The rising tide raises all boats – how can we all be better destination stewards?

Tourism is roaring back as pandemic-era restrictions fade away and destinations welcome visitors again. But how can destinations and businesses promote help create more responsible stewards? Dr. Rachel Dodds, Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, shares a few practical steps.

Travel is different now

When I took my daughter to Disneyland last past spring, I noticed two things: how many people there were and how much garbage was being produced with single-use everything. My daughter, however, noticed how many cool rides there were and how hard it was for me to find vegetables on menus.

As we travel, or host travelers, we all experience something different. Travel is different post-pandemic and some of us are more aware than ever about the issues that affect our planet.

Tourism impacts

With tourism numbers almost reaching pre-pandemic 2019 levels in some destinations, other destinations are experiencing too many tourists. Others, meanwhile, are still struggling to attract them. Tourism can be a force for good as it can raise awareness of other cultures and environments and bring needed dollars into many economies. Tourism can also, however, create many negative impacts in destinations.

One impact is increased carbon into the atmosphere. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, tourism is responsible for approximately 5% of global emissions and approximately 22% of all transport emissions. One long-haul flight is about equivalent to driving a car for a year. Another key impact for destinations is the strain on communities and resident quality of life. When too many people visit a place at the same time, this can result in overtourism. This phenomenon has been defined as “the acceleration and growth of tourism supply and demand, the use of tourism destinations’ natural ecological goods, the destruction of their cultural attractions and negative impacts on their social and economic environments.”

The need for destination stewardship and more responsible travel is clear:

  • There are more people: From 1950 to 2022 the world population increased from 2.5 billion people to over 8 billion in 2022.
  • There are more people travelling: Pre-pandemic tourism numbers increased 56-fold from 25 million in the 1950’s to over 1.4 billion in 2019.
  • Travel is resource consumptive in terms of carbon, energy, waste and water. For example, it is estimated that cruise passengers can generate as much as 1 kg of waste per person per day.
  • Many tourism workers are low paid with few breaks and uncertain schedules. Many hotel workers in all-inclusive resorts make less than $1 per day and often work seven days a week. Some cruise workers make no salary at all. This is not responsible tourism.
  • Many places are suffering from overtourism – more visitors than a place can handle.

[Managing large crowds of visitors continues to be a challenge for many destinations] [Photo courtesy of Shlomo Shalev]

What does this mean in terms of destination stewardship?

Destination stewardship means all stakeholders creating a shared future that is collaborative and mutually beneficial. In other words, it is about examining who benefits and at what cost.

All stakeholders (government, visitors, businesses, Destination Marketing Organizations and non-profit groups, and residents) have a role to play but let’s focus on how destinations and businesses can engage tourists in their destination stewardship goals.

A few practical steps include:

  • Show your visitors what’s really happening in your destination. Be honest and share your challenges about conservation and/or inclusion and ask for their help.
  • Always show value. Asking someone to turn off their lights is often seen a corporate money saving technique. Suggesting to visitors where they can see the stars better when they turn off the lights is a value add.
  • Invite critiques from the visitor’s point of view. As Albert Salman, CEO of Green Destinations once suggested ‘ask visitors what would they tell the Mayor.’
  • Ask visitors to behave more responsibly and put in place guidelines to ensure they do so. Campaigns like Amsterdam’s Enjoy Respect Campaign was very successful in sharing with visitors what was acceptable behaviour.

According to a recently released book: Are We There Yet? Travelling more responsibly with your children, it is about providing solutions rather than focusing on the problem. Travel can be a force for good and so we need to remember the positives such as understanding other people and cultures, spending money in the local economy and protecting and conserving the places we love.

[Supporting local merchants is one key step that visitors can take to practice responsible tourism] [Photo courtesy of Norbert Braun]

Destinations can encourage visitors to undertake a few practical steps to make travel more responsible:

  • Travelling in offseason or to places less loved to avoid overtourism
  • Taking the least carbon intensive route – even Google will now calculate your transport footprint
  • Booking on sites that benefit the local community including: Fairbnb, Ecobnb, Book Different, Sabbatical Homes, etc.
  • Support local. There are many local tour operators, restaurants and experiences where the money goes straight into the local economy rather than ‘leaking’ out to foreign owned business. Check out Lokafy, Travel like a Local, and more
  • Do your research and ask questions. What is the responsible tourism policy of the accommodation you are staying in? the tour operator you are booking with?

If all stakeholders take responsibility for their actions and become destination stewards everyone gains from it.

For more information, check out or find out more about how to be a better individual destination steward in terms of planning, packing and traveling in Are We There Yet? Traveling more responsibly with your children, available on

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.

Once Overrun, Dubrovnik Plans for Sustainability

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

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

[All photos courtesy of the City of Dubrovnik]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . and flowing freely in summer 2019.

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

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

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

Evening in Dubrovnik, after many cruise passengers have left.

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

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

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:

How Data Science Can Help Destinations

Destination Stewardship Report – Autumn 2020 

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

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

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

By Irene Lane

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

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

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

Development of ROI Financial Model for Sustainable Destinations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROI Modeling in Action

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

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

Importance of ROI Data Analysis Post COVID

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

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

Mallorca Tries to Tame Tourism

? Destination Stewardship Report – Autumn 2020 ?

Among notoriously overtouristed destinations, Spain’s island of Mallorca is striving, if half-heartedly, for a sustainable-tourism reset once the pandemic recedes. Daza Garcia reports that right now, their chances of avoiding errors of the past are encouraging but far from certain.

Capdepera lighthouse, Mallorca. Photo: MarciMarc

Can Mallorca Again Be “the Island of Calm,” Even After Tourists Return?

By Daza Garcia

“If you are stunned by the noises that civility entails, …  follow me to an island that I will tell you, to an island where there is always calm, where men are never in a hurry, where women never get old, where they don’t waste themselves not even words, where the sun stays longer and Mrs. Moon walks more slowly, infected by laziness.”
—Santiago Rusiñol, Spanish painter and writer (1922).

That was Mallorca in 1922. Largest of the Balearic Islands, which lie in the eastern part of the Spanish Mediterranean, Mallorca has become the preferred summer destination for so large a number of European tourists that it has turned into an example of uncontrolled and unsustainable development. During the summer months pre-pandemic, it was common to find the Son Sant Joan Airport flooded with new tourists, hotels and resorts at almost 100% of capacity, and the beaches and coves crowded with visitors wanting to enjoy its photogenic crystalline waters. In 2017 the Economy Circle of Mallorca – a private institution that conducts debates and studies on economy and society – stated that “There are objective reasons to think that Mallorca is on the way to dying of success due to the massive influx of visitors caused by its unsustainable growth . . . leading to its advanced socioeconomic decline with low-skilled occupations and low wages.” [1]

Now, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the island has begun to respond, at least partially, to revising some 60 years of tourism practice.

Initially, Mallorca was an island dedicated to agriculture, but in the 60s the tourist boom began, taking advantage of greater international openness in the Franco dictatorship. It was then that the island began to gain relevance at European level. Aside from the pandemic, Mallorca has become one of the most important destinations in Spain. It receives around 12 million tourists annually – for a population of 896,000 inhabitants – and tourism activity generates at least 30% of formal and direct employment in summer months, not including informal or indirect jobs.[2]

Image from EXCELTUR, based on reports from the different regions of Spain in a period that ranges from 2007 to 2018 (Empleo=employment; PIB=GDP).

It is difficult to provide references to support this kind of information. This figure is provided by the official statistics institution of the Balearic Islands CAIB. Unfortunately, there is no GDP report of the tourism activity after 2014 (and in that year tourism represented 44.8% of the Balearic GDP). Statistics are mainly focused on the Balearic Islands in general and don’t break down percentages for each island. This 30% represents the employees that have a formal contract, pay taxes and are directly related to tourism (such as accommodation, food and beverage, and transport). It does not include informal jobs, which can be hard to track, and other indirect jobs (shops, agriculture, etc.).

Traditionally, Mallorca has been a destination focused on “sun and beach” and later – since the 1980s and reinforced in the early 2000s – on “party and drink.” Both occur in the summer months at saturation levels, causing congestion on highways, rising rental prices and housing costs, gentrification, and problems in waste management.

All this has generated some discontent among Mallorcans. According to a report made by Fundación Gadeso, “82% consider that the island suffers saturation, and 74% affirm that as a consequence there is an abusive consumption of resources: water, energy and garbage collection.”[3] Residents complain of the aforementioned issues and include the increase of precarious and temporary jobs, inability to buy a home, and uncontrolled environmental wear. Moreover, overtourism due to massive numbers of cruise passengers reached the point where, in July 2019, 11,000 signatures were collected from residents who demanded that cruise arrivals should be limited to one per day.

Until now some of the broad measures that had been taken to combat saturation include application of a “sustainable tourism tax” (since 2016 dedicated to environmental issues and tourism projects), greater control of licenses for vacation rentals such as by Airbnb, limitations on the use of alcohol in party areas, and stricter sanctions for those who do not comply.

By contrast, the pandemic summer atmosphere of 2020 made an impression on both national tourists and residents: half-capacity hotels, clear beaches, fewer traffic jams, less crowded party areas, and even shopping streets as popular as “la Calle del Dolar” (Dollar Street) in Alcudia with a large number of businesses closed in early July.

Beachgoers enjoy Cala del Moro (Moro’s Cove), Mallorca. Photo: 4634656 Pixabay

Mallorca’s New Strategic Tourism Plans

The arrival of the coronavirus together with the expiration of the old Strategic Tourism Plan of Mallorca 2017-2020 motivated the island’s government to consider new concerns when designing the new destination strategy. Thus, in June of this year the Council of Mallorca approved the Strategic Tourism Plan for Mallorca 2020-2023, which had been in development since 2019, together with a Postcovid Tourism Reactivation Plan that prioritizes some actions from the Strategic Plan to help the sector recover. The Reactivation Plan simply adapts the Strategic Plan to this crisis, and its only purpose is to improve the perception of destination safety to attract tourists and recover tourism activity in upcoming months. It does not address overtourism.

Both plans have been developed by the Fundació Mallorca Turisme, which is a 100% public entity supported by an Advisory Council that includes agents from the private sector, such as the Mallorca Hotel Federation and the Chamber of Commerce. The new Strategic Plan arose from collaboration between public and private sectors, including 17 sessions held to analyze Mallorca’s current situation and determine what strategic lines to develop. City councils from different municipalities on the island participated, along with chambers of commerce, representatives of business associations (hotels, travel agencies), and panels of experts. Notably, no citizen participation nor public consultation was carried out during these consultations.

The Strategic Plan is based on four fundamental pillars:

  • the strengthening of the image of the destination,
  • innovation,
  • sustainability,
  • transformation toward a “smart destination.”

Of these pillars, strengthening and sustainability strategies tackle in a general way the issue of overtourism. The first objective of strengthening the destination image is to boost the Mallorca brand and unlink it from a reputation for low-cost mass tourism products such as beach-and-beer holidays. Proposed actions would support mechanisms that regulate and control tourist accommodation, carry out an audit of the image of Mallorca’s tourist brand, and develop a repositioning campaign to emphasize other tourist products such as culture, sports, ecotourism, MICE, or film tourism.

As for sustainability, the plan would introduce measures aimed at protecting the destination, its resources, and the territory as a whole from mass tourism and its effects. Some of the proposals to achieve this goal include:

  • Reducing the promotion of “sun and beach” without neglecting it,
  • Creating new sustainable tourist routes – ecotourism, agrotourism, gastronomic tourism – to extend the season,
  • Developing promotional actions to decongest the areas with the highest tourist influx,
  • Creating an app that will inform of the places free of saturation and that comply with the necessary sanitary security measures,
  • Implementing the UNWTO.QUEST quality certificate for the first time in a European destination,
  • Creating an ethnographic atlas of Mallorca and updating its map of handicrafts, and
  • Improving management of water and plastics in the hotel sector.

Despite all these measures, the Strategic Plan doesn’t address or provide solutions to the constant complaints from the local population regarding cruise ships and the number of passengers who disembark each day. However, in July 2019, a representative of the government of Palma met with the president of the Port Authority of the Balearic Islands to request their collaboration in jointly limiting the arrival of cruise ships. Currently, the government of the Balearic Islands is working on a new regulation to control the number of berths in high season in the ports of the islands, including the port of Palma. Likewise, the Port Authority is currently finishing up its own Strategic Plan, expected to include Balearic government guidelines in cruise management. At the moment, berthing reservations for 2021 are maintained and those that apply for 2022 will not be approved automatically. Instead, they will be registered and await the regulation prepared by the government to limit the number of stopovers and passengers.

A Complementary Plan to Combat Saturation

Apart from this Strategic Plan to be implemented in the coming months, in July of this year a new plan called PIAT (Intervention Plan in Tourist Areas of Mallorca) was approved. Started in 2018, it was promoted by the Council of Mallorca to regulate the territorial, environmental, and landscape dimensions of tourism planning in the island. The PIAT in effect establishes a system of tourist zones based on resource carrying capacity and tourist saturation and maturity levels. The plan develops different measures, improvements, and accommodation limits according to the needs of each type of zone – tourist areas, residential areas, or rustic land.

Through the PIAT, the local government made a pioneering decision in Spain to reduce the number of accommodation units on the island.

Through the PIAT, the local government made a pioneering decision in Spain to reduce the number of accommodation units on the island from 550,000 to 430,000 to combat saturation – 315,000 for hotel accommodations and 115,000 for tourist rentals. The 120,000-unit difference will be eliminated by attrition as their licenses expire. Also, any offers of new short-term rentals are prohibited in tourist-saturated areas of the island such as S’Arenal, Magaluf, Palmanova, or S’illot, and any existing vacation rental will be allowed to offer its services only 60 days per year, of which only 30 can be in a summer month. An area is considered saturated if it either exceeds the maximum tourist offer limit established by the PIAT or has environmental problems caused by high demand.

On the plus side, both the Strategic Plan and the PIAT propose to enhance the island’s local culture, gastronomy, and agricultural traditions. In Mallorca, agriculture has been losing weight since the tourist boom to the point that today, “between 70% and 80% of the agri-food products consumed in the Balearic Islands come from outside,” according to the geographer Iván Murray for Diario de Mallorca (2020). The size of the island makes it unfeasible to supply the entire resident population plus more than 10 million tourists a year. In order to preserve agricultural traditions, the PIAT establishes a series of conditions to regulate agritourism and rural hotels – controlling the granting of new permits as long as certain parameters are met such as use of space, age of the main building, limit of places, among others. The PIAT also supports creation of a network of interpretation centers to allow a better understanding of the island’s relation to agriculture. Similarly, the Strategic Plan foresees the creation of ecotourism, gastronomic and agritourism routes, and participation in the product club “Taste Spain” to reinforce local cultural identity linked to agriculture.

Almonds, olives, and olive oil number among Mallorca’s food products. Photo: Inproperstyle.

My Take

In conclusion, the challenge now is to verify to what extent these new measures will be applied on an island whose economy is highly dependent on tourism. Low visitor levels this past summer leave many businesses desperate to return to “normal” and get the tourism industry back on track.

I think both plans show certain limitations. On one hand, the PIAT proposes some first steps towards controlling overtourism, since it finally defines which areas of the island are tourist-saturated and establishes limitations on expanding tourist accommodation. However, several actors have criticized this plan, such as political parties, the Balearic Islands Tourist Rental (HABTUR) and the ecologist groups GOB and Terraferida. Among their complaints: The accommodation limit is higher than the previous one, the plan commodifies the island resources, and the PIAT favors hotels over vacation rentals, thereby preventing real distribution of wealth among Mallorcans unable to rent their homes for tourist use.

As for the Strategic Plan, it gives in my opinion great importance to promotion and commercialization of new tourist products intended to reduce saturation by broadening seasonal demand, but it lacks more forceful actions when it comes to avoiding overtourism. In this sense, both plans represent an important initiative in the quest to reduce overtourism but they don’t seem to fully complement each other as a whole tourism strategy. Perhaps it will become necessary to combine these stricter regulations with less commercialization of the product. As things stand, the government of Mallorca’s Strategic Tourism Plan 2020-2023 seems to want more to boost tourist numbers out of season than to redistribute the usual overload in season. Tackling Mallorca’s saturation issues requires actually reducing the number of tourists concentrated in summer.

[1] Hosteltur, 2017
[2], 2019
[3] Diario de Mallorca, 2017

Doing It Better: Columbia Gorge

As if symbolizing the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance, a rainbow bridges the states of Washington and Oregon on each side of the Columbia River.

The Search for Holistic Destination Management In our last DSR issue, we discussed the importance of GSTC Destination Criterion A1, which reads in part: “The destination has an effective organization, department, group, or committee responsible for a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, . . . for the management of environmental, economic, social, and cultural issues.” The requirement seems obvious, yet surprisingly few places around the world come even remotely close to meeting it. Below is Jacqueline Harper’s profile of one that does, fourth in a series of such profiles being assembled by the Destination Stewardship Center.

Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance, Oregon and Washington States, USA

The mission of the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance (CGTA) commits to “developing the region as a world-class sustainable tourism economy”. This non-profit organization works both to protect and enhance the scenic, natural, cultural, and recreational resources of the Columbia River Gorge and to highlight lesser-known local communities.

The Columbia River Gorge became a National Scenic Area when President Ronald Reagan signed an Act on November 17, 1986. The Columbia River Gorge Visitors Association (CRVGA) was founded in 1990 as a bi-state initiative to promote the gorge to the tourism industry. Thanks to the Gorge Tourism Studio conducted in 2016, over 250 stakeholders – ranging from public agencies to private enterprise and community leaders to youth – came together to discuss ways the local communities could be economically stimulated through sustainable tourism while at the same time protecting the local environment. Thus, the CRVGA grew into the CGTA.

The Gorge Tourism Studio is a program developed by Travel Oregon that addresses and collaboratively solves critical issues in the region such as balancing economic benefits of tourism with preserving quality of life, natural resources, and cultural resources.

Bridge of The Gods at Cascade Locks, Columbia Gorge. Photo: Richard Hallman

Geographic description

The CGTA is exemplary as it brings together a bi-state area, representing both Oregon and Washington. The Columbia River, the basis for the Scenic Area, forms a natural state border between Oregon and Washington State. The CGTA includes the National Scenic Area (see map below), reaching from the Sandy River to the Deschutes River (both on the South side of the river) and from Mt. Adams (WA) to Mt. Hood (OR). It is the largest National Scenic Area in the United States. Not only does it cover two states, but it also brings together six counties, and 15 towns, encompassing over 292,500 acres. The Gorge canyon at its core consists of both rain forest and desert. The canyon is 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep. Many visitors travel here for a world-class adventure experience as this region has many scenic trails, rivers, cascades, and mountains. This destination is sought after by windsurfers, kiteboarders, and sailors for the “nuclear winds” created as the rainforest transitions into the desert, according to the CGTA.

Credit: Travel Oregon, Columbia River Gorge Tourism Studio Program Summary (August 2017)


To the CGTA, sustainability is about optimizing positive impacts of the visitor economy while protecting the land. “Tourism is a sustainable economic driver to protect these [natural] areas and respect them,” says Emily Reed, Network Director of the CGTA.

The Gorge Tourism Studio had another legacy; the event brought stakeholders together where they created a vision to shape the region over 15 years. By 2031, as a part of the 15-Year Vision for Sustainable Tourism, the CGTA wants to achieve objectives in the following areas: transportation, culinary/agriculture, culture, seasonality/congestion, and balance. For transportation, the region would like to be connected by a transportation system that allows visitors to come travel and explore the region without needing a car. In terms of agriculture, they want visitors and locals to eat what is grown and produced in the area in addition to alleviating hunger in the region. The CGTA wants to spread the knowledge of the local culture, so tour guides teach about it and food trails of national significance are marked. Another key factor is to make tourist hot-spots less congested and spread the benefits to less popular areas of the region and times of year. Finally, the CTGA wants to create a visitor experience that balances protecting the local communities, culture, and natural environment.

Under the CGTA’s Statement of Intent, their strategies for being a sustainable world-class destination are to:

  • Spread the seasonality of visitation
  • Reduce congestion during peak seasons and in high-use areas
  • Spread the benefit and increase the economic impact of tourism throughout the entire gorge
  • Respectfully and authentically integrate cultural heritage into the visitor experience
  • Connect resources to optimize destination marketing
  • Capitalize upon the visionary projects underway in the Gorge to ensure this place remains a world-class destination

While the 15-Year Vision does not specifically mention enhancing the environment, Emily Reed, explains that the National Scenic Area defines everything the CGTA does. Tourism protects the natural area as it generates an economic benefit, showing that if tourism is managed correctly, it is a sustainable economic driver.

Organizational Structure and Governance

The CGTA is a network of diverse businesses and organizations. It consists of a Board and a Core Team (see the network diagram below). The Board typically has nine voting members and four non-voting advisors. The Core Team is chosen by the Board and is made up of three to five people, representing both Oregon and Washington, and has decision making power. At the center of everything is the Network Director. The Network Director convenes the network and supports the Action Teams under Board oversight.

Courtesy, the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance

The six different Action Teams have self-appointed leadership. To become a part of this project or get involved, network participants self-select themselves, based on expertise, interest, and capacity. The Marketing and Communication Action Team communicates about projects aimed at achieving the purpose of the network. The Car-Free Visitor Transportation Action Team is working on visitors traveling in the region without the need for a car. The Culture Action Team is focused on highlighting the history and unique stories of the Gorge and surrounding region. The other three Action Teams are culinary and agritourism, outdoor recreation, and workforce.

There are over 80 active and/or engaged participants. Active Partners collaborate and carry out the purpose of the network. Active Partners meet quarterly with the network to focus on tourism on both sides of the river. You can become a partner/renew your partnership by filling in a form and investing financial resources into the CGTA. Most Active Partners are also involved in Action Teams. Engaged Participants (businesses and individuals) take part in larger events and help with projects. A newsletter and social media keep the public up to date on projects.

Due to the geographical reach of the CGTA, coordination with the local and regional Destination Marketing Organizations is critical, and they are participants and partners in the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance.


Network participants have direct responsibility for protecting and sustaining the character of the Columbia River Gorge. The collaborative work aims to share the cultural and natural history of the Gorge with visitors and cultivate a sense of stewardship over time. Some of the projects the tourism alliance is working on include We Speak the Gorge, Hear in the Gorge, Ready Set Gorge, East Gorge Food Trail, and Columbia Gorge Car-Free.

We Speak the Gorge is a front-line training program so that workers can increase the awareness of visitor service and resources throughout the Gorge. This program was initiated by the Marketing and Communication Action Team. The goal is to have all front-line staff communicating a consistent message as well as highlighting top spots in each community to visitors. The idea is to serve the customers while growing the sense of community and strengthen bonds with neighbors.

A podcast series, called Hear in the Gorge, was developed by their Cultural Heritage Action Team. It communicates the cultural and natural history of the area while encouraging visitors to encounter the place and its people more thoughtfully, and with greater care. The podcast episodes dig into the stories of a place, listening to the people who know it best. You never quite know what to expect.

Sustainability and Stewardship Programs

The CGTA supports Ready, Set, GOrge, which is an educational initiative that develops messaging and visitor maps to guide sustainable and thoughtful visitation. The website promotes travelers to support the local communities by offering advice on planning your trip, preparing for your trip, and connecting with the community when on your trip. It also promotes tips for traveling with care in nature, such as how to prevent invasive species and leaving no trace.

Another program working to educate hikers is Trail Ambassadors, which places volunteers at popular trailheads in the Gorge. Volunteers engage with visitors around safety, ethical use of public lands, and Leave No Trace practices. They are also trained to help visitors engage with the local community. This program helps keep ecologically sensitive areas from being permanently damaged by tourism pressures.

The East Gorge Food Trail brings local organizations together to enhance and connect culinary and agricultural businesses to showcase the Gorge food system. Developed by the Culinary and Agritourism Action Team, the Food Trail links family-owned farms, farm-to-table experiences, crafted cider, wine, and beer, and everything in between. The trail is open throughout the year and can be toured car-free. The website provides examples of itineraries and outlines the best time of the year to travel for specific produce.

Credit: the East Gorge Food Trail Brochure

Managing Tourism Volume

Although the CGTA is not actively discouraging visitors to overcrowded places, they are promoting visits to lesser-known sites and businesses and making travel accessible by car-free transportation. The organization encourages visitors to well-trafficked areas to come during shoulder season or mid-week. Additionally, the CGTA promotes less frequented businesses and outdoor recreational activities that have capacity available, working alongside tour operators to guide visitors to less congested and lesser know locations and businesses.

To do that, the CGTA works with transit and public agencies to develop transit connectivity and develop car-free transportation options to trailheads and communities within the gorge. The CTGA’s Car-Free Visitor Transportation Action Team manages the Columbia Gorge Car-Free project, comprising a team of transportation professionals from private and public transportation providers, nonprofits, government agencies, and small businesses that offer the best options for exploring the Gorge car-free, whether by bus, foot, or bike. From the Columbia Gorge Express Performance Report Card, the Columbia Gorge Express was able to divert an estimated 20,700 vehicle trips from Multnomah Falls between 2016 to 2019. Columbia Gorge Car-Free also publishes example itineraries for car-free experiences, such as the Tasting Bike Rides of the Eastern Gorge.

Community Engagement

The CGTA works extensively with many different organizations in the area. The network includes, but is not limited to: the US Forest Service; Oregon and Washington Departments of Transportation; Oregon and Washington State Parks; planning departments; Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; and cities and counties in this region. The network receives feedback from a diverse range of stakeholders. The Action Groups are designed to respond to this feedback and adapt it into their projects.

Sasquatch attends a CGTA meeting. Photo: Emily Reed, Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance

Tourism is an important economic factor in the region as it has created some 5,000 tourism jobs for the locals. Businesses play an important role in the tourism community. If a small business, nonprofit, agency, residents, or community group from the six involved counties is interested in stewarding sustainable tourism, they are welcome to attend bi-monthly meetings of the network’s active participants. They can also receive CGTA e-newsletters or participate in project teams. The CGTA is beginning to actively engage stakeholders that are not currently involved in the network – emergency services, elected officials, and residents. The tourism alliance deems it is important to engage  perspectives, criticisms, and ideas from these stakeholders to ensure local quality of life is upheld. For stakeholder feedback, the CGTA has quarterly network meetings, where stakeholders attend and ask questions and participate in polls and break-out groups. Surveys are also used to touch base with stakeholders.

The CGTA hosts the Gorge Tourism Summit every two years, which brings together agency staff, small business owners and managers, and nonprofit leaders from across the Gorge to discuss trends, best practices, and network with like-minded businesses and people. The event is geared toward new and current network participants, residents, and industry partners. Along with the Gorge Tourism Summit, the CGTA also promotes events organized and hosted by their network Participants, such as guided hikes, planting native plants, and trivia nights. The CGTA network is keen to expand on organizing events as a way to partner with local and regional associations, organizations, businesses, and agencies.


The CGTA works with a small budget that is acquired from partner contributions, the annual Gorge Tourism Summit, and grant funding. Partnership investments are made by small businesses, nonprofit and destination marketing organization participants, and from cities and counties within the network’s jurisdiction. Typically, funding and resources are more available on the Oregon side of the border, where the Alliance has more community partnerships. Although the budget is small, it has been stable. High priority projects receive funding first. Other projects are allocated funds depending on what remains.

There are three partnership options and the cost of becoming a partner depends on business type, size, and revenue. The Full Partner option has three sub-levels: Private, Non-Profit, and Public Agency. Private Companies have a minimum investment of $250; Non-Profits have a minimum investment of $150, and Public Agencies have dues that range between $500 to $2,000 depending on the number of employees. The Sustaining Partner option requires an investment of $3,000, with the partner eligible to be featured in special promotions. Finally, Contributing Partners invest less than the Full Partner level but are expected to provide additional support for the CGTA. In return, the GCTA connects their partners with resources, helps partners find funding for their projects, and promotes their efforts and projects.

Funding has been impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, but the CGTA is still operating and hosting virtual events and stakeholder meetings during the pandemic.

Measures of success

One important measure to get a full picture of the CGTA’s impact and progress relates to network building. Metrics include the number of participants regularly attending bimonthly meetings, numbers engaged in project teams, and the number of partners contributing financially. A second measure gauges the network’s impact, using metrics that include  local quality of life, participation in public forums, transit ridership numbers, visitor numbers to lesser-known locations, seasonal visitation numbers in all regions, the reach of the podcast and visitor messaging, and social media and web impressions.

Two pieces of advice Emily Reed has for other destinations  are:

  1. Diversity is key. You need to have as many different perspectives at the table as possible.
  2. Have a balance between meeting and doing. People cannot meet just to meet; you will not see progress that way. How fast you go, how much time you put in, and how much feedback you receive will determine your progress.

My commentary

CGTA has been challenged with the big task of working across fragmented geographical jurisdictions. However, with the emergence of this tourism alliance, I believe the effort to align multiple jurisdictions, communities, and DMOs is exactly what was needed for the Columbia River Gorge. By bringing together stakeholders from both sides of the river, it has allowed for management of this National Scenic Area to be a success. Many of the program’s’ websites reference one another to make finding information and resources for visitors to be seamless. It has turned the question from “which organization is responsible for managing which part of the scenic area?” into “how can we collectively make traveling to the Gorge as sustainable as possible?” This collective effort is why the CGTA was chosen as a destination stewardship role model for many other destinations that cross borders or jurisdictions.

The largest concern for the CGTA is distribution of funding for programs and projects across political boundaries. Travel Oregon is well established and has state funding, while the Washington DMO is still in its building stages. It is concerning that more funding and resources are available for projects and stewardship on the Oregon side at risk of neglecting the equally important Washington side. One recommendation may be to partner with businesses that do not have geographical constraints. If the CGTA is not having many partners sign up on the Washington side, they may need to reach out to local businesses that may not be aware of the benefits of joining the CGTA. Having sustainable funding is crucial for continuing the environmental and social progress the CGTA has achieved over the last four years.

The CGTA’s 15-Year Vision for Sustainable Tourism has initiated many great sustainability programs, such as Columbia Gorge Car-Free, Ready Set Gorge, and the East Gorge Food Trail. However, there is little communicated about the five areas of focus that are outlined under the 15-Year Vision. It would be helpful for stakeholders to see specific goals and targets for each area of focus. Moreover, there is no explanation for tracking metrics or progress of the focus areas. For example, it appears that the CGTA values quality of life for the locals, however, there are no publicly communicated metrics for engaging with locals  to ensure that no voice or group is left unheard. Without clear direction, stakeholders are left wondering what exactly the end vision is for 2031 and how the CGTA is staying on track. Additionally, there is no sustainability leader within the CGTA to help ensure the goals and targets are on track across all the areas of focus and Action Teams to achieve the 15-Year Vision.

We welcome your comments on the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance and its stewardship.

Jacqueline Elizabeth Harper is a student at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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.

Crete Needs to Restore its Gastronomic Heritage

? Destination Stewardship Report – Summer 2020 ?

Culinary expert Nikki Rose says Crete has wandered far from its roots as the “Garden of Greece,” losing traditional farms, villages, and cuisine in the process. Mass tourism has been partly responsible, and sustainable tourism could help reverse the trend, restoring Crete’s traditional, organic, more ecologically suitable agricultural methods. Consumer demand for health and gastronomy is on the rise. Catering to it could help Crete restore its 4,000-year-old agricultural heritage and once-robust ecosystem. The approach called “agro-ecology” shows the way.

Tourism in Crete can thrive anew with the farming ways of old

by Nikki Rose

Horiatiki, traditional Greek salad, on the coast of Crete. Photo: Nikki Rose.

People relying on tourism for their livelihood can make their industry more vibrant and progressive by forming alliances with organic farmers and agroecology programs. Both residents and visitors will benefit.

In March 2020, the Greek Ministry of Tourism and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council signed a Cooperation Agreement to harmonize the Greek tourism industry with international standards for sustainable tourism. Greek Minister of Tourism, Harry Theoharis, said “Our major goal is the restart of Greek tourism sector after the pandemic, capitalizing on sustainable tourism thematics, such as diving tourism, gastronomy tourism and mountain tourism….”

Travelers interested in these themes, especially gastronomy, are typically well informed supporters of organic food production and conservation. Consumer demand for organic food is increasing around the world. Data from 2018 reports the global organic market at over USD100 billion and growing. There are 2.8 million organic producers worldwide.

Agroecology entails more than producing food without toxins. It integrates conservation of indigenous traditional knowledge and food self-sufficiency. Agroecological farming has been shown to increase ecological resilience, improve health and nutrition, conserve biodiversity and natural resources, improve economic stability, and mitigate the effects of climate change. Agroecology aligned with sustainable tourism can also help us achieve several UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As tourism begins to recover from the conoravirus crisis, there’s an opportunity for residents of Greece to incorporate the concept of agroecology in the process. The island of Crete provides an excellent example of lessons learned and ignored.

Crete, the “Garden of Greece”

Crete’s Minoan history, mythology, and agricultural and culinary artifacts can teach us about our future. Four millenniums ago, the Minoans showed respect for nature, living in harmony with it. In the ancient city of Knossos, a sign reads: Pasi Theis Meli– Honey is Offered to All Gods. Around the world today, our bees and other pollinators are being killed by pesticides. This is a serious threat to our food supply, farmers’ livelihoods, and traditional cuisine. The notion of promoting “gastronomy tourism” is moot until we protect our pollinators.

Beekeeper, eastern Crete. “The notion of promoting gastronomy tourism is moot until we protect our pollinators.”  Photo: Nikki Rose

The traditional Mediterranean Diet is on UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list. Studies conducted in Crete before the introduction of industrial farming noted a primarily vegetarian diet based on wild sources and traditional organic cultivation. Today, only six percent of land in Greece is farmed using sustainable organic methods.

Crete is known as “The Garden of Greece,” but most commercial agriculture today is subsidized industrial monoculture and greenhouse farming. Small-scale organic farmers cannot compete in this “Big Ag” system. Yet this system has not worked well for years. Boreholes have depleted natural aquifers, causing desertification, biodiversity and soil depletion. Production decreases as climate crises increase, impacting all farmers and beekeepers. Amid archaeological sites dating back thousands of years you can find recently abandoned villages. All of the small-scale farmers and artisans are gone, along with their resilient communities.

Large tourist resorts can encroach on communities, increasing the cost of living and doing business. All-inclusive resorts import the majority of their food and stifle local business by their “no need to leave our compound” model. These resorts also extract large amounts of Crete’s natural resources, including fresh water, and erode biodiversity.

The Value of a Holistic Approach

Greece has a unique opportunity to support Community-Based Sustainable Tourism (CBST) and Agroecology, because some rural communities still exist and there are many organic farmers still struggling to make a living amid numerous barriers. There are well-established agricultural cooperatives producing organic food and beverages. There is a high percentage of organic-biodynamic vintners in Crete and other regions of Greece.

A CBST agroecology approach covers every section of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria:
A) Sustainable management, stakeholder engagement;
B) Socio-economic stability, social wellbeing;
C) Cultural sustainability, protecting cultural heritage;
D) Environmental sustainability, conservation of natural heritage.
That includes several aspects in particular:

Community benefits: Greece can collaborate with appropriate experts to support organic producers by providing incentives, training, and establishing sales and distribution structures that rely not just on tourism or exports but every avenue of opportunity, such as schools, hospitals, museums, and events. CBST initiatives in collaboration with neighbors involved in the arts, artisan food production, natural medicine, ecology, history, education, and small-scale accommodation will help to sustain resilient societies, better able to withstand tourism crises like coronavirus.

Youth: Greece’s financial crisis has triggered a “brain drain” of young, well-educated Greeks emigrating to seek a better life. One priority for Greece is to create opportunities for the youth to earn a real living at home. Rather than emigrating, many young Greeks have returned to their family’s villages to open small businesses, including organic farmer cooperatives. They are striving to sustain the life they cherish, which also appeals to many visitors. European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides said, “…without prospering farmers, we will not ensure food security. Without a healthy planet, farmers will have nowhere to farm.”

To promote Greece’s cultural heritage and gastronomy, we need to support our suppliers first

Fisheries: The small-scale fisheries industry, nostalgically depicted on postcards, is near extinction. Large-scale illegal operations throughout the Mediterranean, overfishing, and water pollution are depleting precious seafood supplies and poisoning aquatic species. Greece’s current 24% value-added tax rate is pushing small-scale traditional tradespeople out of business, including taverna owners. In order to promote Greece’s cultural heritage and gastronomy, we need to support our suppliers first.

Heritage plants: Local heirloom seeds provide the foundation for our extraordinary traditional cuisine. Policies that support industrial farming threaten their extinction. The Global Movement for Seed Freedom is growing, including the well-established Peliti in Greece.

Peliti Heirloom Seed Festival, Paranesti, Crete. Photo: Nikki Rose

Agronomist Stella Hatzigeorgiou, co-founder of Melitakes agricultural cooperative and heirloom seed festival in Pirgos, Crete, said: “Heirloom seeds contain multiple genotypes that give them strength to adapt to external changes, such as climate changes. Their resilience increases good harvests, and farmers have their own seeds for the next season. Plants from local seeds are well adapted to local climatic and soil conditions and external enemies (insects, fungi, bacteria). And rich natural biodiversity is crucial for all healthy cultivation.”

The Time Is Now

On May 20, 2020 the European Commission adopted a “Biodiversity Strategy and a Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system. The two strategies are mutually reinforcing, bringing together nature, farmers, business and consumers for jointly working towards a competitively sustainable future.” These strategies require support of the EU Common Agricultural Policy/Green Deal, Member States, and farmers, but it’s a positive start, which includes:

  • Reducing dependency on pesticides and antimicrobials, reducing excess fertilisation, increasing organic farming, improving animal welfare, and reversing biodiversity loss.
  • Protecting and restoring well-functioning ecosystems to boost resilience and prevent the emergence and spread of future diseases.

Agroecology should not be marginally connected with tourism, whether we call it agritourism, wine tourism, or gastronomy tourism. Real, safe food should be embedded into everyday life wherever we live or travel. Agroecology programs can increase the number of visitors supporting conservation programs. If we collaborate with our organic farmers and their communities, we can help leave a legacy of a healthier planet and food system for generations to come.

Appendix: For More on Agroecology
Content as provided by Nikki Rose

Agronomist Dr. Vassilis Gkisakis, at the Hellenic Mediterranean University, Agroecology Greece, and Agroecology Europe said, “A major initiative of Agroecology Greece/Europe is the education of agronomists and training of farmers, not just in sustainable farming practices but also in a holistic, systemic approach to agriculture.” For further research, see:

Anna Maria Island Restoration

? Destination Stewardship Report – Summer 2020 ?

A historic holiday island in Florida was succumbing to bland residential development with little regard for sustainability. In this case, it took a visionary leader from the private sector to turn things around. David Randle sums up six lessons from Anna Maria Island.

Anna Maria’s Pine Avenue Restoration Project:
A Model for Sustainable Stewardship

As Anna Maria Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast became popular with tourists, retirees, and second homes, the town was in danger of losing its past charm, historic character, and its limited commercial district on Pine Avenue.

Pine Avenue’s history reaches back more than a century. In 1911 a steamer would bring tourists from St. Petersburg across the mouth of Tampa Bay to the City Pier on Anna Maria. Guests would walk the Pine Avenue promenade to the bathhouse on the other side of the island, where the beaches are. Later, that bathhouse became today’s Sandbar restaurant.

By the turn of the millennium, however, the spotty commercial district on Pine Avenue was languishing. Four lots had been converted from business to residential. When seven more lots went up for sale, Sandbar owner Ed Chiles, already an established leader in the community, and local businessman Mike Coleman became concerned. They could see the potential loss of the island’s business district, which neither thought the community could afford. Ed came up with a plan to buy the five lots and resort the historical nature of Pine Avenue.

Pine Avenue, Santa Maria.

The plan was to find 20 people who would each contribute $500,000 for this $10 million project, which Mike would supervise. The response was less than Ed had hoped. Only one other person was willing to come up with the $500,000. Not to be discouraged, they financed the project by leveraging $1 million they did have.

After meetings with private citizens and elected officials, a new vision was born for Pine Avenue. The consensus was that two story historic cottages would be the best way to reflect the culture, heritage, and nature of their town. The idea was to recreate the old historic promenade walk so that present and future generations of guests could experience a taste of Old Florida.

While the project was underway, it received a large boost from two more entrepreneurs. Mike and Lizzie Thrasher had recently retired from their business in the U.K. and took up residence in Anna Maria Island, where they had vacationed previously. The Thrashers purchased two of the lots from Ed and Mike and collaborated on supporting the restoration by creating the Green Village, a solar business district.

The Pine Avenue Restoration project is now complete. It includes historic architecture in sustainably designed buildings with boutique and retail shops on the first floor and tourism units on the second. Some of the project’s major sustainability features include:

  • Building Construction used insulated concrete forms to develop buildings that use very little energy and can withstand 250-mph hurricane winds. The buildings were certified at the platinum level by the Florida Building Council. Construction manager Mike Coleman said one of the best compliments he received was when he overheard two women visitors commenting on “how good a job they did in fixing up these old buildings,” not realizing that the buildings were in fact brand new. Mike knew then that they had succeeded in restoring the historic sense of place.
  • Energy Efficiency inside the building includes tankless on-demand hot water systems, energy-efficient appliances and lighting.
  • Native Plantings were initiated by landscaper Mike Miller, another vacation visitor turned resident. After settling in, he became disenchanted with his too-lush garden of exotic plants, inappropriate to a barrier-island environment. He went through a personal transformation that turned him into a champion of native landscapes. He calls his approach “sense of place development.” Mike says, “Rather than change out the sand in order to accommodate exotic plantings, we plant natives for which the sand is the intended home. Rather than hardscapes and lawns that encourage runoff into our water bodies and, ultimately our precious Gulf and Bay, we leave sand wherever possible and create rainwater storage for capture and re-use.”
  • Edible Gardens are placed all along Pine Avenue. The gardens were developed in partnership with ECHO, international experts on tropical agriculture. The ECHO edible gardens grow food on Pine Avenue year round. Local restaurants use some of it. The gardens have inspired residents to create gardens in their homes as well.
  • Permeable Walkways have replaced concrete sidewalks on Pine Avenue. Guests and residents alike can stroll on them through the edible gardens and native plants. In the event of a tropical storm or hurricane, the combination of native landscaping and permeable walkways is estimated to reduce flooding by as much as 50%.
  • Transportation – The Pine Avenue redevelopment has spurred some rethinking of transportation. Pedestrian pathways, bicycles, and golf carts are the norm for getting around town. Island visitors are encouraged to use a free trolley.
  • Rainwater is gathered and stored in a 9000 gallon reservoir and used for both landscaping and the waste water system.
  • Solar panels shade a parking area, a win-win in sunny, hot climates.

    Solar Business District: The Historic Green Village shopping center includes both historic building restoration and new construction. Solar, geothermal, energy efficiency, and rainwater collection have helped the village to become one of 100 developments worldwide that have achieved the Net Zero Energy Buiilding Certification and LEED Platinum certification. The village produces more electric energy than it uses, sharing the excess with others on Pine Avenue outside the village. The Village goes even further in the preservation of historic buildings, including a lodge and the greening of their supply chain as well.

  • Local and Sustainable Food – The anchor for this project is the Sandbar restaurant, known for its environmental commitment and sustainable practices. The Sandbar recently purchased its own farm to insure that it could get the type of produce it needs. Its seafood is sustainable, much of it purchased from the nearby Historic Cortez fishing village. In addition the Sandbar has joined with the Gulf Shellfish Institute to encourage production of shellfish used in their restaurant. The restaurant sometimes also taps the Edible Gardens and its own onsite garden. Other sustainable practices include oyster shell recycling to help restore reefs; elimination of plastic straws, lids, and bags; composting for use by the farm; and a program to put invasive lionfish and wild boar on the menu. The menu also features Grey Striped Mullet, a local heritage seafood that dates back to the Timucuan and Calusa Native Americans who once inhabited the island. The Sandbar has also teamed up with START and the Mote Marine Lab to find solutions to the challenge of intermittent red tides that can shut down businesses.

Lessons from Anna Maria Island

  1. Local leadership – It takes a person with passion and leadership like Ed Chiles for change to succeed. This project may not have happened without him. Good management is needed to implement the vision, and Mike Coleman played a critical role, paying attention to the details necessary to bringing the vision to fruition.
  2. Green planning – It’s important to incorporate environmental features in the initial design – less expensive than adding them later. For this project, green planning made the construction less costly, lowered ongoing operational costs, and increased the value of the end product.
  3. Community support – Rallying local support helped clear political hurdles and brought more people into the project.
  4. Openness and flexibility – Allowing the project to grow organically without controlling of every aspect enhanced this project greatly. Examples include willingness to collaborate with the Thrashers and their idea of the Green Village, utilizing Mike Miller’s expertise in native landscaping, and getting local government support for features like the permeable walkway.
  5. Networking – Ed Chiles is a co-founder of the Blue Community Consortium, a UNWTO Affiliate and member of the UNWTO International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories. He is also on the boards for START and the Gulf Shellfish Institute. All three of these groups were invaluable in supporting and expanding the sustainability and heritage preservation vision of the project.
    The relationships also have proven to be allies for the business to share the Anna Maria story, to find solutions to the threats of red tide that can shut down business, and the increased sourcing of shellfish for sustainability. When asked about the greatest success of this project, Ed said “I believe the most important component of the combined projects is their contributions toward elevating the discussion and implementation of sustainable practices in our community.”
  6. Sustainable supply chains – A key element of success for this project was building relationships for a sustainable supply chain. While not every restaurant can purchase its own farm, there are ways to negotiate with farmers to ensure supply needs are met. Building relationships with the local fisherman has helped to insure a good supply of sustainable fish, and local aquaculture – replicable in many places around the world – helps relieve overfishing while creating jobs and strengthening the local economy.

The future of Anna Maria

By 2011, the Pine Avenue Restoration project was a success. Challenges and threats of course remain, such as the red tide events that come and go, as well as such global challenges such as climate change, pandemics, and economic ups and downs.

Aware that there will not always be an Ed Chiles, the community has begun to think about future transitions. Given all the networking that has occurred, coupled with the highly competent team in Ed’s organization, the chances for continuity are strong.

One thing that makes Pine Avenue so attractive for an educational model is that within a 15-20 minute walk, a visitor can see and experience all of the sustainability features I have listed. Anna Maria Island serves as a global model for sustainable tourism and continues to attract interest from around the world. View their Sustainability Management Plan and consider a visit someday yourself.