Neolocalism and Tourism

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.

The new book, Neolocalism and Tourism: Understanding a Global Movement, edited by Drs Linda J. Ingram, Susan L. Slocum and Christina T. Cavaliere, presents case studies by international authors that explore neolocalism as related to tourism management. Along with theoretical contributions, definitions, and ideological discussions throughout the book, several authors offer insights regarding tourism and neolocalism with nine case studies from around the world.

> 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.

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.

GSTC’s Crucial Criterion A1

? Destination Stewardship Report Summer 2020 ?

Its Importance by Randy Durband, CEO, GSTC

The GSTC Destination Criteria have well proven their value as guides to good destination stewardship. GSTC has chosen not to provide weighting to specific criteria, preferring to present a holistic system. Yet, it is natural to call out key elements.

For example, Criterion A8 on visitor management is essential, and destination management organizations should build strong internal capacity on the principles expressed there and knowledge of successful cases of its application. Criterion A5 is also essential, as community engagement is needed to minimize any harmful impacts of tourism to various community residents, including those who generally lack political voice.

But standing at the top of my list – as with many of us in the global community of experts in sustainable destination management – is Criterion A1, which summarizes the importance and composition of a highly inclusive planning group. Inclusive in terms of a “whole-government” approach and in terms of ongoing and meaningful engagement with stakeholders from the community and from tourism-related businesses.

GSTC Destination Criterion A1 and indicators

Creation of some form of council should not be seen as a diminution of the authority of any public agency. Rather, its application should be viewed as wise and effective leadership from the public authority. To make it work, it needs to function with a degree of regularity, and it must continue in perpetuity, surviving changes of government leadership. Because it is essential. Conforming to all the Criteria can be better accomplished with this type of management commitment and structure. — R.D.

The Context by Jonathan Tourtellot, CEO, DSC

Most tourism is about the place. The tourism industry relies on the character, appeal, and resources of the destination as a whole. Sometimes it may be one particular asset – wildlife, a beach, a historic district. More often it’s the interwoven combination of distinctive characteristics that constitutes sense of place. That’s why we travel.

Yet when governments and many other policymakers consider tourism, they tend to consider the industry in isolation, compartmentalized, seeing it simply as the aggregate of businesses where tourists spend money. Growth in transactions is a main metric of success, along with employment and tourist arrivals. But where does the money end up, who gets hired, and which tourists are arriving? Most important, who’s in charge?

Too often, the answer is “no one.” Different interests can work at cross purposes – preservation versus development, agriculture versus conservation, tourists versus locals.

Without holistic management that includes citizen participation, difficulties can easily arise, and have: overtourism, neighborhood disruption, cultural degradation, and various environmental problems. By contrast, well-managed tourism can enrich communities, improve public education, and provide the means to sustain natural habitats and elements of cultural heritage, from music and theater to architecture and cuisine.

The relationship between tourism and a destination is complex. It requires a collaborative approach. Criterion A1 takes care not to prescribe the structure – …an effective organization, department, group, or committee… – just that it be done in whatever way best suits destination stakeholders and citizens. Today’s coronavirus threat will eventually recede and tourism will return. Climate change looms in the background. Now is the chance to plan tourism recovery right. —J.B.T.

Tourism Success Means Protecting Shared Assets

[Above: Manarola, Cinque Terre. Photo: Casey Muller]

I’m just back from Cinque Terre—five hillside towns on Italy’s Western seacoast where you feel like you’re vacationing in the 17th century but still enjoy modern wonders such as trains and cameras. Virtually unknown to US tourists twenty years ago, it is now a destination sensation complete with its own Rick Steves, Rough Guide and Lonely Planet travel guides.

Tourists from all over the world—including many Asians, especially Chinese—clamber up its steep mountain trails and the equally steep steps that double as streets in these former fishing villages. Oh no! That’s the road to ruination, as the authenticity and tranquility of a newfound place is trampled under the weight of countless tourists’ Nike and Timberland hiking boots.

That’s not how the story goes in Cinque Terre.  The reason why can be explained in terms of the commons, a set of principles and practices governing ownership which like Cinque Terre is now being rediscovered by the wider world. The commons, in short, means what we all share together—a surprisingly broad category that includes everything from wilderness preserves to the Internet.  The word is cropping up more and more in conversations about social equity and sustainability.

For a commons of any kind to flourish, it must be managed in a way that ensures everyone can use it without using it up.  Otherwise, it’s ruined for future generations, just like a distinctive travel destination overrun with fast food joints and parking lots.  The aims and ideals of geotourism fit very snugly with the concept of the commons.

Visiting Cinque Terre in late April, the starting line of the tourist season, we were overjoyed to spend a week in a place where pre-Industrial towns, hillside vineyards, olive groves, forests, waterfronts and historic sites are vigilantly cared for. Cars are kept out of the town centers, which are conveniently linked by hiking trails, trains and boats. There are very few chain stores either, creating opportunities for locally run inns, shops and restaurants.

My wife Julie and I attribute the sheer, giddy pleasure we experienced in Cinque Terre to the strong sense of the commons all around us. We hiked from town to town on paths that were public rights-of-way trod over by villagers for centuries.  We whiled away happy hours strolling and dining in narrow Medieval streets and piazzas—wonderful  public spaces open to all.  We voraciously soaked up the region’s scenery, cuisine, history, architectural traditions, agricultural customs and easy-going way of life without diminishing their availability for anyone else.  No tragedy of the commons here.

I sense a lot of overlap in my own work with the commons (as editor of the Commons magazine at and author of All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons.) and as a travel writer and community consultant dedicated to geotourism.

The spirit of the commons and geotourism are both valuable in boosting grassroots efforts around the world to discover ways of making sure that the places we treasure are not irreversibly spoiled. In many cases these two particular words are not spoken, and may not even be familiar to the activists pursuing these strategies, but the intuitive common sense of both philosophies is nonetheless useful in making a difference for a neighborhood, town or region.

Indeed, Cinque Terre has been able to become a popular destination without sacrificing the qualities that make it appealing because of successful management strategies that draw deeply from the same well as the commons and geotourism. The mountain landscape and the surrounding waters of the Ligurian Sea are national parks, meaning they belong to the Italian people.  The area’s natural, historical and cultural qualities qualify it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that that all of humanity has a stake in its preservation.

Village of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre. Photo: Klaus with K

Village of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre. Photo: Klaus with K

But Cinque Terre will need more of this kind of thinking if it is to remain a success story. The growing presence of so many tourists has inevitable side effects.  That’s why sustainability consultant Ed McMahon advocates that the number of visitors be capped each year, as is done in places as far-flung as Spain’s Alhambra castle and the Boundary Waters in Minnesota’s north woods.

Hikers must already pay a fee to hike Cinque Terre’s breathtaking coastal trails to prevent them from being overrun. But when Julie and I were there, three of the four main trails were closed due to damage from mudslides, caused by heavier-than-usual rains made worse by the fact that stone terraces overlooking the trails have not been taken care of.  The bounty of jobs in the tourism economy means that many young people abandoned the hard physical work of tending the vineyards.

Unable to walk along the coast, Julie and I hiked from town to town over the more strenuous mountain trails, which afforded tremendous views of the stunningly blue sea from olive groves and vineyards perched on the mountains.  And we were very happy to notice that many of the terraces had been newly restored—a shining example of geotourism and the commons in action.

Study Says Scenic Beauty Pays

Minnesota’s Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway generates $21.6 million for local economy

Minnesota research demonstrates the tourism economic value of scenery and scenic routes, says Max Ashburn of Scenic America. For more such studies, go to Scenic America.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center found that the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway is a major draw for travelers and has a significant positive impact on the local economy.pbscenicbyway The study found that in 2010 an estimated 23,800 travel parties visited the region specifically because of the byway.  These visitors spent a total of $21.6 million dollars while in the area including $14.6 million on locally produced goods and services.

Of course, Scenic Byways do more than just contribute to the local economy.  They also help preserve and promote the natural, historic and scenic character of a region and are a source of pride for local residents and businesses.MN_PaulBunyan map

The Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway is one of 150 designated roads in the National Scenic Byways Program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.