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.
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 https://sustainabletourism.net/ 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 Amazon.com
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Good destination stewardship planning requires more than good intentions. It requires genuine and diverse community collaboration, setting and following rigorous standards, and good public policy that enables action. Tiffany Chan, Destinations Program Coordinator at the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), describes the key themes and main takeaways from the 2022 Global Sustainable Tourism Conference.
Sustainability is only effective if it is a collaborative process
Destination stewardship was one of the main themes, in addition to tourism adaption to climate change, mainstreaming sustainability standards, green mobility and accessibility. Below are the key takeaways from three particular sessions:
Destination Stewardship Councils
National Tourism Programs Using Existing Sustainable Tourism Standards
NTOs Engaging and Promoting Certification of Businesses.
People fill the FIBES Conference and Exhibition Centre in Seville, eager to learn and collaborate at the largest GSTC conference to date. [Photo courtesy of GSTC]
Destination Stewardship Council Approaches
The relationship between tourism and a destination is complex and requires a collaborative approach. In the Azores, the perception of stakeholders varies from island to island, as do local problems. Carolina Mendonça stresses the importance of stakeholder engagement to ensure they are part of the process. Azores DMO created an action plan based on the commitment of relevant stakeholders, identifying successful actions, and reviewing the process of unsuccessful actions. Nine green teams, public working groups, and local organizations were involved to ensure active participation of the entire community.
“You need to have people who are committed to reaching the goal. It is not possible to start the process without it,” states Stefano Ravelli from DMO Valsugana. Valsugana’s approach to cooperative engagement emphasizes the importance of communicating values, talking to tourists, and investing in residents – the ambassadors of the destination. In doing so, they developed a kit for operators to effectively communicate what sustainability means. “You don’t have to convince anybody. It’s just a matter of explaining the journey.”
Tree planting in the Azores during the 2019 post-conference tour to offset the carbon footprint. [Photo courtesy of GSTC]
A similar approach is also seen in another Italian town nearby. Through Eggental Tourismus’ certification process, Stephanie Völser quickly learned that sustainability is the main thread and overarching theme of the destination’s strategy. A participatory process – such as engaging partners, stakeholders, and municipalities – before the certification process allowed for general consensus and understanding of important sustainability matters. Eggental also organized working groups with a variety of members, which provided meaningful engagement with stakeholders from the community.
In the mountain town of Park City, Utah, extreme periods of visitation during high season put a strain on the community. “The community of Park City is afraid it will lose itself to the destination of Park City,” quoted Morgan Mingle. A situation assessment on resident sentiment was conducted as part of the destination’s planning process. Community buy-in ensures that local residents and stakeholders are aware of the scope and that sustainability is not just about the environment. In the formation of a destination stewardship council, Park City tried to bring in as many diverse perspectives and conflicting interests as possible to ensure that all voices are heard and approaches are agreed upon. This process helped to understand stakeholders’ needs.
Putting people first is a key design for the sustainable management of a destination. Starting with the “why” allows everyone to understand the common goal. Certification is not necessarily the end goal, but an ongoing process. A long-term multi-year strategy is required for continuous improvement. As a result, holistic management that includes citizen participation can enrich communities and provide the means to preserve natural environments and cultural heritage with many benefits to local residents.
Using Existing Sustainable Tourism Standards is Beneficial for National Tourism Programs
National sustainable tourism certification programmes add credibility and promotion, but why are there so many different approaches? Some destinations develop their own programmes from scratch, which can be time-consuming and costly, while others use the framework and criteria from existing standards to build their own national certification system. Some base their program on a range of international certifications, while others opt to work with the one scheme that best suits their needs.
The European Travel Commission, representing 32 national tourism organizations in Europe, published a handbook last year emphasizing the importance of a national approach towards planning, developing and implementing sustainability in tourism through certification. International certifications can be white-labelled and tailored to the needs of any destination. According to the handbook, it is easier to adapt or adopt an existing standard or a scheme than create a whole new one. It specifically recommends the GSTC framework.
According to Liisa Kokkarinen, Head of Sustainable Development at Visit Finland, the first step is difficult but the most crucial. Visit Finland struggled to find an existing program that directly served both destinations and businesses when they started this process. They wanted the entire industry to be on the same journey. The Sustainable Travel Finland program is built on the GSTC Criteria. It is regarded as a pathway to ensure tourism businesses and destinations start by committing as the first of seven steps.
Slovenia Green took on the existing Green Destination standard in Slovenia and adapted it to the Slovenian model and brand. The Green Destinations standard is internationally recognised, which was an important factor for Slovenia Green when choosing a standard to white label. Slovenia Green is not only a certification program but an important tool on a national level that is recognized by the ministry. It started as a manual for hotels and developed into a certification program six years later in 2015. “The main aim of our sustainable Slovenia Green program is that it provides evaluation and improvement to more responsible tourism management and I think this is one of the main advantages that a national program can bring to the destination. It is our job as a national tourism organization to really give the tools and information to businesses and smaller destinations who might not have the time or resources.” Slovenia Green is owned and managed by the Slovenian Tourist Board, working alongside accredited partner Good Place and international partner Green Destinations.
Tourists stroll a street in historic Tallinn, Estonia, now in the early stages of a national green program. [Photo by Jonathan Tourtellot]
Estonia is in the early stages of developing its national program. They first started by surveying which methods countries are using and realized that for a small country, it didn’t make sense to build a certification program from scratch. They decided to instead adopt an existing certification program. Visit Estonia participated in the Green Destination program in 2020 by piloting 7 destinations. After a successful pilot phase, the Estonian sustainability scheme is on the trajectory of becoming its own national-level green program. Liina Maria Lepik, Head of International Services at the Estonian Tourist Board also agrees that the first step in creating awareness and commitment from tourism companies and destinations is the hardest, but most crucial. It is a learning-by-doing process, so sharing success stories and knowledge within countries, but also with other countries that are on a similar journey is important.
The national “Swisstainable” program builds on existing credentials, like this restaurant’s certificate tied to the Entlebuch Biosphere Reserve. [Photo by Jonathan Tourtellot]
On the other hand, the Swissstainable program is neither a label nor a new certification scheme, but is referred to as a holistic approach that builds on existing certification to provide guidance and orientation for guests. “Recognizing existing forms of credentials allows us to consider many positive developments without having to establish a time-consuming control system,” explained Helena Videtic, Sustainability Manager, at Switzerland Tourism. The Swisstainable program focuses on organizations and businesses.
When asked about the key factors for success when starting a national program, the four destinations offered the following advice:
Ensuring that you have a clear structure to see the path that you are taking, with easy first steps and small success stories to help build momentum and motivation to get to the final stage.
Understanding the needs and obstacles of key stakeholders and partners.
Recognizing that when it comes to sustainability, many businesses and destinations often don’t have the capacity or knowledge, or don’t know where to start. This can be overwhelming.
Having a simple, ready-to-use, and easy-to-understand program is also key when providing tools and knowledge as a national tourism authority.
Destination sustainability requires good public policy that informs private-sector practices
Criterion A4 of the GSTC Destination Criteria states that the destination should regularly inform tourism-related enterprises about sustainability issues and provide guidance with the implementation of sustainability practices. As such, DMOs must take an active role in engaging with the private sector to encourage more sustainable forms of services and experiences.
Realizing sustainability goals in Singapore as a nation is guided by the Singapore Green Plan 2030. Singapore has engaged with over 27,000 stakeholders, working with private and public partners to take action, share expertise, and co-create sustainability solutions. Certification is a key part of Singapore Tourism Board’s strategy, strongly encouraging tourism stakeholders to obtain internationally recognized certification in accordance with the GSTC Criteria. However, as Cherie Lee, Chief Sustainability Officer of the Singapore Tourism Board, mentions, “Certification is not the end all be all. It is a learning journey to see how to continue to improve and strengthen sustainability performance.” Tourism enterprises that want to become certified can receive financial support from STB, as well as training opportunities and participation in an accelerator program working to develop innovative sustainable solutions.
“All private companies that apply for funding with Innovation Norway have to answer to the 5 areas: Value creation, Ripple effects, Guest satisfaction for priority target groups, Attractive local communities and happy residents, and Climate footprint.”
Norway’s sustainable destination program started with four small destinations and now 28 destinations are approved to be part of the main process. This is in addition to 30 more destinations already in the early stages. “Most who aren’t involved are calling and want to be involved in the sustainable destination program,” said Knut Perander, Head of Tourism Development at Innovation Norway. Innovation Norway measures DMOs on the certification rate of businesses in the destination. All private companies that apply for funding with Innovation Norway have to answer to the 5 areas: Value creation, Ripple effects, Guest satisfaction for priority target groups, Attractive local communities and happy residents, and Climate footprint.
The Mauritius Tourism Authority is committed to sponsoring 60 tourism small- and medium-sixes enterprises (SMEs) to achieve certification with the financial support of other partners. Almost 90% of tour operators in Mauritius are SMEs. The Mauritius Innovation Framework, developed by the Sustainable Island Mauritius (SIM) project, was inspired by the GSTC Criteria, as well as the local standard MS 165 2019, also known as Blue Oasis Certification “Strong adherence to the GSTC Criteria is the only path to achieving ambitions at the local and international level,” explained Lindsay Morvan, Director of the Mauritius Tourism Authority. Mauritius is also in the process of becoming a GSTC Accredited Certification Body, the first government body to apply for GSTC Accreditation.
Elephants draw photographer attention in Chobe, Botswana, which stresses sustainable destination criteria, essential for tourism. [Photo by Jonathan Tourtellot]
Botswana was one of the early adopters of the GSTC Destination Assessment. According to Mafila Richard Malesu, Environment & Eco-Certification Manager of Botswana Tourism Organisation, it was an eye-opening experience. “I put emphasis on Destination Criteria because it is more than just dealing with an individual operator; you are looking at the whole destination and seeing how united are we and how are we in achieving our goals.” He also stressed the importance of involving the private sector and stakeholders in certification. The collaboration of private and public sectors can create a good model to ensure that conservation efforts are in place and tourism companies are profitable.
Upcoming Destination Stewardship Sessions at GSTC2023
At the closing ceremony, three GSTC Conferences were announced: GSTC2023 Antalya (May 2023), GSTC2024 Sweden (April 2024), and GSTC2024 Singapore (November 2024).
Destination Stewardship will be one of the four main themes at GSTC2023 in Antalya, Türkiye, focusing on Port Destinations, Coastal Destinations, and Rural Tourism.
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.
What does it mean to implement a destination stewardship model? What are the successes and challenges communities face throughout the process? And what does a shift towards stewardship mean for destination marketing? Alix Collins summarizes the key takeaways from the 2022 World Tourism Day Forum.
A Better Way Forward
For this year’s World Tourism Day Forum (27 Sept. 2022), we at the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) wanted to shine a light on destination stewardship. Initially, we were going to focus solely on the mindset shift from marketing to management, but implementing the destination stewardship model isn’t just about making that shift. It’s also about governance, funding structures, stakeholder engagement, political will, and community and private sector buy-in.
So we shifted our focus. The first panel focused on implementing the destination stewardship model. In theory, bringing people together for better destination stewardship sounds easy. In practice, however, it can be challenging to implement. While there are fantastic models across the world, we decided to focus on US destinations because of the political and cultural landscape that poses unique challenges. The second panel focused on rethinking destination marketing, moving from tourist-centric marketing that aims to get more heads and beds and towards community-centered storytelling that aims to capture a destination’s sense of place and benefit the community in ways requested by the community.
Our speakers included: Jonathan Tourtellot (Destination Stewardship Center), Seleni Matus (International Institute of Tourism Studies), Ilihia Gionson (Hawai‘i Tourism Authority), Dawnielle Tehama (Willamette Valley Visitors Association), Dr. Brooke Hansen (University of South Florida), Sven Gonstead (Big Bay Stewardship Council), Lebawit Lily Girma (former Editor-At-Large at Skift), Rob Holmes (GLP Films), JoAnna Haugen (Rooted), Jayni Gudka (Unseen Tours), Tom Smith (Intrepid Travel), Andreas Weissenborn (Destinations International), and Diwigdi Valiente (Panama Tourism Authority).
Collaboration is Key
In his keynote address, Jonathan Tourtellot said that a “lack of a collaborative structure at the destination level is why I’ve become a relentless advocate for the creation of destination stewardship councils, by whatever name, [to take] care of the ultimate tourism product, which is a place – a place where people live.”
We can accomplish more together than we can apart, and yet doing so is easier said than done. Collaboration is about more than sharing ideas. As Dawnielle Tehama, mentioned, it’s about stakeholders co-designing and co-deciding tourism policies and practices that impact everyone in the community. And a step beyond that, it’s about co-managing as well.
In Willamette Valley, this looks like developing and adopting a place-based strategy by “connecting and building bridges between different sectors of the tourism industry, and starting to have the conversation with our state and local agencies, our DMOs, and other stakeholders,” she said, including the wine industry, hospitality, lodging, guides, operators, and outfitters. In Big Bay, Michigan, an isolated, rural community, it looks like connecting stakeholders through formal and informal means, from surveys and in-person forums to their annual Fall Festival.
There is no one-size-fits-all model
Every destination is different. Dr. Brooke Hansen and two of her Florida’s Keep America Beautiful affiliates are following a model inspired by the work of Ilihia Gionson and his team at the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), but the models are vastly different. In Hawai‘i, we are seeing a top-down approach, with HTA leading the effort to co-develop island-wide destination management plans with counties and visitor bureaus. In Florida, there is a lack of direction from the state level, so Dr. Hansen and others are taking a more grassroots approach. By bringing together nonprofits, volunteers, tourists, and academia, they are testing a model specifically designed for Florida but one they hope others can look to.
We need to manage our invitations
Overtourism was a problem before the pandemic. Residents of Barcelona and Venice, for example, took to the streets to protest the unsustainable influx of tourists into their cities in 2017. But during the pandemic, tourism ceased in many places and exploded in others, primarily in destinations where travelers could experience the outdoors. As a result, many destinations, including Hawai‘i, began to rethink their relationship with tourism.
“In Hawaiian culture, there’s a specific protocol towards asking for entry and being granted entry,” Gionson noted. With limits on the number of people allowed in specific places, they can better manage funds and staffing. It also allows them to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t invite you in at this time, the other 2,000 people are invited in, you’ve got to wait a minute. And that’s something that I think the market just needs to understand in these times when demand is this great for these finite resources.”
If we want to be more authentic, we need to be more inclusive
“The market is demanding more authenticity…there’s only one source of authenticity, and that’s the community, you can’t counterfeit it, can’t manufacture it,” said Gionson. Andreas Weissenborn also noted that in a world where destinations are competing for tourists around the world, you need to have a brand, and “if you build an authentic and inclusive, distinct brand, you inspire people to want to visit you.” This brand, he notes, isn’t created or owned by a destination organization but is developed and owned by the community.
Being authentic also means being inclusive, which doesn’t solely mean gathering input from communities but giving them agency over developing tourism policies, practices, and products.
Jayni Gudka discussed the importance of including voices from marginalized communities not only in destination marketing but also in development of tourism products. For community tours, she notes, this means asking who is deciding what’s included and excluded from the tour, and who gives the tour, particularly whether it’s someone from the community or outside of it. “For us at Unseen Tours, it’s really important that we don’t speak on behalf of people with experience of homelessness and marginalization, who are our tour guides, but that we provide them with opportunities to share their own stories and opinions with the world through their walking tours.”
Diwigdi Valiente shared similar insights from working with indigenous communities in Panama, who are now seeing more representation at all government and business levels. “Now, we are not just the ones that dance in order to show our culture to visitors, but we’re also being part of the of the tourism chain, not only being the providers of services, but also being more involved in the tourism management.”
We need metrics that matter
We need to move beyond metrics that promote quantity over quality and towards metrics that matter. Communities around the world are being pushed to their breaking point as unsustainable numbers of tourists visit their destinations and put a strain on their resources as well as natural and cultural assets.
Tom Smith noted that the “ultimate measure of success has to be the long term health of the communities that that we visit on our tours….Destinations that truly embrace and engage and consider the happiness of residents, hosts, and travelers will ultimately create the most economic and social value for everybody.”
It’s not about tourism
JoAnna Haugen said it best: “It’s important to consider [that] when it comes to community-focused tourism, it’s not about tourism. The focus really needs to be on the holistic well-being and care of the community, and tourism is a vehicle or a tool that can support that, if and when appropriate.”
We at CREST couldn’t agree more. CREST’s mission and vision for tourism embody this same principle. Tourism is not a product but rather, a mechanism through which communities can improve livelihoods for themselves and their neighbors, conserve and raise awareness about their most precious natural assets, share their cultural heritage and ideas, and spark meaningful entrepreneurship opportunities and positive change.
Ultimately, as Tourtellot notes, “tourism done well can help protect these places. Done badly, it can help destroy them. Good destination stewardship can make the difference.”
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.
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.
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.
SustainabilityTraining – 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.
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.
The DSC’s Cultural Heritage Editor, Lucy Matthews, has been scouring the Internet for information that might help destinations plan a reboot as the pandemic recedes. Here’s what she found – from WTTC, UNWTO, and, interestingly, the U.S. state of Maryland.
Better Stewardship – a Pandemic Recovery Trend
It’s no trade secret that the tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Travel & Tourism: Economic Impact 2021 report, the industry experienced a dramatic decline from a total GDP contribution of 10.4% in 2019 to 5.5% in 2020, and job numbers fell from 334 million (2019) to 272 million (2020).
The WTTC report from September 2020, “To Recovery & Beyond: The Future of Travel & Tourism in the Wake of COVID-19,” suggests a variety of trends for the industry’s recovery, including that “the world has been re-invigorated to tackle social, environmental, and institutional sustainability” and the moment is right for the tourism industry to “enact meaningful changes that will transform the world and make a lasting difference for future generations.”
The report highlights the importance of destination preparedness, and that “local tourism councils” can “help boost destination stewardship as local communities drive action for preservation of cultural and natural assets.”
This was also a theme coming out of the late September 2020 virtual discussion, “Culture, Tourism and COVID-19: Recovery, Resiliency and Rejuvenation,” arranged by UNESCO with IUCN, ICOMOS, and ICCROM, with speakers advocating “a shift towards tourism that regenerates destinations and provides economic, social and environmental benefits.”
These statements echo that this moment could be what the Destination Stewardship Center’s (DSC) Jonathan Tourtellot called “A Destination Management Opportunity.” A moment to take stock of what tourism has been and what we would like it to be in the future.
In March 2021, the Future of Tourism Coalition (comprising the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), DSC, Green Destinations, Sustainable Travel International, Tourism Cares, and the Travel Foundation) hosted the opening webinar of its “Reset Tourism” series with a session led by CREST and DSC on “Destination Stewardship and Stakeholder Engagement.” (See the story in the Spring 2021 issue of the Destination Stewardship Report). The presentation advocates for looking holistically at destinations for better tourism management. The management approach, recommendations from the session about how to set up a destination stewardship council, and on-the-ground expertise from an esteemed panel of destination representatives provide a regenerative blueprint for destinations coming out of the pandemic. Other webinars in the series led by other Coalition organizations include “Measuring Tourism’s Impacts and Success,” and “Local and Sustainable Supply Chains.” (See accompanying story in this issue of the Destination Stewardship Report).
Destination stewardship should be a key element of tourism’s recovery, with potential to maximize the benefits for all, from the tourists to the communities, environment, heritage, industry, and governments. The pandemic has impacted us all – let’s ensure that the solutions do too.
A variety of resources that can help track the industry’s progress.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has developed sector-specific protocols for travel safety and recovery (such as for hospitality, outdoor shopping, aviation, tour operators, and more). These protocols, while from May 2020, still provide helpful avenues to navigate resiliency for the sector from the pandemic and future crises.
WTTC also developed a Safe Travels Stamp for public and private sector stakeholders that are reaching WTTC’s global health and safety standards. The idea is that the stamp provides a sort of seal of approval of health measures being taken, thus providing peace of mind for the traveler. The WTTC website has a map of what destinations have received the stamp, delineated by country or sub region.
UNWTO/IATA Destination Tracker. Search by country to see Covid percent positivity rates, vaccination rates, air travel and country restrictions, and more.
UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker. See information overall, by region, destination etc., in terms of tourism arrivals, travel restrictions, accommodation, air travel, and more.
International Tourism and COVID-19. See pandemic impacts on tourism on a global, regional, or country scale, including arrivals, monthly and YTD change, vulnerability of destination, and impact assessment.
Particularly for US-related resources, I recommend also taking a look at the Maryland Office of Tourism Development’s Covid-19 Travel and Tourism Research Resources. When I started searching for industry recovery resources, I found Maryland’s list to be relatively robust from an American perspective, and some resources may also be useful for other markets. A selection:
It’s a tall order for a large country to change its national policy and commit to improving stewardship for hundreds of its tourism destinations, but Japan is taking tentative steps in that direction, spurred on by one young official and a lot of collaborators. GSTC’s Emi Kaiwa reports on how this tentative change of heart came about, what’s happened to date, and how far it has to go.
In 2018, a book left in an office rack snagged the attention of a young Japanese official. Beginning with that moment, Japan, a country of 126.17 million in 20191, finally began action toward sustainability in tourism. In 2020 the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) decided to adopt the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Destination Criteria as policy and create a national set of guidelines called the Japan Sustainable Tourism Standard for Destinations (JSTS-D)2.
Unwilling to be left behind, Japan is on the trail to becoming a sustainable country with a national program to support its hundreds of tourism destinations. In addition, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared that Japan will achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.
How Did This Come To Pass? Over the past decade, JTA focused on marketing, seeking an ever-increasing number of international visitor arrivals (IVAs),3 while still aiming for a measure of sustainability. The target was for 20 million IVAs by 2020, which was quickly met, and then revised to a goal of 40 million. The Covid pandemic kept this goal from being acheived, but Japan decided to aim for a target of 60 million IVAs by 2030.
This increase might seem contradictory to meeting sustainability goals, but Japan is larger in size than Italy, which received 131 million visitors in 2019 (albeit with some dire overtourism situations). Arguably, Japan has room.For an entire country, economic goals are still as important as sustainability.
It was challenging to impart the importance of destination management to industry stakeholders whose priority used to be marketing. In order to do both, Japan had to find a way to sustainably manage destinations so that they can receive 60 million visitors. The solution came in the form of the GSTC framework, which promoted the idea of destination management [in its Destination Criterion A1] while still supporting economic goals.
The Book and the Man In 2018, GSTC was not well known to Mr. Hajime Ono, the young Chief Official from Visitors Experience Improvement, JTA. One day, a book4 that “someone” left on the rack in his office caught his eye. It summarized in Japanese a 2017 forum on sustainable tourism. The contents of the book were all about GSTC, which aroused his intense curiosity to learn more.
Understanding the value of GSTC’s comprehensive global standard for managing destinations made him consider the connection between management and overtourism issues. He concluded that the GSTC-Destination criteria could be the broad management tool needed for dealing with overtourism, a critical problem for Japan before COVID-19 arrived. Even if this pandemic stays for a while, the tourism business will bounce back sooner or later.
Japan may in fact have sufficient capacity to receive its goal of 60 million IVAs by 2030. One way is through promoting rural areas as tourist destinations. So is development of transportation infrastructure – airport facilities and mixed-mode commuting to rural areas, accommodation facilities, and tourism resources – that will make it possible for tourists to spread out and visit different regions in Japan. By using information and communication technology, popular destinations can control tourists’ visiting times and mitigate the impact of seasonality.
A plan for comprehensive management of destinations was therefore deemed essential, and adopting the GSTC approach as a tourism policy was the solution. Mr. Ono became the lead in creating the JSTS-D guidelines to comply with GSTC-D criteria. The guidelines employed user-friendly wording, with references and examples, as a way to provide self-guided management at the destination level.
How To Make It Work? Even though the JSTS-D was based on the global GSTC standard, nationwide penetration at the destination level was going to be quite challenging. How then could the local municipal and Destination Management Organization (DMO) officers be motivated to read the JSTS-D and implement it along with other tourism stakeholders? Fortunately, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acted as a catalyst. SDGs have been included in many municipal comprehensive strategy plans and have gained traction in almost all industries year by year. Corporations seem eager to find ways in which they can achieve the SDGs. One is by collaborating with destinations to support them in becoming more sustainable by using the GSTC Industry Criteria (GSTC-I) for tourism businesses.
That “someone” who left the book on sustainable tourism for Mr. Ono was actually one person representing many people who worked hard to get attention from the government for many years. Their earnest effort has borne fruit. Mr. Ono left the Visitors Experience Improvement department in March 2021 and moved to the Office of Director for Travel Promotion. Now, a newly formed organization called “Japan Tourism for SDGs”, which is not government mandate, will take over the initiative from the national government to continue Japan’s journey. This independent organization is led by Mr. Hidetoshi Kobayashi, who has declared that he will spend the rest of his life working for sustainable tourism.
Commentary JSTS-D is not perfect. There is room for improvement, and that is one of the important characteristics of sustainability. Obtaining a sustainability label does not mean everything is entirely sustainable. Other aspects of improvement will be found in the learning process of getting certified. For now, think what the best approach is to move toward sustainability for the destination. The answer will not be the same, single, perfect solution for every prefecture and municipality. Perfect sustainability cannot be achieved at once, but destinations should keep moving forward patiently, one step at a time.
As the proverb says, Rome was not built in a day, nor was it built by only one man. Accelerating the sustainability movement requires fostering talent, expanding partnerships, and creating a network of people with sustainability mindsets. It might take time and endurance, but it thrives unexpectedly once a destination is ready. Sustainability is a long journey, probably without end, and the government is not the only one to lead its path. Society also needs to keep catching up and adjusting to rapid changes in a globalizing world. On this Earth of limited resources, however, the pathway of sustainability is required to maintain all humankind.
“Good for us, better for all.” —St. Kitts sustainable tourism slogan
Held on 25 March 2021, the first webinar of the Future of Tourism Coalition‘s four-part “Reset Tourism” series drew 500 registrants. These webinars are intended to help destinations emerge from the Covid crisis with new forms of governance and collaboration that will enable a more holistic and sustainable approach to tourism management and development. That includes the skills, resources, and levers for change needed not only to develop resiliency, but to bolster community wellbeing and each destination’s unique intrinsic appeal. The Coalition team here presents highlights from the first Webinar, led by two of the six Coalition founding members, the Destination Stewardship Center (DSC) and the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST):
Destination Stewardship and Stakeholder Engagement
This two-hour webinar laid out the case for policymakers to consider as Covid recovery begins: To move from seeing tourism merely as an industry defined by business transactions to seeing it as something more complex, requiring holistic management of the interaction between tourism and the destination. Better destination stewardship – the process of caring for the place and its people – thus requires consideration of all stakeholders, including local residents, to evolve stronger and more resilient destinations.
To discuss real-world approaches for doing just that, a moderated panel hosted representatives from three different types of destinations – St. Kitts, Caribbean; Göteborg, Sweden, and the Columbia Gorge, USA.
Key Takeaways from the webinar:
Recognize that tourism is not like other industries; it depends on the destination – a place where people live.
That reality requires broadening standard ways of measuring tourism success.
Success means adding protection and enhancement of destination quality to economic benefits, preferably focused on the destination community.
If we see the destination as tourism’s holistic “product”, then it requires a holistic management approach.
To acheive that, local public, private, and civil society sectors can collaborate to build a tripartite destination stewardship council or equivalent.
Take steps to make it happen: Activate, collect data, mobilize, implement.
Make it work by building strong relationships with frequent communication.
Here are the webinar high points in more detail. After Samantha Bray of CREST made an introduction to the webinar series, Jonathan Tourtellot of the Destination Stewardship Center gave a keynote presentation that included these elements:
Reframing Tourism – and Why
There are two faces of tourism – destructive and constructive. We need to maximize the better side as pandemic recovery begins.
First, reframe tourism perceptions, as per the Coalition’s first Guiding Principle, “See the whole picture.”
Styles of tourism depend on character of place differently: experiential touring depends on human and physical character of place, rest and recreation needs only physical character, and entertainment-style (manufactured attractions) need no relation at all to identity of place. The first two depend on a destination’s intrinsic character, which is a limited resource. Unlike manufactured attractions, we can’t build more destinations.
Most tourism thus is unlike other industries in that its ultimate “product” is the place; tourism businesses facilitate the tourist experience with the place.
Second, reframe tourism success: Governments often see tourism as little more than the sum of business transactions, a flawed perspective that ignores other important factors. A perception gap persists whereby the tourism industry is seen as unrelated to the work of destination stewards in matters of culture, preservation, environment, and community well-being.
To gauge success, measure what counts, not just what’s easy to count. Totaling tourist arrivals and transactions ignores critical “externalities” – social, aesthetic, natural, spiritual, historic, and other facets of the destination. What’s more, caring for those things can pay off by attracting responsible tourists.
Aim for value over volume: Revenue per tourist trumps number of tourists; revenue distribution through the community trumps total revenue; overall enhancement of community well-being trumps revenue alone.
For destination resilience, diversify the economy and tourism markets, and build capability to cope with long-term issues such as climate change and the next pandemic.
Third, structure holistic management. A holistic product requires a holistic approach. With tourism, that has not generally been the case. “No one’s in charge” is a common citizen complaint.
One model for fixing this is creation of a destination stewardship council or equivalent – a collaboration among public, private and civil society groups. The involvement of the community is key to success.
Based on National Geographic experience, a tripartite destination stewardship council, with roughly equal weight to those three sectors, offers stability to survive changes in government, irresponsible development, and other disruptions.
Tourtellot’s closing warning: Without deliberate action to restructure management, destinations will likely default to the flawed, pre-Covid way of doing things. Ellen Rugh and Samantha Bray of CREST then presented an overview of how to go about convening and enabling an effective destination stewardship council
Phases of Development– A Roadmap for Stewardship Councils
CREST and the DSC have studied successful stewardship initiatives and have field-tested a model approach based on their research. These four phases should be seen as a guideline to develop the stewardship council, a roadmap where destinations can choose their own route. There is not a set path that fits all.
Activation: Recognize the need; identify strategic timing (such as resident discontent or Covid recovery); form a planning group, and consider a stewardship council model. This process requires a committed leader or leadership team and a supporting group of key stakeholders.
Collect data from stakeholders, including residents and tourists (it is important to ask the right questions) and ultimately hold visioning sessions that include under-represented communities. Such data collection should become a continual cyclical process to inform planning, followed by implementation.
Mobilization Form a destination stewardship council comprising public, private, and civil society sectors; create a consensus mission statement and vision; define metrics of success that move beyond visitor numbers and total revenue; develop shared goals, objectives, and strategy; then plan the activities.
Implementation Hold a catalytic event to engage broad interest; establish a council or network structure; make a business plan to keep the council going; raise funds; begin executing activities.
For more information, visit CREST’sblog poston building a destination stewardship council.
Panel Discussion Highlights Three representatives selected for their exemplary collaborative approach to destination stewardship spoke at a moderated panel:
Representing a regional destination: Emily Reed, Network Director, Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance, Oregon-Washington, USA
Management model: Partnership-based. Similar to the recommended tripartite model; enables transborder cooperation between states.
Funding: Member organizations chip in for staff.
Notable strategy: Various projects combat overtourism by spreading visitors geographically and seasonally.
Representing a tourism-dependent small island: Diannille Taylor-Williams, Assistant Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, St. Kitts–Nevis, Caribbean
Management model: Sustainable council made of public, private, and civil society sectors.
Funding: Tourism Ministry.
Notable strategy: Provide sustainability training for existing and likely government staff, thus injecting sustainability expertise into government decision making. Ensure that the council is a strategic partner on different initiatives to spread the concept of sustainability among different industries and stakeholders.
Representing a historic city: Katarina Thorstensson, Head of Sustainability & Smart Tourism Strategist, Göteborg & Co, Sweden.
Management model: Traditional DMO that has expanded its role to help develop the city as a sustainable destination.
Funding: Taxes and private support.
Notable context: Citizenry and politicians share a sustainability vision. “We have a good relationship with the politicians on our board. Opposition and incumbents are unified in believing that tourism is a key industry for the city.”
Common themes emerging from the panel discussion and question-and-answer session:
Building strong relationships among destination stakeholders is essential. It builds long-term trust.
So does sharing a common vision.
Hold regular meetings; communicate what everybody is doing to enhance collaboration.
Think about the destination first, as per St. Kitts’s slogan, “Good for us, better for all”
Collaborate on ways to spread out tourism impacts, positive or negative.
When conflict arises, sit down and have conversations in order to move toward finding solutions.
Panelists considered those points good advice for destinations anywhere.
To continue to dive in to these topics, make sure to sign up for the free quarterly Destination Stewardship Report – a joint project of the Destination Stewardship Center and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
Much tourism depends on distinctive sense of place, but market forces often favour lookalike franchises over more distinctive local businesses. Dr. Christina Cavaliere has co-edited a new multi-author book that makes the case for neolocalism, a movement through which businesses can help destinations retain and deepen their identities, and which also supports Covid recovery. Here, she summarizes the book’s contents.
Neolocalism: A New Way to Enhance Sense of Place
The tourism system relies heavily on sustained biocultural diversity and uniqueness of place. We often travel to experience other places, other cultures, and other ways of knowing. This diversity and uniqueness are at constant risk of extinction from increasing global pressures such as overtourism, inadequate planning, corporate control, economic greed, hegemony, and unequal distribution of power.
During the Covid-19 pandemic many small and medium enterprises have faced challenges with restrictions, closings, and financial hardships. Conversely, many large corporations have been able to remain open, having the financial wherewithal to withstand the downturn. This increases the threats of homogenization and corporate domination as small businesses and communities continue to struggle.
Tourism Thrives on Neolocalism and Biocultural Conservation The term “neolocalism” was born from the study of place. As related to the tourism system it can be defined as a conscious effort by businesses to foster a sense of place based on attributes of their community. An emphasis on local production, distribution, and consumption can link people to landscapes and contribute to a deeper understanding of sense of place. That in turn supports local enterprises and local identity.
Neolocalism in action: Finn River Cider in Washington state offers both tourists and locals a selection of cider made from locally grown apples, harvested on sustainably managed land. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot
Neolocal tourism examples include aspects of festivals, arts, transportation, governance, migration, identity, food, agritourism, and heritage. Dining out, visiting farmers’ markets, sampling breweries and wineries, and participating in agritourism activities can enhance a sense of place and provide enticing narratives that attract tourists. Neolocalism also focuses on consumer promotion of local interests such as the “buy local” movement.
> For example, one chapter explores neolocalism as a strategy for addressing tourism issues in rural Iceland in terms of place-making, cultural revitalization, and conservation of local wildlife. > Another case study focuses on Bangkok, Thailand, and examines the relationship between neolocalism and transportation as a conduit for biocultural conservation of the Saen-Sab Khlong, a primary city canal. > New narratives of place relating to neolocalism and heritage-based tourism are the focus of another chapter, including the story of Ned Kelly, a 19th-century Australian bushranger turned outlaw.
Other case-study chapters focus on:
The role of social sustainability in the case of Öland’s Harvest Festival in Sweden.
Unintended tourism impacts of the TV show “Fixer Upper” on Waco, Texas.
Benefits of community festivals in New South Wales, Australia.
The role of young Koreans in enhancing urban experiences in São Paulo, Brazil.
Food and agritourism as related to neolocalism in the U.S. Intermountain West.
These examples help unpack the various considerations and impacts of linking tourism and neolocalism in different geographical and cultural contexts. They demonstrate how the complexity within neolocalism includes planning, interpretation, implementation, and long-term viability.
By featuring a range of destinations and forms of neolocalism, the case studies can initiate a deeper look at equity and power structures within communities, so as to provide tourism opportunities for local and foreign visitors and, most important, benefits for the hosts.
The Importance of Neolocalism for Destinations Neolocalism is about both participation in and resistance to the dominant culture. Neolocalism has the potential to appropriate and re-appropriate power, to circumvent top-down governance and corporate interests. It can serve as one way to recalibrate local governance to include equitable and inclusive decision-making from multiple stakeholders. It is also about the possibilities for a new type of “growth” that includes diverse cultures.
A final chapter then looks at governance as related to neolocalism in terms of the guiding the creative process. Effective governance requires input from private and public partners working together to implement the best practices for their unique situations. With discussions about food, beverages, festivals, and shopping, it is easy to dismiss neolocal tourism development as just another fad. Instead, the authors emphasize the need for rigorous policy and planning in neolocal tourism development. That will help avoid overtourism and unsustainable growth while supporting local enterprise and promoting biocultural conservation. Synergies between neolocalism and tourism can improve understanding of the complexities of sustainability through increased community involvement, helping to enhance local autonomy and local sourcing.
The book aims to call us, as a global community, to question more deeply the notions of biocultural conservation, the contentions between localism and globalisation, community-based decision making, entrepreneurship, and approaches to tourism management. We need innovation in economic structures, community resilience, and new approaches to governance – even more so in the post-pandemic recovery.
References: Boluk, K.A., Cavaliere, C.T., and Duffy, L.N. (2019) A pedagogical framework for the development of the critical tourism citizen, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 27(7), 865-881.
Cavaliere, C.T. (2017) Foodscapes as alternate ways of knowing: Advancing sustainability and climate consciousness through tactile space, in S.L. Slocum and C. Kline (eds.), Linking Urban and Rural Tourism: Strategies for Sustainability, Oxfordshire: CABI, pp. 49-64.
Ingram, L.J., Slocum, S.L., & Cavaliere, C. T. (Eds.). (2020). Neolocalism and tourism: Understanding a global movement. Goodfellows Publishers. DOI: 10.23912/9781911635604-4287
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Dr. Christina Cavaliere,an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University, is a conservation social scientist. Her research involves socio-ecological systems including tourism impacts and biocultural conservation. Dr. Cavaliere runs the Tourism and Conservation Lab and has worked with universities, communities, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and multilateral institutions on six continents.