8 Ways to Build a More Sustainable Future for Tourism - Part 1

person biking through amsterdam
by Chris Adams
Head of Research & Insights

Part One of a Two-Part Blog Series - Read Part Two

Earth Day’s 50th anniversary on April 22, 2020 reminds us of the importance of sustainability and stewardship, protecting the planet on which we live, and our visitor industry relies.

It comes at a time when we are facing another immediate global crisis. While the COVID-19 crisis presents many challenges, it also presents a unique opportunity. “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” famously declared Winston Churchill. This was also reprised by Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s Chief of Staff during the Great Financial Crisis in 2008. Rather than simply replicate past approaches during the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, this moment in time is a chance to review, reshape and “future-proof” your organization 

This includes the opportunity to reset the role of DMOs to take a far stronger leadership in destination stewardship and sustainability.

This two-part blog series provides eight steps DMOs can take to reevaluate their sustainability efforts in light of the current COVID-19 crisis. These steps are all interconnected, so develop your own plan of action based on integrating parts of each. In Part 1 of this series, we highlight:

1.  Strengthen Your Role in Destination Management
2.  A Unifying Vision for Your Destination
3.  A Clear Sense of What Makes Your Destination Special
4.  Engage with Locals Now and for the Long Term

Clarity in a Time of Crisis: Special Edition Earth Day Webinar – Watch the presentations and review the insights, research and examples from our panel of industry experts: Destination Analysts, Colorado Tourism Office, Travel Oregon and Solimar International. 

1.  Strengthen Your Role in Destination Management.

This was already a significant trend amongst DMOs prior to the COVID-19 crisis. In reimagining your organization post COVID-19, determine how to build capabilities and solutions in destination management to become a true Destination Management and Marketing Organization (DMMO). From the U.S. states of Oregon and Colorado to the countries of Slovenia and Finland, there are already hundreds of examples of destinations around the world that have an important and valued role in destination management and development.

Resource: In an introductory framework for destination management, Miles and Solimar International have developed this four-part model as a starting point to consider the skills, capabilities and programs you need. 

destination management framework

2.  A Unifying Vision for Your Destination.

A destination strategy is one important way to build a unifying vision and framework to guide your role as a DMMO. A well-developed strategy can be the result of a highly organized planning process or a far more informal process of consultation. Critical to a credible strategy is the involvement and support of all key stakeholder groups as well as regularly reviewing and updating your plan to keep it relevant. Ground the destination strategy on the principles of sustainable development (see the UN Sustainable Development Goals below). It should both share a long-term vision and provide short-term practical guidance in the development of tourism in your destination.

Resources:  See the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals as a frame of reference in thinking about sustainability in your destination. The Triple Bottom Line (Profit, Planet, People) is a more traditional and simpler way of thinking about the same goal: tourism that works for everyone. 

3.  A Clear Sense of What Makes Your Destination Special.

Perhaps the most important part of a successful destination strategy is a clear consensus on what makes your destination special. The includes the values, unique places, and experiences that locals, community groups and visitor love about your destination and want to nurture and protect. There are many possible ways in which tourism development can be managed, but a shared understanding of the special values of a destination is fundamental to successfully managing the process.

Resources:  There are many formats for effective destination strategies and if needed, dozens of agencies you can employ to help you develop one. Three examples:

  • Our partners at Solimar International worked with the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau on a recent destination development plan which focuses on four pillars in destination management – Environment, Resident Quality of Life, Sustainable Economy and the Visitor Experience. See the Sedona Sustainable Tourism Plan here.
  • Destination Think’s approach to defining a destination’s special values is called its “Place DNA,” illustrated by this example of a recent Destination Strategy they developed with Tourism Bay of Plenty, New Zealand’s ‘Te Ha Tapoi – The Love of Tourism’ (see below).
  • Cathy Ritter, Director of the Colorado Tourism Office, highlighted their strategic Colorado Tourism Road Map as critical to expanding their role in destination management during our Earth Day webinar.
sustainable tourism plans

4. Engage with Locals Now and for the Long-Term.

Travel is built on the goodwill, hospitality and support of local residents. With the growth of tourism through the first two decades of the 21st century, this was often overlooked. Too often the voices of residents were only heard when they spoke up in opposition to the problems of visitor growth.

Now we have an opportunity to reset this because of COVID-19. In almost every destination, community and economic recovery will start with locals. DMMOs can and should take an active role in engaging their local residents (within official health guidance) which will provide a unique opportunity to reconnect and engage with locals in the long-term. Beyond short-term locals activation programs, develop a long-term strategy for connecting with locals, from sharing new or off-season experiences or events to highlighting resources for visiting friends and relatives to solicitating their feedback and support on how the visitor industry needs to recover and develop.

Resources:  Travel Oregon has one of the most comprehensive approaches to engaging with local communities including residents and the critical government, community and private sector entities. Its Destination Management Network across the state of Oregon is a great template to review as well as this case study for Oregon’s North Coast.  More immediately, hundreds of destinations have launched programs connecting with their locals during the COVID-19 crisis. Three standout examples include Chattanooga, Tennessee U.S.,  Flagstaff, Arizona, U.S. and Wellington, New Zealand.

Read Part 2 for the other four ways to build a more sustainable future:

5. Future-Focused Tourism Funding Models
6. Infrastructure That Builds the Future
7. Regenerative Tourism – Tourism That Gives Back
8. Placemaking – Building a Great Place to Work, Invest, Study and Visit

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