Battle Over a Dam Spawns a New Green Destination in Bosnia

Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. This Top 100 entry, submitted in 2021 from Bosnia, shows how a catalytic citizen battle to save a river – even if only partially successful – can knit together a new, community-based sustainable destination: Dinardica.

Fly fishing is one popular outdoor activity that remains possible after the successful fight to save the Sana River. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Submitted by Emir Dervisevic, Sustainability Coordinator

Dinardica Creates Itself by Fighting for its River

Located in western Bosnia and Herzegovina, the rural Dinardica region faced off in 2009 against a proposal for an externally funded hydropower plant to be built on its signature Sana River, which is extremely important for the biodiversity of a wide area of western Bosnia. A coalition of 20 citizens associations and hundreds of individuals actively opposed the construction of the dam. Dinardicans placed 230 hectares of land under official protection, including sources of the Sana River threatened by the dam – all during their first year at work. While assorted legal battles, campaigns, and protests failed to stop construction, they did succeed in moving the dam to a less harmful location.

The hydro campaign also succeeded in giving birth to a multi-stakeholder collaboration and a shared vision allied against domestic and international investors who sought to tear up local landscapes and ecosystems. In Dinardican eyes, preserving nature for the public and future generations was deemed far more important than exploiting natural resources for the short-term benefits of individuals.

The conservation of healthy ecosystems was a top priority for the region of Dinardica. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Dinardica’s story shows that it is possible to form a destination’s identity around protecting natural resources and transform itself into a green tourism destination. This success came as a result of establishing a formal organizational structure for destination management and development, which included government institutions, NGOs, and private companies as stakeholders. From there, the partners designed and launched a series of concrete actions to strengthen the brand of the local destination and transform Dinardica into a green tourist destination. A plan was initiated to protect the most valuable natural habitats. They renovated an old, abandoned school building and transformed it into a Visitor Center. Currently in the works, the Visitor Center is working to support solar panels with the intention of demonstrating the renewable energy potential for private households and tourist facilities to adopt.

A local farmer leads his cattle across a field. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Driving these environmental actions is the destination’s ambition to have a good future for their community, while using renewable energy and providing younger generations the opportunity to live decent lives.

The story of Dinardica is an inspiring example for other rural destinations who might be fighting against forest exploitation, coal mines, power generation stations on rivers, or mass tourism. Although Dinardica is still in the early stages of tourism, they have achieved significant results of environmental conservation. To read more from this Green Destinations’ Top 100 story, click here.

By Their Bootstraps: Homemade Heritage Tourism in Peru

Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. From the 100 winners announced in October 2021, this story, from the Colca Cañon of Perú, shows how an impoverished community with pride in its culture and traditional architecture can turn itself into a heritage adventure destination: Sibayo.

Villagers look to the sun as it rises over the Andes Mountains. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Submitted by Jeniffer Stephanie Diaz Santivañez, Promotor Touristico.

From Alpacas to Tourists: How the Village of Sibayo Grew a Business

The rural, pre-Hispanic town of Sibayo, nestled in the province of Caylloma, Peru, has met the test of time. Its traditional stone architecture and its living Collagua culture have survived to this day. However, in its recent history, Sibayo was all but forgotten to those outside the Colca Valley. Facing high poverty levels, malnourishment, and inequities that resulted in a period of high migration, the municipality looked towards solutions to better the lives of their community while simultaneously preserving its unique heritage. Thus, the small town began its push from a livestock production economy to a community-based tourism economy.

In 2001, the town set out an objective to diversify its economic activities and open up the rural community to tourism, using a framework that bridges the private sector, local authorities, and civil society.

A Sibayo man leads a group of alpacas down a stone pathway to meet visitors. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Faced with initial skepticism and resistance to this tourism-based approach, local management worked alongside the population to promote the rural community and dispel any concerns associated with tourist activities. Only after villagers felt supported and that they could trust tourism did the real planning begin – nearly four years later. Experiential tourism was developed, centered around rehabilitating the town’s old stone houses, where food and lodging could be offered, meshed with agritourism concepts, in which tourists could participate in planting, handicraft making, firewood collecting, and walks with the local farmers.

Outdoor adventure activities such as rafting have become increasingly popular for visitors of Colca Canyon. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]


As Sibayo began to gain attraction, the community evolved and new experiences sprung up, such as hiking to archeological remains, canoeing, cycling, and living the local culture. Women also began to have a leading role in tourism efforts, establishing 12 women-run microenterprises, which has resulted in improved gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region. By implementing community-based tourism, Sibayo’s economy has become dynamic, and tourism has positively affected the economy. The success of the community-based tourism framework has depended on connections between governments, the local people, and private organizations. Thanks to this tourism framework, the locals have been able to access housing sanitation services, improving the living conditions of the community.

Introducing visitors to traditional cuisine has proven to be an excellent way to foster a connection with local culture. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

To read more about the ingredients that went into these successes, along with how the town is combatting their new test of COVID-related challenges, check out the Green Destinations’s Top 100 story here. 

Teton County Stewardship Journal

The snow-capped peak of Mount Moran rises above the fall foliage in Grand Teton National Park. [Photo by Roi Ariel]

What does it take to align a destination’s differing stakeholders and separate agendas into a coherent sustainability program? In Teton county, Wyoming, USA, better known as Jackson Hole, a mission to “unite efforts” sounds simple. As Tim O’Donoghue’s journal shows, however, those two words conceal a host of challenges when dealing with a complex, often overtouristed destination that includes two iconic national parks. The good news: The challenges can be overcome, with patience. —JBT

Jackson Hole’s Journey Toward Sustainability – A Journal

Before I start:
Teton County covers 4,200 square miles of some of North America’s most pristine wild lands and is home to the most abundant, diverse wildlife in the lower 48 states. Also, known as Jackson Hole, our destination includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, two national forests, the National Elk Refuge, and the headwaters of eight major rivers in the United States. Our year-round population is 23,500 with an annual visitation of over 4 million. Since 2014, our visitation has markedly increased with all visitation records breaking during Covid. Simultaneously, budgets that support the infrastructure and services that visitors and residents have relied upon have decreased, as has staffing in our national parks, other federal agencies, and local businesses. We are experiencing the “perfect storm” of overtourism challenges. To meet these challenges, the Riverwind Foundation and I as its Executive Director created the Jackson Hole & Yellowstone Sustainable Destination Program to “Unite efforts to minimize resident and visitor impacts on the Greater Yellowstone and other ecosystems now and for future generations.” These efforts started with energy efficiency and renewables, waste management and recycling, alternative fuels and transportation, and have expanded to embrace local and whole foods, biodiversity restoration and conservation, and visitor and resident outreach and education. The following are my journal entries of our sustainability journey.


Heavy traffic in Jackson during the summer months. [Photo courtesy of Buckrail News]

September 2012 – The Global Sustainable Tourism Council and their contractor, Sustainable Travel International, have briefed our stakeholders on their findings from evaluating us against the world’s first comprehensive, integrated set of destination sustainability criteria. In one room were gathering representatives from our national parks, national forests, the National Elk Refuge, nonprofit organizations, schools, and too-many-to-count businesses. As one of the first Early Adopters of the GSTC Destination Criteria, we received a two-part challenge: (1) despite all of the sustainability activities that we engaged in, we have no organization or current program to coordinate and unite these activities toward community goals and international sustainability standards and (2) according to their evaluation, “Teton County (a.k.a. Jackson Hole) more than any other place in the world has the potential to become a leader as a sustainable destination” in that we have the natural capital, human capacity, and financial resources to realize this potential. In other words, we need to organize and manage – not just market – our destination. This will be a challenging evolutionary step to take over the next 10 years, given that we have never before collaboratively managed tourism.

December 2013 – Our newly formed Steering Committee of sustainability subject-matter experts and key stakeholders just finished the first action plan for our sustainable destination program after nine months of meetings and one-on-one conversations. The initial response to announcing the formation of our Steering Committee was unexpected. We expected it would be challenging to convince people to give their time and see the value of lending their expertise. Instead, to accommodate all the requests to participate, we had to limit the Steering Committee to 12 and form a larger, informal “partners” group with volunteers we activated depending on our planned actions. We discovered that our planned work aligned with the goals of many of our new partners, either through work they were already doing or work they hoped to accomplish. All that was needed was a centralized group to bring together various stakeholders and pool resources.

One of our goals is to go for destination certification within five years. We have a lot of improvements to pursue, especially concerning destination management. We have our work cut out. I guess we should have thought a little more about all of this before taking this on.


Onlookers gather to watch the Town Square Shootout re-enactment during the Old West Days Celebration in Jackson. [Photo courtesy of Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board]

March 2014 – Our sustainability training and technical assistance programs hit the 100-business mark with after just three months! Actually, not just businesses but also nonprofit organizations, government departments, and schools.

October 2014 – Our first inventory of Jackson Hole’s sustainability assets has been completed! We collected detailed information on our community’s sustainability organizations, programs, facilities, and capabilities from 120 stakeholders. Importantly, we also learned what their sustainability needs and interests are. That will help us design future sustainability trainings.

January 2015 – We had a great session with over 30 high school students during their arts and literature retreat out in Grand Teton National Park. We brainstormed ideas for a sustainability code of conduct for our entire destination.

June 2015 – Thanks to our sustainable destination Steering Committee and our school faculties, we finished the Jackson Hole Sustainability Code of Conduct. Little did we know that over 200 students would eventually get involved in designing the graphics and wording of it! Guiding the creative processes of that many students to a finished product was a major exercise in patience and coordination (they were very creative), but it was fun and definitely worth it. Our chamber of commerce wants to include the code of conduct in their visitors’ guide. So we will be reaching our first 100,000 visitors in the next six months.

March 2016 – We just worked with the 150th business participating in our sustainability workshops and technical assistance programs. It’s great to see the momentum build within our business community to learn about sustainability principles and incorporate them in their practices. One of our newest workshops was created to help businesses institutionalize their sustainability efforts – putting in writing their goals, policies, and practices in a Sustainability Management Plan, formal training program, and/or employee manual.

January 2017 – The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole just released the results of a survey of our local conservation organizations. It found that negative tourism impacts are one of the most significant concerns for protecting our environment and natural resources. Since we just started to implement our sustainable destination action plan, this study ought to help our cause.

A herd of bison grazes on a hilltop with the mighty Teton Range looming in the background. [Photo courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort]

March 2017 – I just returned from ITB travel trade show in Berlin. The Riverwind Foundation and Jackson Hole were selected by NatGeo as a Destination Leadership Finalist for the World Legacy Awards. What an honor! An even more fulfilling part of this experience was meeting kindred spirits from other destinations around the world and hearing their inspiring stories.

April 2017 – After the Riverwind Foundation discussed with diverse stakeholders what a desired future of tourism would be and with our local government staff on how to write a resolution to express that, our town and county elected officials unanimously voted in support of it: a resolution for Jackson Hole to be a world-leading sustainable community and destination! Now we have an official rallying cry!

June 2017 – After conducting over 20 one-on-one stakeholder interviews, the Riverwind Foundation and our partner, the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, hosted a very telling workshop with our key destination stakeholders. We received a clear message: We must shift our tourism priorities from quantity to quality of visitors. We had a very promising discussion among these community and destination leaders on our tourism challenges and opportunities. We have a running start toward ideas for near- and long-term solutions and building a consensus that we need to focus on attracting and cultivating environmentally and socially responsible travelers. Visitor and resident outreach and education programs will be central to supporting all other destination management strategies and actions, from reservation systems to shuttles, to seasonal access restrictions and wildlife movement.

A bear sighting causes traffic to block the road in Grand Teton National Park. [Photo by Ryan Dorgan, Jackson Hole News]

Now the really intensive and fun part begins – building partnerships and collaborative projects. This is going to take a lot more time and a lot more meetings at the coffee shop. I need to be careful of my caffeine intake.

November 2017 – We just finished our first sustainability “Hotshots” program comprised of young “green-collared” team members. They doubled the number of businesses that have been trained by helping each enterprise work through a 90-question survey. The answers would yield a to-do list of sustainability practices in such areas as energy efficiency, waste management, biodiversity protection, and community investment. By my calculations, we just passed the 300 mark for businesses and organizations that we’ve worked with. Proof of concept: We can provide basic sustainability training to newly graduated university students and then unleash them into our community with the survey to train businesses.

February 2018 – With the help of students, we just created our community’s first report card on our destination’s sustainability status and progress toward our goals and international standards for sustainability, including energy and fuels, transportation, waste and recycling, and food. There was quite a bit of enthusiasm with the students who seized the opportunity to issue a report card on adults!

April 2018 – In Buenos Aires at the World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual meeting, I was in a conference room with dozens of other finalists for the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. Even though we didn’t get the top Destination award, sharing meals and stories with visionary, passionate, and highly effective leaders from all around the world is perhaps the most fulfilling part of my work. I wonder how we can have more regular gatherings of such people . . .

December 2018 – We just passed the 400 mark with businesses and organizations that we’ve engaged with in our local sustainability training, technical assistance, and certification programs. Speaking of certification, we are in our initial year of our local BEST sustainability certification program. Our first cohort of business and organization participants are developing their sustainability management plans and preparing for their assessments (we don’t like “audits”). It’s really great to see these future community and destination leaders pushing their sustainability envelopes.

January 2019 – Here we are, five years after we began our sustainable destination program, and ready to go for destination certification! We’ve selected EarthCheck for our first go at certification. Why are we pursuing certification? Because we want a system and set of standards as a practical means for our stakeholders to work together to improve our sustainability performance. (For more details on this process, see our GSTC report.)

The Teton Pow Wow offers an opportunity to experience Native history and culture from regional tribes. [Photo by Tim O’Donoghue]

March 2020 – After more than a year preparing for, conducting, and responding to the results of an audit by EarthCheck, even as the Covid-19 pandemic struck, we officially received notification that we achieved sustainable destination certification. I’m truly grateful to the 44 volunteers and the Riverwind Foundation’s community partners in contributing so much of their time, energy, and information to make this happen. We know that like most other travel and tourism destinations we won’t ever be completely sustainable, but we now know what it takes to become more sustainable, and how to use a set of standards and processes to engage our community in that effort.
September 2021 – One of the great lessons that came from our destination certification efforts was that we needed to coordinate all of our sustainability and tourism plans and policies. In doing so, we engaged our stakeholders in creating a destination management plan for striving toward our vision of being a world-leading sustainable community and destination.  Our Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board has transitioned its focus and funds from solely marketing to planning for a balanced, complementary approach for marketing and management. Importantly, our community’s values will now drive plans for tourism rather than tourism driving our community’s values.

Vertical Harvest energizes local food systems via hydroponic, vertical, controlled environmental agriculture to deliver healthier food and futures. [Photo courtesy of Vertical Harvest]

January 2022 – While there will be much more to say about the destination management activities that have transpired in Teton County from 2019 to the present day, I want to note that Teton County has also sought a balanced relationship between tourism and Covid. Other than in the spring of 2020, when we asked our visitors to reschedule their trips, we have been open for business. Our record-breaking visitation since then has been the result of a large U.S. drive market with a pent-up desire to flee restrictions and densely populated areas to less-restricted, wide-open spaces such as our Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. I expect that even when Covid becomes a “normal” disease in our lives, challenges to sustaining and regenerating the integrity of our natural and community resources will continue. Thus, a holistic approach to destination management will also be “normal” for Teton County.

The story of our journey continues . . .

Chelenko Opts for All-In Sustainability

Some beautiful destinations are recognized as such with special governmental designations. That may provide an opportunity for a holistic approach to destination management. Fernando Ojeda and Natalia Naranjo describe how the Chelenko Lake area of the Chilean Patagonia has done just that.

Chile’s Chelenko Adopts a Structure for Stewardship

Chelenko is a scenic, nature-based destination in the Aysén region in the Chilean Patagonia. The Chilean government designated it a Touristic Interest Zone (Zona de Interés Turístico – ZOIT) in 2000, due to rising tourism and an increasing need to protect the lake.

The Leones River, stemming from its namesake glacier, pours into the Chelenko Lake (a.k.a. General Carrera Lake). [Photo courtesy of Sernatur Aysén]

In 2017, an update of the Chilean tourism law created an opportunity to formulate a participatory work plan at a local level that would establish sustainability guidelines in the ZOIT. That process resulted in identifying this vision for Chelenko:

“In 2030 it will be a consolidated touristic destination, responsible and inclusive with the communities, that protects and values its natural resources, its identity and traditions, and assures sustainable development for the local communities. Generosity and kindness of its inhabitants are an important part to generate a high level of satisfaction for visitors.”


Chelenko was the first place to receive the ZOIT designation from the Chilean government. This was an opportunity to strengthen participatory planning skills; contribute to the conservation of touristic resources, and also promote public and private investments in this area.

The Chelenko ZOIT is an area defined within the General Carrera Province, encompassing the General Carrera Lake – better known as Chelenko Lake – as well as Bertrand Lake and the surrounding area. There are more than 10 towns distributed between the two municipalities of Chile Chico and Río Ibáñez.

Kayaking is a popular tourist activity in Chelenko, especially alongside the breathtaking Marble Chapels, a series of islands sitting atop glacial waters. [Photo courtesy of Sernatur Aysén]

Chelenko in the Tehuelche aboriginal language means “Lake of Storms.” Shared with Argentina, it is the biggest lake in Chile and the second largest in South America – 200 km long and 590 meters maximum depth, at 350 meters above sea level. Chelenko Lake is linked to the Bertrand Lake and nurtures the most abundant river in Chile: The Baker River.

The main economic activities of the region are agriculture, cattle, mining, and nature-based tourism, which includes hiking, horseback riding, and wildlife watching. Numerous rivers and lakes provide opportunities for sports and adventure activities like recreational fishing, sailing, rafting, and kayaking.

Management Strategy

The main strategy for managing tourism is to establish a collaborative (public and private directorate) and participatory structure to plan and implement actions for the destination –  Directorio Público Privado ZOIT Chelenko (Pubic-Private Directorate for the Chelenko ZOIT). Its main characteristic has been to integrate private stakeholders so that they can have greater participation in the governance of the lake. Their continued efforts and commitment have been key to advancing a sustainable agenda, with participation happening at different levels (within the ZOIT plan, outside the ZOIT plan, or at the local level led by the civil society).

Even so, stakeholders’ active involvement can be a challenge; there is an active participation at a local level from both public and private stakeholders regarding their concerns towards sustainability. Being a small community, local leaders are involved in different initiatives beside the tourism activity; they are also involved in other coordination entities like water, electrification, neighborhood committees, etc.

An aerial view of the Marble Caves (Capillas de Mármol) Nature Sanctuary, on the shores of General Carrera Lake in the Aysén region. [Photo courtesy of Sernatur Aysén]

The Action Plan

The participatory action plan identified these strategic pillars: promotion, sustainability, infrastructure, human resources, product development, and governance. Here are the key aspects identified for sustainable management of Chelenko and lessons learned since implementing the participatory structure and plan:

  • Private plus public governance – a must.
  • Government commitment to the process at national, regional, and local levels.
  • Governmental support in technical knowledge, data, information, logistics, and facilitation in meetings to strengthen participation from all local stakeholders.
  • Involvement and empowerment for enterprises and community.
  • A public, concise, long term, and participatory plan based on a diagnosis.
  • Measurable goals and regular meetings for follow-up.
  • Continuous motivation and team building, especially for community and NGO leaders.
  • A private stakeholder corporation that supports the long-term vision regardless of changes in government and public administration. It also allows leveraging resources.

At a public level, key aspects of local engagement towards sustainability have included communication and articulation: training, awareness, access to information, promotion of local identity, tourism awareness campaigns, and development of new touristic products and cultural events. You can see more details here.

On the private side, entrepreneurs have established a network: “Chelenko Redponsable” (“responsible network”). This network is a cooperative of enterprises where all members implement and promote sustainable practices: socio-cultural (local products purchasing, exhibition of regional handcrafts), management (local workers), and environmental aspects (energy efficiency, waste management), working to develop community-based tourism. Many of these leaders are part of the directorate. One of the main topics addressed last year was water quality.  Water treatment plant malfunctions, mine tailings, sewage, etc. have generated concerns about water quality and its management, especially for the lake. Chelenko Lake should have one of the purest waters on the world, and the community wants to preserve it for future generations.

Participation of public and private organizations within the destination has succeeded in developing wide commitment toward sustainability in the territory, in large part because local communities love and care about their territory; they love their history and identity. These are of course the main assets for sustainability, providing the destination with a unique sense of place. The community’s sense of co-responsibility within the destination provides a unique tourism experience.

Fernando Ojeda, Tourism Professional, passionate to support sustainable tourism destinations. Today in charge of Touristic Interest Zones in Aysén´s Regional Tourism Office.

Natalia Naranjo Ramos, Development and tourism expert advisor. Country Representative in Colombia for the Canadian Organization for Technical Cooperation –CESO-SACO.

Localizing a Vermont Tour

A key part of good destination stewardship is to favor tour operations that support the people who live there. But does that really work in practice? And actually make money? Agritourism specialist Todd Comen decided to give it a try in his home state of Vermont. 

Visitors have a personal encounter with a young calf, as they visit a local farm and learn about the importance of rural and agricultural communities in a strong regional food supply network. [Photo by Todd Comen]

Hypothesis: Integrated Rural Tourism Actually Works

In 2015, I wanted to test a theory of rural tourism: my own. In the year 2000 I had introduced a theory of Integrated Rural Tourism at the 1st World Congress on Rural Tourism held in Perugia, Italy, organized by Prof. Adriano Ciani of University of Perugia. The theory went something like this: In rural communities, entrepreneurs can supplement their income stream by delivering services to visitors based on their personal strengths and core assets. Once a number of entrepreneurs successfully do this, the rural communities in which they live and work should begin to experience some level of economic revitalization. Direct visitor services in rural communities might include guided tours, food or beverage, lodging, retail, and cultural or adventure activities.

To test my theory I created and operated for three years a part-time Vermont tour company named Bonafide Tours and Expeditions. Would operating a small rural tour business be an effective way to diversify my income and, perhaps more to the point of the theory, would the tour operations encourage economic development in struggling rural communities? The goal of the trial was to provide opportunities for visitors staying in regional centers such as Burlington or Stowe to venture to off-the-beaten-path places in the surrounding rural areas. Theoretically, the result would be financial support and recognition for rural entrepreneurs, especially small farmers in those areas.

The bundled components of an Integrated Rural Tourism experience should give visitors a sense of the unique flavor of a region – natural attractions, unique value-added agricultural enterprises, tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and the people who bring life to the visitor experience.

Vermont’s rural landscape is home to many small farm operations that form the basis of the local food supply network – and tourist appeal. [Photo: “Summer at the Vermont Barn” by ‘fossiled’]

My test area was central Vermont, a rural region within 30 miles of Burlington and Stowe. Here I could design driving tours to a variety of agritourism enterprises that became the backbone of the touristic experience. For transport, I rented vans of various sizes from a locally owned company suited to the size of the group. I was both guide and driver, which provided me the opportunity to introduce all sorts of visitors to the places, farms, and people I had come to appreciate across rural Vermont.

The tours began around 9:00a.m., when I picked up guests at their hotel. The tour was designed for stops at least every 45 minutes. As tour guide, I kept up a steady discourse on the history, geology, land use, and cultural aspects of the places we passed on the way to each stop, such as views of mountain ecosystems, rushing rivers and tranquil lakes, historic covered bridges or meeting houses, and small farms or maple sugar operations.

Four tour guests pose by Lake Elmore. [Photo by Todd Comen]

The tours were typically six-to-eight-hour drives that included lunch and snacks at a historic general store or a locally owned café. Farm and specialty food entrepreneurs shared personal stories and gave personalized tours to the visitors. The visitors frequently purchased specialty gifts and food and beverage products from the businesses.

Guests paid between $150 – $250 per person for a guided, day-long tour. Meals, snacks, and wine and beer tastings were included in the total price. All-inclusive pricing ensured that visitors ate heartily and that the businesses would receive fair compensation from hosting the visitors. Donations were encouraged at historic sites where no attendant was present. Wealth from tourism was thus spread across the rural community.

Food, Glorious Food!

As you can see, a typical tourism experience involves food. For many popular destinations, however, most of the food consumed by visitors is part of a long-distance supply chain stretching from where ingredients are grown and processed to where the meals are served. Initiatives to build sustainable linkages between local farmers and tourism businesses have faltered in many parts of the world, but in Vermont linkages have strengthened over the past twenty years due to support from a variety of key stakeholder groups including state government, farmers market organizations, consumers, and interested restaurant owners and chefs. One goal of Bonafide Tours and indeed an Integrated Rural Tourism strategy is to encourage and support a robust local and regional food system supply network to benefit farmers and other community members, thus building local linkages and ultimately contributing to the resiliency of destination.

A maple syrup producer explains the process of sugaring. [Photo by Todd Comen]

As a tour guide, food is a great way to share stories of the landscape and cultural heritage along the tour route. A stop at Rankin dairy farm, for example, sets the stage for a story of how the land was home to first-nation peoples, how the first European settlers raised sheep prior to the Civil War, and how that evolved into its current use as an organic dairy farm. Visitors could meet the farmer, pet the calves, and even try milking a cow by hand. A stop at Morse Farm Maple Sugar Works would provide an opportunity for the tour guests to meet the seventh generation maple producer, whose tales of the evolution of maple sugaring span two hundred years and include the modern machinery currently used to make the sweet stuff everyone loves, maple syrup!

Stopping points during the Bonafide tour experience reinforced the story of regional food. Such tour operators can work with local restaurants to find out where they source their raw ingredients. The stop at Morse Farm, for instance, enabled tour guests to learn the story behind the syrup that they may have had for breakfast at their hotel. Visiting farms, food processors, and craft beverage makers that sell to restaurants where tourists have eaten demonstrate the dynamic relationships of a resilient local food system.

Urban-Rural Linkages Through Food and Agriculture

The model (shown below) of a local and regional food supply network represents key components of an interconnected, circular economy built on mutually beneficial partnerships. Tour guests are introduced to the complex food system networks evolving in the state of Vermont. They meet the chefs who prepare specialty food products for them and learn of the culinary training programs that teach chefs how to source and prepare ingredients grown and processed locally.

To enrich the Bonafide guest experience, tours connected visitors to the farmers and specialty food producers that supplied restaurants where visitors were inclined to dine while in the region. For example, tourists lodging at Hotel Vermont would often dine at either Juniper or Hen of the Woods, two farm-to-table restaurants in the hotel. Both restaurants have actively participated in reimagining the local and regional food system that they are a part of, including how ingredients are sourced, how food is grown, and how food is processed, delivered, stored, and even prepared.

From Dirt to Dirt

Guests also discover business innovations, including food waste hauling enterprises, bridge organizations such as the Vermont Fresh Network and other food hub or distribution enterprises, and composting operations at various scales. Managing food waste from restaurant operations has also been a focus of these and all other restaurants in Vermont since diverting food waste from landfills is required by law in Vermont as of spring 2020. This new approach to food waste management requires disposal, waste hauling, and processing of food waste into soil amendments that go back to farmers, completing the circular economy from farm to table and back again.

This diagram of a local and regional food supply network of the Juniper Restaurant in Hotel Vermont, a frequent pick-up point for my tours, illustrates the relationships the chef and hotel management team built over time with local and regional specialty food and beverage suppliers. This robust supply network features farmers, fishers, and myriad other small businesses contributing to the unique, authentic menu of the restaurant. Symbiotic relationships such as these build a healthy and resilient food system.

In situations where farm-to-table partnerships are limited or non-existent, a good substitute is visiting farmers markets or specialty food stores that carry locally grown produce or locally raised meats or dairy products. Sometimes, stopping by the edge of a farm field may have to suffice to explain how the farm and its crops fit into the economic and cultural milieu of the community. In time, the tour operator will realize that relationships with the farmers will inspire them to share their story of the farm and farm life, which in turn opens the door to expanding partnerships with the consumer and possibly restaurateurs.

Tour Operation: Lessons Learned

Business partnerships – Hotels and resorts are the conduit for customers for small tour companies. Visitors staying in primary anchor destinations are eager to explore backroads and agritourism enterprises with the assistance of an experienced guide.

Marketing partnerships – Hotel and resort employees become spokespersons for the tour operation. Familiarization trips, newsletters, and personal relationships add up to referrals, which are the lifeblood of the small tour business.

Market segments – People who enjoy exploring a rural destination include young professionals, food and beverage enthusiasts, retired explorers, seasoned photographers, landscape appreciators, and friends and families.

Community benefit – Tour design can spread the wealth from visitors. By integrating a variety of distinctive small businesses and special places you can achieve cohesive and personalized visitor experiences for specific market segments. Small farm operations with retail sections, historic cultural sites, local eateries, general stores, and craft food and beverage enterprises make up the tour experience.

A tour guest risks wet feet or worse to capture a scenic covered bridge. [Photo by Todd Comen]

Key takeaways from my three years of participant observation operating Bonafide Tours include:

  1. Low start-up costs if done right; primarily variable costs rather than fixed costs.
  2. Marketing is about building relationships with people who will promote the experience.
  3. Partnerships need to be mutually beneficial and cooperative.
  4. Pricing communicates value of the tour, so don’t underprice a high quality experience.
  5. All-inclusive pricing ensured that tourist wealth was shared among rural enterprises.
  6. Monitor guest satisfaction during the tour, and adapt the tour as needed with input from guests.
  7. Even in a drive market such as Vermont, people appreciate guided driving tours that get off the beaten path accompanied by experts with local knowledge.
  8. High ratings on a third party review site such as Trip Advisor will help sell tour experiences!

Testing my theory of Integrated Rural Tourism demonstrated that over time, even a small tour operator can make a profit while boosting revenue streams in rural communities. Stopping at farms, maple sugar houses, general stores and cafes, and even the historic sites enabled visitors to spend money on gifts. Since the price of the tour included lunch, snacks, beverage tastings, and entrance fees, businesses visited by the tour always received revenue, achieving the goal of the theory of Integrated Rural Tourism. The test was a success!

The lesson for destinations seeking sustainable economic benefits? Encourage would-be entrepreneurs to diversify their income by launching small tourism enterprises like the one described in this article. Requirements include time, energy, customer service skills, partnerships, persistence, and a little creativity. That’s it, combined with a steady stream of visitors eager to get off the beaten path and out into rural communities.

Featured Partnerships of Bonafide Tours and Expeditions

  • Hotel Vermont
  • Lodge at Spruce Peak
  • Trapp Family Lodge and Brewery
  • Boyden Winery
  • Morse Farm Sugar Works
  • Shelburne Vineyards
  • Falls General Store
  • Stowe Hard Cider
  • Red Hen Baking Company
  • Elmore General Store
  • Lost Nation Brewing
  • Rankin Family Farm
  • Majestic Car Rental

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.” 

The Happiness Agenda – Happy People Mean Happy Destinations
In celebration of the International Day of Happiness, on Saturday 20th March 2021, Planet Happiness, the World Tourism Network, International Institute for Peace through Tourism, and SUNx convened a global webinar. With over 400 registrants, 150 live participants for nearly 3.5 hours, and over 13,000 people joining at various times through social media, it was a success and left many of the participants inspired and, one hopes, happy. You can watch the recording here:

Here are some of the topics discussed during the webinar, summarising what the Happiness Agenda is all about.

Happiness in action. Photo: Marta Mills

Residents First
The consensus is clear – that “a good place to live is a good place to visit”; that tourism sustainability conversations must include happiness and wellbeing at the outset, and, importantly, the happiness of the residents comes first, and then that of the visitors.

“Tourism is about residents,” said Taleb Rifai, the former UNWTO Secretary General, pointing out the importance of promoting tourism to the destination’s residents, a concept that still does not exist in many developing countries. This is important now in the Covid and post-Covid reality with domestic tourism on the rise.

Key Takeaways from the webinar

    • “Covid has shown us we can’t be happy on an unhappy planet.”
    • “A good place to live is a good place to visit.” For a successful destination local people should enjoy their own place.
    • A change in systems is needed whereby tourism provides meaning to both residents and tourists to enhance the quality of life and enable a destination to flourish.
    • The global policy agenda should include happiness and wellbeing as an indicator of growth “beyond GDP.”
    • A clear narrative of why this is important is needed to convince decision makers to take up this agenda.

Destinations can do better by not focusing solely on economic policy, but by also paying attention to its societies. Explicitly showing that they are concerned about citizen happiness helps people trust governments to do the right thing. Jon Hall, Policy Specialist, National Human Development Reports for the UNDP, said it eloquently: “Policies that promote happiness are often much more gentle on the environment than those that promote economic growth.” He added that governments should pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people as an overarching goal.

Measuring Tourism Success
Staying true to the “Beyond GDP” movement, there was an overwhelming consensus that measurements for tourism success should not be based on IVAs (international visitor arrivals) or tourism receipts. Measuring the happiness of host populations as well as guests is a good idea. If happy, hosts are more welcoming, willing to share their lives, and give excellent service. Happy guests are the best PR. As some of the speakers pointed out, the Happiness Policy Handbook should be on the desk of every local politician.

The Happiness Index survey, used by Planet Happiness (a tourism and big data project) is available on line in 25 languages and counting. An OECD-recognised best-practice measure of well-being, it suggests:

  • Spark conversations between families, friends, and work colleagues about the strengths and deficiencies of their scores;
  • Introduce survey-takers to a definition of well-being and how to measure it;
  • Provide traction for grass-roots understanding of, and engagement with, the tourism and destination well-being agenda.

You can read more about the Happiness Index and the Agenda in the blog by Dr. Paul Rogers, co-founder of Planet Happiness, a project of the Happiness Alliance.

Geoffrey Lipman of SUNx spoke on the need for climate-friendly travel, given that continued climate change will make for rather considerable unhappiness around the world.

From Sustainability to Regeneration
We should be moving beyond sustainable tourism (meant as minimising the negative and maximising the positive social, economic, and environmental impacts of tourism) and aiming for regenerative tourism to see how we can creatively improve the condition of a destination, through systems change. Regeneration is about creating the conditions for the destination to renew itself, to transcend into new forms, and to flourish, as mentioned by Elke Dens from Visit Flanders and by Anna Pollock, Conscious Travel.

The Flanders approach, for example, recognises flourishing destinations as ones where tourism nurtures the locale and sense of place, and where meaningful connections are made between visitor and host, thereby improving the quality of life for both. Tourism, therefore, should be about building local pride of place, facilitating intercultural peace and understanding, and promoting what is unique to a destination while enhancing residents’ wellbeing. If destinations can do this, they can thrive and flourish.

Going Forward -– Calls for Action
Participants called for systems change, for further research, and for more publications on the intersection of sustainability in tourism with destination competitiveness in terms of community quality of life. Larry Dwyer, Professor of Travel and Tourism Economics, University of New South Wales, said that “Tourism researchers need to address gaps in tourism literature as it pertains to happiness, wellbeing, and quality of life in order to make a genuine contribution to SDGs” – the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As iterated by Dr. Paul Rogers, measuring the happiness of host populations (as well as guests) will start a conversation amongst stakeholders on how they would like to see their own destination develop and flourish. For this change to happen, he said that we need a clear narrative to interest and encourage government decision makers to take up the Happiness/Well-being agenda. This will advance us beyond measuring destination success solely in terms of visitor arrivals and contribution to GDP.

Short video illustrating what Planet Happiness does
Take the Happiness Index Survey

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.

Springtime for Destination Stewardship in Japan

Sakura tree spring blossoms. Photo ©Emi Kaiwa

In 2018, a book left in an office rack snagged the attention of a young Japanese official. Beginning with that moment, Japan, a country of 126.17 million in 20191, finally began action toward sustainability in tourism. In 2020 the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) decided to adopt the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Destination Criteria as policy and create a national set of guidelines called the Japan Sustainable Tourism Standard for Destinations (JSTS-D)2.

Unwilling to be left behind, Japan is on the trail to becoming a sustainable country with a national program to support its hundreds of tourism destinations. In addition, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared that Japan will achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.

How Did This Come To Pass?
Over the past decade, JTA focused on marketing, seeking an ever-increasing number of international visitor arrivals (IVAs),3 while still aiming for a measure of sustainability. The target was for 20 million IVAs by 2020, which was quickly met, and then revised to a goal of 40 million. The Covid pandemic kept this goal from being acheived, but Japan decided to aim for a target of 60 million IVAs by 2030.

Fuji-san draws both domestic and international tourists. ©Emi Kaiwa

This increase might seem contradictory to meeting sustainability goals, but Japan is larger in size than Italy, which received 131 million visitors in 2019 (albeit with some dire overtourism situations). Arguably, Japan has room.For an entire country, economic goals are still as important as sustainability.

It was challenging to impart the importance of destination management to industry stakeholders whose priority used to be marketing. In order to do both, Japan had to find a way to sustainably manage destinations so that they can receive 60 million visitors. The solution came in the form of the GSTC framework, which promoted the idea of destination management [in its Destination Criterion A1] while still supporting economic goals.

The Book and the Man
In 2018, GSTC was not well known to Mr. Hajime Ono, the young Chief Official from Visitors Experience Improvement, JTA. One day, a book4 that “someone” left on the rack in his office caught his eye. It summarized in Japanese a 2017 forum on sustainable tourism. The contents of the book were all about GSTC, which aroused his intense curiosity to learn more.

Cars jam the same spot to see Mt. Fuji. “I saw one car hit another due to the limited parking space,” says the author.  ©Emi Kaiwa

Understanding the value of GSTC’s comprehensive global standard for managing destinations made him consider the connection between management and overtourism issues. He concluded that the GSTC-Destination criteria could be the broad management tool needed for dealing with overtourism, a critical problem for Japan before COVID-19 arrived. Even if this pandemic stays for a while, the tourism business will bounce back sooner or later.

Japan may in fact have sufficient capacity to receive its goal of 60 million IVAs by 2030. One way is through promoting rural areas as tourist destinations. So is development of transportation infrastructure – airport facilities and mixed-mode commuting to rural areas, accommodation facilities, and tourism resources – that will make it possible for tourists to spread out and visit different regions in Japan. By using information and communication technology, popular destinations can control tourists’ visiting times and mitigate the impact of seasonality.

A plan for comprehensive management of destinations was therefore deemed essential, and adopting the GSTC approach as a tourism policy was the solution. Mr. Ono became the lead in creating the JSTS-D guidelines to comply with GSTC-D criteria. The guidelines employed user-friendly wording, with references and examples, as a way to provide self-guided management at the destination level.

How To Make It Work?
Even though the JSTS-D was based on the global GSTC standard, nationwide penetration at the destination level was going to be quite challenging. How then could the local municipal and Destination Management Organization (DMO) officers be motivated to read the JSTS-D and implement it along with other tourism stakeholders? Fortunately, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acted as a catalyst. SDGs have been included in many municipal comprehensive strategy plans and have gained traction in almost all industries year by year. Corporations seem eager to find ways in which they can achieve the SDGs. One is by collaborating with destinations to support them in becoming more sustainable by using the GSTC Industry Criteria (GSTC-I) for tourism businesses.

That “someone” who left the book on sustainable tourism for Mr. Ono was actually one person representing many people who worked hard to get attention from the government for many years. Their earnest effort has borne fruit. Mr. Ono left the Visitors Experience Improvement department in March 2021 and moved to the Office of Director for Travel Promotion. Now, a newly formed organization called “Japan Tourism for SDGs”, which is not government mandate, will take over the initiative from the national government to continue Japan’s journey. This independent organization is led by Mr. Hidetoshi Kobayashi, who has declared that he will spend the rest of his life working for sustainable tourism.

JSTS-D is not perfect. There is room for improvement, and that is one of the important characteristics of sustainability. Obtaining a sustainability label does not mean everything is entirely sustainable. Other aspects of improvement will be found in the learning process of getting certified. For now, think what the best approach is to move toward sustainability for the destination. The answer will not be the same, single, perfect solution for every prefecture and municipality. Perfect sustainability cannot be achieved at once, but destinations should keep moving forward patiently, one step at a time.

As the proverb says, Rome was not built in a day, nor was it built by only one man. Accelerating the sustainability movement requires fostering talent, expanding partnerships, and creating a network of people with sustainability mindsets. It might take time and endurance, but it thrives unexpectedly once a destination is ready. Sustainability is a long journey, probably without end, and the government is not the only one to lead its path. Society also needs to keep catching up and adjusting to rapid changes in a globalizing world. On this Earth of limited resources, however, the pathway of sustainability is required to maintain all humankind.

[1]Statists Bureau of Japan. Statistical Handbook of Japan 2020. [Online]. Available from’s%20total%20population%20in%202019%20was%20126.17%20million[Accessed 23rd November 2020].

[2]Japan Tourism Agency. Japan Sustainable Tourism Standard for Designations (JSTS-D). [Online]. Available from [Accessed 10th January 2021]

[3]Japan Tourism Agency.観光立国推進閣僚会議 「観光ビジョン実現プログラム 2020 -世界が訪れたくなる日本を目指して-. [Online]. Available from [Accessed 10th January 2021]

[4] Japan Eco Tourism Center. 100年先を見すえた観光地域づくりのために 島原半島フォーラム. [Online]. Available from [Accessed 23rd November 2020] *This book was produced by Japan Eco Tourism Center’s grants projects to promote GSTC in Japan since 2015.

~  ~  ~

Thanks to Mr. Ono for his commitment to sustainable tourism initiatives as a government official and his assistance with this report.

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.

The Amazing Hawkers of Singapore

The Singapore Hawkers and their food stalls are a culinary society of their own making. A community that’s taken shape over decades, if not centuries. The Hawkers hold a sacred place in Singapore history and in the hearts of its people. Now they have gained UNESCO recognition, even as their contribution to the culture of Singapore is threatened.

Can the right kind of tourism help?

Those of us familiar with Singapore and the splendour of Hawker Culture will know and appreciate that it’s more than just somewhere to grab a quick bite to eat. For many it’s a way of life. A rich part of their living culture. A gift handed down from generations past. Put simply, it’s in their DNA.

On December 16th 2020, 24-member UNESCO’s Inter-Governmental Committee decided to recognise Singapore’s Hawker Stalls by adding them to the ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’  – a process that took two years to reach its successful conclusion. UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list comprises unique cultural practices and intangible elements that promote the diversity of a place’s cultural heritage. The idea being that it’s not just the bricks and mortar of our world history that’s worth preserving, but those elements of a community who make their place in that history significant and unique.

Singapore’s Lau Pa Sat market, converted to a Hawker Centre in 1972. Photo: Galen Crout

Culture Worth Sustaining
In my opinion the Hawker Centres and their array of food stalls are Singapore’s equivalent of the great British Pub. A place to meet family and friends. To gather and chat or gossip about your day. Tell stories. Reminisce. It’s not about being one of the crowd. It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself.

Even for someone like me who only gets to inhale the magical smells and taste the skills of the Hawker’s art every once and a while, I know it goes deeper than that. It’s like a belief system. A place that offers sanctuary though food and good cheer. Somewhere you know you’ll be welcome and leave more content than when you arrived.

The Hawkers trade – providing quality nutritious food at affordable prices – is a resource traditionally viewed as a critically important, necessary part of Singaporean life. So the hawkers have as much right to be placed on the UNESCO list as any stone monument or indigenous people.

The Threat
Hidden in the shadows is a downside to this story. Whereas once Hawker vending was viewed as a respected profession or lineage for families to inherit and continue, the attraction of this worthy craft is wilting. If things don’t change, and change quickly, there’s a very real threat the Singapore Hawkers could soon become a thing of the past.

Today the increasing cost of fresh ingredients presents a challenge. So too does age. It appears that younger generations are foregoing the opportunity to follow in their ancestors’ footsteps, unwilling to accept the long hours needed to become a profitable Hawker vendor. With an average vendor age of 59, a tally that continues to grow in the wrong direction, we may very well be witnessing the last hurrah of the Hawkers skills.

Family dining at a Hawkers Centre. Photo: Galen Crout.

The Opportunity
So, now the question is whether this prestigious recognition bestowed by UNESCO could offer a new and very timely lifeline for the Hawkers. Or maybe the impetus needed to explore new ways of protecting, preserving, and re-shaping this culinary art form in ways the traditional practitioners could never have imagined. The simple answer is, yes!

As a first step the Singapore Government celebrated the UNESCO inscription with an 18 Day festival in celebration of the Hawkers’ art and position in local community. Billed as the SG HawkerFest and launched on 26 December 2020, the concept behind the festival was for Singaporeans to thank and show appreciation to all hawkers for their nearly century-long service to the community. A key element of the celebrations was the Hawkers Succession Scheme, a project for facilitating continuation of the Singapore Hawker trade. It featured official invitations to retired and veteran hawkers to pass down their stalls, recipes, culinary skills and practices to aspiring successors.

The only question I have regarding the SG HawkerFest is why this has been planned and executed as a one-off event? Why not expand this idea to become an annual festival to drive both local residents and visiting tourists to Hawker Centres all over Singapore, where they can watch, learn and participate in the culinary experience that is the essence of living, breathing culture?

Other destinations around the world, seeing declines in appreciation for their cultural heritage, are launching pro-active incentives to reignite interest in local history and traditions. In the Philippines, for instance, the government has given local residents of Manila free entry to all museums, art galleries, cultural centres, events, and festivals. In Egypt, a ‘Memory of the City’ initiative is designed to preserve the urban and social history of local neighbourhoods. Seen as a new vision for cultural heritage tourism, guided tours are conducted through the streets of these historic areas to give a deeper, richer appreciation of the significance these communities have played in the past. What’s more, the project drives revenues and income for residents.

By securing its rightful place on the UNESCO World Heritage stage, Singapore now has an opportunity to attract a new generation of visitors who seek more immersive, authentic and culturally rich experiences. People who are willing to pay a higher, more equitable price for these experiences. Who have a genuine desire to give back to local communities, recognising the true value they play in protecting and preserving local treasures. People who want to be travellers, not just tourists.

With celebrations of UNESCO recognition fading into the distance, it’s time for the real work to begin. It’s not good to sit back and hope that visitors will seek and out these extraordinary culinary pleasures for themselves. Or that these temples of Singaporean street food will continue to exist just because, well, they always have.

At times like this, opportunity and potential need a little push.

The UNESCO recognition is a conversation starter. Now is the time for planning, preparation, policy and people. A time to engage fully with the Hawker communities. To listen, learn and appreciate where they are, where they came from and where they can and should be in the future. It’s a time to hear their story. And to act on it.

At the World Tourism Association For Culture & Heritage, we recommend strategies lofted on evidence-based research. Trying to counter threats to cultural heritage without fully understanding the complexities would be premature. There’s no quick fix. Destinations need development based on research, advice, funding, and support.

With the world having been in lockdown due to the pandemic, there is a window for Singapore to take positive steps to re-grow the Hawker experience in new and exciting ways. To give back its dignity and rightful place in Singaporean hearts by offering it to a new and eager audience of travellers. With people keen to share their experience with other likeminded souls around the world, the delightful art of the Singapore Hawkers will flourish for generations to come.

And by doing so, visitors like me will still get to pass through once in a while to inhale the past, whilst celebrating its future.

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

~  ~  ~

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.

The Maya Riviera’s Queen of Green

Mexican activist Beatriz Barreal has worked for years to steer the booming Riviera Maya toward sustainability. Purdue’s Dr. Jonathon Day recently interviewed this local one-woman force for improving stewardship to find out what lessons she has learned in the process.

All photos courtesy of Beatriz Barreal Danel.

Meet Beatriz Barreal

For more than a decade, Beatriz Barreal Danel has worked to make sure that the Riviera Maya, the Caribbean coastal region of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, embraces sustainable tourism practices as it continues to grow. Destination sustainability is a long-term commitment, and Beatriz and her collaborators have had to overcome many challenges.

The Riviera Maya is one of Mexico’s most popular and fastest growing destinations, with numerous all-inclusive resorts and luxury hotels. It stretches along 120 km of coastline on the Caribbean Sea south of Cancun and includes the towns of Tulum, Solidaridad, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and Puerto Aventuras. As the destination continues to grow, Beatriz has been a vocal advocate for sustainable tourism and good destination stewardship.

Beatriz is the Founder and CEO of Sustainable Riviera Maya, an NGO. She is currently serving her third term on the board of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Since 2009 Beatriz has dedicated her time to making sustainable tourism the primary driver for development in Mexico, at both national and regional levels. An early adopter of the GSTC destination criteria, Sustainable Riviera Maya is now working toward certifying the municipality of Playa del Carmen as a sustainable destination through GSTC-accredited certification bodies.

Through the years, Beatriz has gained valuable insights into effective ways to implement sustainable tourism. She recently shared these three key lessons from her sustainability journey with the Destination Stewardship Report.

1. Measuring the right things.
Focusing on sustainability indicators that are meaningful for the local community has been an important step in implementing sustainable tourism in the destination.

Beatriz works on a family needs assessment in a village near Tulum.

While the team at Playa del Carmen recognized that sustainable tourism certification requires measuring a wide range of indicators, the importance of giving particular attention to their specific circumstances became an important lesson. Beatriz says, “In our community, focusing on healthy water management, waste management, bio-conservation, and the quality of life of the residents are the key indicators of success for our sustainability programs.” Those four priorities gave rise to the second lesson:

2. Getting the right people to the table.
Early in the process of adopting sustainable tourism in the Riviera Maya, Beatriz gathered a group of interested tourism industry partners, including hoteliers and tour attraction managers. Over time it became clear that, while these people were important stakeholders, destination sustainability also requires input from people beyond tourism.

Working carefully through those four priority criteria and identifying partners that can give meaningful information on indicators for them has been a gamechanger for the destination. Today, in addition to hospitality partners, Sustainable Riviera Maya works with a range of specialists from outside the tourism industry. To ensure effective water management, for example, the local government water department and the water management company, Aguacan, are both at the table and contributing to the plan. Perhaps more important, a benefit of working closely with these new partners is that they have greater understanding of the nuances of how to measure those key indicators.

3. Engaging the Community.
Perhaps the greatest insight from Playa Del Carmen is the importance of engaging the community, of including other organizations with shared values in the sustainability process. A new website, originally designed to provide information to stakeholders, has now taken on the important role of engaging partners in sustainability projects. It’s currently in beta testing with organizations in the destination. By creating a platform where projects can be shared with the community, new partners have aligned their activities with the sustainable destination goals.

Helping  with a tree planting project in the Maya village of Muyil, supported by the Banyan Tree Mayakoba hotel.

In one example, the Mexican Association of Aboriculture, committed to planting trees in the city and creating a living museum. In another project, a caving group, Circulo Espeleologico del Mayab has joined with local authorities to preserve cenotes, the region’s signature limestone pools. The project helps create unique experiences for visitors and improve water quality for the community. In yet another project, an NGO called Guardians of the Caribbean, have committed to an education and awareness campaign highlighting ways to protect water resources for the people of the region.

Sustainability is a team effort requiring many stakeholders who are involved and engaged, including the local people. Beatriz describes the team “like a diamond and its facets, that will only be completed when all the facets come together and shine at the same time.” Beyond just engagement, Sustainable Riviera Maya is committed to ensuring that the benefits of tourism are broadly distributed across the community. Their tagline sums it up: “Paradise is forever, only if it is for everyone.”

Committed to the long term
Sustainability is an ongoing process and there is always something more to be done. Beatriz is committed to “kaizen”, the Japanese term for “continuous improvement.” That allegiance to long-term performance management is central to the story of sustainability in the region. While there is still much to be done, there is now a team in the Riviera Maya committed to ensuring that the growth of tourism places like Playa del Carmen will be built on principles of sustainable tourism.

Website:  Follow Riviera Maya Sostenible on Facebook

Author: Dr Jonathon Day leads the Sustainable Tourism and Responsible Travel Lab at Purdue University: