“Destination Stewardship” Is on the Rise for 2024

2024: What’s Happening at the Destination Stewardship Center and Beyond

As we transition to a new year, it’s with mixture of delight and apprehension that I see the term “destination stewardship” gaining popularity, especially here in North America – delight to see its increasing use in tourism related circles, and some apprehension as to whether it’s being used meaningfully.

Our own definition has its roots in work that began at National Geographic over two decades ago. You can read that a detailed definition on our “Mission” page. Put simply, though, “destination stewardship” means care for places where tourism is involved.

Emphasis on care for places – places being the ultimate tourism product.

My concern is whether destination marketing/management organizations understand that good destination stewardship must extend beyond the silo of the tourism industry to be effective. That other branches of government, portions of civil society, and even nontourism businesses may have roles to play.

We’ll have more about this as the new year progresses.

The Newest Destination Stewardship Report

The most recent D.S.Report was emailed in November. Here’s what should have shown up in your email box if you are a subscriber – the September-December issue – and if not, well, note that subscriptions are free. You can also see articles from all previous issues on our Archive page and an index to all pages here.

Every article in the Report, such as the one on DEI from Lakes Charles, Louisiana, USA (above), is intended to help practitioners and citizens around the world discover new ways to go about taking care of their destinations and avoiding pitfalls. Just subscribe right here to get the next issue, due out this spring.

Georgian Bay and the Nature of Geoparks

Late last summer, my wife Sally and I were able to take a whirlwind driving tour around Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada, including an overnight visit to the one-house island belonging to my friend and colleague Mike Robbins. Mike is one of a team sprearheading  a move to make all of that enormous bay, its coasts, its islands, and much of its watershed a UNESCO-endorsed geopark. That is more of a geographical designation than an actual park, but it does require some measure of protection, especially for its geological features (hence “geopark”). I accepted an invitation to return in October to the northern village of Killarney to give a presentation on destination stewardship for one of the community meetings focused on the geopark proposal.

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

I pointed out that UNESCO calls for a thoroughly holistic approach to destination stewardship in any geopark, such as in the well-regarded Azores (above).

In the current Destination Stewardship Report you can read more about Georgian Bay,  geoparks, and the indigenous legend of the furious giant who created that bay.

Introducing the GSTC Destination Stewardship Starter Kit

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

Defining destination stewardship

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

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

Getting started

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

Destination Stewardship Starter Kit – Recommended Steps

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

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

Collaboration is key in the sustainability journey

Build a team of leaders

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

Identify key stakeholders

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

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

Involve the local community and engage stakeholders

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

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

Download the Destination Stewardship Starter Kit

September Update, 2023

From the DSC Director: The latest Destination Stewardship Report, Future of Tourism Coalition activities, field report, “destination stewardship” on the rise, and a new DSC website pending.

The northern hemisphere summer is winding down, and there’s a lot to report. During 2023 overtourism has returned with a vengeance, inundating popular destinations from Yosemite to the Acropolis. “Revenge travel” indeed. Our Destination Monitor lists news stories on how places are responding, if at all. I myself was interviewed recently about overtourism by The Economist for its Ocean Initiative.

Many destinations have also suffered weather-related disasters, often exacerbated by climate change. We will shortly be adding a page in our “Stewardship Resources” directories to help with climate-change mitigation and adaptation. Watch this space.

As you may gather from the intermittency of posts on this page, our emphasis has changed from building blog content to building content via the Destination Stewardship Report, helped along by our DSR partners at CREST (Center for Responsible Travel) and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council – special thanks to Alix Collins and Tiffany Chan respectively.

The Summer issue includes Mike Robbins’s uplifting story about the Indigenous Guardians of the B.C. coast, a GSTC conversation on the Bahamas’ move toward destination stewardship, and Cheryl Hargrove’s observations on the need for preserving living culture in a UNESCO World Heritage city. And more.

Be sure to check out our archive of more than 60 DSR articles, all dedicated to improving the interaction between tourism and care for places. The next DSR issue is in preparation now, and as always we welcome article proposals and volunteer help with research, editing, and proofreading. Thanks to the many of you who have contributed so far! Keep an eye on the Destination Stewardship Report for upcoming events pertaining to our topic, and be sure to send in notice of your own.

The Future of Tourism Coalition  – the Destination Stewardship Center is of its six founding members – has also been a center of activity with an assortment of meetings and webinars and a series of useful stories linked to the Coalition’s 13 Guiding Principles. The Coalition’s Community of some 750 globe-girdling signatories to those principles has proved to be a bountiful source of instructional success stories. Members can sign in to explore a new toolkit of resources for helping destinations.  Your organization can join the Community by endorsing the Principles.

Encouragingly, we are seeing increased use of the “destination stewardship” term in North America – and of course occasional misuse. See our Mission page for a definition. Regardless, its good to know we are all making a difference!

As for work in the field, I myself have been helping Beaver Valley, Ontario, Canada with their initial steps in starting a destination stewardship council, as well as similar work in my divided home county of Loudoun, Virginia. Divided because the county’s suburban east holds political power over the horse-and-wine country of the west, so the government’s will to protect that cultural landscape depends on the perceived value of rural tourism. Both destinations are fighting invasive residential subdivisions. We need more techniques for responding to this ubiquitous problem.

Last, we are in the process of a massive website redesign under the guidance of webmaster Tim Greenleaf. Our growing knowledge center holds more than 200 pages of content and hundreds of images, so he has a big job. You may see some missing photos, or bad links, etc. from time to time as this work proceeds. Feel free to call them to our attention. We hope to complete the transition before the next issue of the Destination Stewardship Report emails by early November.

Meanwhile, consider volunteering with us. Change is beginning to happen as more people around the world become more aware of the dangers to the places they love. And when those people speak, governments listen. Our mission is to help with useful information, whether online or in person. Distinctive places are humanity’s library of all that has been and can be. They are worth protecting – and worth a mindful, constructive visit.—JBT

[This post updated 19 Sept 2023]

 

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.


Download the New DS Report Yearbook

Our DS Report partner the Global Sustainable Tourism Council has announced publication of a handsome collection of 19 past stories from the Destination Stewardship Report. It’s usefully organized according to four story themes: holistic destination stewardship, preservation of natural and cultural heritage, collaborative resilience, and building back better. The Yearbook also offers sustainability profiles of one alpine destination and three resort destinations – all certified by GSTC-accredited consultants.

You can download the entire 92-page 2021-2022 Destination Stewardship Yearbook for free HERE. Note that the Yearbook compilation is of selected stories only. For the complete list, see our DSR Archive page.

For your own subscription to the Destination Stewardship Report click HERE. It’s free, too. But we need your stories! What can you tell practitioners in other destinations that would help them make progress or avoid problems? Please review the Archive page and contact us with your ideas.

Revitalizing the Kypseli Neighborhood in Athens

? 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. Synopsis by Josie Burd.

Top 100 submission by Alexia Panagiotopoulou, Head of Strategy, Athens Development and Destination Management Agency

Revitalizing the Kypseli Neighborhood Began with a Holistic Redo of Its Core Agora 

Amidst the densely packed historic neighborhood of Kypseli stands a building that has gone through lifetimes of change. The Kypseli Agora is one of the last permanent neighborhood markets in Athens, a traditional gathering place for the community. Fondly recalled memories of after-school ice cream visits and weekend shopping for fresh foods with their parents roll off the tongues of elderly residents as they reminisce about how the market felt more like a second home than a place of business.

A group passes through a local park during a walk around the neighborhood. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

This lively atmosphere began to disappear in the 1980s as younger people moved to the suburbs instead of into the homes they would have inherited in Kypseli. The majority of the residents who stayed were elderly. As the neighborhood declined, so too did traffic to the market. The Kypseli residents, the City of Athens, and the public recognized this loss for what it was and considered how they might bring the vibrancy and life back to this community.

These are some of the steps they took to achieve that goal:

  • 200 people engaged in public forums discussing ideas and proposals for the market. Citizens submitted an additional 470 proposals.
  • Private companies, associations, social enterprises, and civil society groups submitted 17 total proposals in an Open Call to select the manager of the market.
  • The City of Athens coordinated 3 months of cooperative activities to promote the Open Call and begin encouraging a collaborative culture for the market.
  • The Kypseli Agora worked with surrounding businesses to provide a place for them to show their work while building relationships together.
  • Lower-rent spaces in the market went to startups and popup shops with a focus in social business that encourage questions about consumption and stimulate the circular economy. The goal was to emphasize inclusivity and create opportunities for vulnerable groups to be recognized for their work.
  • The new market determined that it was important to build regularity and thus developed a schedule. Some events include an organic garden vegetable market on Wednesdays and a brunch showcasing food from neighborhood kitchens once a month on Sundays.

Results

Kypseli Agora achieved a new life in 2018. With social entrepreneurship and sustainable values at its heart, the market became a thriving hotspot for culture and community. Since its revival, quality of life in this neighborhood has increased, drawing an influx of residents, especially writers and artists. The revitalization of the market has also been credited with helping the City of Athens to become the European Capital of Innovation in 2018.

Pop up brunch, Kypseli Municipal Market, part of the Athens City Festival. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

After two years of shutdowns and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the market hosted an all-day lounge and party in May 2022 to help relaunch the neighborhood. The appeal of the Kypseli neighborhood now extends beyond the immediate community and is known throughout Greece and beyond, often featured in international press as a cultural destination. Indeed, Green Destinations and the Future of Tourism Coalition chose Athens and the Kypseli Agora to host their annual conference, held September 26-29 of this year.

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.

Background

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.

Partnering for Destination Stewardship in Florida

In much of the U.S., state DMOs remain focused on marketing and don’t address stewardship efforts. Who, then, will? Dr. Brooke Hansen describes the initial success of two partnership arrangements incorporating the hospitality industry in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Aerial view of St Pete Beach and resorts during sunrise. [Photo by Thomas De Wever]

Beautification Nonprofits Take the Lead

Two Keep America Beautiful Affiliates in west central Florida have taken up the role of leading destination stewardship by collaborating with several key partners.

Destination stewardship is integral to upholding the triple bottom line of sustainable tourism, but to be successful, it needs to promote participatory governance, inclusion of diverse stakeholders and residents, valuation of ecosystem services, and integrity of culture and place. It also needs to align with global integrative frameworks such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Tourism 4 SDGs platform. The Destination Management Action Plans (DMAPs) created by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, for example, have been exemplary but not every state, including Florida, will have its DMO leading the stewardship efforts. Each state needs to evaluate its assets and find the right path.

A Path Forward for Florida

In Florida, key stakeholders have come together to discuss and plan how we can engage with destination stewardship. Partners include non-profit organizations such as Keep Pinellas Beautiful and Ocean Allies, local DMOs, chambers of commerce, businesses with sustainable products, and academic programs such as the University of South Florida Sustainable Tourism Program, where I serve as Director.  

After assessing other models of how destinations are promoting stewardship (or not), we have come up with a program for Florida that could provide a roadmap for other locations. The Florida Department of Environmental Projection already manages the state’s Florida Green Lodging Program, but does not have the capacity to oversee a statewide comprehensive destination management plan.

Keep Pinellas Beautiful Executive Director Pat DePlasco and volunteer Kelly Clark running the BeBot, a beach cleaning robot. [Photo courtesy of Dr. Brooke Hansen]

Two County-level Programs Set an Example

The initiative we all developed resulted in the Hospitality Eco-Partnership program, led by Keep Pinellas Beautiful, and the Sustainable Tourism Development Plan, launched by Keep Pasco Beautiful. Both received seed funding from the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. Students from USF’s Sustainable Tourism Program have worked as interns in the development of these projects where I have served as a consultant since their inception.  

While still in their initial stages and only a few years old, the programs are providing momentum and data to develop a statewide sustainable destination management action plan based on the successes of this model along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Hospitality Eco-Partnership,” Led by Keep Pinellas Beautiful

Keep Pinellas Beautiful (KPB) has the resources to mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers across the county each year to clean up litter, remove invasive vegetation, plant native gardens, and educate at outreach events. The initiative they have developed aims to work with the hotel industry to encourage more sustainable operations and involve tourists in more sustainable behaviors. The Hospitality Eco-Partnership program is focused on hotel management, staff, and guests in promoting environmental protection, conservation, and volunteering. The program includes:

  • Environmental Education – Staff education and training on stormwater debris and coastal environments.
  • Adopt-Your-Coast – KPB provides the training and supplies for hospitality partners to host four (or more) cleanups a year at a nearby stretch of coastline.
  • Group and Special Event Cleanups – KPB provides additional supplies, support, and presentations for large group and special event cleanups (e.g., corporate groups, weddings, conferences, etc.).
  • Eco-Experience Tours – During 2021 four “net-zero” educational tours were organized highlighting key ecosystems, stormwater management, and local culture. In 2022, I led one of the Eco-Experience tours to Egmont Key, the outermost island in Tampa Bay, where we had hospitality workers, visitors, students and locals join us for an educational clean-up on the island in support of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11.4 focused on safeguarding the world’s cultural and natural heritage. I also highlighted SDG 13 Climate Action as half of Egmont Key, a popular tourist destination only accessible by boat, has already eroded into the sea, bringing many cultural heritage sites with it.  
USF Volunteer Sheila Sullivan with her collection of 1000 cigarette butts during a cleanup project. [Photo courtesy of Dr. Brooke Hansen]
  • Cigarette Litter Prevention Program – KPB cigarette receptacles are provided for hospitality properties. 
  • Social Media Promotion – Assistance is provided for electronic event promotion on KPB’s social media pages.
  • Sustainability Training – Education is provided by trained Keep Pinellas Beautiful staff on certifications, opportunities to reduce plastic pollution, and a sampling of eco-friendly products (e.g., pocket ashtrays, reusable straws, compostable containers). I have devoted most of my time as a consultant with the program developing sustainable certification “menus” with my students, to be used in the program with both hotels and restaurants so they can see what pathways they can follow from ocean-friendly certifications to B Corps. 

As of Aug. 2022, the program has on-boarded three official hotel partners, hosted 26 eco-experience programs, engaged 770 volunteers, and abated roughly 2,053 pounds of litter.

Companies for a Cause,” Led by Keep Pasco Beautiful’

Launched in 2020, this program has focused on developing a platform to reach out to tourism businesses and assist with their transition to sustainable practices. Many people and businesses want to become more eco-friendly but struggle with where to start. Keep Pasco Beautiful created Companies for a Cause to help local businesses in the hospitality industry increase their sustainability efforts. The project was launched by Kristen King, Coordinator for Keep Pasco Beautiful and a graduate of the USF Sustainable Tourism Program. Kristen used her time in the program to hone the concept and has since hosted over a half dozen USF students to help expand the initiative. 

In addition to running numerous cleanups throughout the year, Keep Pasco Beautiful provides education on how to prevent waste from entering local waters and ways to reduce trash at the source. To join the tourism program, companies need to acknowledge what sustainable activities they are currently doing while pledging to work on additional goals to change their behaviors.  In return, Keep Pasco Beautiful promotes the businesses as sustainable partners through social media along with listing them on the website. 

There is no charge for companies to participate in Companies for a Cause. They must commit to at least five strategies that they have implemented or pledge to prior to the end of the year. There is an annual recertification process that includes addressing additional ways to become more sustainable. Businesses receive a window cling to promote their participation in the program. 

The guidebook provides some sustainable strategies businesses can adopt, as well as more information about the Companies for a Cause program. To date, four companies have joined the program and with more USF interns being placed with Coordinator Kristen King, that number is projected to grow. 

Dr. Brooke Hansen and Sir Dr. Adam Carmer of USF, promoting destination stewardship at the 2022 Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism. [Photo courtesy of Dr. Brooke Hansen]

Expanding the KAB Model Around the State

Our goal is to use these two programs as models and create a destination stewardship blueprint led by Keep America Beautiful Affiliates across the state of Florida with the support of academic programs and other partners. The successes of the programs so far and the potential to expand throughout the state are motivating us forward and were presented at the 2022 Keep Florida Beautiful Annual Conference


About the Author: Dr. Brooke Hansen is the Director of Sustainable Tourism at Patel College of Global Sustainability, University of South Florida. She is a consultant and academic partner for the Keep Pinellas Beautiful and Keep Pasco Beautiful programs.

Architecture & Placemaking

[The Teshima Art Museum (above) in Naoshima, Japan brought economic prosperity to a small island in decline. Photo from https://benesse-artsite.jp/en/]

Editor for this page: Clara Copiglia

Illustrations of Relationships Between Architecture and Tourism.
This page collects lessons about the impact of architectural projects on place-making, restoration, or recovery. These projects range from small installations to larger strategies that impact the surrounding territory – territory is defined here as the context of the project, its environment, community, culture, and economy.

We invite you to help expand its content.

Larger themes – depopulation, nature appeal, indigenous communities, ruins care, and overtourism  – frame the various case studies below. An example illustrates each category. You can find an extensive collection of such examples here.

Depopulation
Architecture can become a tool against depopulation. Renovations or new construction projects can revive rural or urban destinations in decline when they integrate the local community, landscape, and an understanding of local history.

Rural Example – Naoshima Island, Japan

Photo from https://benesse-artsite.jp/en/

Naoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, experienced drastic population loss in the 1960s. At the same time, a wealthy businessman was looking for a home for his art collection. He hired Tadao Ando, a world-famous architect, to build a museum on Naoshima. Today, Naoshima Island is a major art destination, where visitors cruise on electric bikes and local life has return. The island now has multiple new museums and art installations. Renovated traditional buildings house a bathhouse, restaurants, accommodations, and art. But Naoshima was only the beginning of the Seto sea island’s transformation. Other Islands, such as Teshima and Inujima, followed Naoshima’s path.

Urban Example MassMoca, United States

Photo from massmoca.org

Once a thriving manufacturing town with an increasing population, the mill town of North Adams, Massachusetts, faced financial trouble in 1984 with the shutdown of local companies. Thomas Krens, the director of Williams College Museum of Art (who later became Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), was looking for a space to exhibit large contemporary art pieces. North Adam’s mayor proposed an empty factory in the town, and in 1999, the world’s largest contemporary art museum was born. Today, North Adams revolves around art, and MassMoca (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) brought economic prosperity and tourism.

Nature Appeal
Architectural projects can invite visitors to step into nature by creating new attractions. The project can create a new path in nature or sit along an existing path, reviving it.

Example Festival des Cabanes, France

Photo from www.lefestivaldescabanes.com

The Festival des Cabanes – Small Pavilions Festival– is an annual architecture event near Annecy, France. Every year, architecture students and young architects participate in a competition to construct 12 wooden pavilions spread out in the area south of Lake Annecy. Each pavilion stays from Spring to Autumn and is dismantled at the end of the exhibition. The festival invites visitors to this natural region instead of limiting tourism to the popular lakeshore. Equipped with a map, the visitors walk in nature to reach the pavilions constructed by the competition’s participants. This festival gives a unique opportunity for young architects and brings tourists to rural areas.

Indigenous Communities
Some projects can create a meeting place between indigenous communities and visitors, where tourists can learn about local traditions and history. The indigenous community should set the intentions of the project.

Example Krakani Lumi, Australia

Photo from www.taylorandhinds.com.au

Krakani Lumi – Place of Rest – is a series of pavilions on a guided walk in Tasmania. The palawa community owns the land and operates the 4-day/3-night journey called the ‘wukalina walk’. The architects collaborated with the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania to create unique campsites where visitors can rest and learn about traditions. The tectonic and materiality of the project pay homage to the First Tasmanians and their land. The exterior of the pavilions is made of charred Tasmanian timber to blend with their surroundings. The architects had the buildings prefabricated off-site to minimize impact on the land.

Ruins Care
Due to financial and political constraints, many ruins are difficult to maintain and renovate. Adaptive reuse projects or participatory tourism provide sustainable strategies to care for ruins.

Example Canova Association, Italy

Photo from www.canovacanova.com

The Canova Association is a nonprofit founded in 2022. Its goal is to bring awareness to stone architecture in Nava, Italy. In collaboration with the municipality, the association facilitates acquiring and restoring the small medieval village’s stone buildings. The non-profit organizes guided tours for tourists to discover the village, events for its members, and workshops dedicated to architectural restoration.

Overtourism Mitigation
Overtourism is the opposite of sustainable tourism. Various policies help resist this scourge, and architectural or territorial interventions can also be part of the solution by creating alternative paths and attractions.

Example Alternative Moray, Peru

Photo from nanotourism.aaschool.ac.uk  This photo shows one of the small installations on the alternative path. The students traced circles to materialize a place for storytelling about the site, narrated by local inhabitants.

The AA Nanotourism Visiting School is a teaching program developed by the Architectural Association, School of Architecture, London, UK. Each year, they organize workshops with architecture students and young architects about sustainable tourism. In 2019, the workshop took place in Moray, one of Peru’s most popular Inca sites. The students collected the community’s history and proposed an alternative path for visiting Moray. Small installations invite visitors to get away from the touristic route to learn about the local community and participate in activities.