhances communication and collaboration among Councils as well as good practice sharing and troubleshooting support where needed. The monitoring indicators also serve as a ready data set for Councils to communicate progress to external audiences, including actual and potential donors and the public. Importantly, the progress measurement has helped the Councils identify areas where their members would like to see improvement and keeps communities and membership at the center of decision-making, which is fundamental to the sustainability of this effort.

Lastly, I’ll mention that we bring the Destination Stewardship Councils together every six months for a Conclave to share their progress, challenges, and lessons learned. This peer-to-peer sharing has been tremendously valuable to inspire, energize, and mentor each other. Every presentation from the Councils at the Conclave spark pride in communities taking ownership of destination stewardship and accomplishing so much in so little time, and I am confident the best is yet to come.

You said the best is yet to come, what can we expect next from The Bahamas Destination Stewardship initiative?

Involvement and empowerment of tourism stakeholders in decision-making about their community development and management are at the heart of The Bahamas Destination Stewardship Initiative. The initiative engages cohorts of Family Islands on a staggered basis—so we can replicate and scale the approach, applying lessons learned.  Currently, we are continuing the support of the original cohort of Councils, while working with GSTC to build capacity for the launch of an additional four Destination Stewardship Councils this year. We hope to work with yet a third cohort of Family Islands to set up Destination Stewardship Councils after that—with the aim of supporting as many communities as are ready within The Bahamas to adopt and become part of our growing network of communities taking charge of their community’s development, practicing responsible tourism and encouraging environmental conservation for better stewardship of their patrimony and preservation of that patrimony for the next generation.

Panama Tourism to Empower Local and Indigenous Communities

Inequity in distribution of tourism income is a  major problem in much of Latin America, especially for indigenous communities. Now Panama is taking tangible steps to fix that, beginning with ten pilot projects and a focus on nature and tradition. Iván Eskildsen, the nation’s Minister of Tourism, explains.

Our National Plan Intends To Preserve and Regenerate Ecosystems and Ancestral Traditions

As Panama aspires to become a world-class sustainable tourism destination, local communities need to be considered at the very center of the tourism phenomenon, or sustainability will not be achieved. This philosophy is at the heart of Panama’s Sustainable Tourism Master Plan.

King of the Naso people, Reynaldo Alexis Santana, is said to be the last indigenous king in the Americas. [Photo courtesy of Panamá por Naturaleza]

Panama is a crossroads of extraordinary biological and cultural diversity, connecting the two American continents and two great oceans. Panama is also one of only three countries in the world that is “carbon negative,” absorbing more carbon than it emits. More than 30% of Panama’s land and marine territory is protected, and 7 indigenous, Afro-descendant and mestizo peoples protect the natural and cultural diversity of this international hub.

The Panama Sustainable Tourism Model has been launched by the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP) to establish tourism as a powerful tool to empower local and indigenous communities, so they can preserve and regenerate Panama’s rich and diverse ecosystems, as well as Panama’s cultural heritage, including ancestral practices at risk of disappearing. Local communities need to be the true guardians of the earth, and of their ancestral traditions.

The Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO) and the ATP, have established the Panama Alliance for Community Tourism (PACT) to work alongside local communities to implement this philosophy.

PACT: a Collaborative Effort

The PACT project is reaching the end of its first phase, working with 10 pilot communities that reflect the cultural diversity of Panama in its main expressions: Indigenous, Afro and mestizo (Spanish heritage): Mata Oscura, Achiote, Bonllik, Santa Fe, Jurutungo, Soloy, Rio Caña, Bastimentos (Bahía Honda), Isla Cañas, and La Pintada.

These communities were selected based on a series of objective criteria that recognized their tourism potential, as well as a sufficient level of preparation that would allow them to reach a “market ready” status in the shortest possible time. With these communities, a diagnosis of their current degree of development was carried out by the PACT team; they participated in training sessions and workshops, and a catalog was prepared with information on the most attractive tourist experiences offered by the 10 communities.

The Soloy Community, one of the 10 pilot communities, is the gateway to the mystical Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous region. [Photo courtesy of Panamá por Naturaleza]

The diagnosis identified both terrestrial and aquatic trails as well as activities that would highlight the communities’ nature and biodiversity. It also recommended improvements and investments needed for  trails to join the ‘1000 km of Trails’ project, a national network of trails developed by the ATP to integrate local communities to tourism development.

Also, the diagnosis identified investments needed for the communities’ attractions to be better prepared for visitors. Some of these investments have already been made to improve the visitor experience; other community needs in infrastructure will be submitted to the government’s Social Cabinet. This includes needs for improvements in water systems, community lodging, energy efficiency, among other proposed improvements. These infrastructure needs will also be presented to NGOs and international organizations that have available funds focused on biodiversity protection, and empowerment of local communities, to achieve the outlined roadmap for the pilot communities.

Marketing Community Tourism

In parallel to the preparation of these local communities, marketing strategies are being worked with these local communities, especially through the integration of the communities’ experiences in the tourism catalogs of national and international tour operators.

To accelerate this integration process, a Community Tourism Experiences Innovation Contest was launched together with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), offering attractive prizes to the most innovative experiences in community tourism. As a part of the contest, we are facilitating alliances between community providers and tour operators, through different workshops and training sessions.

Panama Community leaders at ATTA’s AdventureNext Latin America 2022 Conference, hosted in Panama City. [Photo courtesy of Panamá por Naturaleza]

To position these community-based experiences in the international markets, Panama has been focusing in the adventure travel market. In February 2022, Panama hosted Adventure Next Latin America, with the theme: “Community-Climate-Connection”. In this event, the 10 representatives of the PACTO pilot communities held a leading role in promoting these community-based experiences directly to dozens of media representatives, international tour operators and businesses. Panama continues to engage with the Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA), bidding to host other international events as a strategic priority to market these community-based experiences, targeting to attract the adventure travel market (valued at $683 billion in global spending per year according to the ATTA).

The Panama Sustainable Tourism Model as an Open-Source Template

In Latin America and many other parts of the world we share a common reality: we have incredible wealth when it comes to biodiversity and cultural diversity, but at the same time we have a terrible distribution of income. We see the Panama Sustainable Tourism Model as a great opportunity to improve the quality of life of rural communities, through the sustainable development of their natural and cultural resources.

Even though the work with local communities is just finalizing its first phase, we are starting to see positive results from the initiatives described above. Some national and  international tour operators are integrating these community-based experiences to their catalogs, and are beginning to bring tourists to these communities. We are optimistic that these results will mature in time, and as this happens, we will be committed to share this Sustainable Tourism Model as an open-source template, which can be replicated in other countries committed to the development of local communities and the regeneration of the planet’s ethnic and biological diversity.


A Call for Climate Collaboration at the First Ever Future-of-Tourism Summit

After two Covid-wracked years, the Future of Tourism Coalition was able to convene its first face-to-face summit on 30 Sept. 2022. Held in Athens, Greece, the Coalition meeting focused on climate mitigation and adaptation. Kate Lewis reports.

Participants Ask Businesses and Destinations to Partner Up for Change Ahead

On 29 September the inaugural Future of Tourism Summit, held in Athens and live-streamed globally, brought together NGOs, businesses, and destination organizations to demonstrate the need for “radical collaboration” to adapt to future needs. The focus of the day was climate action, within the framework of the Glasgow Declaration. This year the Future of Tourism Coalition event was part of the Green Destinations 2022 Conference, hosted by the City of Athens at the iconic Technopolis venue, with Beyond Green as sponsor.

Highlights from the day included:

  • Nadine Pinto, Sustainability Manager for The Travel Corporation, called for stronger partnerships with destinations, with metrics to measure their effectiveness. “We won’t have all the solutions overnight”, she added, “but we need to show the difference being made through partnerships toward the right direction”.
  • Janie Neumann, Sustainable Tourism Manager for Visit Scotland, hailed the Glasgow Declaration as an important shared commitment to align stakeholders and keep them accountable. Acknowledging that they don’t have all the answers, they move forward through “learning by doing” and are supported by the Travel Foundation.
  • Anthony Everett, President & CEO of 4VI (formerly Visit Vancouver Island, now a social enterprise) announced a multi-year partnership with the Travel Foundation. “We realized very quickly we needed a global partner,” he said. The partnership includes developing new KPIs for Vancouver Island which will draw from, and be shared with, the global community. Greg Takehara and Paula Vlamings from Tourism Cares were on Vancouver Island and joined virtually from its Meaningful Travel Summit which was running in parallel.
  • Liisa Kokkarinen, Head of Sustainable Development at Visit Finland explained how they signed the Glasgow Declaration along with 60 Finnish organizations who were inspired to stop emissions, not tourism
  • Virginia Fernandez-Trapa, Programme Officer, Sustainable Development of Tourism, UNWTO acknowledged the success so far of the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism, which UNWTO leads on, but called for many more organizations to sign up. She said: “Our unique planet depends on whether we transform or not, so let’s do it together.”
  • Martin Thomas, Vice President of Beyond Green, a global portfolio of “Planet Earth’s most sustainable hotels, resorts, and lodges”, shared details on the brand’s commitment to deliver on the three pillars of sustainable tourism, and how member properties are working to protect biodiversity, celebrate cultural heritage, and improve local people’s livelihoods in destinations around the world.
  • Jonathan Tourtellot, founder of the Destination Stewardship Center and the Destination Stewardship Report, was recognized by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) with this year’s Martha Honey Legacy in Responsible Travel Award.
  • Paloma Zapata, CEO of Sustainable Travel International, introduced its responsible travel documentary series that showcases real-life examples of sustainability in action from destinations and travel companies around the world.
  • Jeremy Sampson, CEO of The Travel Foundation, outlined the number one future goal for the Future of Tourism Coalition is to continue to build and strengthen communities, particularly in the Global South.
  • Sofya Muhrer-Muromets, Sustainability Coordinator, TourRadar said that mindset change is all about storytelling and communication, so the industry needs to share best practices, raise awareness of sustainable tourism, and highlight what good things people are already doing with regards to innovation and transformation of the current system.
  • Kristen Bertuglia, Environmental Sustainability Director, Town of Vail, Colorado also commented on changing mindsets, saying that travel and immersion in a place can change attitudes, so visitor experiences should be a catalyst for changing people’s hearts and connections with a destination. She said: ‘You can put policy in place but if there is nothing to back it up, it may not be sustainable.’
  • Alexia Panagiotopoulou, Head of Strategy, Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (City of Athens) highlighted that cities can be mobilizers for climate action in tourism as they have the ability to bring different stakeholders together, so it’s important for them to provide the relevant communication and resources on the topic.
  • Evita Kalogiorga, Brand Director, This is Athens highlighted that communities often have solutions, so organizations shouldn’t fear reaching out for wider consultation. Climate action is more successful if a bottom-up approach is taken.
  • Candace Strauss, VP, Partnerships & Community Engagement, WANDER commented on why the climate crisis had not been responded to as rapidly as the COVID crisis, saying that ‘solutions needed are long-term because they are so infrastructure intensive as well as the fundamental changes required in government policy, which is impacted by politics. The current energy crisis is currently shining a spotlight on this at the moment.’
  • Hugh Felton, Sustainable Tourism Manager, ABTA reinforced the message that individuals do not have to be experts to take the first step in climate action in tourism. Decisions can be small, but just start somewhere.

To conclude the event, members of the audience from organisations that had signed the Glasgow Declaration were invited on stage and applauded, while Preferred Travel Group (parent company of Beyond Green) and the City of Athens became the latest to sign – committing to publish their climate action plans and report on progress annually. Vasilis-Foivos Axiotis, Vice Mayor for City Planning of the City of Athens, said: “We want tourism that helps us to reach our goal of reducing carbon emissions by 61% by 2030. We are signing the Glasgow Declaration because we want to share our commitments with the world, and because we are optimistic that these goals can be achieved in the City of Athens.”

You can watch recordings of the event here.

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.

A Revealing Ocean View of Tourism

A “High Level” international Ocean Panel has come out with a blunt change-your-ways-or-else report aimed at the customary models for coastal and marine tourism. Norwegian journalist and consultant-participant Arild Molstad sums up the content and opines about its implications for any destination with a port and a coast.

The Mediterranean Sea is more vulnerable even than open ocean due to its confined geography. Photo: Arild Molstad

A powerful call for regenerative tourism on coastal destinations

“The very thing that draws people to coastal and marine destinations continues to be threatened by tourism itself. The unprecedented pause in global tourism has provided a unique opportunity to reassess and reset.” So states a recent report on international coastal zones – Opportunities for Transforming Coastal and Marine Tourism.* Co-authored by the 17 nations** of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel), the tourism report has indeed done some reassessing, with observations and recommendations relevant for coastal destinations everywhere.

The report doesn’t mince words, calling “the current model of coastal and marine tourism … inherently unsustainable, characterised by high levels of economic leakage, seasonality and vulnerability.” Don’t be misled by the abundance of marine references. The tourism report is not a message in a bottle from the swirling Garbage Patch somewhere out there in the Pacific.

Coral reefs and one of the longest coastlines in the world make the Philippine marine environment rich in biodiversity – a draw for marine tourism crucial to the economy. [Photo courtesy of Arild Molstad]

Marine and coastal tourism represents approximately 50% of the total sector globally, including infrastructure, impact, visitation, and spending.

Considering that magnitude, the report should be seen as much more than a critical view from somebody just “…sittin’ at the dock of the bay/ watchin’ the tide roll away,” as Otis Redding sang.


As a seafaring nation with one of the longest coastlines in the world, it fell to Norway to take the initiative in launching a fast-track action plan to safeguard the oceans from escalating pollution, accelerating climate change, and rapid loss of biodiversity.

Three years ago Norway’s government invited 13 countries to form a multi-sector ‘coastal coalition’ to spearhead and embrace a more sustainable, holistic approach to industries such as fishing, shipping, food production and finance. Marine-related tourism was also an obvious choice for this list: By 2030, according to the report, coastal and marine tourism will become the largest ocean economic sector.

The idea of the Ocean Panel was conceived in 2017 in a meeting between the former president of the World Resources Institute, Andrew Steer, and Norway’s Minister for Climate and Environment, Vidar Helgesen. Present at the conference was John Kerry, who has since been a strong supporter of the initiative, which was initially financed by Norway.

Headed by a “High Panel” of professionals, and with the World Resources Institute as a secretariat, the Ocean Panel subsequently brought in many tourism experts, including me. In 2019 we were all looking forward to going to work in brainstorming and problem-solving sessions on all continents. That didn’t happen.

What happened was Covid-19, triggering instead innumerable digital encounters over two years across all time zones. Confronted by the implosion of coastal tourism everywhere – we realized that the otherwise catastrophic coronavirus crisis came with some silver linings.

It would give us time to:

a) identify and diagnose structural weaknesses in the traditional tourism industry,
b) find ways to address the acute needs of nearly one million tourism workers whose future livelihoods were jeopardized, and
c) build a more sustainable tourism model for ports, bays, beaches, fjords, inlets, archipelagos, islands and coastal communities, where counting visitors as a prime measure of success must end.

John Kerry. [Photo courtesy United Nations]

In April 2022, international delegates from the private and public sectors, plus youth leaders and philanthropic organizations announced major commitments worth more than $16 billion to protect ocean health at an ocean conference in the Pacific island nation of Palau, a member of the Ocean Panel initiative. In his keynote speech, John Kerry, now the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, told the audience: ‘We’re starting now finally to act with the urgency that the moment demands, even as we understand that we have to accelerate even more.’


A circuit breaker

The report launched at the Ocean Summit this summer put it this way: “The global pandemic… offered a circuit breaker to reflect on traditional forms of coastal and marine tourism that are no longer sustainable or viable.” The pandemic, the report stated, became a “unique and timely opportunity for bold action” that gave the industry and the public sector “a chance to change and reshape the sector” through political leadership.

I find much of the wording in the report (digesting the 12-page Executive summary is a good start) to be remarkably clear and topical, hitting most of the marks where global tourism so far has failed. In particular I welcome the use of the term regenerative, as it goes beyond ‘sustainability’ with its emphasis on ‘rebuilding and restoring damaged or depleted ecosystems, communities and traditions.’

A regenerative approach

The regenerative concept makes an important link to the threat that has been called ‘the twin brother of climate change’ – the speeding decline of global biodiversity. It also makes reference to traditions and community values, significant when many of the 50-plus marine World Heritage sites are besieged by mass tourism.

The report strongly encourages a more systemic, holistic approach to tourism in places where water meets land, from ports to all types of coastal shorelines. This struck me: Isn’t it about time that we begin to view ports as portals, that is, entry points where marine and terrestrial ecosystems, e.g. National Parks and Marine Protected Areas, communicate and connect – sustainably as well as synergistically?

When the report makes an important reference to the tourism industry’s “invisible burden” I am reminded how many of the sharpest industry experts and advisors have been at work. Their thinking appears in such summarizing assertions such as “… the economic gains from tourism are not distributed equally, with large foreign companies and tour operators typically receiving disproportional benefits. When comparing the true socio-economic impacts, the costs of attracting and retaining mass tourism arrivals often outweigh the benefits.”

A transformation needed

The report calls for a transformation of tourism. Existing financial and incentive structures will need to be revised, requiring innovative financial mechanisms to ensure a just transition. The economic damage of the pandemic to tourism-dependent destinations calls for new funding packages, fiscal policies, and non-traditional lending arrangements. As examples, the report describes user and entry fees, conservation and environment taxes, concession fees, plus the use of “blue bonds” and conservation trust funds, lease arrangements and protected area charges.  Such a paradigm shift will require investments and monetary stimuli.

What the High Panel calls the “the underutilisation of tourist fees” can represent a vast source of revenue for conservation initiatives to strengthen resource management and help raise revenues locally.

Large cruise ships such as these in St. Maarten will face more restrictions in countries such as Norway, which plans to protect its fjord ecosystems from megaship pollution. [Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

One would be to “undertake value chain analysis to align strategies and interventions to eliminate leakage and boost local economic prosperity” – proposed in various EU regions. This is a hot topic in a country such as Norway, where polluting cruise vessels will likely no longer be welcome in the fjords by 2026. An intervention of this magnitude will clearly pose a challenge for a cruise industry facing turbulent times, with frozen assets and an increasingly debated Big Cruise business model. This is prompting urgent demands from fragile Caribbean and Mediterranean destinations “to re-think and re-imagine tourism.”

New series of work sessions planned

In Norway, the nation’s 2017 “Road Map to Sustainable Tourism” will likely be revised and updated. Since the nation remains a major financing source for the Ocean Panel, its prime minister will co-lead upcoming High Panel meetings.

Will the report trigger enough courage and resources to transform a tourism industry ripe for reform? Or will “build back better” recede into merely “build back” – the way Otis Redding’s song ends: “Nothin’s gonna change/ everything still remains the same”?

If so, an enormous amount of wisdom and energy has been misspent.

*Full title: “Opportunities for Transforming Coastal and Marine Tourism” Towards Sustainability, Regeneration and Resilience.] An excellent 12-page Executive Summary report is available, giving an overview of the core messages in 132 pages report (which would have benefited greatly from a more thoughtful selection of photos, with captions, to illustrate and underscore more of the cases covered in the main text).  The report is accompanied by a collection of Expert Perspectives on how to enact the shift to a sustainable, more equitable tourism sector, across the value chain. 

**This year the US, France and the UK came on board, joining Norway, Australia, Ghana, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Mexico, Indonesia, Palau, Kenya, Namibia, Japan, Portugal, Jamaica. All 17 nations met this June in Portugal at the pandemic-postponed (twice) Ocean Summit. 

Arild Molstad is the author of several acclaimed books, hundreds of articles. He is also a photographer, film-maker, and an internationally recognized conservation and tourism expert.

Key Takeaways from CREST’s Forum On Destination Stewardship

What does it mean to implement a destination stewardship model? What are the successes and challenges communities face throughout the process? And what does a shift towards stewardship mean for destination marketing? Alix Collins summarizes the key takeaways from the 2022 World Tourism Day Forum.

A Better Way Forward

For this year’s World Tourism Day Forum (27 Sept. 2022), we at the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) wanted to shine a light on destination stewardship. Initially, we were going to focus solely on the mindset shift from marketing to management, but implementing the destination stewardship model isn’t just about making that shift. It’s also about governance, funding structures, stakeholder engagement, political will, and community and private sector buy-in.

So we shifted our focus. The first panel focused on implementing the destination stewardship model. In theory, bringing people together for better destination stewardship sounds easy. In practice, however, it can be challenging to implement. While there are fantastic models across the world, we decided to focus on US destinations because of the political and cultural landscape that poses unique challenges. The second panel focused on rethinking destination marketing, moving from tourist-centric marketing that aims to get more heads and beds and towards community-centered storytelling that aims to capture a destination’s sense of place and benefit the community in ways requested by the community.

Our speakers included: Jonathan Tourtellot (Destination Stewardship Center), Seleni Matus (International Institute of Tourism Studies), Ilihia Gionson (Hawai‘i Tourism Authority), Dawnielle Tehama (Willamette Valley Visitors Association), Dr. Brooke Hansen (University of South Florida), Sven Gonstead (Big Bay Stewardship Council), Lebawit Lily Girma (former Editor-At-Large at Skift), Rob Holmes (GLP Films), JoAnna Haugen (Rooted), Jayni Gudka (Unseen Tours), Tom Smith (Intrepid Travel), Andreas Weissenborn (Destinations International), and Diwigdi Valiente (Panama Tourism Authority).

Key Takeaways

Collaboration is Key

In his keynote address, Jonathan Tourtellot said that a “lack of a collaborative structure at the destination level is why I’ve become a relentless advocate for the creation of destination stewardship councils, by whatever name, [to take] care of the ultimate tourism product, which is a place – a place where people live.”

We can accomplish more together than we can apart, and yet doing so is easier said than done. Collaboration is about more than sharing ideas. As Dawnielle Tehama, mentioned, it’s about stakeholders co-designing and co-deciding tourism policies and practices that impact everyone in the community. And a step beyond that, it’s about co-managing as well.

In Willamette Valley, this looks like developing and adopting a place-based strategy by “connecting and building bridges between different sectors of the tourism industry, and starting to have the conversation with our state and local agencies, our DMOs, and other stakeholders,” she said, including the wine industry, hospitality, lodging, guides, operators, and outfitters. In Big Bay, Michigan, an isolated, rural community, it looks like connecting stakeholders through formal and informal means, from surveys and in-person forums to their annual Fall Festival.

There is no one-size-fits-all model

Every destination is different. Dr. Brooke Hansen and two of her Florida’s Keep America Beautiful affiliates are following a model inspired by the work of Ilihia Gionson and his team at the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), but the models are vastly different. In Hawai‘i, we are seeing a top-down approach, with HTA leading the effort to co-develop island-wide destination management plans with counties and visitor bureaus. In Florida, there is a lack of direction from the state level, so Dr. Hansen and others are taking a more grassroots approach. By bringing together nonprofits, volunteers, tourists, and academia, they are testing a model specifically designed for Florida but one they hope others can look to.

We need to manage our invitations

Overtourism was a problem before the pandemic. Residents of Barcelona and Venice, for example, took to the streets to protest the unsustainable influx of tourists into their cities in 2017. But during the pandemic, tourism ceased in many places and exploded in others, primarily in destinations where travelers could experience the outdoors. As a result, many destinations, including Hawai‘i, began to rethink their relationship with tourism.

“In Hawaiian culture, there’s a specific protocol towards asking for entry and being granted entry,” Gionson noted. With limits on the number of people allowed in specific places, they can better manage funds and staffing. It also allows them to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t invite you in at this time, the other 2,000 people are invited in, you’ve got to wait a minute. And that’s something that I think the market just needs to understand in these times when demand is this great for these finite resources.”

If we want to be more authentic, we need to be more inclusive

“The market is demanding more authenticity…there’s only one source of authenticity, and that’s the community, you can’t counterfeit it, can’t manufacture it,” said Gionson. Andreas Weissenborn also noted that in a world where destinations are competing for tourists around the world, you need to have a brand, and “if you build an authentic and inclusive, distinct brand, you inspire people to want to visit you.” This brand, he notes, isn’t created or owned by a destination organization but is developed and owned by the community.

Being authentic also means being inclusive, which doesn’t solely mean gathering input from communities but giving them agency over developing tourism policies, practices, and products.

Jayni Gudka discussed the importance of including voices from marginalized communities not only in destination marketing but also in development of tourism products. For community tours, she notes, this means asking who is deciding what’s included and excluded from the tour, and who gives the tour, particularly whether it’s someone from the community or outside of it. “For us at Unseen Tours, it’s really important that we don’t speak on behalf of people with experience of homelessness and marginalization, who are our tour guides, but that we provide them with opportunities to share their own stories and opinions with the world through their walking tours.”

Diwigdi Valiente shared similar insights from working with indigenous communities in Panama, who are now seeing more representation at all government and business levels. “Now, we are not just the ones that dance in order to show our culture to visitors, but we’re also being part of the of the tourism chain, not only being the providers of services, but also being more involved in the tourism management.”

We need metrics that matter

We need to move beyond metrics that promote quantity over quality and towards metrics that matter. Communities around the world are being pushed to their breaking point as unsustainable numbers of tourists visit their destinations and put a strain on their resources as well as natural and cultural assets.

Tom Smith noted that the “ultimate measure of success has to be the long term health of the communities that that we visit on our tours….Destinations that truly embrace and engage and consider the happiness of residents, hosts, and travelers will ultimately create the most economic and social value for everybody.”

It’s not about tourism

JoAnna Haugen said it best: “It’s important to consider [that] when it comes to community-focused tourism, it’s not about tourism. The focus really needs to be on the holistic well-being and care of the community, and tourism is a vehicle or a tool that can support that, if and when appropriate.”

We at CREST couldn’t agree more. CREST’s mission and vision for tourism embody this same principle. Tourism is not a product but rather, a mechanism through which communities can improve livelihoods for themselves and their neighbors, conserve and raise awareness about their most precious natural assets, share their cultural heritage and ideas, and spark meaningful entrepreneurship opportunities and positive change.

Ultimately, as Tourtellot notes, “tourism done well can help protect these places. Done badly, it can help destroy them. Good destination stewardship can make the difference.”

Missed the 2022 World Tourism Day Forum? You can watch the recording here.