To Market Stewardship, Use Local Voices

? Destination Stewardship Report – Vol. 3, No. 1 – Summer 2022 ?

We last visited Sedona, Arizona in our Spring 2021 (Vol. 1, No.4) issue, to report on their plan for getting a handle on overtourism. It’s still a struggle. Here, Holly Prievo of GLP Films describes how a strategic video campaign that enlists local support and participation can shift a DMO from destination promotion to marketing stewardship – a model for any destination.

[Above: GLP’s trailer, “The Soul of Sedona” ]

Video Stories Feature Local People in Bid to Help Overrun Sedona, AZ

How can we widely communicate the need to preserve a remarkable destination suffering from overtourism without drawing more people to it?

In our 2021 work with Sedona, Arizona, that was exactly the question. GLP Films works with destinations to strategize and work toward sustainability goals using storytelling. Sedona, its community rife with resentment and its fragile ecosystem threatened by the feet of millions, was hoping to raise awareness about the consequences of irresponsible tourism through a video campaign deployed in a manner that could educate current visitors without leading to more.

These conflicting concerns make solutions for any single issue difficult, and certainly satisfying all would be a challenge. But it was clear that destination stewardship was needed to improve environmental & social conditions while upholding the local economy that is so heavily dependent upon tourism.

Our Process – The Missing Piece

Pursuing responsible destination management starts with community input. In the case of Sedona, getting the local community on board for any communication plan was imperative, as friction from tourism had made the local community critical of anything resembling marketing. The campaign was contingent upon raising the understanding of the benefits of tourism throughout the local residents, and bringing the community into the conversation to garner a sense of involvement, ownership, and pride for Sedona, not only as a magical landscape but as a destination that upheld environmental standards to protect it.

Sunrise over a Sedona landscape. [Photo courtesy of Jake Belvin]

Sedona was already deploying environmental campaigns to educate visitors and residents alike on environmental stewardship. However, GLP recognized the need for an emotional lift to the messaging. Involving local champions and voices allowed us to tie in the community and provide another perspective to viewers, personalizing the messaging. These authentic voices of local champions would connect viewers with the human side of the destination and elevate the sense of reverence visitors might experience for the landscape, instead of just presenting them with facts and rules.

Pre-Production

In order to find and select champions for the campaign, as well as get buy-in from the community, it was essential that our team made ourselves accessible and open up the lines of communication with the local community. Throughout the pre-production process, we solicited community input. Our scouting trip, community “town hall” meetings, and in-depth interviews with champions and local stakeholders uncovered concerns and informed the direction for the campaign.

Incorporating listening tools helped reduce misconceptions about the project, allowed community members to voice their concerns and have them addressed where possible, and become part of the conversation for a campaign that had everyone’s best interests in mind.

GLP works closely with local organizations like the Sedona Mountain Biking Academy. [Photo courtesy of Rob Holmes]

Post-Production 

Understanding the concerns of the community regarding marketing Sedona further, a Town Hall was held to premier the trailer, The Soul of Sedona, and reiterate the purpose and use of this campaign. Conscious of the community’s trepidation towards the work, we collaborated closely with Visit Sedona to communicate the intentions behind the campaign as well as provide an opportunity for residents to ask questions and voice their concerns. We discussed how the videos were to be used, who the intended audience was, and how it would alleviate strain on the landscape, then opened up the floor for the community members to have an open discussion about their concerns and expectations.

Responsible Deployment

This particular campaign was geared toward marketing stewardship, not the destination. In order to do this, our approach was centered on:

  1. Pulling in voices of the local community, instead of featuring visitors and travelers.
  2. Highlighting the emotional messaging and storytelling to invoke a sense of reverence, respect, and responsibility toward preserving the landscape.
  3. Promoting the campaign on location, specifically on hotel channels, or to those already booked to visit Sedona, instead of on travel platforms where the videos might encourage more bookings and visits.

Throughout our work with Sedona, we discovered that Sedona’s main problem was one of balance: an economy dependent on tourism in contention with an ecosystem compromised by too much of it and a beleaguered local community inconvenienced by it.

By pulling in locals, relying on their voices for an emotional lift for the campaign, and careful placement of the messaging and campaign assets, we were able to balance the varied and somewhat conflicting needs of the destination.

One element that could have made the campaign more successful, we believe, would have been documenting and measuring the sentiment of the community members pre-project to post-project. Although town halls and open communication were prioritized throughout the process, further qualitative analysis through surveys would have been helpful to measure the community’s perception of the campaign before and after, and ultimately, its effect on the local ecosystems and perception of tourism in the region.

Our final product consisted of three videos, two-to-three minutes each, focused on the three key drivers for tourism identified by Visit Sedona – outdoor recreation, spiritual transformation, and the arts.

For any given destination the cost for a video campaign is driven by many variables, starting with the budget of the film partner and then the scope of work, location, deliverables, schedule, and so on. Video is a powerful tool for education and beyond. It’s a medium that allows complex messages to be distilled and delivered compellingly using both audio and visual cues, creating an experience around the message, and showing instead of telling

Overtourism’s Lessons for Tomorrow

“In 2019, over 1.5 billion tourists crossed international borders and tourism’s continued growth seemed assured. However, in 2020, tourism stopped in its tracks. The world went from overtourism to no tourism.”
– Kelsey Frenkiel, Program Manager at the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and co-editor of Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future (Island Press). 

Held on June 2nd, 2021, the Overtourism to No Tourism Webinar convened four writers from CREST’s new multi-author book, Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future. Rebecca Clarke reports on the panel’s discussion of why it is necessary to build a sustainable tourism industry, particularly in the post-pandemic period, and how destinations can go about doing so.

Overtourism to No Tourism:
How (and Why) to Build a More Sustainable Tourism Industry 

Four panelists were asked five questions about the current state of the travel industry. Participants included:

  • Martha Honey, Co-Founder and Director Emeritus of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and co-editor of the book.
  • Jonathan Tourtellot, CEO of the Destination Stewardship Center & former National Geographic Travel Editor.
  • Arnie Weissmann, Editor in Chief at Travel Weekly.
  • Cathy Ritter, Trustee at The Travel Foundation & Former Director or Colorado Tourism Office.

The questions

  • “Why has overtourism become a problem, not just for local residents but also for the quality of visitor experience?”
    Tourtellot said that it’s not just a matter of overcrowding a destination that is the problem, overtourism also destroys natural areas, spoils ancient historical sites, and more. Ritter noted that contrary to popular belief, it does not take that many people to impact a natural area. Both agreed that these are reasons why overtourism must be addressed. Weissmann observed that international travel is accessible to people now more than ever, due to reasons such as rising middle class, low-cost carriers, and social media.
  • “What do you see as some of the top factors contributing to overtourism?”
    Ritter explained that there needs to be a shift in perspectives by industry professionals, which will not be easy. Tourtellot stated that long-term factors include the increase in the world’s population, growing affluence, and various technological advances. Weissman mentioned short-term factors, such as destinations that are having their “moment” in popular media, resulting in overtourism. For example, the Singapore Tourism Board launched a campaign with Warner Brothers to coincide with the release of the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, which led visitors to flock to the country.
  • “Describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism in a specific type of destination.”
    Ritter began by using the example of public land visitation in Colorado during the pandemic. It increased by 30% in 2020, as it was clear that people had been seeking release during the pandemic and had turned to public lands for it. Weissmann used the example of Miami Beach, and the herds of tourists that it saw during spring break of March 2021, characterized by epidemiologists as a COVID superspreading event. He added that local government is at least using this as a learning opportunity to market Miami Beach as “not just a party destination”. Tourtellot noted that Mallorca in Spain also used the tourism hiatus during the pandemic to repackage itself as “more than a beach destination”.
  • Describe specific countries that have proposed practical and innovative mitigation strategies to address tourism and the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Tourtellot said that the countries around the world that have the most innovative strategies seem to be the ones who were suffering overtourism before the pandemic. Ritter stated that Rocky National Park is a prime example of a place that has implemented an innovative mitigation strategy, having introduced a time entry system that allows people to visit the park only at an assigned time. Additionally, Weissmann noted that the city of Amsterdam used the pandemic hiatus to reinvent their tourism strategy with such initiatives as relocating sex workers to designated prostitution hotels and banning marijuana bars. Their aim is to attract a different kind of tourist to the city.
  • “What are some of the emerging tourism trends coming out of the pandemic?”
    Weissmann stated that technology will continue to advance, citing Buenos Aires as an example of a city using innovative technology to manage overtourism. The city collects visitors’ cell phone numbers and manages congested areas by sending out a text with an incentive that directs tourists to less crowded areas of the city. Ritter explained that countries around the world are beginning to realize that they can no longer rely on the strategies of the past to overcome overtourism. Destinations must find ways to attract tourists who are compatible with destination residents. Tourtellot concluded this section of the webinar by observing that we are going to continue to hear about tighter management of cruise tourism. Cities around the world such as Dubrovnik are limiting the number of cruise ships that can enter their ports. Norway is planning to ban cruise ships from entering fjords if they fail emissions standards, in effect banning all but smaller expedition ships.

Q&A The final 20 minutes of the webinar were allotted to a question-and-answer period for attendees to ask questions such as these:

  • “What is the influence of social media in getting people to go to desired destination and snap that typical-tourist photo while they are there?” Weissmann noted that this, combined with bucket-list travel, has been a significant feeder of concentrating tourism in particular destinations, adding that the rise in tourism from Instagram is mind-boggling. It drives incredible numbers of tourists to a place. Ritter said that Amsterdam recently decided to remove the “I AMsterdam” sign as it drove overtourism. She’s a fan of the photographer’s code of conduct not to tag a location when posting a photo to social media. Tourtellot advised against simply taking photos of yourself when visiting destinations. Instead, he said, turn the camera around and photograph of the place you are visiting. “After all, you’ve paid to get there.”
  • “What are some examples of barriers that countries face when dealing with overtourism?” Ritter stated that some destination leaders find themselves in conflict with their own boards; oftentimes the boards are made up of tourism industry people such as hotel owners who have a vested interest in increasing numbers of visitors. Another barrier is lack of information, Ritter noted, since that is an incredible tool for learning exactly who is visiting, their demography, their reason for visiting. Many destinations lack access to this type of information.
  • “Isn’t it better to let certain places experience overtourism and not let overtourism spread to more rural areas that are not prepared for it?” Tourtellot stated that due to the worldwide use of Instagram and social media, pretty much every place is now known. “It’s our job to educate people on how to handle that.” He used the example of Serbia, where tourists in 2020 began going to rural areas and did not know how to behave when they got there. He mentions the importance of education on how to act when arriving in less-visited places in the world. Tourtellot noted that destination marketing is usually funded by hoteliers and others who count on high tourism numbers, thereby creating a cycle of encouraging overtourism. Rural areas need to rethink this, he said, and there needs to be coordination and collaboration across sectors.

Overall, the webinar was a great success, and attendees left with useful information about the current and future state of the tourism industry and its interaction with destinations.

Readers of the Destination Stewardship Report can purchase the book Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future from Island Press using the code HONEY for a 20% discount.

Spring 2021 Destination Stewardship Report Just Out

Longest Destination Stewardship Report Yet

On 14 April 2021 we were pleased to send out the Spring (2Q) edition of the Destination Stewardship Report, completing its first year of online publication as a joint project with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. You can subscribe for free hereStories in this issue:

  • The Nisga’a Offer an Indigenous Tourism Model – How to present an indigenous culture “written in the land” to tourists? Bert Mercer, economic development manager for Nisg̱a’a Lisims Government, describes the process of tying together a culturally sensitive tourism experience for visitors to the Nisga’a First Nation in British Columbia, Canada.
  • Saving Cultural Heritage: The Singapore Hawkers Case – Drives for sustainability may sometimes overlook the endangered arts and traditions that make a place and a culture come to life. The World Tourism Association for Culture & Heritage (WTACH) aims to rectify that. In Singapore, Chris Flynn, WTACH’s CEO, discusses a particularly delicious case – one recently recognized by UNESCO.
  • Doing It Better: Sedona, Arizona – Prompted by a restive citizenry and a responsive city council, the DMO for the city of Sedona, Arizona, USA, now acts in effect as a destination stewardship council. That’s unusual. For part of our ongoing project to profile places with effective, holistic management, Sarah-Jane Johnson takes a deep dive into Sedona’s story. This is the sixth in the Destination Stewardship Center’s profiles of exemplary places with collaborative destination management in the spirit of GSTC’s Destination Criterion A1.
  • Japan’s Journey Toward Sustainability –  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.
  • Once Overrun, Dubrovnik Plans for Sustainability – Dubrovnik, Croatia, a UNESCO World Heritage city, is known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic Sea’, its historic city center surrounded by original medieval stone walls – and until recently, thronged with cruise ship passengers. In 2017, that began to change.
  • Opinion: A Chance to Tame Cruise Tourism – Cruise critic Ross Klein argues that now is the time for port cities to gain control of cruise tourism crowds, explaining three ways to do that – and why it won’t be easy. But if not now, when?
  • Report: “Reset Tourism” Webinar Series – Destination Stewardship – 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.
  • Webinar Report: Measuring Destination Happiness – A massive webinar to mark last month’s “International Day of Happiness” yielded some serious pointers for destinations seeking a broader measure of successful tourism recovery than counting revenue and arrivals.“Covid has shown us we can’t be happy on an unhappy planet” was one message for destinations around the world, report DSC associates Marta Mills and Chi Lo – the point being that local contentment should be part of the tourism equation: “A good place to live is a good place to visit.”
  • New App to Assess Sustainability of Tourism Communities – Assessing the sustainability of destinations and acting on the findings can be a complex, expensive task. Dave Randle explains the workings of a new app that his Blue Community Consortium underwrote to assist with that process. Some university students gave the app’s first step, assessment, a revealing field test on seven Florida destinations. Here’s what the app does, and what the students found.

To read these stories plus information on announcements, upcoming events and webinars, and publications, go to the Spring (2Q) edition of the Destination Stewardship Report. And please comment!                       — Jonathan Tourtellot, Editor

Once Overrun, Dubrovnik Plans for Sustainability

Dubrovnik, Croatia, a UNESCO World Heritage city, is known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic Sea’, its historic city center surrounded by original medieval stone walls – and until recently, thronged with cruise ship passengers. In 2017, that began to change. The following before-and-after story has been provided by the Mayor’s Office, City of Dubrovnik (with a closing note on the Covid hiatus).

View over the medieval historic core of Dubrovnik, ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’.

[All photos courtesy of the City of Dubrovnik]

‘Respect the City’ Program Includes Limits on Cruise-ship Crowds

Dubrovnik, a champion of Croatian tourism, is a city that is both a museum and a performance stage, a unique combination of history and modernity – a city with a capital C. Its rich cultural heritage, different architectural styles, various cultural events, film tourism (think Game of Thrones), Mediterranean flavors, and superior accommodations draw millions of tourists each year. The old city center, surrounded by original medieval walls, has been under UNESCO World Heritage inscription since 1979.

The coastal city is a popular stop-off for cruises. In 2013, for instance, there were more than one million cruise passengers in Dubrovnik, occasionally resulting in more than 10 thousand visitors in the historic core at one time.

Cruise ships pack the main Dubrovnik port in times before “Respect the City”.

By 2017 the city was facing negative publicity in global media due to overtourism and  uncontrolled tourism development. The city was falling victim to its own success, and its citizens were becoming more openly critical. Amidst such chaos, many visitors could not fully experience the city’s history and culture. Eventually, UNESCO warned that the overwhelming number of tourists could result in its World Heritage listing being revoked and advised that no more than 8,000 tourists be in the historic core at any one time.

Signs of 21st-century mass tourism hang on a medieval street.

Shortly after being elected in June 2017, mayor Mato Franković introduced the multidisciplinary project “Respect the City” (RTC), aiming for more sustainable development of Dubrovnik. He began tackling the difficult challenge to reduce overcrowding through different measures for relieving traffic congestion and implementing smart city solutions. In particular, he reduced the number of souvenir stands by 80 percent and cut the number of restaurant tables and chairs by 30 percent. As a result, the City has lost some revenue, at least 5 million kuna a year (around €660,000 or US$786,000 ). To illustrate, the highest rent for a small stand at that time was more than 400,000 kunas annually, achieved at public tender.

‘Some of the measures we implemented are unpopular, but such moves are necessary if we want to reach the sustainable tourism we seek’, said Mayor Franković about financial losses. ‘Our task is to put the needs of citizens first. Everything we have done and will do in the future will greatly contribute to creating a unique destination experience and increase the quality of the overall service for all visitors’.

Various strategies have been implemented in cruise tourism. The City approached the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and, in partnership with them, reorganized cruise schedules to stagger departure and arrival times. It is essential to emphasize that the cruise industry is an important segment of the economy in Dubrovnik. The city policy was that the number of people was never a problem; it was the flow. Better flow was achieved by organizing the ship-arrivals timetable more carefully, both daily and throughout the year. The maximum number of ships was set to two ships at once and the limit of visitors in the walled city coming from cruise ships at 4,000 – half the number suggested by UNESCO. Harmonization of arrival times has relieved pressure on the historic core in the summer seasons of 2018 and 2019 (pre-COVID years), compared to 2017 and earlier.

The 16th-century Pile Gate, main entrance to the old town, blocked by crowds in 2017 . . .

. . . and flowing freely in summer 2019.

CLIA´s repeated willingness to cooperate in order to resolve the existing problems in the spirit of partnership is precious to the City of Dubrovnik. As a part of that partnership and the “Respect the City” project, Dubrovnik in 2019 became one of the 30 world destinations for which the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) has done a Destination Assessment and Action Plan. Development of the Plan represents the City’s firm commitment and unshakeable determination in moving tourism towards a sustainable future.

The City achieved 70% of excellence in the GSTC report, attesting to its focus on a sustainable future for tourism and the city. GSTC recognized numerous examples of good practices in the process, mainly regarding public safety, urban cleanliness, and a high degree of heritage conservation. These included the reconstructed Lazareti site, special measures for heritage protection, local festivals, products, and entrepreneurs, as well as protection of biodiversity, and monitoring the Respect the City project itself.

Sustainable Tourism for a Sustainable Future
‘This report represents a new beginning of the story of a sustainable Dubrovnik and a sustainable way of managing tourism as our main industry,’ said Mayor Franković. ‘Working on assessment in 2019, GSTC consulted with 70 stakeholders from national and local government, the private sector, NGOs and universities, and residents. All stakeholder inputs are very valuable to us, because we want our city to be a great place for anyone – residents and guests alike’, he concluded.

Evening in Dubrovnik, after many cruise passengers have left.

The conservation of cultural heritage, the quality of citizens’ daily lives, and the provision of the best possible experience of Dubrovnik as a destination – all those are motives for this shift in destination management. Respect the City attracted the attention of international media and the global tourism sector. Dubrovnik is increasingly becoming perceived as a city that has started managing its tourism in a sustainable way. As key factors in years to come, the City of Dubrovnik is planning to take over cruise ship shuttle services and gradually eliminate traffic around the gateway area.

In COVID-19 times Croatia was recognized as a safe destination due to its good epidemiological situation in 2020, and safety continues to be the focus in 2021.

Doing It Better: Sedona, Arizona

[Above: Sedona red rocks, reflected. Photo credits throughout: Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau]

Prompted by a restive citizenry and a responsive city council, the DMO for the city of Sedona, Arizona, USA, now acts in effect as a destination stewardship council. That’s unusual. For part of our ongoing project to profile places with effective, holistic management, Sarah-Jane Johnson takes a deep dive into Sedona’s story. This is the sixth in the Destination Stewardship Center’s profiles of exemplary places with collaborative destination management in the spirit of GSTC’s Destination Criterion A1.

In Arizona’s Popular Red Rock Country,  One CVB Put Community First and So Became Its Own Destination Stewardship Council

For decades the Arizona desert town of Sedona (population 10,000) has welcomed an annual average of 3 million tourists captivated by the landscape of red rock buttes, canyons, and pine forests. They can take advantage of distinctly Sedona offerings – an abundance of outdoor recreation such as iconic mountain biking and hiking, well-coordinated arts and culture including festivals, plus the famous Sedona “vortexes,” a staple for spiritual tourists.

Eventually and perhaps inevitably, red-rock fever took grip: Sedona became a victim of successful marketing promotions, reaching a high point of being “loved to death” in 2016 when droves of Instagram-snapping tourists responded to marketing campaigns spotlighting the centennial of the National Park Service, closely followed by another for the Grand Canyon’s 100th anniversary. Visitors clogged Sedona streets with traffic and packed local trailheads, much to the dismay of local residents. Leaders at Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Board (SCC&TB), started to question how much tourism much was too much, and what kind of action was needed.

Red Rock State Park, from Schnebly Hill. Photo by bboserup/istockphoto.com

Context of Sustainability

The seeds for sustainability were actually planted 13 years before this watershed moment of overtourism, when Sedona teamed up with four regional DMO partners to form the Sedona Verde Valley Tourism Council, a collaborative effort to coordinate and promote the products and experiences of the entire Verde Valley. An anchor project for this regional partnership was creation of a National Geographic Geotourism Map Guide promoting regional culture, heritage, and ecological diversity, supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, which was keen to create value around the Verde River and its watershed through awareness and education. Geotourism has been defined via National Geographic as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, geology, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” As a tactical approach, the values informing Geotourism MapGuide became the first introduction to sustainability before any strategy was conceived.

The crunch of 2016 prompted SCC&TB to embark on a Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) assessment. Sedona scored 33 out of 41, placing itself as a leading destination in sustainable tourism management, and only one of two destinations in the United States to undergo assessment (the other being Jackson Hole, Wyoming). So began the Sedona DMO’s transition from Destination Marketing Organization to Destination Management Oorganization.

After the GSTC assessment results, SCC&TB began in 2017 an 18-month-long journey toward defining a concept for tourism sustainability. Working in partnership with the City of Sedona and external consulting teams from the Arizona State University and Nichols Tourism Group, the Sedona DMO engaged community, business, and visitors in a discovery phase and drafting of a final Sustainable Tourism Plan, presented to the City Council for approval in spring 2019.

By pursuing a mission to become a leader in sustainability, SCC&TB has become the closest thing to a real stewardship council for the destination, although not for the entire valley. The process of developing a solid sustainability plan has made community the focus of the organization’s updated mission statement: “to serve Sedona by making it the best place to live, work, play, and visit.” This statement reflects the strong relationships created within the community and the corresponding realization that the tourism mission is broader than economic benefits.

Organizational Structure and Governance

Unlike some other stewardship councils being reviewed thus far by the Destination Stewardship Center, Sedona manages sustainability differently. As the Sedona DMO reoriented to focus on management instead of marketing, it has been working alongside the local government, relying on sustainability support teams, and engaging with a community that has become increasingly skeptical of tourism.


“A lot of DMO’s don’t want to get into visitor management. . . .
But in fragile destinations it’s the only way to be successful.”

 


“There are really just a handful of communities that are trying to do management rather than marketing. [Sedona] is not a typical visitor and convention bureau. This is really unusual for a CVB,” said Jennifer Wesselhoff, CEO of SCC&TB in 2020. “A lot of DMO’s don’t want to get into visitor management. It’s a debate. Some think it’s a slippery slope. But in fragile destinations it’s the only way to be successful.”

SCC&TB is a membership organization. It is guided and overseen by a volunteer board of directors composed of local Chamber members elected by the Chamber membership. They include local businesses, nonprofit organizations, government, and community organizations. The Board employs a President/CEO who implements the policies established by the Board, administers Chamber programs, and supervises the Chamber’s budget.

To oversee the Sustainable Tourism Plan’s implementation and strategy, a Sustainable Tourism Advisory Committee (STAC) helps direct the City Council and the SCC&TB Board, while evaluating the Plan’s progress on an ongoing basis.

Success-tracking metrics for every tactic in the Plan have been refined through the direction of the Sustainable Tourism Action Team (STAT), a body of 22 members representing tourism businesses, the city of Sedona, US Forest Service, and numerous nonprofit organizations including Red Rock Trail Fund, the Sedona Verde Sustainability Alliance, and Keep Sedona Beautiful. SCC&TB’s President/CEO and marketing director spearhead the organization of the STAT and the STAC meetings and report on the status of the work to City Council every quarter.

Setting the agenda is a joint process between the City Council and the Chamber. The January city council work session sets priorities, and SCC&TB then drafts its plan of priorities to be approved by its own board and presented back to the City Council, which approves funding for tourism management and promotion. While there is no dedicated sustainability manager, many different Chamber and City staff members will have sustainability tactics attached to their job descriptions. The marketing director has oversight and coordination of scheduling meetings and tracking metrics.

To make sure SCC&TB is not the only one taking the lead, each tactic has a lead person or organization. Every lead is on the STAC and provides a quarterly update. The City has a part time sustainability coordinator, who also leads the City’s climate action plan, currently under development.

Hiking the red rock country is a popular Sedona area activity.

Community Engagement

Integrating the Sedona community into the process for developing and implementing  the Sustainable Tourism Plan was – and continues to be – an unprecedented collaboration. Sedona Chamber describes how thousands of community members were involved over 18 months in planning, and several organizations continue to lead or support current tactics.

In the Plan’s development stage, the team conducted the following action steps for research surveying and feedback:

  • Interviewed hundreds of residents.
  • Analyzed hundreds of business-survey responses.
  • Conducted focus groups with area non-profit organizations.
  • Brought land management agencies together.
  • Talked with tourism industry companies operating tours, lodging facilities, and restaurants.
  • Included local arts and spirituality communities.
  • Collaborated with governments and industry ranging from Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Forest Service to Arizona State Parks (APS.)
  • Provided status updates through regular communication tactics including blog posts, social media, radio spots, guest columns, and presentations. Public meetings were held to review findings and get more input.

Beyond the Plan’s development, the SCC&TB ensures continuing engagement with the community about sustainability and the Plan itself. The STAC advisory council is made up of residents and local business owners, who determine the overarching metrics of success for the entire plan.

The DMO’s communication with residents is frequent, including updates to the community on the Sustainable Tourism Plan via e-blasts and local media op-eds. “We talk about the STP all the time. We constantly remind the community of how the things we are doing align with the Plan,” said Wesselhoff.

Managing Sustainable Tourism

Sedona’s community-based sustainability plan has been divided into four strategic pillars that list objectives designed to implement sustainability:

  1. Environmental Objectives: Lead the tourism industry in implementing sustainability principles, positioning Sedona as a national and international leader in destination stewardship.
    1. Implement new waste prevention, reduction, and diversion strategies focused on visitors and their impacts in the Sedona region.
    2. Expand programs that encourage minimal water usage and protect water quality.
    3. Create new programs to help businesses and visitors moderate energy use and use alternative forms of energy.
    4. Launch initiatives that lessen impacts on lands (including noise, air, and light pollution), and stimulate efforts for long-term sustainability.
    5. Educate and engage businesses and visitors on sustainability initiatives, encouraging visitors to be sensitive guests during their stays.
  2. Resident Quality of Life Objectives: Protect and enhance the quality of life by mitigating negative impacts of tourism.
    1. Implement new infrastructure and multi-modal solutions to facilitate visitor traffic flows and enhance access to key destinations.
    2. Expand use of technology to help solve transportation challenges.
    3. Deepen engagement with Sedona residents, expanding their knowledge of tourism and efforts to manage it so as to achieve an effective balance.
    4. Develop new sustainability-focused experiences that resonate with both Sedona residents and visitors.
    5. Manage current and future accommodations in ways that increase long-term sustainability.
    6. Launch initiatives to maintain local quality of life by lessening undesirable tourism impacts on residents including noise, air, and light pollution.
  3. Quality of the Economy Objectives: Shape the Sedona economy in ways that balance its long-term sustainability and vibrancy.
    1. Monitor and adjust levels of economic activity for needy periods and moderate congestion by dispersing visitors.
    2. Expand interagency collaboration among diverse Sedona organizations.
    3. Monitor and adjust tourism marketing to achieve a balance between quality of life and a healthy economy.
    4. Pursue innovative approaches to employee housing and training.
  4. Visitor Experience Objectives: Continue to provide an excellent visitor experience that highlights Sedona’s sustainability values and keeps visitors coming back.
    1. Deepen understanding of existing experiences, how best to access them, and how to apply sustainable practices while visiting.
    2. Work to disperse visitors across the broader Verde Valley region to help moderate congestion at key Sedona experiences.

Activities

Some specific destination programs which have been developed prior to or grown since the implementation of the Sustainable Tourism Plan include:

  • Walk Sedona which encourages people to get out of their cars in an effort to decrease road congestion.
  • Sedona Secret 7 which encourages visitor dispersion to less populated areas.
  • The Sedona Cares visitor pledge is an educational tool to encourage better visitor behavior.
  • An initiative led by Sedona Lodging Council to providephotos and b-roll footage oflesser known areas and encourage them to stop using photos of “over loved” areas.
  • Front-line worker and concierge training to discourage promotion of overly used areas.
  • Sedona Recycling Quiz designed for visitors and locals to understand how to manage trash.

Voluntourists can help with trail work.

Additionally:

  • Visit Sedona promotes voluntourism opportunities to visitors while also offering coordination and promotion for local businesses and organizations.
  • Sedona has created a Love Our Locals campaign to drive local businesses. This campaign provides an opportunity to connect residents and visitors to locally owned and operated businesses, promote “made in Sedona” products, offer promotions and discounts to local residents.
  • Green meetings are a direct alignment of the Sedona brand, and care for the environment.

Areas of Sustainability and Stewardship

The implementation part of the tourism sustainability plan contains more than 30 tactics. Each is tracked and managed according to these parameters:

  • Description: An explanation of the tactic providing insight and key elements.
  • Timeline – How long it will take to achieve: Short (12-18 months), Mid (2-3 years), Long (4-5 years).
  • Pillars affected: If more than one objective is involved.
  • Lead partner: The entity (or entities) primarily responsible for moving the tactic forward.
  • Supporting partners: Other partners who will help implement the tactic.
  • Prospective metrics: Examples of the types of metrics and targets (if appropriate) that will help evaluate the effectiveness of the tactic.

Below are four examples of tactics from the Sustainable Tourism Plan, highlighting the level of collaboration, planning, and measurement.

 Funding

Implementation of SCC&TB Sustainable Tourism Plan is supported with appropriate funding for each of the four pillars of the Plan. The City of Sedona provides primary funding for SCC&TB from the collection of sales and lodging tax. Visitor spending makes up 77% of all sales tax collected. Sales and bed tax rates are each currently at 3.5%. In 2014, Sedona’s lodging industry agreed to increase bed tax by .5% on the condition the SCC&TB would receive 55% of the total collections. A statewide change in law to allow short term rentals in Arizona significantly contributed still more to the budget, as the 1,000 short term rentals such as Airbnb in the area also pay bed tax. This pushed the tourism budget from $500,000 in FY14 to $2.4 million in 2019.

As a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the SCC&TB’s FY21 budget is expected to focus on rebuilding the economy. The budget in FY21, as allocated by sustainability objectives, shows a lop-sided tilt toward post-Covid economic recovery:

  1. Economy $1,800,000
  2. Environmental $171,000
  3. Quality of Life $271,000
  4. Visitor Experience $27,000

Measures of Success/ Results

Transparent tracking of the impact of the sustainability process is key. Using each objective, SCC&TB has developed baseline data points and measures the following, presented publicly and also reported into the City:

  • Environment—through perception of sustainability. Metrics include volume of trash collected, number of miles maintained by trail keeper resources, number of visitors signed on with educational programming.
  • Resident Quality of Life—a citizen survey is conducted by the City to measure perception from locals of quality of life.
  • Quality of the Economy—sales and bed-tax collections, measured throughout the year and not just in key tourism seasons.
  • Visitor Experience—visitor satisfaction, via survey, and whether it’s going up or down.

Some other key sustainability achievements in Sedona include:

  • Fly Friendly: In 2020, helicopter tours operators ceased overflights within Sedona’s city limits and over neighborhoods, sensitive prehistoric sites and resorts outside the city limits as part of a new Fly Friendly policy.
  • Transportation Improvements: In 2020, the City of Sedona completed Uptown traffic improvements, making vehicle and pedestrian flow more efficient, easing congestion, and contributing to the area’s aesthetic appeal; roundabouts that eliminate U turns and give access to new off-street parking; and a median with locally designed artwork that prevents mid-block pedestrian crossing and left-hand turns. Like Fly Friendly, the Uptown Improvements address all four pillars of sustainability.
  • Sustainability Certification: Low water use, energy conservation, recycling and using local products are hallmarks of sustainable business operations. Dozens of Sedona-based businesses and government offices have achieved sustainability certification, as determined by the Sustainability Alliance, a Sedona Verde non-profit organization that leads sustainability projects.
  • Governor’s Award: In 2019, the SCC&TB was honored with the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Arizona Cultural and Historic Preservation for its efforts in creation of the Sedona Sustainable Tourism Plan. The Award recognizes the year’s “most significant contribution to the cultural and historic preservation of the natural, cultural or aesthetic legacy of Arizona that inspires visitation to the state.”

Sedona’s “Fly Friendly” policy keeps helicopter tours away from the city and other sensitive areas.

Final Commentary

Sedona’s effort to research and create a truly comprehensive plan stands out against other Destination Management Organization efforts for several reasons. There are resources; there is a solid partnership with the City and elected officials; plus there has been intense dialogue and listening within the community to create a truly community-based sustainability plan. There was an 18-month planning process, with investment, resources, and then structure to see out the objectives. Wesselhoff believed the plan is solid for five years, with a possible few adjustments to tactics around climate change to be added in the future. She would expect a further GSTC assessment toward the end of the 5-year plan, as a means to benchmark overall progress.

Also striking is the way this plan has been designed to build tourism around the needs of the community, placing residents first and foremost. The planning process has helped the DMO shift its focus from the visitor to the resident as the number one client, including local business owners.

From listening came soul-searching for Wesselhoff. “Previously I was the biggest advocate and cheerleader for tourism. I believed it was really good for our community – the benefits drastically outweighed the inconveniences of tourism. But I don’t think I honestly and genuinely listened to complaints, because they were [merely] inconveniences, and [because] 10,000 people depended on tourism for their jobs – every single resident could have a job in tourism if they wanted to. This process allowed me to embrace the tradeoffs in a more thoughtful way and consider how we can positively impact those negative tradeoffs.”

Wesselhoff also believes the Sustainable Tourism Plan has already led to significant tactical wins for the local community. She cited the Fly Friendly program’s no-fly zone for air tours over residential areas – one of the legacies she will leave from her personal efforts as leader. For 18 months, the City and County (which operates the airport), tour operators, and other stewardship entities in the community came together as partners to create solutions to control helicopter noise. “Helicopter noise has been a pinch-point for locals,” she said. “Without the Sustainable Tourism Plan we never would have gotten there; it provided the framework to say ‘this is what the community wants.’”

While Wesselhoff was readying at the time of this 2020 interview to move into a new role as CEO at Visit Park City in Utah, she felt confident that Sedona’s stewardship efforts will continue, in large part because the Plan is positioned as something the entire community has bought into, bigger than just one person or one organization.

Having steered the process to create what she feels is a truly community-oriented tourism plan and meaningful engagement with residents, Wesselhoff offered words of wisdom for other DMOs: Engage with residents and recognize your potential role as community builders: “We need to listen to our residents as much or more than we listen to our visitors or our businesses. I learned so much through this process. The value of listening to that perspective was really meaningful.”

Appendix
The following community partners participated in the Plan development process:
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
Arizona Department of Transportation
Arizona Game and Fish Department
Arizona Public Service
Arizona State Parks and Trails
City of Sedona City Council
Coconino National Forest
Friends of the Forest Sedona
Friends of the Verde River
Keep Sedona Beautiful
Local First Arizona
National Park Service – River and Trails
Northern Arizona University Climate Program
Northern Arizona Climate Alliance
Northern Arizona Council of Governments
Oak Creek Watershed Council
Red Rock State Park
Red Rock Trail Fund
Sedona Airport Authority
Sedona Compost
Sedona Events Alliance
Sedona Heritage Museum
Sedona Lodging Council
Sedona Mountain Bike Coalition
Sedona Recycles
Sedona Sustainability Alliance
Sedona Verde Valley Tourism Council
Sedona Verde Valley Sustainability Alliance
US Fish and Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
Verde Front Collaborative

 

How Data Science Can Help Destinations

Destination Stewardship Report – Autumn 2020 

Sustainable destination planning is frequently hobbled by conventional measures of return on investment. But if ROI is expanded by using data science to include tangible but often omitted factors at both company and destination levels, says Irene Lane, then the picture is more accurate – and brighter.

Lucerne, Switzerland supports sustainable development by optimizing operations and promoting nature-based and cultural opportunities for tourists. © Greenloons

It’s Time To Merge Sustainable Destination Planning with Data Science

By Irene Lane

Before COVID hit, destination stakeholders were concerned about the social, economic, and environmental impact of overtourism at their locales. On the one hand, tourists eagerly flocked to fragile, biodiverse hotspots thereby assuring plentiful (albeit low-paying) service jobs, corporate hospitality investments, and tax revenues. On the other, local residents were facing the costs of an overloaded public infrastructure, a decaying social fabric holding their communities together, and increased residential resistance to fickle travelers looking for their next viral Instagram post.

Throughout, many destination stakeholders had called for both transparent, pragmatic sustainability standards and efficient data collection. An easy way to combine the two would help strategic investment and decision-making. Data modeling and statistical analysis, known as data science, is the key for doing that.

Now comes the age of Covid-19, with its declining tourism arrivals and tax revenues, along with the advent of policy changes (or at least discussions) that promote racial and social justice. That makes strategic decision-making buttressed by data science more important than ever.

Development of ROI Financial Model for Sustainable Destinations

For those who have been studying and advocating for destination sustainability, none of the social, economic, or environmental impacts of myopic destination planning were surprising. But a few of us with backgrounds in data analytics informally endeavored to go one step further. My contribution was to develop a return on investment (ROI) financial model that accounted for GSTC sustainable destination criteria along with other pertinent data including local tax incentives, productivity rates, and consumption benchmarks.

Calculation of the ROI of sustainability was not an entirely new concept. Previously, tourism companies had determined ROI based solely on operational investments and cost savings, such as those found with renewable energy, water conservation, waste management, and food and beverage sourcing projects, among others.

The consistent issue was that ROI, calculated under those parameters, was typically negative for the first two years. So, it came as no surprise that destination managers would choose to make other investments with quicker and higher rates of return.

The flaw in such ROI calculations was that they were not holistic in their approach.

By using an environmental scorecard approach for measuring ROI, I built on the traditional operational and environmental elements and expanded it to include the costs for and benefits to employees, communities, and customers.

For example, a company’s investment in environmental and wildlife educational materials could be balanced against the savings brought about by free media mentions sparked by its sustainability status and incremental revenue from customers seeking sustainable choices.

By investing in ecosystem preservation, destinations can attach a financial value to wildlife conservation, including this caiman in the Tambopata region of Peru. © Greenloons

Another example is a destination’s investment in sustainable tourism apprenticeship and small business loan programs balanced against the savings of shared agriculture, transportation, activity, and renewable energy resources as well as the incremental revenue from customers extending their stay at a destination due to the increased variety of options.

Essentially, rethinking the triple bottom-line financial value of each employee, community (including destination partnerships), and customer interaction that stemmed from sustainable investments greatly expanded the view of ROI at the company level.


Failte Ireland promotes agritourism along the Wild Atlantic Way cycling routes, thereby enabling small-scale and profitable agricultural and fishing production. © Greenloons

The result of our informal collaboration was an ROI model that allowed individual tourism businesses – and, in aggregate, destinations – to determine which sustainable criteria investments would yield the greatest returns based on the destination business climate.

At the destination level, for example, policy makers could see the economic impact gained by rebate programs or tax incentives for promoting renewable energy investments, supply chain partnerships, apprenticeship programs, or marketing campaigns.

The model further addressed how a sustainable tourism company, and thus a destination, can plan, budget, and market the social, economic, and environmental changes and improvements sustainability will bring to their businesses.

ROI Model starts with the operational, community, employee, and customer investments (along with savings and incremental revenue opportunities) needed to adhere to the GSTC Industry Certification Criteria. The ROI Model then incorporates specific GSTC Destination Criteria to allow and incentivize businesses to create their own 5 Year ROI Dashboards, thereby creating a continuous improvement loop.

ROI Modeling in Action

One of the frequently overlooked drivers of ROI is the calculation of strategic and supply chain partnerships. When partnerships are encouraged or incentivized, and other aforementioned data is included and weighted appropriately, the ROI calculation generally goes from negative to positive during the first year.

If destinations can factor in visitor interactions, employee training and productivity, community partnerships, and culture and heritage preservation behaviors and investments, then sustainability ROI increases dramatically. In fact, statistics reveal for the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and India, that travelers interested in destinations with authentic culture and heritage sites spend as much as 38% higher per day and stayed 22% longer overall compared to other kinds of travelers.

Importance of ROI Data Analysis Post COVID

Now that there is the potential for the reset button to be pushed for the tourism industry, the focus might well be on communities that are working together to increase living standards, biodiversity conservation, and food ecosystem resilience.

In other words, perhaps we can now start adopting a more sustainable or regenerative set of travel infrastructure practices backed up by – data collection, data modeling, and data analysis practices – rigorous data science.

Corona-crisis: A Destination Management Opportunity.

[Where Now? The post-corona future may be hidden, but destinations should plan the road to recovery right away. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Start Your Destination’s Tourism Recovery Plan. Don’t wait.

This is one hell of a way to cure overtourism. Not at all what those of us working on the problem had in mind. The coronavirus has turned the destination-tourism relationship on its head, from “over” to “under” in the blink of an eye and the bark of a dry cough.

A powerful stream of revenue has suddenly dried up, possibly for a year or two, not to mention all the associated businesses and activities related to tourism. Economic and lifestyle stability may not truly return until we see the dream headline, “Coronavirus Vaccine Now Available.” The dip in global tourism growth will surely be worse than that created by the SARS outbreak in 2003. Destinations face tough times. Businesses will fail. Layoffs will become permanent.

And yet the forces that have powered tourism’s inexorable increase remain in place. Absent total collapse, economies will eventually recover. We’ll leave our homes again, planes will fly again, Instagrammers will post again. Children will grow into restless, questing adults, and affluent professionals into restless, questing retirees. The topic that has dominated my own work over the past year, overtourism, may well creep back, as inevitable as a rising tide.

That is, unless destinations take this accidental time-out to reassess.

“Never let a crisis go to waste,” Winston Churchill said (echoed by Rahm Emanuel). For the places we love, this crisis provides both a respite and an opportunity.

Researchers, step forward!

We are in the middle of an inadvertent experiment, global in scale. Already, for instance, we know that pollution has plummeted in locked-down cities. From the skies of Wuhan to the canals of Venice, smoggy air and murky water have cleared.

Researchers should seize the day. Take measurements! Establish some baseline data. In regards to tourism, now is a great time to measure changes in environmental impacts. Which types of tourism, now absent, were the worst offenders? Which the least? Which actually helped?

Even more important is for destinations to ask some questions – posed not just to leadership and business owners, but the residents themselves: What have you learned from the corona crisis? Many destinations have already learned that loss of overnight guests hurts their economies several times more than loss of cruise passengers on shore excursions. What businesses and types of tourism do you miss? What types would you rather not come back?

Some tourism benefits are obvious, and their loss more dangerous. Our great historic sites depend on tourism for upkeep; our nature parks and reserves depend on it for political defense against competing land use.

People will learn the hard way about tourism’s hidden benefits. Take this tale from my own city of Washington, DC: Its lively Dupont Circle neighborhood, a residential area with a few hotels, was once home to an independent bookstore called (if I recall correctly) the Mystery Book Shop, specializing in thrillers and whodunits from all over the world. A fun place to browse, but nothing to do with tourism. No souvenirs. Like many independent booksellers, the shop survived on a thin profit margin. When tourism plummeted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, only then did the owners discover that a key portion of their clientele had been, yes, tourists. That was their margin. The store closed, and Washington was poorer for its loss.

We’ll see many stories of loss over the next few months. If tourism helped keep a desirable asset or enterprise afloat pre-corona, then that contribution to destination’s distinctiveness and quality of life should be documented, not forgotten. And if tourism helped keep something undesirable in place, then its absence, too, should be documented so as to discourage its return.

Use the Respite

Destinations that were struggling to cope with too many tourists must now deal with the opposite. Before any recovery gets started – whether in months or years – now is an excellent time for destination leadership and citizens to plan for just how to recover. Documenting the effects of this crisis should help.

One priority: Shun the common impulse just to restore the status quo ante. Think about it. Nor should destinations grab desperately at anything that will bring back tourism, quality be damned. Beware of developers who will push quick fixes wrapped in promises of jobs that evaporate the moment construction is over or abandoned. Beware, too, the persistent practice of equating tourist arrivals with success and large-scale projects with triumph. Use better metrics.

Wise planning requires enlightened, collaborative destination stewardship. Now would be a time for each destination to convene – remotely, if not yet in person – a broad-based council to do that. Destinations should use the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Criterion A1 as a basic minimum. That criterion states in part:

“The destination has 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 group has defined responsibilities, oversight, and implementation capability for the management of socio-economic, cultural and environmental issues.”

Sadly, very few destinations meet even this minimum. We continue our work to find and profile the few that do. We hope other places will “seize the crisis” and establish their own.

Rather than returning to the currently interrupted Age of Wretched Excess, characterized at its worst by floods of cruise ship passengers and squads of day trippers armed with selfie sticks, collaborative destination stewardship councils can work with their citizens to take a new tack. With thoughtful plans at the ready, our recovery could grow instead into a new Golden Age of Tourism, a time of well-managed places and beneficial travel for tourists, for residents, and for natural and cultural preservation.

Is that too much to expect? Yes, of course. But now is the time to ask for too much. Communities torn between shell shock from tourism loss and relief from tourist crowds might actually go for it.

If not now, when?


 

Springtime on Furnace Mountain, Virginia. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

A Personal Afterthought

“Travel is so broadening,” wrote Sinclair Lewis a century ago. Now we are on a trip of a different sort: Time travel, back to the Middle Ages. All our ingrained 21st-century assumptions – reliable medical systems, wonder drugs, technical know-how, ready access to supplies – all are stripped away. Facing a deadly scourge that we cannot control, we are one with distant ancestors who had to accept such threats as a fact of life, and death. That perspective should spur some critical thinking on our own part about what is truly important – for our lives, our favorite places, and our future (someday!) travels.

Meanwhile, my wife, Sally, and I are self-isolating. We are high-risk for Covid-19, so we’re sequestered in our northern Virginia mountainside home. It’s a good place to wait, rich in sense of place. Being here forces the mind and heart to stretch far beyond their customary reach, trying to reconcile extremes. Yes, we might die. Yes, we live in an inexcusably unprepared nation under a psychopathically insecure president. And yes, spring came too early. Again.

But spring it is. The daffodils and bloodroot are in bloom, the bluebirds are reoccupying their house by the meadow, our view out toward the Blue Ridge frees the spirit, our friends are within digital reach, and our biggest annoyance is the hormone-addled cardinal that keeps attacking itself in the windows.

In the shadow of the virus, life has never seemed so good. May we all keep living it.
—J.B.T., 23 March 2020

“Overtourism” Sizzles This Summer

The rising buzz in tourism circles about overtourism is now spilling into the mainstream media, especially in Europe, which seems to have the largest numbers of unhappy, tourism-battered residents. This attention is long overdue, since the phenomenon has been building for decades. Even governments are reluctantly beginning to take notice.

Here are some of the latest sources of information.

One of the best is the 23-minute documentary Crowded Out: The Story of Overtourism, from Justin Francis and his team at UK-based Responsible Travel. Note the recurring question in the second half—”Who is in charge of managing tourism?”—and the recurring answer: “Nobody.” (Here at the Destination Stewardship Center, we will continue to stress the need to address this gap .)

Justin has also written possibly the best, concise explanation of overtourism pitched for the general public that I have seen.

Credit for promoting the term “overtourism” belongs in considerable part to the online travel-industry news service Skift, which has made a point of investigating the phenomenon. They offer their roundup of “5 solutions to overtourism,” of which numbers 4 and 5 go beyond mere mitigation to cope with long-term requirements in the face of relentless tourism growth.

What can overstressed destinations do to cope with millions of food-eating, beer-drinking, plastic-wrap-discarding, linen-using, toilet-flushing tourists? Megan Epler Wood presents environmental, business, and policy solutions in her new book, the scholarly Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet (Routledge).

Elsewhere, Freya Higgins-Desbiolles discusses the threat of overtourism in Australia, travel sites like Nat Geo suggest alternate destinations, and the South China Post suggests who is to blame: Everyone.

And what can travelers do to help? A new book with a new point of view is by Johan Idema, a Dutch consultant, not in travel, but in showcasing art: How to Be a Better Tourist (BIS Publishers), to be released in the United States next month. Many of his profusely illustrated tips offer ways for travelers to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Worth a look before your next trip.

Overtourism, Airbnb, and the Numbers Problem

[Above: Tourists pack a walkway at China’s Hongcun Village, a World Heritage site. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Airbnb Addresses Overtourism

My Foreword to Airbnb’s recently-released report, Healthy Travel and Healthy Destinations (download it here) sets up some basic issues of destination stewardship and the problem of overtourism. The balance of the report makes Airbnb’s case for its support of sustainable tourism over mass tourism, which you can judge for yourself.

While nonresident units on home-sharing platforms obviously contribute to overtourism disruption in popular city centers, the balance of Airbnb’s effects on destinations may equal or surpass the benefits of conventional tourism, all while dispersing a portion of visitor traffic. Full reveal: Airbnb paid me for the Foreword, but they let me write it the way I wanted, and—barring new information—I stand by its content.

Part of Airbnb’s conundrum stems from its swift evolution, morphing from a true home-sharing platform—i.e., a room in a home or in the mother-in-law unit next door—into one that also lists hosts’ often-empty vacation units and eventually those of commercial “hosts” who buy up and rent out multiple units dedicated only for tourists—not home sharing at all. Each of these rental patterns can have very different impacts on the destination.

Airbnb has at least demonstrated a (sometimes reluctant) willingness to work with communities in coping with overtourism. Meanwhile, other players keep trying to pack in the crowds like commuters on the Tokyo underground. Most concerning are the government and tourist authorities that continue to call for ever more tourist arrivals, as noted in our GWU/Travel Massive webinar held in February.

Last year I addressed overtourism in National Geographic Voices. That platform may be soon replaced, so I repeat the Nat Geo post here, as it ran on 29 October 2017:

Tourism has a numbers problem.

The world’s population explosion has finally arrived. It has manifested itself not in global waves of famine as was feared half a century ago, but in waves of Airbuses, tour buses, and minibuses. Tourists by the millions.

This population explosion overwhelms St Mark’s Square in Venice. It pushes through the streets of Barcelona, angering residents. It forms hours-long queues in China for the cable cars up Mount Huangshan and fills all the lanes in the World Heritage Village of Hongcun. It paves the beaches of the Mediterranean in simmering northern European flesh. In the Louvre it blocks your view of the Mona Lisa with forests of smartphones held high in selfie mode. It pushes through the ruins of Tulum in Mexico with busloads of Spaniards, Americans, Chinese. It even creates traffic jams on the climbing routes up Mount Everest.

It has spawned a new word: Overtourism. Too many tourists.

Taking selfies with the Mona Lisa. Photo: Krista Rossow

Overtourism has been manifesting itself for over two decades in popular countries like Spain, Italy, and France. But somehow the population pressure hit the red zone this year. Says one colleague, “It’s the topic du jour. The phrase is on the lips of every travel expert, every pseudo-expert, and every travel industry opportunist.”

“Too many tourists!”

No surprise. From Barcelona to Venice, from Reykjavik to Santorini, residents have raised a chorus of protest: “TOO MANY TOURISTS!” Plenty of visitors chime in: Not what we came for. How can a visitor experience the delights of a foreign city if the streets are packed with thousands—yes, thousands—of cruise-ship passengers and lined with global franchises to cater to them? Serious travelers increasingly dismiss such places—“too touristy.”

Pressed beyond tolerable limits, some destinations are fighting back. Dubrovnik is instituting severe caps on cruise passengers, as is Santorini. Italy’s Cinque Terre is ready to impose quotas on people hiking between the five picturesque villages. The Seychelles wants to limit hotel sizes to protect their reputation as an Indian Ocean paradise.

Yet Some Insist: More Is Better

Despite all this backlash, development bankers, government planners, and tourism ministers—many of them political appointees with little knowledge of sustainable tourism principles—still continue to press for yet more tourists. And boast about it.

Just see what I discovered as I was getting ready for this year’s [2017] international conference of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). It convened a few weeks ago in the cool air of one of the most sparsely populated places on the planet: Chile’s northern Patagonia region of Aysén. Even here, overtourism was the hot-button topic.

Tourists in still-uncrowded (sometimes) Patagonia. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

GSTC’s purpose is to work with governments and companies to help protect both the planet and the delights of travel—a delicate balancing act. In addition to countering such threats as climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and overdevelopment, GSTC now confronts the predictable but long-disregarded threat posed by tourism itself.

I moderated the panel addressing overtourism. To prepare for it, I went online and did a search. It took only 30 minutes to find these statements, all published in the previous week:

  • “Jamaica is on target to hit its record goal of 4.2 million visitors for 2017.”
  • “For 2017, Bali’s foreign arrivals target is an ambitious 6 million.”
  • Peru hopes to “double tourism arrivals to 7 million by 2021.”
  • Vietnam “has set the target of attracting 13 million-15 million foreign visitors…year-on-year growth of 30-50 percent.”
  • Sharjah, U.A.E.: “Draw 10 million visitors a year by 2021.”
  • Maldives:Tourist arrivals have crossed the one million milestone, on course to reach an ambitious target of 1.5 million.”

And those announcements were issued in just one week!

Quantity, not Quality

For government officials it’s easy to set goals by using the convenient turnstile of a passport check to count international arrivals. It’s more trouble and expense to collect more significant data: How long did visitors stay? What did they do? How much did they spend, on what, and who got the money? How did their presence affect local society, culture, and environment? Or the question rarely asked: How many is too many?

Tourists explore atop Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher. The geopark wants fewer tourists; the county wants more. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Simply striving for more arrivals leads to tourism quantity over quality. That doesn’t seem to bother national leaders who favor a simplistic “more is better” approach to economics, especially if guided by the World Economic Forum’s very informative but flawed Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, which among other oddities measures a country’s cultural wealth by number of stadium seats, as noted in a previous post.

Officials and businesses seeking only to boost tourist quantity can undermine the stewards who try to protect destination quality. An official at western Ireland’s popular Cliffs of Moher, for instance, told me that the number of coach tours was getting out of hand, raising fears that the clifftops would gain a reputation as an overcrowded tourist trap. So geopark management wants to raise the fees for buses, but the County Clare government has so far refused. It might hurt their tourist arrivals target.

Could overcrowding be a problem even down here near empty Patagonia? Yes, it could. On my panel, Hernan Mladinic, Executive Director of the Fundación Pumalín, described traffic jams and competition for camping sites in Patagonia’s great national parks. In only three years, camping demand has more than doubled in Chile’s new Pumalín Park. This problem can at least be solved, as there’s room for more campsites.

Tour buses at the Perito Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentine Patagonia. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

So the overtourism situation is far from hopeless.  An art-history buff we know spent a week last summer visiting crowd-plagued Florence. She avoided the tourist routes, hit the museums at slack times, stayed in a charming neighborhood across the river, and had a great time. Fine, but overtourism is a bullet one should not have to dodge. Its negative impacts on Florence and many Florentines are undeniable.

Population + Technology + Money = Boom!

The tourism explosion is due not just to more people, but more people with money. A significant portion of the Earth’s population has grown more affluent—think India, China, Brazil, among many others—and travel technology from jumbo jets to the sharing economy has grown cheaper, bigger, and faster. The result: According to figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, international tourism has grown 40 fold since commercial jet traffic began some six decades ago. The places that these people visit, however—the museums, the archaeological ruins, the natural attractions, the narrow medieval streets of historic cities—are still the same physical size. These cups runneth over, as I somewhat clumsily demonstrated for the Reinvent project (3:00 on the video) earlier this year.

That means that if there were, say, five people admiring a painting at a given time back in 1960, there are 200 trying to see it today. Unpleasant, and ultimately unsustainable. Last year saw more than 1.2 billion international arrivals. By 2050, according to David Scowsill, former head of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), some 3 billion people will be affluent enough to make such trips.

Overtourism Has Come to My Beloved Iceland.

Since my first visit in the 1970s, I’ve loved Iceland for its wide views, its unique culture, its geological wonders, and, well, its freedom from crowds. The saddest compliment I ever received was from a long-time friend in Reykjavik, where tourists now seem to rule the downtown throughout summer. “Everything that you said would happen,” she told me, “has happened.” She was wrong actually; while I had warned of the changes that high-volume tourism could bring to Iceland, I never imaged just how much volume. According to a Skift report, almost half a million tourists visited Iceland in 2010, far exceeding the national population of 330,000. That was then. Now quintuple it: Some 2.5 million tourists are expected to have visited this year.

Tourists visit Skógafoss waterfall in southern Iceland. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Her husband, a former captain with Icelandair, tried to talk his old employer into providing passage for me to visit and speak about the value of improving the quality of tourism rather than boosting the quantity. He didn’t get far. The response was along the lines of “Are you crazy? You want us to bring a guy here to argue for fewer tourists?” Airlines like to add more planes and fill more seats.

Thus the tourism industry is both victim and vector of overtourism. Even as some hotels and tour operators seek ways to avoid crowding, other elements of the industry that benefit from high volume—cruise ships, airlines, taxi services—continue to encourage tourism quantity over quality. That dissuades the true travelers, who don’t clog the streets for a couple of hours just to take some selfies, buy a T-shirt made in some other country, and then go back to the ship for dinner.

Solutions, or stop-gaps?

The good news, if long overdue, is that tourism media now brim with opinions on how to deal with overtourism.

Pollock is on to something. Most of those overtourism recommendations merely mitigate the problem. The population explosion has already happened. The term “overtourism” may lose its cachet from overuse, but the problem is here for generations. It cannot be solved until world leaders face a simple geometric reality:

It is impossible to pack infinitely growing
numbers of tourists into finite spaces.

So what to do? A world of more than 7 billion people requires rethinking tourism, namely:

  1. Change the prevailing paradigm: More tourism is not necessarily better. Better tourism is better.
  2. Governments and industry should therefore abolish the practice of setting tourism goals based only on arrivals.
  3. Instead, incentivize longer stays and discourage hit-and-run, selfie-stick tourism.
  4. To help do that, destination stakeholders should form stewardship councils that help government and industry plan according to limits of acceptable change.

Who’s a stakeholder? You are.

If you are a thoughtful traveler, voice your opinion and vote with your wallet. Spend your money on destinations that take care of themselves, and on businesses that help them do it.

If you are a resident, team up with your neighbors and civic groups to take charge of how tourism is managed there. If you don’t, someone else will. With their own interests in mind, not yours.

That’s how overtourism gets started.

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For more on overtourism, watch my February 2018 webinar, conducted in cooperation with the George Washington University and Travel Massive.

 

Controlling Overtourism Requires Destination Councils

Overtourism and Destination Councils: Hot Topics at September’s International Sustainable Tourism Conference in Chile.

Meeting in Coyhaique, Chile, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council addressed a variety of issues. I moderated a key panel on Visitor Management—notably, overtourism—and the need for stewardship councils to help cope with it. (See David Randle’s report in HuffPost for other issues discussed at the Sept 6-9 conference.)

Overtourism cropped up repeatedly. Here is a sample of recent news reports and commentary on a topic that’s not going away:

Two related pieces in the Guardian, one by Elizabeth Becker and another quoting Xavier Font.

Norie Quintos looks at ways to mitigate overtourism for ATTA’s Adventure Travel News.

Tourism impacts on Venice, on World Heritage sites and (below) on Barcelona:

Documentary: Barcelona and the Trials of 21st Century Overtourism

At Machu Picchu, implementation of a revised protected area management plan ~ after years of neglect.

The Master Plan: Machu Picchu Reconceptualized

I myself have written about overtourism in Nat Geo Voices, most recently on Oct 28, 2017, , also citing Florence before the word was entering common use. We have addressed it here on the DSC website as well, including a piece written by Salli Felton of the Travel Foundation.

The new WTTC President tells Skift she will to work on the issue, but TUI Group CEO Downplays Overtourism ThreatPatrick Whyte, Skift – Aug 10, 2017 10:00 am

Destination Stewardship Councils: Background
The tourism industry provides services, but the destination and the people that live there are the ultimate tourism product. In most cases, however, no entity—not even the government—takes care of the destination as a whole. A permanent task force can help destinations cope with tourism impacts and general stewardship. That’s why a council type of arrangement is called for in GSTC’s destination Criterion A2, which reads:

“The destination has an effective organization, department, group, or committee responsible for a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, with involvement by the private sector and public sector. This group is suited to the size and scale of the destination, and has defined responsibilities, oversight, and implementation capability for the management of environmental, economic, social, and cultural issues. This group’s activities are appropriately funded.”

The only problem: Rather few of these holistic, council-type arrangements exist. The Destination Stewardship Center has begun to compile information on those that do meet at least some of the indicators put forth by GSTC and via National Geographic’s former geotourism program; see About Geotourism Stewardship Councils (PDF).

➤ We welcome any additional recommendations for notable stewardship councils anywhere in the world. E-mail us, and we will send a questionnaire to the contact that you recommend.