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.

References:
Boluk, K.A., Cavaliere, C.T., and Duffy, L.N. (2019) A pedagogical framework for the  development of the critical tourism citizen, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 27(7), 865-881.

Cavaliere, C.T. (2017) Foodscapes as alternate ways of knowing: Advancing sustainability and climate consciousness through tactile space, in S.L. Slocum and C. Kline (eds.), Linking Urban and Rural Tourism: Strategies for Sustainability, Oxfordshire: CABI, pp. 49-64.

Ingram, L.J., Slocum, S.L., & Cavaliere, C. T. (Eds.). (2020). Neolocalism and tourism: Understanding a global movement. Goodfellows Publishers. DOI: 10.23912/9781911635604-4287

~  ~  ~

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.

Just Out: the Autumn Destination Stewardship Report

Welcome to the GSTC/DSC
e-quarterly
Destination Stewardship Report Autumn 2020
Summer 2020 – Inaugural Issue

How can destinations plan better for a post-Covid recovery? What have we learned about tourism during the ongoing crisis? The Autumn edition of the Destination Stewardship Report addresses both those questions with examples and practical guidance, providing links to these feature stories:

  • From sustainability leaders and destination mangers worldwide, a white paper laying out ten practical ways to plan a more lasting, regenerative, and community-compatible tourism recovery.
  • From Korea, the example of how a hard-working industrial city saved a natural bamboo habitat for migrating egrets, creating a new ecotourism attraction that revitalized the impoverished neighborhood next door.
  • From Serbia, its borders closed during the crisis, a look at what happens when a sudden influx of resort-pampered Serbs discover their own hinterland: lots of profits for rural residents – at a cost. [One anecdote reports a similar pattern in the US state of New Hampshire over the summer.  —Ed.]
  • From Mallorca, Spain, plans that attempt to anticipate and prevent overtourism as travel restrictions loosen, with mixed opinions on the likelihood of success.
  • From the Columbia Gorge, USA, the fourth in our series of “Doing It Better” profiles about destinations working toward holistic management – in this case, a tourism alliance that unites the two states bordering the Columbia River.
  • From another thought leader, a better way to calculate return on investment as destinations emerge from the crisis, demonstrating that by using data science you can measure the hidden benefits of good stewardship. “Not everything that counts is counted,” goes the saying, but now it can be – affecting policy accordingly.
  • Plus, selected news stories and the latest on the Future of Tourism Coalition, which now has over 300 companies, agencies, and NGOs as signatories to its Guiding Principles.

Please read the latest Destination Stewardship Report here, comment, and propose your own contributions by contacting us.


This jointly sponsored e-quarterly is a collaboration between the Destination Stewardship Center and Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)  – and in time, maybe others. Our goal is to provide information and insights useful to anyone whose work or interests involve destination stewardship. It’s an all-volunteer experiment, so its success will depend on your interest, feedback, and content contributions. Join us, and help each other. You can subscribe for free here.You can read the e-mail version here and the feature articles on our webpages.                                    —Jonathan Tourtellot, Editor

For more information and participation please contact us.

  • About  the Global Sustainable Tourism Council  GSTC establishes and manages global sustainable standards, known as the GSTC Criteria. There are two sets: Destination Criteria for public policy-makers and destination managers, and Industry Criteria for hotels and tour operators. The GSTC Criteria form the foundation for accreditation of certification bodies that certify hotels/accommodations, tour operators, and destinations as having sustainable policies and practices in place. GSTC does not directly certify any products or services; but it accredits those that do. The GSTC is an independent and neutral USA-registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization that represents a diverse and global membership, including national and provincial governments, NGO’s, leading travel companies, hotels, tour operators, individuals and communities – all striving to achieve best practices in sustainable tourism. www.gstc.org
  • About the Destination Stewardship Center  The DSC is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the world’s distinctive places by supporting wisely managed tourism and enlightened destination stewardship. We gather and provide information on how tourism can help and not harm the natural, cultural, and social quality of destinations around the world. We seek to build a global community and knowledge network for advancing this goal. Join us and learn more at www.destinationcenter.org.

Engaging a U.S. National Park’s Gateway Communities

? Destination Stewardship Report – Summer 2020 ?

Improving relations between a national park and its gateway communities can be tricky, involving touchy issues such as invasive species, extractive industries, air pollution, visitation levels and economics, even dark skies. The collaborative approach employed for North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park yielded actionable community ideas and opened lines of communication while still upholding park conservation goals. The technique? Accentuate the positive with the approach called Appreciative Inquiry. Kelly Bricker’s University of Utah team explains how it worked. 

For Theodore Roosevelt National Park,  “Appreciative Inquiry” Provides a Way to Improve Relations with Its Three Gateway Towns

By Kelly Bricker, Leah Joyner, and Qwynne Lackey

American Bison. Photo Credit: NK Bricker

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) encompasses two swaths of North Dakota Badlands, stretching across the Northern Great Plains and the Little Missouri River. The park was established in 1947 with the initial South Unit and Elkhorn Ranch Unit, and the addition of the North Unit followed in 1948. Its 70,447 acres comprise a variety of great plains flora (e.g., juniper woodlands and hardwoods, salt grass) and fauna (e.g., bison, elk, and pronghorn) as well as traditional lands of the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes, and many more. The Park memorializes President Theodore Roosevelt and his commitment to conservation[i]. It is also situated atop the Bakken Formation, an extensive oil and natural gas reserve tapped by hydraulic fracking, rendering oil and gas flares within sight of many park vistas[ii].

Figure 1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park Map.[vii]

Three primary gateway communities provide access to the Park: Dickinson, Medora, and Watford City. The largest, Dickinson, with a population of about 23,000, offers education, healthcare, museums, libraries, airport, and recreation centers.[iii] Medora, home to Park headquarters, is North Dakota’s top tourism destination, and much of its a year-round population of about 130 residents[iv]derives income from the industry[v]. Watford City is home to about 7000 residents, a population that has more than tripled in the decade following the Bakken Oil Shale rush, a massive influx of people and commerce that began around 2006[vi].

Unique though they are, the communities are intertwined with each other, the park, and the future development of the region. In anticipation of increased park visitation, the Bakken nearby oil development and associated infrastructure, invasive species and other regional ecosystem issues, Park management began a strategic planning process designed to incorporate a holistic understanding of visitor use with the unique needs of each of its gateway communities. Park staff were interested in the communities’ current relationships with the Park and how they could improve to provide a quality visitor experience, advance park goals, and develop and leverage partnerships.

Watford City, one of three gateways to TRNP, tripled in population after Bakkan oil extraction began. Photo Courtesy of City of Watford City

Our University of Utah research team conducted a community engagement study on behalf of the Park from February 2017 to April 2018 to assist with the planning effort. Our focus was on the relationships between TRNP and its three gateway communities. What was the role of TRNP related to stimulating regional tourism? What did the gateway communities need? How could tourism’s spillover benefits enhance their economic conditions and quality of life, while still upholding the purpose and values of the park?

To find out, we used an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach. The method for helping to manage change strives to understand the relationships among conservation, livelihood, and sustainable tourism development[viii] [ix] [x] The idea is to elicit public participation in identifying positive qualities that make a destination unique, to analyze how these qualities work, and then build on them.

Our hope in conducting the AI process was to:

  • Create a shared understanding of community development, tourism, and resource protection;
  • Create a regional dialogue about using public land to improve local livelihoods through sustainable tourism development;
  • Envision a collective future based on regional strengths in relationship to developing tourism, improving livelihoods, and protecting natural and cultural heritage resources.

For this project, we visited Park management, mapped assets of each community, interviewed key leaders and online surveys, focus groups with community members, summary meetings and a summit with all communities present. The Superintendent of TRNP attended these meetings, and introduced the strategic planning process they were undertaking – yet only weighed in if there were specific questions by participants. The process itself is forward thinking and did not allow participants to focus on the negative, rather really focus on the future – discovering what they have, dreaming about and envisioning a future, and then steps to realize that future. In part, AI asks participants to focus on what can be – envisioning a future. This particular strategy allowed us as facilitators to ‘park’ concerns separately, then head back to the questions at hand. As meetings progressed, we did see a willingness of participants to ‘let go’ of their individual issues and work with us on defining a future. By tabling the negative, there was room to think beyond the current situation and envision a future. Guiding questions led our discussions and surveys including:

Discovery

  • What tourism assets do you have in and around your community?
  • What type of tourism is working in your community?
  • What kinds of activities do tourists undertake? Provide the best examples.
  • What have you done to improve your community’s livelihood through tourism?
  • What positive linkages exist now between tourism and the resources you have?

Dream

  • Please close your eyes if you feel like it. How do you envision your community 25 years from now?
  • Think about what “ideal tourism” means in your community for your children and grandchildren/for future generations.

Design

  • Putting dreams into practice. What actions and strategies do you feel are needed to achieve these dreams? Where/What? How?

Destiny

  • We have achieved or learned about tourism and its potential contribution to your community. What comes next?
  • How can the outcomes and what we have learned to be sustained?
  • How and where might these ideas be used in the future?

We found this methodology to be engaging, inclusive, and an opportunity to move the relationship between the park and its nearby communities into a forward-thinking, action-oriented collaborative process. The responses recorded during all interviews, meetings, and surveys were summarized and analyzed thematically by the research team.[xi]

Focus Group. Photo Credit: Leah Joyner

What did this process produce?

Several themes resulted from interviews, surveys and meetings, which had spillover impacts on sharing destinations resources and ideas. Following are some of the most prominent themes and their associated actionable ideas moving forward.

Conservation Awareness

Participants from all three communities value conservation. The viewshed and dark skies preservation was particularly important. Ideas for preserving the view-shed and dark skies included educational programs within the communities and establishing local ordinances.

Expanding towns and 24-hour facilities increase the amount of light pollution and make it harder for wildlife and visitors to experience natural darkness. Photo Credit: NPS/Jeff Zylland

For example, Medora suggested implementing more local ordinances to protect existing open-spaces.

Dickinson residents also desired a recycling program and the use of the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which provides grants for conservation in North Dakota[xii], to help develop recreation opportunities at Patterson Lake.

In addition some areas touched on regional conservation efforts, beyond park boundaries.

Actionable Ideas:

C 1. Develop programs that educate and empower residents to play a role in local conservation, such as environmental education programs, information sharing, and youth engagement.

C2. Launch an education program to inform neighboring community residents about the natural management of prairie dogs and other species within the park borders.

C3. Identify a mechanism for community input into the development of a feral horse management plan.

C4. Increase mechanisms for TRNP and Community-level engagement. Example: Park volunteer days (themed) and Adopt-a-Spot programs-whereby people might pick up litter or help with invasive species eradication, etc.Strategic Partnerships

Community meeting participants identified a diverse collection of potential strategic partners to work with on realizing many of the goals mentioned throughout the visioning process. Medora residents suggested partnering with local authors to advance their goal of educating visitors about the history of the area. They also suggested that increased partnerships with the other gateway communities would strengthen tourism across the region.

These included local university collaboration, CVBs, community centers, libraries, adjacent public land managers, associations and foundations.

Actionable Ideas:

SP1. Grow partnerships with DSU; if partnerships are occurring take advantage of marketing opportunities to publicize educational collaboration.

SP2. Develop a ‘friends of the park’ email communication list or listserv through which to reach all potential partners with any future development or support needs.

Tourism Management

Common to all community meetings was a continued emphasis aspects of visitor management and tourism development. For example, there was interest in fostering the ‘Old West’ themed tour development and continue focusing on both Native American and cowboy culture; local food; equestrian and non-motorized trail activities. Transportation efficiencies were also noted, such as a park shuttle to decrease visitor traffic, and enhancing activities for longer stays and some interest in seasonal expansion as well.

Actionable Ideas:

TM1. Explore options for transportation and infrastructure support, such as park shuttles.

TM2. Partner with local authors to enhance storytelling efforts such as events, guided tours, and interpretation within the park.

TM3. Conduct research on other national park gateway communities for innovative solutions and best practices elsewhere that have responded to limited workforce and seasonal housing barriers.

Youth Engagement

Participants in all communities expressed a strong desire for more youth-oriented activities and engagements. Dickinson residents specifically suggested integration with school curriculum, through field trips and library programs, as well as partnerships with the DSU Honors program. In Watford City, suggestions included leadership education, afterschool programs, and more community-based projects for youth to engage. Watford City residents also suggested seeking private or corporate sponsorships for programs that would better engage youth with TRNP.

Actionable Ideas:

YE1. Partner with educational institutions (such as DSU) to increase use of and further align the existing TRNP curriculum guides with state content standards.

YE2. Explore the possibility of a Youth Ranger program. Engage students through signing up to leading guided hikes, volunteering to visit campsites and share information with visitors, or for clean-up events within TRNP.

In summary, the AI method provided an excellent platform to launch new ideas, increase collaboration, and ensure avenues for information sharing. AI marked the beginning of a much longer process that may lead to sustained improvements in the relationships between the park and communities and changes in attitudes in all parties. We believe that AI provided the necessary process to focus on the future. We also felt it served as a forward-thinking and opened the door to future collaborative processes that address issues, such as retaining dark skies, and other natural resource concerns, such as air pollution, feral horse populations, and work on invasive species. For the complete report on the process and associated outcomes, please download: https://app.box.com/shared/static/8tsc9qedi22jfudhltpz6yhj0yjmy27h.pdf

Gaining perspective – sunrise at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Photo credit: Leah Joyner

[i] National Park Service. Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Foundation Document: 2014. Available online: https://www.nps.gov/thro/learn/management/upload/Theodore-Roosevelt-National-Park-Foundation-Document-2014.pdf (accessed on 20 September 2019).

[ii] National Parks Conservation Association. Spoiled Parks: The 12 National Parks Most Threatened by Oil and Gas Development. Available online: https://www.npca.org/reports/oil-and-gas-report (accessed on 20 September 2019).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] United States Census Bureau. Available Online: https://www.census.gov/en.html (accessed on 15 September 2019).

[v] Medora Convention and Visitors Bureau. Medora, North Dakota. Web. Available online: https://www.medorand.com/ (accessed on 15 September 2019).

[vi] Nicas, J. Oil Fuels Population Boom in North Dakota City. Wall Str. J. Available online: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304072004577328100938723454?mod=googlenews_wsj (accessed on 15 September 2019).

[vii] National Park Service. Theodore Roosevelt National Park Maps. Available online: https://www.nps.gov/thro/planyourvisit/maps.htm (accessed on 26 October 2019).

[viii] Nyaupane, G.; Timothy, D. Linking Communities and Public Lands through Tourism: A Pilot Project; Technical Report; Arizona State University: Tempe, AZ, USA, 2013.

[ix] Che Aziz, R. Appreciative inquiry: An alternative re-search approach for sustainable rural tourism development. J. Tour. Hosp. Culin. Arts 2013, 5, 1–14.

[x] Cooperrider, D.; Whitney, D.D.; Stavros, J.M. The Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change, 2nd ed.; Berrett-Koehler, B.K., Ed.; Crown Custom Pub: Brunswick, OH, USA; San Francisco, CA, USA, 2008.

[xi] For more information on method specifics, please see the article published in Sustainability 2019, 11(24), 7147; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11247147).

[xii] Outdoor Heritage Fund. For more information, visit: https://www.ducks.org/north-dakota/north-dakota-outdoor-heritage-fund

This article was prepared by Dr. Kelly Bricker and Leah Joyner of the University of Utah, and Dr. Qwynne Lackey, SUNY Cortland University (fall 2020). She and her colleagues, designed and implemented this study as part of a larger project with Kansas State University and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

“Future of Tourism Coalition” Launches Today

Nonprofits join in a call for the world to rethink tourism.

As destinations look forward to recovering from COVID-19, six nongovernmental organizations, advised by a seventh, today are uniting for the first time in a call for the world to reconsider how tourism works.

The Destination Stewardship Center is proud to be one of them.

Our new Future of Tourism Coalition calls for all who care about tourism, places, and the people live in them to endorse a set of 13 Guiding Principles that will sidestep the excesses of the past and put tourism on a renewal course for a more rewarding, more sustainable future.

Six organizations have come together with the global mission to place destinations at the center of recovery strategies: the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), Destination Stewardship Center, Green Destinations, Sustainable Travel International, Tourism Cares, and the Travel Foundation, with the guidance of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). 

Decades of unfettered growth in travel have put the world’s treasured places at risk – environmentally, culturally, socially, and financially.  The travel and tourism industries face a precarious and uncertain future due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, with international tourist numbers projected to fall 60-80% in 2020. As tourism moves forward and recovers, re-centering around a strong set of principles is vital for long term sustainable and equitable growth.

To rally global change, the Coalition has put forth Guiding Principles that outline a bold vision for tourism’s path forward. We are calling on tourism agencies, travel companies, governments, investors, nongovernmental organizations, and destination communities to commit to them.

The Guiding Principles provide a clear moral and business imperative for building a healthier tourism industry while protecting the places and people on which it depends. The Principles call for signatories to:

  1. See the whole picture
  2. Use sustainability standards
  3. Collaborate in destination management
  4. Choose quality over quantity
  5. Demand fair income distribution
  6. Reduce tourism’s burden
  7. Redefine economic success
  8. Mitigate climate impacts
  9. Close the loop on resources
  10. Contain tourism’s land use
  11. Diversify source markets
  12. Protect sense of place
  13. Operate business responsibly

The foundation of these principles was built on a firm belief that taking a holistic approach to responsible and sustainable tourism is the only way to secure the future the Coalition stands for.

Join the Movement

Twenty-two founding signatories who represent a diverse cross-section of key industry stakeholders have committed thus far. They are influencers in the movement, demonstrating leadership and adherence to the Guiding Principles in their product and business practices. They will provide guidance to the Coalition as plans are put in place to support travel and tourism entities long-term in their strategy to place destinations and communities at the core of their work.

Those signatories include Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), Ecotourism Australia, G Adventures, Global Ecotourism Network, Government of the Azores, Government of Colombia, Hilton, Innovation Norway, Intrepid Travel, Jordan Tourism Board, Lindblad Expeditions, MT Sobek, Palau Bureau of Tourism, Riverwind Foundation (Jackson Hole, WY), Seychelles Ministry of Tourism, Slovenian Tourist Board, Swisscontact, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, The Travel Corporation, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Tourism Council Bhutan and the World Wildlife Fund.

Interested travel and tourism stakeholders are invited to show their support and become part of the movement by joining as signatories to the Principles. Join us by visiting www.futureoftourism.org

“The recent crisis in tourism has shown us just how much tourism relies and depends on local and global communities,” said Maja Pak, Director at the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB). “We have already strengthened ties with local communities and tourism authorities from across the country. We now find that sharing our experiences and gaining best practice examples from other countries will be the key to successfully navigate the post-corona tourism universe. This is where the role of the Future of Tourism Coalition will be vital. The STB is looking forward to cooperating with the Coalition and to progress further with the reset of tourism, especially in this new reality, where sustainability and destination needs, as well as trust, will have to be placed at the center of tourism’s future.”

Destination Communities First

The Coalition recognizes that a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is fundamental to achieving its Guiding Principles. The travel and tourism industry has much work to do, and the Coalition will act proactively in addressing the role that racial and environmental justice play in creating a more equitable tourism economy. The Coalition members have made a commitment to listen, learn, and seek change by engaging with signatories and other entities as a part of that journey. This work will be guided by GSTC indicators and criteria related to equity, inclusion, and non-discrimination.

In a joint statement, the CEOs of the organizations represented in the Coalition said, “It is imperative that every organization evaluates how they will actively place the needs of destinations and equity within their communities at the center of tourism development, management, and promotion decisions. There is no stable future for tourism if this is not done now – together, responsibly, and vigorously. This is not a short-term effort, this is the future. Long-term resilient social, economic, and environmental recovery and regeneration will require all sectors of industry to rethink how tourism works, who it works for, and how success is defined.”

The path to change is a journey and lasting solutions take time. The Coalition will support the industry by providing the tools, guidance and collaboration to ensure a stronger path forward and encourage a diverse and inclusive set of signatories to sign on and share their perspectives and experiences to collectively work toward a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all.

Learn more at https://www.futureoftourism.org/

Corona-crisis: A Destination Management Opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researchers, step forward!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use the Respite

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

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

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

“The destination has an effective organization, department, group, or committee responsible for a coordinated approach to sustainable tourism, with involvement by the private sector, public sector and civil society. This group has defined responsibilities, oversight, and implementation capability for the management of socio-economic, cultural and environmental issues.”

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

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

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

If not now, when?


 

Springtime on Furnace Mountain, Virginia. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

A Personal Afterthought

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

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

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

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

Doing It Better: Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

[Above: The town of Tequila. Photo: German Lopez from Pixabay ]

Editor’s note: With this post we offer the second of our profiles of destination organizations that at least partially meet the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s destination-management criterion A1 (formerly A2), 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 very few places around the world come even remotely close to meeting it. Below is Ellen Rugh’s profile of another one that does. We hope this information will provide other places with ideas on how better to manage tourism’s hazards and benefits. To join in our search for more examples of holistic destination management, or submit a candidate for profiling, read more here.

The Council of Integral Development of Tequila A.C. (CODIT): Using Advanced Tech for Destination Management

Introduction

The town and municipality of Tequila is in the west-central state of Jalisco, Mexico. Founded in 2013 as a civic association, CODIT presents us with a broad-reaching model of a destination management organization (DMO) that uses 21st-century technological monitoring and data collecting in order to make the most informed decisions on sustainable tourism development and destination stewardship.

With its genesis through Mexico’s Magic Towns program, CODIT has managed to survive, if not thrive, through the country’s changes in government, unlike many of its Magic Towns counterparts.  Today, Tequila’s in-progress drive for certification as an “Intelligent Destination” by the Secretary of Tourism of Spain (SEGITTUR) drives many of CODIT’s core concepts. CODIT’s representative, Federico de Arteaga Vidiella, provided much of the following data. He sits on the Council and is responsible for the Intelligent Destination project.

Context

The CODIT model stretches beyond just tourism. In fact, “Sustainable Tourism Development” represents just one core concept for the organization, with additional branches dedicated to “Social Development, Culture, And Values,” “Development of Infrastructure, Environment and Urban Planning,” and “Economic, Institutional, Jurisdictional and Administrative Development.”

Working towards its certification as a SEGITTUR Intelligent Destination, CODIT gathers data from sensors, apps, smart phones, etc. to increase the effectiveness of local tourism products and services. To promote distinctive experiences, CODIT has installed Wifi access within the entire historic area and created an interactive app with push notification. Tourists can log in to learn the best photo spots, services offerings, and transportation routes around town.  Using big data to measure tourist distribution throughout the city, CODIT’s app strives to incorporate population groups that have not benefited so far from tourism. If you’re a tourist waiting for your chosen restaurant, it can suggest different places to eat or other things to do while waiting, such as a distillery tour or a walk in a different part of town.

CODIT thus opens up new opportunities for businesses, as tourists don’t end up concentrated in the historic center and eating at the few nearby restaurants. This model not only redistributes economic benefit, but also avoids visitor dissatisfaction by lowering restaurant wait times.

Activities

Tequila’s tourist system communicates experiences through different channels, such as through tourist apps, social networks, the state and federal secretaries of tourism, and private companies at the national and international level.

CODIT additionally works with the Directorate of Tourism of the City Council and with the Magic Towns Committee to schedule cultural, sporting, environmental and entertainment events. Residents get involved in a natural way, since Tequila’s society participates in many of these events, processions, and parties, either through organization, communication, direct participation, or assistance. To help develop adventure tourism in the region, CODIT has also sponsored local guides and tour operators to complete excursionist certification courses.

Sustainability and Stewardship

CODIT’s main strategy being sustainability, and the main vocation of Tequila being tourism, sustainable tourism has become CODIT’s keystone. The council considers sustainability multidisciplinary – economic, social, environmental, and institutional – and integrates explicit responsibilities for sustainability into their projects, working groups, international certifications, and more. Working groups for sustainability, innovation, technology, accessibility, and governance operate within the framework of the Magical Towns and Smart Tourist Destination Committee. Each group works to accomplish projects both within and across these themes.

As a Magic Town within the World Heritage agave landscape inscribed under UNESCO and a candidate for certification as a SEGITTUR Intelligent Destination, Tequila must therefore protect the sustainable, natural, cultural, and aesthetic character of the place. To assist in environmental protection, for instance, CODIT has implemented a recycling program and has constructed a nursery to restore endangered native plant species.

Even with tourism development being its main focus, CODIT extends its reach into other areas related to destination stewardship. For example, CODIT assisted in supporting one young local resident’s project relating to street dogs, sharing their technology and data to help him map the area, identify the location of the dogs, and decide the safest place to move them.

Managing Tourism Sustainably

CODIT states that Tequila has not yet had problems with overtourism in the destination. Tequila’s desire to achieve a sustainable tourism plan right from the beginning intrinsically incorporates the management of mass tourism. Using their Intelligent Destination technology, CODIT compares year-over-year peak season visitor statistics and identifies the major hotspot locations. With this data, they can identify the amount of traffic around the more heavily touristed historic area, for example, and install the necessary infrastructure to meet demand. They also measure transportation types and levels to ensure that people are dispersed better throughout the city, thus improving economic development.

Grilled corn vendor in Tequila. Photo by Gzzz.

Community Engagement

CODIT claims federal, state, and municipal participation, as well as inclusion of private business associations, NGOs, and local universities. These stakeholders came together to collectively set CODIT’s initial goals and long-term strategic plan. During this start-up phase, CODIT says that the stakeholders agreed upon about 70 to 80% of issues. Any issues with unsettled differences or concerns were removed, so that the long-term vision statement could be set with everyone in agreement.

CODIT cites the most effective element in their governance process has been the election of decisive leaders who represent the collective interest of local stakeholders and truly want to make changes. The council’s representative, Federico de Arteaga Vidiella, bluntly states that in certain situations extended deliberation among all community stakeholders may not be the best method to achieve results. Instead, CODIT encourages the voice of local residents through their representation by the board’s Citizen Co-President, and through consultation on specific projects. CODIT additionally urges participation from local universities, because many students and faculty are local themselves. CODIT also recognizes that local engagement depends on the character of the place. Here, where tourism and tequila production are the main vocations, they must make sure the voices of tequila farmers, distillers, and more are heard as well as hotels, restaurants, and tour operators.

For specific projects, the council understands that active communication with local stakeholders is crucial to success and local acceptance, because the residents will believe more in projects with which they can participate. On a neighborhood renewal project, for example, CODIT wanted to bring vibrancy to some less-trafficked areas with bright, new paint colors. For this simple project, CODIT conducted surveys, spoke directly with locals and civil society groups, and consulted architectural institutions in local universities to decide on the best colors to represent Tequila.

Organization Structure and Governance

CODIT was strategically founded as a civic association in order to make the organization less susceptible to changes in government and thus able to create long-term plans that would not rely on any particular political party for survival. This legal arrangement was also intended to increase business investment through tax incentives and to allow leverage of resources from international organizations, such as the Inter-American Development Bank.

CODIT does not hold scheduled internal elections and tends instead to act on consensus. Every year, for example, the council has to agree that the current citizen co-chair should continue in that role. The council does have the ability to vote out a person if needed, but so far it has never done so.

CODIT comprises of a multifaceted governance arrangement, currently composed of 44 members who fall within four main groups: founding members, active members, honorary members, and operative members. Each provides a certain level of support within the organization.

Operations and technical structure: CODIT incorporates active members, operative members, and a technical council into their organization structure. Four technical advisors and three operative personnel support the team. CODIT says that a key to their success is having a full-time, paid coordinator, as well as having both operative and strategic management on constant basis. External alliances provide crucial technical and operative resources.

Administrative and representative structure: The Board of Directors includes a citizen co-chair, a government co-chair, a secretary, a treasurer, and a spokesperson, who hold the final decision-making authority. A group of additional advisors play a role in strategic planning, including a representative from the Tequila Route and one from Grupo JB, a private company best known for their Jose Cuervo tequila. Thus a broad range of organizations can have some voice in CODIT affairs.

A jimador, an agave farmer, tends the plants that yield tequila and characterize the region’s inscription as a World Heritage site. Photo: Giacomo Bruno.

Even without formal internal elections, CODIT reports that about 20% of the council changes regularly due to external group elections. Representatives from private organizations, such as hoteliers’ associations, restaurant associations, etc, may shift representation based on their own elections. The government co-chair has rotated as the municipal government changes, with elections occurring every three years. Thus a good, naturally-occurring rotation of voices represents member interests.

Funding

CODIT works on an annual budget of around $150,000, largely financed by the federal and state secretaries of tourism and by Grupo JB. The Inter-American Development Bank has also provided project-specific funding in the past and helps support the CODIT website. Members must additionally contribute to the council through expertise, money, in-kind support, or time. One business member, for instance, seconded one of its own people to work in CODIT for a full year, documenting all tourist products offered in Tequila.

Measures of Success

CODIT attributes their success to the clear indicators and pre-established goals outlined in their long-term strategic plan. Every month CODIT evaluates progress using the indicators established by SEGITTUR within the tourism pillars of governance, sustainability, innovation, technology and accessibility. (Unfortunately, we have so far been unable to obtain any examples of progress reported.)

My Commentary

CODIT’s technical innovations and big data solutions show a new side to destination management, perhaps eliminating some of the problems that destinations face before they occur. Accessibility and connectivity drive visitors into the city by creating easy-access to information. CODIT has a firm vision and organization structure, with careful consideration taken during its inception process to ensure long-term governance that can withstand political changes affecting funding.

While CODIT has said that their funding has varied based on political changes over the years, the council’s survival attests to its careful management, especially in comparison to many other destinations originally designated under Mexico’s Magic Towns initiative.

Alternatively, CODIT can do more in terms of stewardship. I would love to see CODIT take a stronger role in partnering with local stakeholders to further develop distinctive tourism experiences. Additionally, the data collected shows little evidence of any vetting process for their promotional materials that places greater emphasize tourism businesses who have championed sustainability or supported their communities through impact tourism.

Local stakeholder engagement is key to holistic destination management. Compared to our other case studies, this council does not stress community deliberative processes, although they do gather project-specific community feedback and include a wide array of public, private, and civil society interests within their governance structure.

In this case, further research would be required to collect more evidence of outreach to ensure local resident satisfaction, or evidence of adaptive strategy. Additionally, while CODIT champions sustainability and transparency, we found difficulties in accessing the documents relating to the performance of CODIT in terms of SEGITTUR’s specific indicators. This is crucial to understanding their exact performance in project implementation and sustainability, and establishing credibility beyond self-reported claims.

We welcome comments from those with knowledge of Tequila and its stewardship.

Advice for a Basque Destination

[Above: Gaztelugatxeko Doniene hermitage sits on an islet on Urdaibai’s Bay of Biscay coast. All photos courtesy Urdaibai Magazine.]

How should undiscovered coastal destinations handle tourism?

Earlier this year, Urdaibai Magazine, based in the Basque country of Spain, interviewed Destination Stewardship Center director Jonathan Tourtellot about how to build  responsible tourism activity in this coastal region containing the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. With permission, we present an English-language version of that interview. The answers could apply to any seaside destination that is seeking a better approach to tourism. You can read the original, in either Basque or Spanish here.

Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1984, Urdaibai, northeast of Bilbao on the Bay of Biscay (Bizkaia in Basque) combines a maritime and rural environment with deep cultural traditions. The place is striving to be one where “humans and nature coexist in a framework of respect and sustainable development.” The interview follows.

  1. Urdaibai Magazine: What are the global challenges facing tourism today ?

Jonathan Tourtellot: Overtourism, climate change, and a decision-making mindset that assesses tourism value only in terms of industry transactions—money—with little if any regard to the quality and character of the destinations on which tourism depends.

Urdaibai’s marshes and estuary form core of the Biosphere Reserve.

  1. U.M.: What basic measures do you think should be taken by a small and still underdeveloped tourism territory, as is the case of Urdaibai’s Biosphere Reserve, to integrate tourism activity in a sustainable way?

J.T.: Measure tourism success in terms of value, not volume: Value in terms not only of revenue, but how well tourism benefits are shared by the community and how well they help preserve the natural and cultural heritage that visitors are coming to experience. Invite the kinds of tourism that bring other benefits to the community as well, from education and volunteer help to philanthropy and appropriate business development. Do not measure success just by number of tourist arrivals. That’s quantity, not quality.

  1. U.M.: In order for the tourism to be an activity with a positive impact on the population and the territory, what kind of actions should we avoid when planning our tourism promotion and promotion strategy? What could we regret?

J.T.: Well, let’s look at what not to do! Avoid developing look-alike tourism resorts, hotels, and attractions that could be seen anywhere. Generic facilities are a good way to attract generic tourists—people who seek only better weather than they have back home and who will happily go elsewhere if another destination offers the same thing cheaper.

Everything developed for tourism should reflect distinctive aspects of Urdaibai, or Euskadi, or Spain (in descending order of importance). That mix of authenticity can provide tourists with a rich experience that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. What’s more, revenues from visitors who are sincerely interested in the Urdaibai area will benefit local people and encourage them to protect of the natural and cultural heritage upon which their income depends.

  1. U.M.: You are the creator of a concept as attractive as “geotourism”: the geographical tourism, which could be interpreted today as a paradigm of sustainable tourism. How do you define geotourism? In this context, what should be the tourist’s attitude to make their impact positive and to help ensure that tourism does not become a global problem?

J.T.: The definition of geotourism as we put forth via the National Geographic Society is “Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, geology, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” Our research shows that people interested in those things—“geotravelers”—stay longer and spend more than the average tourist.

An aside: An alternate, much narrower definition of “geotourism” focusing explicitly on geology has gained traction in connection with the international geoparks movement. While clearly different, the two usages are compatible and complementary. In terms of tourism quality, each adds interest to the other, as set forth in the Arouca Declaration (downloadable in four languages) made in 2011 at the International Geotourism Congress in that Portuguese city.—J.T.

If you’re a traveler with a geotouristic attitude, you want your presence to help enhance a place rather than degrade it. The simplest way to do this is to support the businesses that support the quality of the place—businesses that not only practice basic sustainability but also showcase the nature and culture of the place. Spend your money there, not with an international franchise hotel or eatery just like the ones back home. Each Euro you spend is like a vote. Support variety, not sameness. You’ll have a richer trip and take home more memories.

Santimamiñe cave drawings in Kortezubi, Urdaibai date from more than 12,000 years ago.

And of course, you need to be a responsible visitor and encourage the same behavior in others: Recycle your trash if possible, respect local culture, and treat historic sites with care. And do put away that selfie stick. Sure, take a couple of shots of yourselves, but then turn the camera instead toward the place and what it has to offer. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? If you’re visiting just to prove you have been to one more destination, you’re no geotraveler, just a selfie narcissist taking up space and adding to the overtourism problem. Instead, learn everything you can and tell the people back home about it. Put those things on Instagram and Youtube, rather than your own face.

  1. U.M.: Compatibility: Is tourism interested in the culture, historical heritage, the character of the territory, its natural environment, and the peculiarities of the societies it visits—is such tourism compatible with what is understood as “the tourism industry”?

J.T.: Yes and no. Yes, if “industry” is defined as any business that relies mainly on tourism, then it certainly is part of the industry.

This open-air Erregelak dance is one of numerous traditional Basque dances.

No, if it is mass tourism, high on volume and low on value per tourist footprint. What’s more, destinations catering to mass tourism tend to repel the tourists with the geotourism array of interests. Crammed beaches, amusement parks, and lots of T-shirt shops are not what they are looking for.

  1. U.M.: As certifications for quality, process, origin, etc. gain importance in all areas of society, do you consider it necessary for destinations obtain tourism certifications of sustainability and commitment to the environment?

J.T.: Certifications or ratings (my preference) help, partly to differentiate yourselves from those destinations that care nothing about sustainability, partly to encourage any less-motivated stakeholders within your own destination, and partly to monitor your own progress.

  1. U.M.: The National Geographic Society has been a pioneer and a world reference in the dissemination of natural wealth, culture, heritage and science and of the combination of these disciplines with travel and adventure, coming to create a style, a way of seeing the world. From your perspective as a representative for sustainable destinations, what do you think is the role of the specialized press in the development of respectful, integrated, and non-invasive tourism?

J.T.: Travel media have a variety of ways they can improve the conduct of tourism. It’s better to honestly inform than promote. If you do a good job as a travel journalist, the story you tell and show your public will do the promotion job for you. Increasingly, media need to encourage alternative destinations and sites—some media have already started doing this—to avoid overcrowding the famous places. Media need to encourage responsible travel and do the same with their advertisers. Even more than other specialties, travel media are notoriously close to their advertisers, a reality forced by the expensive economics of travel. Now, media may need to help educate their advertisers in how to promote destinations, tours, and accommodations more responsibly. Better to take focus off of generic resorts and golf courses and encourage advertisers instead to focus on the unique characteristics of the destination they are marketing.

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Madeira Wins by Attracting All Ages

[Above: The Areiro-to-Ruivo trail in central Madeira rises above the clouds and fog.]

It was my second day of a week-long winter vacation on Portugal’s magnificent Madeira island, and the Areiro-Ruivo trail fit the bill for a rugged, yet not overly strenuous hike through some stunning landscapes. With its breathtaking views, precipitous passageways, and verdant cliffs, it was a magical experience—an experience enhanced by the diverse ages of people on the hike. This beloved trail hosted multiple generations of outdoor lovers from 60-something pensioners to 30-something backpackers down to primary-school-age kids with their families.

And that cross-section of travelers on the trail hinted at Madeira’s secret to being a winning destination for travelers: It’s growing appeal to all ages.

Teleférico view of Funchal, capital of Madeira.

Before heading to Madeira in December, I knew little about the island except that it a) had a reputation as being a hikers’ paradise because of its mountainous terrain, b) promised good food, especially seafood and tropical fruits, c) would be warmer than most of the rest of Europe in winter, given its proximity to Africa, and d) could claim soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo as another famous export besides its sweet namesake wine. I had also read that Madeira, once a prime vacation spot for pensioners from the UK and other parts of colder-climate Europe, was changing into an all-ages destination.

For destinations that depend on tourism, age diversity not only means support for a broader variety of local businesses, but also greater loyalty among its customer base. For example, in the restaurant industry, when a destination attracts travelers from different age groups, the fast-casual, local menu-of-the-day, and Michelin-starred restaurants—that is, budget, mid-priced, and luxury—can all benefit from a share of tourism dollars.

What’s more, a destination that caters to a diversity of ages means children, youth, and young adult travelers are more likely to return – having been introduced to those destinations at a younger age.

What Madeira has done really well is provide affordability, accessibility, and an assortment of adventure activities to draw in travelers from across the age spectrum.

Affordability
As more people travel internationally to more destinations in the same year, low cost airlines and budget accommodations are among the biggest considerations for destination selection.  This is especially true for younger travelers with limited disposable incomes.  Madeira is not only served by several low-cost airlines, but has also seen discounted airfares from major airlines.

View of shared dorm room at my second hostel in Funchal (photo from Booking.com).

Additionally, while budget hotels and home-sharing services like Airbnb are popular with these travelers, hostels are often the go-to accommodation of choice, not just for the lower price point, but also for the chance to meet (and team up) with other independent travelers. In recent years, Madeira has seen several new hostels opening up in the center of Funchal, the capital. I ended up staying in two—one, a worn, bare-bones but comfortable hostel, and the other, beautiful, modern, and ultra-efficient. In both, I met friendly travelers of varying ages from around the world, most of them skewing toward 20s and 30s. And in both hostels, a bed in a shared dorm room cost around €17 (about USD 20) per night. In talking with my fellow hostel-mates, I learned that a combination of affordable flights and the availability of hostels helped put Madeira on their travel list, as on mine.

Adventure Activities
Madeira also made it on to our wish lists because of its world class hikes and walks—part of the growing adventure-travel niche. Besides hiking alongside peaks, such as Picos Areiro and Ruivo, there are dozens of hikes along Madeira’s famous canals, known as levadas. These levadas, originally built in the sixteenth century, brought water from the west and northwest of Madeira to the southeast for agriculture.

One of several levada tunnels that you encounter on the Caldeira Verde walk.

Today, the levadas continue to provide water to the south of the island, and with the additional service of providing hydro-electric power. The more than 1,350 miles (2,170 km) of levadas on the island often have the additional benefit of serving as walking paths, some an easy walk and others involving tough climbs and hair-raising descents.

During my three hikes—Picos Areiro to Ruivo, São Lourenço, and Levada do Caldeirao Verde—I was impressed with not only the amazing scenery but the general upkeep of the trails. They were well marked and well maintained, making it hard to get lost and easier to avoid dangerous spills.

View from the São Lourenço trail.

Besides all of the walks and hikes, the hostels I stayed at provided information on several outdoor guides and trip operators for other adventure travel activities like canyoning, diving, and snorkeling. While I didn’t book any guides or trip operators, the fact that such offerings existed meant there was a healthy number of travelers interested in them – with much of that interest from younger travelers.

Accessibility
Madeira makes itself accessible, by providing good, traveler-friendly information and serviceable public transit. For travelers who prefer to explore on their own, this accessibility can also help make a destination more appealing.

One of the covers for the Funchal USE-IT map and guide (2017 edition).

Upon my arrival at my first hostel, the owner provided me with two free guides that were indispensable to my stay on Madeira. The first was a handy map and guide to Funchal, by the European grassroots volunteer group USE-IT, which “stands for no-nonsense tourist info for young people,” according to their website. Not only did the map orient me, it provided information on history, local foods, festivals, must-see sites, and other things helpful for travelers, including transport options and how to find free wifi hotspots. The USE-IT guide was so useful it barely survived the trip, after being hauled around in my backpack and opened countless times.

The second guide, a three-page pamphlet, presented over 20 hikes on the island, many of them levada walks. The pamphlet made planning for these levada walks easy, including transit options to reach them.

You can even check out weather conditions at key locations by means of web cams scattered throughout the island – another useful tool for travelers to plan their itineraries.

Public transit, while not very frequent and not widespread on Madeira, did make it possible for me (car-free on vacations for five years and counting) to be able to do the Levada do Caldeirao Verde hike on my own. The São Lourenço hike can also be reached by bus. For the car-accessible-only trail from Picos Areiro to Ruivo I was able to split the costs of a cheap two-day rental car with a friendly group of travelers—a couple of Czech sisters and a Slovak solo traveler— from my first hostel.

The Slovak told me of another hike that he had done taking the public bus. The guide listed a few others accessible by bus as well. While renting a car is desirable for experiencing the best of Madeira, you can still experience many of the island’s highlights by bus with careful planning and enough time (say, a week or more).

Award Winning Island Destination
Given all this, along with impressive scenery, world class food and drink, and living cultural heritage, it’s not surprising that the 2017 World Travel Awards (the “Oscars of the Travel Industry”) gave Madeira the title of “World’s Leading Island Destination”—a title it has now held for three consecutive years.

Even more important, by drawing in a younger set of travelers through its strengths—accessibility, affordability, and adventure travel—Madeira isn’t only promoting destination loyalty but ensuring tourism longevity.

Best Wishes for 2018

…from the Destination Stewardship Center.

Keep an eye out for news on the January release of our first “World’s Inspiring Places” video, on further developments in the battle to control “overtourism, on exemplary stewardship councils, and on a new initiative to measure destination stewardship, as well as our continuing news aggregation on stewardship successes and failures worldwide. Join us and post your own blog about stewardship techniques!

Nominate Now: 2018 Sustainable Destinations Top 100

[Above: Tourists admire a vista in the Azores, a previous Sustainable Destinations Top 100 winner. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Open for Applications

For the fourth time, the Sustainable Destinations Global Top 100 competition is organised by ten leading sustainable tourism organisations and networks, including the Destination Stewardship Center. Our general aim is to highlight success stories, and to exchange good practices to make all destinations more sustainable, and better for local communities and travellers. A second aim is to help destinations to improve: Destinations that register for the Top 100 will learn how to develop their tourism through local community involvement. It is in the destination’s interest to avoid “overtourism” and local resistance. This is why we have chosen the following theme for this year’s competition:

“Tourism to benefit local communities”

By publishing an annual list and by sharing destination management good practices and success stories, the initiators wish to acknowledge initiatives making tourism destinations more sustainable, responsible, and better from a visitor experience point of view. Selection of a destination in the Top 100 does not mean it is fully sustainable. It means that it has made good efforts, and is making progress.

Destination Eligibility

Cities, towns, islands, and protected areas are eligible if a person, a team or an organisation is in charge of tourism destination management and sustainability. In exceptional cases, countries and regions may be eligible when their size is less than 50,000 sq km. Accommodations, single buildings, attractions and theme parks are not eligible. Eco-lodges and privately owned protected areas are eligible if there is an effective stewardship for a considerable area that is otherwise not managed.

To nominate

  • To nominate a destination, e-mail: top100@greendestinations.org.
  • If the destination is considered eligible, you will receive a login on the Green Destinations online platform.
  • If you have limited Internet access, you will receive a Nomination form (Excel).
  • Participation in the competition is free—no fee.

For more information on requirements, procedures, and evaluations, download 2018-Top100-Call-for-Nominations-Dec17(pdf)

Key Dates

The online platform is open for nominations now. Nominations will be evaluated in two stages.

15 Feb 2018    Final day for ‘early bird’ nominations
2 April 2018     First 50 ‘early bird’ destinations notified of selection
1 May 2018     Final day for nominations
30 June 2018  Second 50 destinations notified of selection
24 Sept 2018  The 2018 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations announced

Top 100 International Panel
The procedure and the evaluation is supervised and supported by: Albert Salman, the Netherlands. President, Green Destinations Anne-Kathrin Zschiegner, Switzerland. The Long Run Brian T. Mullis, Oregon, USA. Founder of STI; Destination Management Specialist Geoff Bolan, USA. CEO, Sustainable Travel International (STI) Glenn Jampol, Costa Rica. President, Global Ecotourism Network (GEN) Hugo de Jong, the Netherlands. QualityCoast and QualityTourism Awards Jonathan B. Tourtellot, USA. Destination Stewardship Center Marloes Van De Goor, President, International Institute for Animal Ethics (IIAE) Masaru Takayama, Japan. President, Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN) Peter Prokosch, Norway. Linking Tourism & Conservation (LT&C) Valere Tjolle, UK / Italy. TravelMole’s VISION on Sustainable Tourism.

This is a preliminary list of Panel members representing Top 100 Partner organisations. The evaluation of nominations will be supported by ca. 100 experts in the field of responsible and sustainable tourism.