8 Ways to Build a More Sustainable Future for Tourism - Part 2

woman in red coat and bicycle looking over harbor of boats
by Chris Adams
Head of Research & Insights

Earth Day Principles

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day highlights the opportunity and critical importance of change. There is an opportunity for destinations to emerge from the current COVID-19 crisis with changes to spur a renewed focus on sustainability and stewardship.

In this second part of our two-part blog series, we summarize the four remaining priority steps for embracing these “Earth Day” principles:

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

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. 

5.  Future-Focused Tourism Funding Models

Managing tourism that is sustainable and generates widely shared benefits is a public good but costs money. This is the textbook definition of a cost justifying a public funding model. Right now is a pivotal moment in tourism funding. As travel has come to a halt during the COVID-19 crisis, tourism funding has collapsed for destinations relying on bed taxes, tourism improvement districts, airport and/or rental car fees. This unparalleled crisis provides an opportunity to rethink how, when and why visitors contribute to the costs generated by the industry. Seize this opportunity to review your funding, assessing options for addressing current weaknesses and creating a future-focused model. Funding that is resilient in times of crisis  shares costs more equally, is an efficient, low cost way to raise funds and provides critical signals to the market on when and how to travel (e.g.: higher taxes/fees in peak season and lower taxes/fees in the off season).

Resources: A range of destinations, many in Europe, have introduced new, future-focused tourism taxes and fees including Amsterdam’s Day Tourist Tax for cruise passengers, Croatia’s peak season tourist tax, Austin, Texas’ hotel tax funding for live music and Japan’s International Tourist Tax.

white airplane sign in airport

6.  Infrastructure That Builds for the Future

The tourism industry, and tourism funding sources, is one critical constituency for improving public infrastructure used by both visitors and locals. The recovery from COVID-19 will see massive public works programs in many countries to stimulate the economic recovery and employment. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build future-focused infrastructure that makes travel within our destinations more sustainable. Investments that accelerate a shift to renewable energy (e.g.: solar, wind, hydro), lower vehicle emissions (e.g.: charging stations along highways) and improve public transportation are key. Make sure your DMMO has a “seat at the table” in advocating for infrastructure that will not only help tourism recover, but do so in a more sustainable way.

Resources:  Norway is the global leader in electric vehicle (EV) adoption. 75% of all new cars sold in March 2020 were electric with most rental car fleets for visitors heavily featuring EVs. Both Oregon (see right) and Colorado are among an increasing number of U.S. states featuring electric byways. 

man in checker shirt plugging into blue ev

7.  Regenerative Tourism – Tourism That Covers Its Costs & Gives Back

No other sector of the economy has more benefit from sustainability and stewardship than the tourism industry. Money spent protecting and improving the natural environment or enhancing communities is a direct benefit to our visitor industry. However, too often tourism is seen as taking advantage of these attributes rather than “paying its own way” or even actively seeking to improve them. Tourism needs to move from being perceived as part of the problem in sustainability to part of the solution. In short, regenerative tourism.

First, destinations need to accurately assess and estimate the costs of visitors in their destination. Second, they should look beyond simply covering these costs to identifying specific areas in which tourism can improve and enhance the environment and/or communities. Finally, as noted above, they need to develop a future-focused tourism funding model that can cover its costs and invest in regenerative projects. Identify specific programs or projects that can make a difference at scale and connect tourism as a key stakeholder. From wetlands protections to homeless shelters, reforestation programs to more vibrant community arts and culture, our tourism industry can and should be seeking to improve the places we call home.

Resources: “Destinations at Risk – The Invisible Burden of Tourism” is a 2019 report (see below) from Cornell University and NGO partners that provides guidance and best practices for destinations assessing the true costs of tourism on their destination. CoolEffect is a leader in carbon offset programs that  offer compelling secondary benefits to local communities and environments. Travelers and/or the travel industry can offset the carbon footprint of travel but also select programs that enhance the environment and/or communities in locations across the U.S. and around the world.*

*Miles Partnership offset its carbon footprint for core parts of its business activity and business travel using CoolEffect for 2020. 

the invisible burden of tourism chart with blue and orange

8.  Placemaking – Building a Great Place to Work, Invest, Study and Visit

The COVID-19 crisis has created extreme disruption across many parts of the economy. Recovery needs an integrated, collaborative approach with industry sectors working together. This crisis is an ideal opportunity to consider how the tourism industry can work collaboratively with other stakeholders focused on making your destination a special place to work, invest, study and visit. There is compelling evidence all these objectives are interrelated. Longwoods International has undertaken numerous large research studies illustrating a “Halo Effect”, that visitors to a destination are more likely to investigate these other opportunities.   Great Britain and London provide perhaps the most integrated example of visitor marketing tightly connected to wider economic development, arts/culture promotion and beyond. New Zealand and its New Zealand Story and Fernmark national branding program is another. Such integrated approaches not only share costs but can provide more secure public funding as tourism is seen as one critical part of a destination’s broader image and economic development. One challenge to overcome in this broader economic development model is ensuring tourism retains specialist skills as well as the speed, flexibility and results-centric focus relevant to travel.

Resources:  See this overview of Longwoods International Halo Effect Research and its specific case study on Michigan. Check out Great Britain’s comprehensive national campaign (see below) covering arts/culture, industry and tourism. London and Partners is a city EDA also with tight integration of tourism and other areas.  The New Zealand Story is the national content and marketing platform that also manages the Fernmark brand used by tourism, sports, arts & culture and economic sectors.

white astin martin in a lit up garage

Read Part One for the first four ways to build a more sustainable future:

  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

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