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

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

Seleni Matus leads a panel discussion on destination stewardship.

Tourism Must Aim to Benefit All Community Members

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

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

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

Understanding and celebrating the whole story

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

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

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

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

Sustainability must be inclusive, not additive

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

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

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

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

Placemaking is a way to bring the community and visitors together

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

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

The need for different metrics

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

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

Conclusion

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

Building a community-centered destination stewardship initiative

Care for communities that make up the fabric of destinations is critical. But how? A destination stewardship approach can help tourism stakeholders – including community members – create their shared future in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way. Samantha Bray, PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo, shares her expertise. This post was originally published on the Center for Responsible Travel’s website.

What Does Destination Stewardship Mean and Why Does It Matter?

Translating the concept of destination stewardship to action requires a structure that supports bringing all of the stakeholders around the table. It also requires giving them a real voice in tourism planning, policy, and management.

While there are many structural models that can facilitate a destination stewardship approach, in this post we will be exploring the concept and importance of destination stewardship and formation and mobilization of destination stewardship councils.

A group of women in traditional clothing gather around a table to discuss tourism initiatives. [Photo courtesy of Mauricio Miramontes]

Destination stewardship is defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council as “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 aesthetic integrity of their country, region, or town.” It is about protecting the very qualities that make a place first and foremost a wonderful place to live, with the added benefit of being a wonderful place to visit.

This is important because a healthy and happy community is needed to support a healthy and happy tourism industry long-term. For too long, tourism development in the name of financial benefit for a few has occurred at the expense of the people who actually spend every day in a place. Their natural and cultural assets, and even their very neighborhoods, become commodified to the point where the community itself cannot enjoy them. Their fundamental ways of life are degraded in the name of more people, more money, more tourism.

Of course, profit is an essential “leg” of the triple bottom line stool of “people, planet, profit.” The World Travel & Tourism Council reported tourism accounted for 10.3% of global GDP and 330 million jobs (1 in 10) around the world in 2019. Tourism has countless benefits for destination communities, businesses, and travelers. However, we need to use the post-Covid “tourism reset” opportunity to take a hard look at the way things have been done and consider how we can do them better. (We also need better metrics, which is something CREST and colleagues at the Future of Tourism Coalition and others are working on.)

What we can do now is shift our mindsets to a stewardship approach. Pre-Covid, there was an escalating movement of dissatisfaction among residents of many destinations who had simply had enough. They felt they were not being listened to and that their wants and desires were not part of the tourism development and management equation. Let’s dig into how this can be remedied.

The Destination Stewardship Council Approach

While there is no one-size-fits-all model for destinations, with intention and initiative there are several steps a destination can take to shift towards a stewardship approach. The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and our friends at the Destination Stewardship Center (DSC) have been compiling and studying successful initiatives for years, and we offer the formation of destination stewardship councils as a model that can work.

In the following section, we share our documented steps to success. A destination need not experience the process in this order, and all may not be applicable for each destination, but our goal is for these steps to be used as a road map whereby the destination can choose its own route.

Initiative Activation

The activation phase refers to the point when one or more stakeholders involved in a destination’s tourism sector realize the need to do things differently, and mobilization begins.

Identifying strategic timing

When might you consider forming a destination stewardship council? There are three triggers that might indicate the time is right.

  • Need for resilience/recovery: When initiative needs to be taken to support small businesses, local supply chains, and the greater community following a shock to the tourism system, such as Covid-19, a hurricane, a fire, etc.
  • Local pressure: When there is a sense of disconnect between residents of a place, the tourism industry, and the current system of destination management.
  • Government/DMO will: When a government or destination management organization recognizes a shift to destination stewardship is needed, and a new approach may be taken during strategic planning or fiscal year-end budget restructuring, in tandem with other government departments and their development plans, etc.

Forming a planning team

Once the idea of a stewardship approach has taken root, it is time to form a planning team. This planning team may be very informal at this stage. Key considerations include:

  • Need for a champion: For a council initiative to get off the ground, there must be a champion who moves the process along and is committed to its success. This leader – or even better, leadership team – must generate enthusiasm for the concept and may be from the public, private, or civil sector.
  • Key participants: Once the champion has stepped forward, a planning team should be convened. This should be a small group of key stakeholders who clearly would have a role in the early success of the initiative.

Considering the council model

What is the council’s scope, and how does it fit into the current systems in place? While you do not have to have the answers to these questions at the very beginning, these are important considerations to make.

  • Identifying [initial] geographic boundaries: The planning team should consider what the geographic scope of the council might be. It might be based on political boundaries if aligned with the destination perception, or it might be more organic, based on unifying geographic or cultural elements – in effect, the tourism ecosystem.
  • Taking stock of capacity: The planning team should then conduct an initial capacity assessment. If a destination stewardship council is to be convened, are capacities in place to deliver on its goals and objectives? What capacities currently exist with those who are involved in tourism, and what are the gaps? Capacities may range from knowledge about important issues related to tourism, destination management, and sustainability, to skills like project design, development, and fundraising. How might capacity gaps be filled?
  • Organizational structure: It is important to consider options for where the council may “live.” Will it make sense to integrate this approach into an existing tourism management organization? Will the council form as a branch of a larger organization, such as a tourism arm of a broader economic development commission? Will we start an entirely new entity? There are several models to offer here, including simply a collaborative committee or alliance to start with. New structures have also emerged from Covid, such as public/private task forces at national levels. More structure can be added as the council develops.

Gathering Data

Now that the concept of a council has support, it’s time to collect data to proceed in an informed way. At this point, it may be helpful to engage a third party with knowledge of destination stewardship to help facilitate the following steps. In many cases, those intimately involved in tourism will be so close to the issues at hand that a third party, impartial perspective can be helpful for guidance.

Conducting stakeholder mapping

The planning committee should map out all the potential stakeholders who exist within the destination and could be invited to have a voice in the council. A holistic list may include:

  • Public sector (ministers, advisors, civil servants, civil departments, elected representatives, political parties, local government, commissions, international bodies)
  • Private sector (corporations, businesses, business associations, professional organizations, business leaders, financial institutions)
  • Civil sector (resident groups, seasonal residents, diaspora, media, religions institutions, schools/universities, social movements/advocacy groups, trade unions, local NGOs, national NGOs, international NGOs)
  • Marginalized stakeholders who are left out of the planning process (inclusive of racial minorities, persons with disabilities, generational gaps, socio-economic status, LGBTQ+ status, and gender status)

An infographic depicts the different roles of stakeholders. The Private Sector, Civil Sector, and Public Sector each have their own focuses.

This list will likely be evolve over time. Tourists should also be considered stakeholders. While not involved in the council, the council will want to collect data from visitors to inform decisions. Once the council is more fully established, a continuous visitor survey of satisfaction, enthusiasm, and use is recommended.

Engaging residents through surveying or forums

Working from the stakeholder map, the planning committee can then reach out to these communities through surveying and/or public forums to seek to find out current perceptions of tourism.

Holding community visioning sessions

A community visioning session(s) may then be held to share ideas for components that should be included in an aspirational community tourism vision, document core personal values (which can help guide the mission and vision), and consider more specific steps that can be taken in key areas such as:

  • Collaboration, cooperation, and partnerships
  • Funding and financing
  • Natural resources and the environment
  • Cultural heritage and the arts
  • Business & product development
  • Promotion, marketing, and communications
  • Public policy and government support
  • Quality and service excellence

Before a visioning session begins, it is key for the host to encourage participants to be kind, honest, respectful, creative, and – if possible – to have fun.

Council Mobilization

Armed with information and an engaged group of community stakeholders, the time is right to mobilize the council.

Forming or expanding a council

At this phase, the council itself can be formed. Care should be taken to ensure participation in the council represents the nature of the community, with public, private, and civil sector involvement. The planning committee may morph into a steering committee that will help to form the direction of the council, and key gaps may be filled on the steering committee. While the government should be at the table, the council must be structured to ensure it can exist beyond changes in government or loss of any one council member, including the champion.

Creating a mission & vision

In early days, the council should work from the data collected to develop a proposed mission (overall purpose) and vision (what the future of tourism looks like if the council is successful). The vision may be developed from the resident surveys and outcomes of the visioning session(s). The mission and vision should be circulated for public feedback and can be refined as the council’s work progresses.

Defining metrics of success

The council can also look at the data collected to determine what metrics of success should be utilized. Beyond visitor numbers, employment, and economic benefit, metrics of success might include spreading out seasonality, controlling use intensity of assets, local satisfaction with tourism, effects of tourism on communities, sustaining desired-tourist satisfaction, impact on built heritage (historic & archaeological sites), and protecting critical ecosystems. What additional data should be collected from tourism stakeholders to measure the key metrics?

Developing shared goals, objectives, & strategy

With the mission and vision in mind, in addition to the input from stakeholders, the Council can develop shared goals, objectives, and strategies. The council may choose to conduct another stakeholder survey at this time to ask the community what the council needs to accomplish in the next three years to be successful.

This information can be helpful in establishing goals (specific, objectively verifiable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) and objectives, as well as priorities. Once goals and objectives are developed, it may be helpful for the Council to split off into topical committees, leveraging the expertise of specific council members.

Planning activities

The Council committees can then come up with an activity slate to meet the goals and objectives for the next few years. What do you plan to do this year to meet your goals? Next year? The year after? The initial timeline should be short (not more than five years) to allow for the evolution of the council.

Understanding that it may take time for a council to get its feet under it to start raising funds, it is recommended that in the first year, activities proposed cost as little as possible and can be executed through partnerships. Activities proposed should be approved by the full council and prioritized based on impact, achievability, and interest.

While all ideas are important to consider, not all ideas are realistic, especially within the first few years. Consider creating a “parking lot” for ideas that may not be realistic at the time but can be reconsidered later.

Destination stewardship planning in Big Bay, Michigan. [Photo courtesy of CREST]

Implementation

With the council’s goals, objectives, and activities in place, it’s time to put down roots and execute the plan.

Holding a catalytic event to gain traction:

An opportunity to generate excitement within the council and to gain traction in the community is to hold a catalytic event(s). This event may draw attention to the unique selling points of a place, including cultural, environmental, economic, social, historic, and aesthetic integrity.

Celebrating these offerings makes the community aware of them and attracts tourists who want to linger (versus mass day-trippers). It should also allow council members to work together towards a shared goal, can draw attention to the council’s initiatives, and perhaps even raise funds for a specific milestone activity.

Establishing a structure

Assuming key players have been involved in the council from the beginning, it’s time to officially find a home for the council, as considered during the activation phase. Has the council found a home within a currently established organization, or is it operating as a standalone organization? If the latter, how does it effectively work with established tourism organizations to ensure its voice is considered in tourism decisions?

Business Planning & Fundraising

The council should consider the best ways to administer the council and fund the activities proposed. Is government funding an option? Can the council apply for nonprofit status to receive grants? Is a membership model an option? A business plan should be created to ensure sustainable funding.

Executing activities

The council may choose to adopt a strategic doing approach, a tool of the Agile Strategy Lab Network, which is a collaboration of Purdue University and the University of North Alabama.

The concept of strategic doing teaches people “how to form collaborations quickly, move them toward measurable outcomes, and make adjustments along the way.”

It is ideal for organizations made up of volunteers utilizing a “plan > do > plan > do” methodology of executing identified projects, pursuing only a few activities at a time before taking on more.

The council should continue a cyclical process of collecting and analyzing data from stakeholders (ideally annually), planning, and implementation.

Joining the Destination Stewardship movement

The Future of Tourism Coalition, and those who have signed up to its 13 Guiding Principles, are focusing on building a more resilient, regenerative, equitable, and sustainable tourism economy. We’ve set out a vision for the decade ahead and are developing a toolkit based around 3 drivers for transition, where fundamental changes in how tourism is planned, developed, and managed will create the necessary foundations to make our vision a reality: destination stewardship and stakeholder engagement, managing tourism’s impacts, and local and sustainable supply chains.

In the first webinar of the Resetting Tourism series, put forth by the Future of Tourism Coalition, CREST and the DSC discussed innovative forms of governance and collaboration that will enable a more holistic approach to tourism management and development. We also touched on how it will bring new skills, resources, and levers for change, which will help develop resiliency, community contentment, and each destination’s unique intrinsic appeal.

 

Regardless of which model a destination uses, a good stewardship approach – one rooted in community – will help to ensure everyone has a stake in the future of tourism, laying the foundation for a collaborative and holistic approach.

Regenerative and sustainable tourism in the Willamette Valley

Overcoming community divides and pandemic challenges, the Willamette Valley Visitor Association has been working to change the conversation, rebuild trust, and spark connections within their community. The Willamette Valley Visitor Association talks more about its work, including the barriers they’ve faced and how they’re working to overcome them.

The Foster Lake Reservoir and its outlets provide stunning views. [Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barnhart]

A Vision of Sustainability for the Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley is a vast and bountiful landscape sandwiched between the Cascade and the Coastal mountains in northwestern Oregon, USA. Stretching nearly 150 miles long and 60 miles wide, the Willamette Valley offers an abundant agricultural scene, including a world-famous wine country. Hiking, cycling, and adventuring of all kinds are available to visitors, and the Willamette Valley is home to the first nationally recognized water trails in the northwest. Fed by mountain tributaries south of Eugene, the Willamette River flows northward for nearly 200 miles before emptying into the Columbia River near Portland.

Nearby communities, ranging from quaint and sleepy towns to large, diverse cities, rely on the river and the local environment to produce its unique and authentic experiences that draw tourists to explore and enjoy. And, just as important, its environment relies on all its communities to protect and nurture its bounty and diversity.

That is why the Willamette Valley Visitors Association (WVVA) and its Executive Director, Dawnielle Tehama, have developed a mission to raise awareness for the Willamette Valley as a premier destination for travel and tourism through a regenerative and sustainable lens. Tehama’s motivation for regenerative practices includes sustainability and stewardship.

Together with its partners, WVVA is making strides to develop programs and resources to make regenerative and sustainable practices part of the culture. By working together, communities and visitors can keep natural resources abundant through everyday practices.

The Willamette Valley Visitors Association is proud to be an early adopter of the Transformational Travel Council (TTC), joining globally recognized change-makers and conscious travel experts to commit to offering transformational experiences. The TTC believes meaningful travel starts from the inside out. The visionaries at the TTC are working to deepen connections to discover meaning through travel experiences to foster personal fulfillment through compassion, stewardship, equality, and belonging. In partnership with the TTC and other partners, WVVA is creating a wealth of resources for frontline staff to bring this vision to life throughout the Valley. The culmination of this program will be the Regenerative Places Program and result in a white paper that will guide the Valley for the foreseeable future in regenerative and community work.

Winemakers harvest their grapes at Durant Vineyards in Dayton, OR. [Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barnhart]

Some barriers within the cultural and social landscape presented valley-wide challenges, including the deeply rooted divide between the Indigenous and other underserved communities that had not been part of prior conservation efforts. WVVA knew we needed to work hard to build trust and transparency to be able to responsibly bring the cultural conversation forward into this work. We also faced modern racism and social injustice within our towns and need to be able to support and uplift marginalized communities to be seen by all as part of this Valley. Their stories need to be told by them.

In addressing those barriers, Tehama says WVVA brought disparate community members together: “If we can make initial connections, like introducing organic farmers with restaurants and lodging properties who want to use their products,” says Tehama. “Eventually they can see the value of these relationships and make connections and changes on their own.”

Through requests for Tribal meetings, in-person discussions, and outreach to various partners and communities, WWVA collected the stories of history, hardship, and future goals from those that wanted to share. We made it clear that as the holders of this knowledge, they owned these stories, and we were grateful to be able to learn. In addition, we also began to look at advocacy efforts for our farm workers, and focused on shining a light on contributions our LGBTQ+, Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous neighbors have had on the Valley.

Part of the conversation, Tehama says, is also about convincing business owners that it can be profitable and showing visitors how to connect with destinations on a long-lasting level.

“If WVVA can convene those conversations and grow the community, we can reach the ultimate goal: bringing a quality, qualified visitor to a business or region who wants to give back, spend money, and be enriched in some way.”

Some deep set attitudes, including people still not understanding what sustainable and regenerative tourism and what real stewardship is, were also challenging.

“There can be an attitude of, ‘this is the way we’ve always done it, so this is the way it should be’,” Tehama says, “without understanding the long-term, irreparable damages if we don’t make changes on an environmental level.”

The King Estate Winery outside Eugene, OR. [Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barnhart]

On top of these barriers, unprecedented and unforeseeable challenges in the past two years (including a global pandemic that forced an economic shutdown, and wildfires that caused a local crisis), also threw Tehama and her team for a loop. But they swiftly made efforts to be efficient with marketing strategies in order to aid local businesses and communities in need, including actively making marketing and PR calls, and call outs to the community in e-news. We collected one-sheets for updates when available and made ourselves available to attend partner meetings to ensure we are seen as a supporting entity. We also no longer write stories on our own, we make the call to enlist the assistance of community members that are directly tied to the subject we are writing about.

They focused on nurturing communities from a business perspective to ensure they’re viable, thriving, self-sustaining. In addition, they also focused on the diversity and inclusion of communities: finding more clarity and a better understanding of who lives here, what the history is and ensuring various community members feel like they have a seat at the table.

“If we don’t know who we are and the diversity of our programming, our communities, and our valley,” says Tehama, “and if we’re not being inclusive of those storytellers and community members and generations of people, then we shouldn’t be doing what we do.”

The diversity and inclusion of WVVA’s corporate policies and procedures are driven by the diversity of their staff, and the diversity and inclusion of their communities.

WVVA’s Regenerative Places program in partnership with the Transformational Travel Council will wrap up in late 2023 and offer new pillars of project work that can be implemented valley-wide. Their destination development pieces are changing from typical grant funding to a more collaborative process where facilitating conversations and ensuring sustainability are incorporated helping connect tourism to a real place.

Whatever happens as part of that process, Tehama and her team will ensure it has a community-centric focus moving forward and they are nurturing connections and facilitating conversations to address ongoing and future challenges so that their tourism industry can improve the lives of everyone it touches.

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.

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.

Doing It Better: Big Bay, Michigan

[Above: Fall colors along a Big Bay road. All photos courtesy of CREST.]

? Destination Stewardship Report – Vol. 2, No. 4 – Spring 2022 ?

How does a low-population, outdoorsy locale go about convening a destination stewardship council after the extractive industries it once depended on have wound down? CREST’s Kelsey Frenkiel relates how remote Big Bay, Michigan, USA created their own council from scratch. Apparently, a good consultant can help. This is the ninth in the Destination Stewardship Center’s “Doing It Better” series on collaborative destination management in the spirit of GSTC’s Destination Criterion A1.

The Outdoors Unplugged: Building a Destination Stewardship Council on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Sven Gonstead came to Big Bay, Michigan, the way most people do: via County Road 550, the 30-mile expanse that links the town, as if by a thread, to the city of Marquette, Michigan. A driver can do a lot in 30 minutes. He can count the shades of gold and auburn that rise as if ablaze in the distance; he can tweak his mind’s radio dial until the static fades and clarity seeps in; he will almost certainly lose GPS signal by about mile marker 20.

For some, the distance is a deterrent. For locals, being at the precipice of one of America’s longest dead-end roads makes their town special. Says Sven, “On that drive was when I decided I was moving to Big Bay.”

Sven is the Chairman of the Big Bay Stewardship Council (BBSC), a non-profit that supports efforts to make Big Bay – a small town located in Powell Township – a wonderful place to live and visit. Sven and other community members, with the help of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), built the organization largely from scratch, with many lessons learned along the way.

About the Place

The name Big Bay seems to make an amusing comment on size, with only 800 residents scattered throughout the dense, partial old-growth forest. But what it does not have in population, it makes up for in personality, both culturally and in the natural landscape, with towering trees, booming waterfalls, and abundant wildlife. Its “biggest” asset by far is its location next to 31,000 square miles of Lake Superior; the town counters with almost 2,000 grand, watery acres of its own, interior Lake Independence. Big Bay, and the whole Upper Peninsula for that matter, does not show up on the hand that Michigan residents will raise to depict the shape of the state. The U.P. is a finger that points perpendicular to “downstate” (how UPers – “Yoopers” – refer to the rest of Michigan), and the landmass is actually connected to Wisconsin and nudges into Canada.

Some other things Big Bay has to its name: an infamous killing depicted in the black-and-white film Anatomy of a Murder, with two historic locations featured in the story still operating, the Thunder Bay Inn and the Lumberjack Tavern. It was an early vacation getaway for Henry Ford, who owned 313,000 acres of timberland and a sawmill that still looks out over Lake Independence. The town’s bar-goers are also the inspiration for the Big Bay Shuffle, a song and dance coined by actor and musician Jeff Daniels.

Snowmobiles park at the historic Thunder Bay Inn, seen in the film Anatomy of a Murder.

Residents can be impressively hardy and capable – entrepreneurs, artists looking for a backcountry muse, and Do It Yourself-ers, some of whom built their own homes or parts of them (sometimes with the intention of going off-grid). They also have a strong sense of community and family, Big Bay being the place where they can spend time with loved ones and truly get away from it all. “Camps,” or rustic dwellings, often without Wi-fi or other amenities, are used as second homes where people can recharge and reconnect with each other

About the Council

The Big Bay Stewardship Council is working hard to protect this unique sense of place, encouraging developments that are good for their micro-economy while also retaining the strength of their cultural and natural environment. This involved, in partnership with CREST, efforts to shepherd more responsible forms of travel. Tourism is already occurring in large numbers. Visitors share Big Bay’s trail systems, stay in short-term rentals or the hotels and motels, use boats and kayaks on the lakes, frequent local campgrounds, and take part in seemingly all types of year-round recreational activities, both motorized and non-motorized.

The BBSC focuses its work around six major goals:

  • Enhance Sense of Place
  • Expand Outreach & Partnerships
  • Support Infrastructure & Asset Enhancement
  • Provide Entrepreneurial Support
  • Support Authentic Experiences & Events
  • Measure What Matters

Organizational Development

Each year, the BBSC conducts planning sessions to determine what activities will be accomplished that year to achieve these goals. They currently have three committees and hope to establish more as they gain capacity: the Steering Committee for overall governance, the Marketing Committee to maintain their partnership with the destination marketing organization Travel Marquette in telling Big Bay’s story, and the Placemaking Committee to conduct on-the-ground projects. The BBSC recently achieved non-profit status through the IRS, which means they can accept tax-deductible donations and apply for grants more easily.

To support this project in the early stages and determine that a destination stewardship council was needed, CREST conducted a scoping study to understand the region’s opportunities and challenges and collected baseline data about the impact visitors were having on the economy, the environment, and resident quality of life. They also helped to develop a marketing brand, Discover Big Bay, with a logo and associated tagline, “the outdoors unplugged.” The Lundin Foundation and Eagle Mine also partnered on the project as part of their work to strengthen communities where they operate.

The initiative has already ticked the first box for sustainable management of tourism destinations, according to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Criterion A1: having “an effective organization, department, group, or committee responsible for a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, with involvement by the private sector, public sector and civil society.” This type of cross-sector collaboration has been elusive for even the most developed tourism destinations. Sven explains how they got there:

Background

You’re not originally from Big Bay. What prompted you to move there, and what is so special about it? 

Long story short, I came to participate in the first Noquemanon Ski Marathon in January of 1998. It was the first time I had spent any amount of time in Marquette County, and I found love. It was incredible. The day after the ski race, I drove County Road 550 from Marquette to Big Bay, and on that drive was when I decided I was moving to Big Bay. It had all the elements I was drawn to on the dead-end road. It was the people that were looking for an alternative to the normal existence in this country, I guess. People that are looking for something a little different… that are looking for more resonance with nature and the water. And of course, I love skiing in the winter. I moved in August 1998.

What is it about Big Bay that keeps people there? 

A big part of it is the people. It draws folks that are independent and strong. That think of the world in a different way. And we’re obviously all drawn to the physical beauty. With Big Bay it doesn’t jump out at you right away when you pull in. You will see these places that are amazing after you arrive – Alder Falls, Black Rocks, Yellow Dog Plains, and the Yellow Dog River…. Both [my wife] Marcia and I have so many places we want to visit that we haven’t yet. A lot of hidden morsels.

Sunset highlights one of Big Bay’s many lakes.

What are some of the challenges the region faces economically, environmentally, or with tourism or quality of life? 

That’s the ironic thing. A lot of the things that draw folks to Big Bay, they preclude economic development in the usual context. We’re at a dead-end road, it doesn’t really make sense for any manufacturing. It can also be hard to find healthy food in our community. So those things that draw people to Big Bay are the things that can make it difficult to live here. A micro-economy that is successful is a difficult dance. CREST was important in helping us determine that sustainable tourism could help us diversify our micro-economy.

Big Bay was a community that was developed through using natural resources like logging, mining… And some manufacturing thrown in there too. The Ford Mill, the Brunswick Mill. Our roots are in harvesting lumber. There’s a lot of environmental issues that have arisen through the years, and today there are significant threats to our natural and cultural resources. The dichotomy of development in the context of our natural environment is interesting. There’s a prospective spaceport that could be [here] in Powell Township, and of course there are issues environmentally with that. It feels like there is always pressure to keep developing. We have to figure out how to have a micro-economy that’s not going to threaten our way of life. It’s a real challenge to re-tool a little bit and look to the future in different ways.

How Big Bay Built Their Council

How did the Big Bay Stewardship Council get started? 

Things got started when a few community members got together and started talking about what this community can do differently that can carry us into the future. As stated earlier Big Bay has been dependent on boom-and-bust industries, like mining. Thankfully, the Lundin Foundation and Eagle Mine recognize that their presence has the potential to initiate that cycle again. Fortunately, they’ve been great partners to help us figure out a way that we can buffer this boom-and-bust cycle that  has occurred during the last 100 years. Working with CREST, we completed a scoping study and got some baseline data [such as number of people employed by tourism, trail user counts, and funding raised by existing events] to build off of.

What are some examples of projects that address the above challenges?

An issue is that we didn’t have a conduit for the community to communicate. That was one of the biggest challenges. Folks are doing their own thing, saying, “wouldn’t it be great to do this or do that”. Without a conduit, it was tough to have an organized effort to a) understand what the community wants as a whole and b) determine what it will take to accomplish those goals and c) follow through and finish them out. It’s pretty neat we have the structure [through the Big Bay Stewardship Council] now that we can look to. The Big Bay Fall Fest is a great example. It’s a representation of what the BBSC is all about: bringing in everybody from the community, the artists, the gunsmiths, farmers, non-profits, food vendors, and the people of all ages. It’s about just being together, initiating the conversation, and understanding that we’re in this together.

Tell us about the people of the BBSC. Who do you have on the Council and why? 

It’s such a wonderful and diverse group. I’m excited for the future in that regard. The BBSC at its best is intended to be as diverse as possible. We’re doing a good job of that. We have a couple of nonprofits with the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Bay Cliff Health Camp. Then we have for-profit businesses like the Thunder Bay Inn. And local government… It’s incredible to have something new for this community, where we can have a conversation about what’s a sustainable direction that preserves the character of Big Bay.

Accomplishments

What have been some of your greatest successes so far? 

This diverse group that’s well-represented. We’re able to really communicate in a way that’s productive.

Another success, with CREST’s assistance, is the scoping study and the baseline data collection that we were able to do. In my opinion, [data collection] is one of the most important things that the BBSC is doing. By keeping tabs on what’s going on, we have a shield against any potential overtourism issues that pop up, to make the right decisions going into the future. We’re armored with this knowledge. It’s becoming more obvious to me how important it is as we progress. I don’t know any neighboring community our size that has the ability to do that right now. To collect resident input, and use that data to inform our activity planning.

And the Fall Fest. It was like a big old barbecue… It was so great to see everyone hanging out. To be able to support other businesses and people that are starting little projects or hobby businesses, to have a platform for them to try it out, even if it’s just a booth at our Fall Fest.

Lessons Learned

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in the 1.5 years that the BBSC has been operating?

First, the importance of data collection. It’s absolutely critical.

Second, that we should always be thinking about our capacity and be reasonable [with our activity planning]. We have to always keep in mind what’s achievable. The biggest issue is that making a living in Big Bay… that’s a full-time job in itself. A lot of people have skill sets to help with what is needed to run an organization like this, but a lot of those people are retired. People come here to relax, to get away from it all, to fish and stuff. There’s a limited amount of folks that are willing to help and that can help. It makes it really difficult. But there’s a lot of untapped talent and potential in our community. As we grow and people understand the value [of the BBSC], we’ll see an uptick in membership and volunteer help. We’re thinking about launching a membership model, but we need to do preliminary projects to get people to understand the value of our work first. If they understand that, they’ll jump in.

Bar-goers hang out at the historic Lumberjack Tavern.

Being such a diverse group, a community that communicates together is going to see greater results. Other communities did not do as good a job communicating early on and they got overwhelmed [with tourism]. And that is a big lesson for us. With Marquette evolving as a tourism destination and the rate it’s growing, it’s very possible something could happen in Big Bay, and we could get rolled over beyond our capacity. It’s good to have data and communication so we can keep tabs on that and react as needed.

What are you most excited about tackling in the future? 

First, working to expand the membership and the volunteer core, and watching the organization grow. It will be a slow but steady process.

I’m also really excited to actually tackle a larger project [like collaborative trail building or installation of streetlights] that we couldn’t begin to consider before the BBSC existed. We didn’t have the structure to even think about the bigger picture and tackle some things that people talked about that would improve our community.

I also think we can support the artists and musicians in our community more. We have many artists here, but there’s not a framework for them in the community. They’re living here but pursuing their work remotely. We hope to find ways to support them, maybe do an artists-in-residence project or gallery to create an environment that’s appealing for artists to live here.

I’m excited to see the Fall Fest grow and evolve.

Finally, I hope we will be able to assist Powell Township with large projects such as improving curb appeal, a community center, and building a Historical Trail. This will be a great opportunity to bring the community together in a way that embraces its past, helps its future, and provides  practical improvements for residents and visitors alike.

You can support the Big Bay Stewardship Council by making a donation and following along with their work via their website, bigbaystewardship.org. 

Slovenia’s Green Gourmet Tourist Route

Expanding the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism  inspired Jana Apih and Sara Mavrič of GoodPlace to create a new step toward putting the Slovenia Green concept into practice. Here they describe how uniting stakeholders committed to a greener future can transform sustainability principles into memorable and tasty experiences for visiting bicyclers and hikers, who thereby support responsible local businesses.

Bicyclists on the SGGR near Ptuj, eastern Slovenia All photos courtesy GoodPlace.

A Delicious Way to Promote Sustainability, Educate the Visitor, and Benefit Communities

You’re bicycling along the Slovenia Green Gourmet Route (SGGR). In this green pocket-size country the landscape changes fast. Around each corner you’ll find a new local story, an untouched forest, romantic vineyards, or a vibrant town. In just one day you can wake up with a spectacular view of high mountains, fill your lungs with fresh cold air, smell the mountain flowers; then bike along the wild Soča river, observing shepherds looking after their stock and stopping by a local farm to taste fresh cheese; and finally ride through vineyards at sunset. Dinner is a special treat at a high-end restaurant offering an innovative, surprising menu of local items. The day will stay with you – a taste of Slovenia.

An asparagus starter at Majerija in the Vipava Valley.

The SGGR is an innovative product based on principles of responsibility. The route emphasizes the sustainable and gastronomic features of the country and brings benefits to local providers and communities. Slovenia being declared a European Region of Gastronomy for 2021 encouraged us at GoodPlace to create a green-certified cycling/hiking itinerary that takes advantage of the rich gastronomic offerings of diverse Slovenian regions while rewarding the sustainability efforts of Slovene tourism stakeholders.

Slovenia Green

The SGGR is one of three completely “green” routes: Alps to Adriatic, Capitals Route, and the Gourmet Route. We believe these three to be the first and only such designated tours in the world, as they exclusively connect destinations that have been awarded the Slovenia Green certificate. We created the concept of the Slovenia Green Routes for members of the Consortium Slovenia Green (CSG), an informal body connecting destinations and businesses united by being certified under the Slovenia Green brand.

The Slovenian Tourist Board assigned GoodPlace to help develop this national certification programme, the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism. Almost 60 tourism destinations (which account for almost 80% of all tourism arrivals in Slovenia) and 164 tourism businesses have joined the Green Scheme as of May 2022, committing to a green future and sustainable tourism development. (See accompanying story.)

The Green Scheme provides the base for three Slovenian initiatives aimed at encouraging responsible tourism development: (1) Green Scheme certification, (2) Training and tools, (3) Green Products. Having helped develop the Scheme, GoodPlace now acts as an accredited partner responsible for evaluations and development. The whole spectrum of the Green Scheme allows us to continually evaluate the sustainability of destinations and tourism businesses through the certification program.

The western portions of the SG Gourmet Route.

Green Gastronomy

In the case of SGGR we sought to promote local supply chains, local businesses, and local stories that convey the authenticity of green Slovenian tourism. Our aim was to find an authentic local experience in each destination – honey producers, farmers, markets, special events, even a chocolate producer in a monastery. Then we would seek to connect local tourism businesses and include local providers from non-tourism sectors to build the story of each destination. We’ve identified several examples of good practice in the field of gastronomy in Slovene destinations, especially in the aspect of short local supply chains.

One ambassador for putting local supplies on a Michelin plate is Ana Roš at two-star Hiša Franko in Kobarid. She identified a wide range of local farmers, dairy suppliers, bee keepers, and other producers, as well as locals picking forest products. She keeps surprising customers with innovative cuisine transforming local tradition and local ingredients into high-end culinary experiences.

We recognized a great potential for further development in this area.

This led us to the next step – introducing solutions for destinations and tourism businesses to improve their sustainability. While upgrading the Green Scheme, we introduced a special label, Slovenia Green Cuisine, with additional criteria and a new (gastronomic) module for destinations. It emphasizes promotion of local supply chains and relations with local producers, guiding them in their further development. Last and most important, as a result of these sustainability efforts members of Consortium Slovenia Green have created story-telling responsible tourism experiences – cycling through hops fields, a day at a karst farm, wine tasting in Ljubljana, and more (see www.slovenia-green.si)

Bicyclers tour through vineyards in Tomaj.

We prepared the SGGR in collaboration with ten Slovenia Green destinations and numerous local tourism businesses. The route ties together gastronomic destinations with rich culinary offers, wines, and Michelin-starred restaurants. The trail follows country byways and forest roads, goes through vineyards and fields, and is suitable for cyclists of all levels. Bicycles take travellers to places that cannot be explored by other means of transport and to tourism providers in less accessible locations, hence creating business opportunities for small entrepreneurs in these locations. (See video – 28 minutes.)

Biking combines well with travelling by train, a sustainable form of transport that brings the east and west of the country closer. All Slovenian trains now provide special places for the bikes. Easy train-and-bike travel enables the SGGR itinerary to capture the diversity of Slovenian gastronomic destinations and include a wide range of tourism businesses.

At Hiša Franko, Valter Kramar ages cheeses for up to 4 years.

Tourism providers promoted in the itinerary are small family-run accommodations and restaurants that have sustainability certificates and authentic boutique experiences removed from most famous tourist spots – tree house accommodation, glamping in forests or storied hotels in cities. The route can be customized for visitors by a professional travel agency Visit GoodPlace. Alternatively, travellers can organize their own tours by downloading a free e-book and navigation pack, which includes GPX tacks, Google map with points of interest, restaurants, accommodations, and tips for green travel.

In summary, the SGGR enhances local businesses and enables destinations to promote and monetize their local stories and gastronomical specialties. It benefits the environment with sustainable transportation while reaching providers located in less accessible locations. It educates travellers on sustainable travel and the uniqueness of Slovenian destinations and their gastronomy. Creating tourism products that illustrate the sustainability efforts “pulls” the visitors into the scene. When sustainability is only communicated as a primary focus, an abstraction without a concrete product to demonstrate it, guests cannot recognize its true value. This way, they see how the concept of green routes rests on the efforts of destinations and tourism businesses and exemplifies their commitment to sustainable tourism development in practice.

The Štanjel hill town features on the SGGR.

We believe the inclusion of the local communities and tourists into the co-creation of tourism products is crucial. The support and satisfaction of the local community is the core of successful sustainable tourism development. Communities will support tourism if they benefit from it. Giving the locals new business opportunities is an important step towards responsible tourism development, creating added value for both residents and tourists.

Nationwide Tourism Change: Slovenia Shows How To Do It

We often see great accomplishments in destination sustainability by individual towns, counties, and even sizable cities. But how to get an entire country to adopt a comprehensive stewardship program? Hannah Bromm, with Dr. Jonathon Day, describes Slovenia’s award-winning solution for achieving systemic national change. 

Easy access by train and bicycle put Slovenian villages like this one within reach. Photos by Jonathan Tourtellot.

Slovenia Tourism’s Nationwide Green Scheme

Leaders seeking to establish sustainable tourism programs often face a challenge when trying to do it across regions and political boundaries. Yet Slovenia has created a program that has been adopted by communities throughout the country, creating an “ecosystem” of some 60 sustainable destinations.

The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism (GSST), an initiative of the Slovenian Tourism Board, is the largest sustainable tourism program in the country.  Launched in 2014, this program aims to introduce sustainable practices to Slovenian tourism and encourage both tourism service providers and destinations to embrace sustainability in their operations. Since its inception, the certification program has grown to include over 200 members, comprising 59 Slovenian destinations, and numerous accommodations and other service providers.


Key Program Takeaways

    • Slovenia has created an internationally recognized program that enables destinations to properly evaluate and achieve their sustainability objectives through an established set of criteria.
    • Importantly, the program has been broadly adopted across the country, creating an “ecosystem” of sustainable destinations.
    • Slovenia’s comprehensive program promotes sustainable development in all areas, including economic, social, cultural, and environmental sustainability.

Slovenia’s Green Destinations

Building a Framework for Sustainable Development 

An important step in encouraging adoption of sustainability programs is to provide clear guidance on the tasks required to achieve them. In this case, the GSST includes a certification program that uses the globally-recognized criteria of the European Tourism Indicators System (ETIS) and Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) as a framework that encourages destinations to achieve a “Slovenia Green” label of Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze. Service providers can obtain similar certifications in these categories: Accommodation, Park, Travel Agency, Attraction, Beach, and Cuisine (see accompanying “Gourmet Route” story).

“The GSST ensures a framework with very concrete criteria that need to be followed by the destinations if they want to achieve the bronze, silver, gold, or platinum label,” according to Maša Klemenčič, project manager for the GSST.

Program members, representing both products and destinations, are provided with a manual that outlines the rules on obtaining, maintaining, and renewing the Slovenia Green label. A designated GSST project manager provides additional support and education to destinations and service providers. In addition to training, those participating in the program receive access to promotional support, access to cooperative marketing opportunities, and grant funding opportunities, all of which allow for ongoing success and growth.

Ljubljana’s recycling bins and bicycles attest to Slovenia’s green policies.

Importantly, acheiving certification allows destinations and providers an opportunity to be recognized for their ongoing performance improvements. However, Slovenia’s GSST program itself has also received international recognition for its success, further incentivizing participation from destination communities and tourism products across the country. As Maša notes:

“For Slovenia tourism as a whole, the GSST has given us direction, so sustainability and green tourism are not just a national strategy, but individual destinations and businesses have also started following this philosophy”.

Learn more about Slovenia’s tourism approach


This story was submitted by Purdue University’s Sustainable Tourism & Responsible Travel Lab. It demonstrates GSTC Destination Criterion A4: Enterprise engagement and sustainability standards and two key U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
SDG 17: Partnerships for the the Goals 

 Source for this story: Slovenia Tourism Board

Bringing Bad Grund Back to Life

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. This entry, submitted in 2021 from Germany, shows how a community rallied to create placemaking activities that enhance their town’s touristic appeal and stem outmigration.

Bad Grund town center. [Photo Courtesy of Bad Grund]

Submitted by Nikolai Simon-Hallensleben, Project Manager, Innenentwicklung der Bergstadt Bad Grund (Harz) 

Community Collaboration in Bad Grund, Germany, Revives the Destination 

Over the past few decades Bad Grund (Harz), a remote destination in the rugged Harz highlands of Lower Saxony, Germany, has been suffering from decreasing population levels. Officially recognised as a spa town since 1855, it lies in an open valley surrounded by deciduous and coniferous forests.The local economy had historically relied on the mining industry and on spa tourism, but when those industries collapsed, young generations started moving away. Between 1973 and 2021, Bad Grund (Harz) lost almost 40% of its population. Amongst other things, the decline in population meant that external investors were reluctant to provide much-needed capital to develop the destination.

In response, a group of Bad Grundners came together to tackle the decline of their mountain town. In autumn 2018, the group created the initiative ZukunftsBergstadt – ‘Future Mountain Town’. Over the past few years, the group has organised meetings and events for the local community to share their concerns and develop new ideas. 

Direct results of this collaboration include:

Cleaning day. [Photo Courtesy of Bad Grund]

  • Creating a maintenance group to regularly maintain the flower beds around the town, sow wildflower meadows, and ensure the town centre is clean.
  • Increasing the frequency of the Begegnungsmarkt – ‘Encounter Market’ – which now takes place once a month. The market features regional products and is a great place to gather and eat while listening to local music. 
  • Opening the Grundnerwohnzimmer  – ‘Grundner Living Room’ – every day, which has made it a place where locals can meet, talk, share ideas, swap books, and buy tableware, wool, and more. 
  • Planning to establish a cooperative which would operate out of a repurposed dilapidated vacant property in the center of Bad Grund. The plan is to renovate it this year and create a new gastronomic offering that features regional foods, which is greatly needed. 

Begegnungsmarkt – ‘Encounter Market’, [Photo courtesy of Bad Grund]

The success of the ZukunftsBergstadt has depended on the linkages between politics, the local administration, and the citizens of Bad Grund. The essential point is that the Bad Grunders have drafted the ideas for themselves. Thanks to the commitment of the ZukunftsBergstadt, it has been possible to draw attention to the potential of the mountain city, the region, and beyond. Through collaboration, this community has managed to re-create a sense of place, generate a strong sense of community, organize regular events, and essentially bring Bad Grund (Harz) back to life. 

Find the complete Good Practice Story from Bad Grund here

 

Human Encounters

Lessons from the pandemic have revealed how stronger rural communities can make for stronger cross-cultural touring, say Ann Becker and Jorge Moller Rivas. They propose a framework for doing so.

Ready for visitors: A Mapuche woman prepares a meal over a wood fire. [Photo by Maikel Sanchez]

Pandemic Insights Suggest a Course for the Future

As long-time travel leaders, we joined forces in 2019 to create and lead a US/Swiss women’s small group cross-cultural exchange trip predominantly in the Araucania region of Chile, home to the majority of the native Mapuche.

Our group experienced homestays in traditional rukas, stayed in locally owned lodges, and visited with many small business owners and community leaders, mainly women. Local guides led us on hiking adventures that showcased the extraordinary beauty of Araucania’s forests and lakes. They shared as well the interwoven history and culture of the communities for whom this area is home.

Experiences like this one illustrate what we call “human encounters”: Connecting visitors with local hosts in deep, meaningful ways—sharing and learning with one another; eating local specialties; building cultural bridges; and contributing to more sustainable communities and a healthier planet by integrating more sustainable practices.

Within less than a year of our return, the Covid-19 pandemic exploded globally. A new reality confronted many rural communities – how to keep the pandemic at bay and minimize human casualties while addressing income loss due to job and business disruptions.  Hosting visitors was out of the question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Located in central Chile, Araucania is one of the most diverse regions in the country, with rich culture, history, and environmental beauty. Scenic attractions such as rainforests, volcanoes, lakes, and the Andes combine with an indigenous culture to provide visitors with a special interactive experience.

Traditional Ways Help Cope with Covid

In some cases, the pandemic has been a catalyst to draw on traditional practices for safety and survival. For instance, in the Mapuche community that we had visited, Llaguepulli, the families have returned completely to farming and bartering different crops with one another to sustain themselves. Traditional practices have revived elsewhere as well.

The island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a special territory of Chile, is home to more than 7,000 people. Recognizing the island’s fragile heath care infrastructure and its many elderly residents, the Mayor responded quickly to the first signs of Covid in March 2020. He called the community to TAPU, the ancestral concept of self-care based on sustainability and respect. The community reacted by responding diligently to lockdown protocols which have led to successful virus containment.

In July 2020, the Mayor revived another ancestral principle, Umanga: teamwork among neighbors to help support one another and their communities. Many indigenous Rapa Nui inhabitants are now working together to cultivate the land and manage family gardens.

Crisis as Opportunity

The new Covid reality also offered new opportunities. In the community of Drake Bay on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, the Covid disruption provided time for local leaders of the Drake Bay Nature Guides Association (AGUINADRA), to engage with residents, national park rangers, and other nearby communities in collaborative problem-solving and actions to address issues such as emergency food distribution, spikes in wildlife poaching, and area infrastructure improvements. Efforts such as these have helped to strengthen community connection, capacity, and resilience that will help mitigate the negative consequences of future pandemics or natural disasters.

An Aguinadra guide leads a client in crossing the Rio Claro in Corcovado, Costa Rica. [Photo by Maikel Sanchez]

Covid has thus revealed new everyday heroes, including local producers and suppliers, guides, and small business owners. With increased community recognition and appreciation, these local heroes now have greater pride in their efforts and identity.

Realizations

Living life in lockdown has also affected the vision and emotions of many travelers. Perhaps it took the pandemic to realize fully the importance of connections and spontaneity with others. While technology has afforded virtual connections for many, it is no replacement for physical proximity and time together. As the months dragged on, we have yearned for connection even more.

Other realizations have come into play as well. These include the freedom and joy of being outdoors for one’s physical and mental well-being and a deeper appreciation of nature’s gifts.

The group celebrates a successful hiking adventure amongst the scenic mountains and volcanoes of Araucania. [Photo by Maikel Sanchez]

Life in lockdown has also contributed to a growing awareness and appreciation of local businesses and their importance in home communities. The pandemic put a spotlight on area farmers and local business owners who were able to sell food and essential wares while major supply chains stumbled. These are the people who helped sustain their neighborhoods; in turn, their communities often stepped up to help support them when they faltered due to ongoing Covid restrictions and illnesses. Neighbors began to understand that they were doing more than buying food from a restaurant; they were supporting mothers, fathers, and families whose lives were intrinsically intertwined with the well-being and vitality of the community.

In addition to Covid, the year since George Floyd’s death has begun finally to illuminate for many that connecting with people and communities different from our own teaches us, pushes us, and sometimes forces us to confront our normal way of thinking and operating. These learning muscles are absolutely vital in the ongoing fight for racial justice in destinations anywhere.

Human Encounters Framework

The pandemic put human needs and connections front and center. As we think about the future of tourism, we propose taking what we are learning about ourselves and one another to encourage more “human encounters” such as those of our Chilean cross-cultural exchange two years ago, as well as earlier individual efforts that we have made in Central and South America.

We envision a Human Encounters Framework that includes the following dimensions:

  • Greater appreciation, respect and economic support for host communities;
  • Deep cross-cultural engagement and increased pride in purposeful travel;
  • Diversification of offerings, suppliers, and sustainable value chains for the travel industry;
  • Contributions to repair and regeneration of the destination and the planet.

The Human Encounters Framework can be an important change factor in the development of rural communities and destinations post-pandemic. A focus on the autonomy of local communities and stronger bonds among the different actors in the value chain is a good foundation on which to build powerful cross-cultural experiences with visitors.

Trips centered on human encounters must be designed with sustainability in mind. They should, prioritize care for local identity, traditions, and values, as well as for the natural surroundings, minimizing detrimental impacts and respecting limits of acceptable change. We hope this can lead to more co-development of visitation protocols that are in the best interests of travelers, local communities, and destination ecosystems,

In Drake Bay, Costa Rica, there are signs that this is already happening. As the nature guides have resumed carefully leading small numbers of visitors into Corcovado National Park and contiguous reserves, these local stewards are proud to share stories of how they helped combat poaching and improve and diversify trails in the protected areas.

Over time such travelers will become change agents themselves and build greater awareness of the importance of rural communities – their identities, their interactions with natural surroundings, and value of their work.


Ann Becker is at www.travelwithAnnExperiential.com

Jorge Moller Rivas is at www.regeneraong.cl