The rising tide raises all boats – how can we all be better destination stewards?

Tourism is roaring back as pandemic-era restrictions fade away and destinations welcome visitors again. But how can destinations and businesses promote help create more responsible stewards? Dr. Rachel Dodds, Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, shares a few practical steps.

Travel is different now

When I took my daughter to Disneyland last past spring, I noticed two things: how many people there were and how much garbage was being produced with single-use everything. My daughter, however, noticed how many cool rides there were and how hard it was for me to find vegetables on menus.

As we travel, or host travelers, we all experience something different. Travel is different post-pandemic and some of us are more aware than ever about the issues that affect our planet.

Tourism impacts

With tourism numbers almost reaching pre-pandemic 2019 levels in some destinations, other destinations are experiencing too many tourists. Others, meanwhile, are still struggling to attract them. Tourism can be a force for good as it can raise awareness of other cultures and environments and bring needed dollars into many economies. Tourism can also, however, create many negative impacts in destinations.

One impact is increased carbon into the atmosphere. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, tourism is responsible for approximately 5% of global emissions and approximately 22% of all transport emissions. One long-haul flight is about equivalent to driving a car for a year. Another key impact for destinations is the strain on communities and resident quality of life. When too many people visit a place at the same time, this can result in overtourism. This phenomenon has been defined as “the acceleration and growth of tourism supply and demand, the use of tourism destinations’ natural ecological goods, the destruction of their cultural attractions and negative impacts on their social and economic environments.”

The need for destination stewardship and more responsible travel is clear:

  • There are more people: From 1950 to 2022 the world population increased from 2.5 billion people to over 8 billion in 2022.
  • There are more people travelling: Pre-pandemic tourism numbers increased 56-fold from 25 million in the 1950’s to over 1.4 billion in 2019.
  • Travel is resource consumptive in terms of carbon, energy, waste and water. For example, it is estimated that cruise passengers can generate as much as 1 kg of waste per person per day.
  • Many tourism workers are low paid with few breaks and uncertain schedules. Many hotel workers in all-inclusive resorts make less than $1 per day and often work seven days a week. Some cruise workers make no salary at all. This is not responsible tourism.
  • Many places are suffering from overtourism – more visitors than a place can handle.

[Managing large crowds of visitors continues to be a challenge for many destinations] [Photo courtesy of Shlomo Shalev]

What does this mean in terms of destination stewardship?

Destination stewardship means all stakeholders creating a shared future that is collaborative and mutually beneficial. In other words, it is about examining who benefits and at what cost.

All stakeholders (government, visitors, businesses, Destination Marketing Organizations and non-profit groups, and residents) have a role to play but let’s focus on how destinations and businesses can engage tourists in their destination stewardship goals.

A few practical steps include:

  • Show your visitors what’s really happening in your destination. Be honest and share your challenges about conservation and/or inclusion and ask for their help.
  • Always show value. Asking someone to turn off their lights is often seen a corporate money saving technique. Suggesting to visitors where they can see the stars better when they turn off the lights is a value add.
  • Invite critiques from the visitor’s point of view. As Albert Salman, CEO of Green Destinations once suggested ‘ask visitors what would they tell the Mayor.’
  • Ask visitors to behave more responsibly and put in place guidelines to ensure they do so. Campaigns like Amsterdam’s Enjoy Respect Campaign was very successful in sharing with visitors what was acceptable behaviour.

According to a recently released book: Are We There Yet? Travelling more responsibly with your children, it is about providing solutions rather than focusing on the problem. Travel can be a force for good and so we need to remember the positives such as understanding other people and cultures, spending money in the local economy and protecting and conserving the places we love.

[Supporting local merchants is one key step that visitors can take to practice responsible tourism] [Photo courtesy of Norbert Braun]

Destinations can encourage visitors to undertake a few practical steps to make travel more responsible:

  • Travelling in offseason or to places less loved to avoid overtourism
  • Taking the least carbon intensive route – even Google will now calculate your transport footprint
  • Booking on sites that benefit the local community including: Fairbnb, Ecobnb, Book Different, Sabbatical Homes, etc.
  • Support local. There are many local tour operators, restaurants and experiences where the money goes straight into the local economy rather than ‘leaking’ out to foreign owned business. Check out Lokafy, Travel like a Local, and more
  • Do your research and ask questions. What is the responsible tourism policy of the accommodation you are staying in? the tour operator you are booking with?

If all stakeholders take responsibility for their actions and become destination stewards everyone gains from it.

For more information, check out or find out more about how to be a better individual destination steward in terms of planning, packing and traveling in Are We There Yet? Traveling more responsibly with your children, available on

December Update, 2022

From the Director

Seasons greetings, everyone. My apologies for the long lag in posting. There has been a lot going on! Here’s what’s been happening at the Destination Stewardship Center and our allied organizations.

  • The Autumn 2022  issue of the Destination Stewardship Report was mailed in November. Since the Report launched in mid-2020, we have accumulated more than 60 feature articles, all archived for easy reference at .
  • We also have a new Index to content in all issues of the Destination Stewardship Report, as well as DSC blog posts and essays.
  • Architecture & Placemaking is a fascinating new category under “Destination Appeal,” presented by Clara Copiglia and demonstrating examples of interaction between architecture, spaces, tourism, and destination quality.
  • The Future of Tourism Coalition  held its first summit on 30 Sept., in Athens, Greece (the Destination Stewardship Center is one of six founding members). The main focus was on tourism and climate. Read more about it here.
  • The Athens meeting was held in conjunction with our colleagues at Green Destinations. GD has been sponsoring the “Top 100” sustainability competition among destinations. The competition has evolved to focus now on the best stories of success, an improvement in my opinion. I serve as one of the Top 100 hundred judges – thankfully not for all the entries! It is a privilege, and I’m pleased to see the quality of submissions improving over time. Every one of recent issues of the Destination Stewardship Report have included a pair of informative Top 100 entries, most recently from Zambia and Greece. Check them out.
  • Nice to receive this December geotourism newsletter from North America’s “Crown of the Continent” Geotourism Council, still going strong well into its second decade, with news on enlightened projects from one state and two provinces.
  • My thanks and deep appreciation to the board of CREST for naming me this year’s winner of the Martha Honey Legacy in Responsible Travel Award at their World Tourism Day Forum on 27 Sept. Given CREST’s distinguished history and broad scope of work, it is quite an honor. I’ll try to live up to it.
  • My thanks, too, to our volunteers who have helped so much with the content of this website and with the Destination Stewardship Report along with our colleagues at CREST and GSTC. The DSC is a collaborative undertaking. We invite all to help develop and spread the word about this knowledge center for sustaining and enhancing the places we love.

Best wishes to all for 2023!

— Jonathan B. Tourtellot, Director


Tourism and Climate: What Can Destinations Do?

 World Tourism Day Forum: Tourism in a Climate Crisis: Sept 27-28 

The IPCC warns “Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”

What does that mean for destinations, and how do we prevent that from happening? The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency are co-hosting a two-day virtual event on September 28 and 29, Tourism in a Climate Crisis,” for discussing those questions while also providing practical, actionable information for destinations, accommodations, and tour operators. Participants on Day 2 will get the chance to work with leading experts on laying the foundation for creating their own climate action plan.


Day 1: Attendance is limited to 1,000 participants but a recording will be provided to all registrants afterward. Should capacity be reached, it will be streamed on CREST’s Facebook page.

Day 2: In order to provide an engaging, hands-on experience, registration is limited to 180 participants representing accommodations, tour operators, and destinations (60 registrants per technical track). Consultants who work with these sectors are also able to sign up. Due to this limited capacity, we encourage everyone to register as soon as possible and only if they are able to actively participate during the session. It will not be recorded.

We recognize that not everyone will be able to pay to participate in this virtual forum. This year, we are introducing pay-what-you-can rates: a suggested contribution of $10 for participating in Day One and $25 for those participating in Day Two, or $30 for those registering for both days.

To attend or register as a participant, go to

#TourismInAClimateCrisis #WTDForum2021 #CRESTtravel #transformingtravel


Philanthropic Investing for Destination Preservation

[Above, the rewards of philanthropic investing: the hotel’s restored library. Photos by Laszlo Karolyi.]

Impact Investing: How We Can Save Historic Buildings

The Cultura Manor hotel in Quito, Ecuador has won three awards before even opening, with more to come. I helped fund the restoration of this historic mansion, and now I’m getting bought out.

Exactly as planned.

Success in the art of Philanthropic Investing (PI) takes perseverance! Working in conjunction with the then Center for Sustainable Destinations at National Geographic, we coined the term (also known as “venture philanthropy”) in 2009 to form a group of philanthropists who believed in principles of quality travel development through investing, as distinguished from merely donating to local projects, which can be less effective.

The restored and newly opened Cultura Manor boutique hotel.

Its restoration complete after two decades of neglect, this former private club in Quito has now opened as the Cultura Manor hotel—a model of philanthropic investing for adaptive reuse.

Help for Developing-World Entrepreneurs
As I wrote when I introduced this project four years ago in my April 22, 2013 post, my dream for several decades had been to buy a small boutique hotel or ecolodge in a culturally unique region of the world and partner with an experienced local. This type of investing is not intended to enrich the diesem Link investors, but rather to help qualified hospitality owners succeed in their quest to bring the world authentic and unique travel experiences that would meet many of the original National Geographic geotourism standards in culture, ecology, aesthetics, and authenticity.

A room in the manor, pre-restoration. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

A room in the manor, pre-restoration. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

A key PI element was an unusual written requirement: The operator has the right to exercise an option to buy out the investor as soon as the project has stabilized, and to do so at a very reduced rate of return. Then, according to the PI concept, the investor would use that principle and profit to invest in another qualified project.

Now, the seven-year Cultura Manor project has reached that stage. When we began, the mansion was occupied by squatters and in total disrepair. Demolition was very possible. Now the hotel has been awarded the #1 new tourist project in Quito. It was also honored for Historical Restoration and won a United Nations grant to provide organic produce for its restaurant on the roof of a new addition.

A lounge features artwork by Ecuadorean artist nametk.

The lobby features artwork by Ecuadorean artist Gonzalo Anagha.

The main facility is open for business, and the operating partner is in the process of finalizing the government-backed loan to buy out us investors and construct the addition. We could not be more proud to be part of the opening of one of the most interesting and beautiful boutique hotels in the world.

A Model to Follow

I think it can serve as the model to launch a global movement to fund sustainable hospitality projects that follow established geotourism principles.

So now the question is how to we capitalize on this excellent base we have created?

Upstairs at the Cultura Manor.

Upstairs at the Cultura Manor.

We are looking for the next worthy project to lend our support. Whether you are a potential investor, an operator in need, or just someone who has a particular passion for sustainable tourism, we would like to hear from you about your vision.

You can contact us through

[Editor’s note—UPDATE: Since this post, the Destination Stewardship Center is pleased to have provided the connection for a potential new philanthropic investment project, this time in Cuenca, Ecuador. Stay tuned.]

A First: 440 Destinations Rated by Nat Geo Experts Compiled in One Place

[Above: Portion of the 2006 Traveler cover featuring the stewardship survey of 94 World Heritage destinations. Courtesy, National Geographic Traveler.]
Landmark Research There has been nothing like them, before or since. For seven years, from 2004 to 2010, I was privileged to oversee National Geographic’s  Destination Scorecard surveys of experts’ opinions on stewardship for hundreds of places around the world. We published the numerical scores annually as a cover story in National Geographic Traveler.
Now, for the first time, we at the have compiled in our Destination Watch section a master list of most of the destinations surveyed by Nat Geo since 2006. For ease of understanding, we’ve translated the numerical scores into letter grades for 440 places, listed on these five pages:

Those links show destinations by grade. Download this pdf to see all 440 destinations and grades listed by country.

The surveys polled a panel of hundreds of experts on destinations that they knew well. For each place, we asked these panelists to consider six stewardship criteria: environment, built heritage, social/cultural impacts, aesthetics, tourism management, and overall trend. After exchanging comments anonymously, they then rated each destination on a scale from 0 to 10. We calculated the averages and published the results.

You can read more About the Surveys and their methodology. Basically, it was a “wisdom of crowds” approach—in this case, a very knowledgeable crowd. It proved remarkably consistent. In our first survey, conducted in 2003-4 with fewer than 200 panelists, the Norwegian Fjords won the top place, and the Costa del Sol came in with the lowest score. After a five-year interval, we surveyed many of the same destinations again, this time with a very different panel of over 400 experts. Those 2009 results? Norwegian fjords best, Costa del Sol worst.

Please Join In

Some of these grades need updating, and we will be soliciting your opinions on whether they should go up, down, or stay the same.

As administrator of the surveys, I did not rate any destinations myself. In some cases I thought the consensus was way off, but more often than not it would turn out that the experts knew some things that I didn’t. In few cases, I still disagree! More important, new developments in some places suggest a new grade. I’ll be offering a few comments in those cases at the bottom of each list. You can, too.

We plan to start featuring individual destinations from month to month and asking your opinions about them. If there’s a particular destination whose condition interests or concerns you, please contact us.




This Library section contains books, reports, classics, and documentaries that may be of particular use for destination stewardship practitioners and advocates. We welcome suggestions for additions.    Editor for this page: Siobhán Daly

Books and Reports

Community, Tourism, and Civil society

Bunten, A. C. (2015). So, How Long Have You Been Native?: Life as an Alaska Native Tour Guide. University of Nebraska Press. “Firsthand account of what it is like to work in the Alaska cultural tourism industry.”

Wright, L. (2020). Local Life. Arcadia Publishing. “Leigh Wright captures a snapshot of local perspectives on tourism in this nuanced collection of interviews. From reflections on the demands of working in the French Quarter to the housing turmoils caused by short-term rental companies such as Airbnb, Wright amplifies the diverse voices of inhabitants whose livelihoods, incomes, and pastimes are molded by tourism.”

Cultural & Indigenous Tourism

Duxbury, N. (2021). Creative Tourism: Activating Cultural Resources and Engaging Creative Travellers. CABI Publishing. “A synthesis of current research and international best practice in the emerging field of creative tourism. A vital resource for tourism agencies, practitioners, planners and policymakers interested in developing creative tourism programmes and activities, this book will also be of interest to cultural and creative tourism researchers, students, and teachers of tourism and culture-based development.”

Guyette, S. (2013). Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small-Scale Solutions. BearPath Press. “This practical text guides tourism planning and development efforts from within cultures—addressing regional linkages, the tourism plan, visitor surveys, marketing, cultural centers and museums, job creation, and enterprise development, as well as evaluation of sustainability.”

Cruise Tourism 

Honey, M. (2019). Cruise Tourism in the Caribbean: Selling Sunshine. Routledge. “Explores the lessons learned from half a century of Caribbean cruise tourism; one of the most popular and profitable sectors of the tourism industry.”

World Monuments Fund. (2015). Harboring Tourism: Cruise Ships in Historic Port Communities. World Monument Fund. “This publication reports on the proceedings of Harboring Tourism: An International Symposium on Cruise Ships in Historic Port Communities, held February 6–8, 2013, in Charleston, South Carolina.”

Disappearing Destinations

Molstad, A. (2012) Last chance destinations. How to explore the world while making it a better place to live. ‎On Amazon as an e-book. “This book breaks new ground. While it can be read as an introduction to some of the world’s most attractive tourism destinations, it is also about tourism itself.”

Measurements, Economics, and Metrics

Kheel, J. (2021). Waking the Sleeping Giant: Unlocking the Hidden Power of Business to Save the Planet. Lioncrest Publishing. “This book offers up tangible ways everyone—from executives to employees—can make a difference and demonstrate the value of sustainability beyond the bottom line.”

Pilling, D. (2018). The Growth Delusion: Why economists are getting it wrong and what we can do about it. Tim Duggan Books. An entertaining (!) economics book with no mention of tourism but profound implications for measuring its success.

Nature and Ecotourism

Fennell, D. A. (2021). Routledge Handbook of Ecotourism. Routledge.  “Presents a timely, broad-ranging, and provocative overview of the essential nature of ecotourism. The chapters will … provide challenging and divergent observations that will thrust ecotourism into new areas of research, policy, and practice.”

World Bank. (2020). Tools and Resources for Nature-Based Tourism. World Bank. This is “a comprehensive review of the tools and knowledge resources that could be used by practitioners in the field of NBT, to prepare and implement projects that promote sustainable NBT practices and policies.”


Becker, E. (2013). Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism. Simon & Schuster. “In this ‘meticulously reported and often disturbing exposé of the travel industry’, (The New York Times Book Review), Elizabeth Becker describes… its huge effect on the world economy, the environment, and our culture.”

Honey, M. and Frenkiel, K. (2021). Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future. Island Press. “Bringing together tourism officials, city council members, travel journalists, consultants, scholars, and trade association members, this practical book explores overcrowding from a variety of perspectives.”

Wood, M.E., Milstein, M., and Ahamed-Broadhurst, K. (2020). Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism. Travel Foundation. “This report describes how destinations must uncover and account for tourism’s hidden costs.”

Sustainable Tourism Development

Damnjanović, I. (2021). Sustainable tourism: On the journey to the future. Available to download here. This book serves as guidelines for educational experience co-creation for tourism students and helps instructors become facilitators through a purposeful, inclusive, and inspirational learning process. Currently available in Serbian. Will be translated into English in the future.

Ingram, L., Slocum, S. and Cavaliere, C. (2020). Neolocalism and Tourism: Understanding a Global Movement. Goodfellow Publishers. “Neolocalism and Tourism: Understanding a Global Movement is the first comprehensive analysis of neolocalism in the tourism context and provides a forum to discuss the latest developments, trends, and research involving tourism and neolocalism, as well as exploring new areas for consideration.”

Goodwin, H. (2016). Responsible Tourism: Using tourism for Sustainable Development. Goodfellow 2nd Edition. This book “is about the globally vital necessity of realizing sustainable tourism. It is a hugely important challenge to those who organize and sell travel and tourism, and those who consume it.”

Lusby, C. (2021). Destination Unknown: Sustainable Travel and Ethical Tourism. Common Ground Research Networks. “Discusses international tourism and the ways in which it brings us together. Contributions from expert authors around the world highlight both current issues in tourism, as well as ways it can be developed more ethically and equitably…. Creating spaces for encounters, protecting natural resources, volunteering ethically, traveling to discover one’s ethnic roots, vernacular design, cultural tourism and community involvement are all part of this meaningful discourse.”

Perez, P. (2021). The Tourism Area Life Cycle: Its Application to the Costa del Sol. Common Ground Research Networks. “Explores the impact of tourism on the aquatic resources of the Mediterranean tourist destination of the Spanish Costa del Sol. In doing so, this study applies “Tourism Area Life Cycle” theory [whereby] the tourist destination organically is born and evolves through life stages, analogous to a living organism, depending upon the scale of its sociopolitical, economic and environmental circumstances.”

Spenceley, A. (2021). Handbook for Sustainable Tourism Practitioners: The Essential Toolbox. Edward Elgar Publishing. “This insightful Handbook brings together the practical guidance of over 50 international practitioners in sustainable tourism. Applying strong research design principles, it provides a workable and rational toolkit for investigating practical challenges….”

Stavans, I. and Ellison, J. (2015). Reclaiming Travel. Duke University Press Books. “Based on a controversial opinion piece originally published in the New York Times, Reclaiming Travel is a provocative meditation on the meaning of travel from ancient times to the twenty-first century.”


Hickman, L. (2008). Final Call. Eden Project Books. “For The Final Call Hickman travels the world on a range of holidays and finds that behind the sunny facade of pools, smiling locals, sightseeing trips and exquisite cuisine is an ugly reality and it is spreading unchecked to all corners of the globe.”

Kunstler, J. H. (1994). Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape. Simon & Schuster. “Tallies up the huge economic, social, and spiritual costs that America is paying for its car-crazed lifestyle. It is also a wake-up call for citizens to reinvent the places where we live and work, to build communities that are once again worthy of our affection…. ‘The future will require us to build better places,’ Kunstler says, ‘or the future will belong to other people in other societies.’”

Pestell, P.E. (1986). Palling: A History Shaped by the Sea. Poppyland Publishing. “The ‘place of Paelli’s people’ has a much longer and more interesting history than that of a seaside haven. Ronnie Pestell’s original text has been enhanced by that of his friend David Stannard to bring Palling’s story into the present millennium.”


THE LAST TOURIST (2022) explores travel impacts on the environment, wildlife, and vulnerable communities. Including animals suffering for entertainment, orphaned children exploited for profit, and developing economies strained under the massive weight of foreign-owned hotel chains. Filmed in over 15 countries. Features Dr. Jane Goodall, Lek Chailert, Gary Knell, Meenu Vadera, and Jonathan Tourtellot. Directed by Tyson Sadler; sponsored by G Adventures.

Crowded Out: The Story of Overtourism (2018). Short documentary exploring overtourism, featuring interviews with local residents and global experts and places like Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik, and more remote destinations such as Iceland and Skye. Sponsored by Responsible Travel.

See also Destination Stewardship Center videos on examples of good (and bad) destination stewardship.