Category: Uncategorized

Sustainable tourism certifications can help with these beautiful destinations

Sustainable tourism certifications are designed to voluntarily assess and monitor the environmental and social impacts of tourism organizations or destinations that facilitate tourism activities. Accreditation is done by certification bodies according to many criteria regarding business practices, social policy (i.e. human rights, fair labour, and child protection), environmental impact (i.e. CO2 emissions, water, waste, biodiversity, animal welfare), supply chain and procurement, business partners, and more.  To the consumer, these labels indicate that a baseline of generally accepted requirements for sustainable tourism is met and that the company is committed to a sustainable approach to the environment and the local community in a particular destination. But do sustainable tourism schemes truly work as intended?

Conventional Tourism

Conventional tourism has a negative impact on the globe. A 2018 study by Nature Climate Change reported that over 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions were traced back to the tourism industry. Wracked with carbon emissions, environmental and habitat damagecareless infrastructure development, and human rights violations, tourism is not often a champion of environmentalism. Furthermore, rarely does the money from tourism traffic filter down to individual people in tourism destinations. Many of the big players in tourism get wealthy, while small, independently-owned companies and individuals can be pushed out of popular destinations by increasing property values.

When the tourism industry in a destination becomes saturated with corporate interests, economic insecurity and growing wealth inequalities among local people in popular destinations, especially in the global South, can be the result. Rapid infrastructure development may contribute to environmental damage of fragile habitats, increased resource use can damage surrounding ecosystems and limit local access to critical resources including food and water, and the commodification of culture can compromise the authenticity and local community’s agency over their cultural practices. Furthermore, tourism is growing. In 1960, there were about 70 million international tourist arrivals. Today, there are almost 1.5 billion. This movement is immense and unlikely to wane.

Despite many ill environmental and social effects of conventional tourism, the benefits of truly sustainable tourism approaches are plenty. Tourism can strengthen communities with increasing tourist capital and economic opportunitiesreduce wealth inequality, incentivize investments in local infrastructure, including health care and education, facilitate cross-cultural exchange, and improve the visibility of important heritage sites, natural landscapes, and fragile ecosystems. The large numbers of travelers represent an opportunity to direct growing tourism into environmental and socially beneficial efforts. Thus, the question becomes even more potent in an increasingly global, and environmentally strained world: is there an avenue for tourism that can capitalize on the benefits of increasing tourist traffic, while minimizing the industry’s damages?

The Solution?

A movement towards more sustainable tourism, or ecotourism, can be part of this solution. Raising awareness about the impact of tourism and bringing stakeholders together is one way to achieve this through Sustainable Tourism Certifications. Over the past three decades, many initiatives have taken shape, with different sets of standards and resulting in many different schemes. Because the certification process is voluntary and because of the abundance of labels that are emerging, sustainable tourism certifications are often criticized and viewed as greenwashing (misleading labeling or unjustified claims of sustainable practices). Therefore, complete transparency of practices, measures, and results is the most important condition for a process toward sustainable development of an organization or destination.

When these schemes involve a number of stakeholders, including customers, small businesses, corporate interests, and local service providers, and consider the environmental impact of the effort as a whole entity, they can be incredibly valuable, sustainable, and regenerative economically and environmentally. These efforts could contribute to the achievement of many of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, including minimizing poverty, hunger, and gender inequalities, and improving education, work opportunities, safe industry and infrastructure, and responsible consumption.

Sustainable tourism certification schemes explained

The leading international organization in the field of tourism is UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization). They promote responsible, sustainable, and accessible tourism as a driver of economic growth and inclusive development. About 15 years ago, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) was formed by 32 tourism industry partners, including UNWTO and Solimar International, to foster universal sustainable tourism practices. They developed a method for accrediting certifying bodies and certification programs, with the aim that these programs are objective and transparent. In essence, the GSTC provides the standards and the stamp of approval of the certification programs themselves, rather than getting involved in the direct certification of businesses or destinations; that is the job of the numerous sustainable tourism certifications adopting GSTC criteria.

For example, Green Destinations is one GSTC-accredited certification body for destinations. They support global destinations and tourism organizations with their sustainable tourism certification schemes, focused on a sustainable management cycle of continuous improvement and assessment of responsible tourism. Green Destinations uses the GSTC criteria, adapted for specific destination contexts, to certify destinations based on their level of sustainability performance. Solimar International and Green Destinations are working together at the country level including in destinations like Timor-Leste and the Maldives to share best practices, such as through the Green Destinations Top 100 Competition, and the Green Destinations Good Travel Seal White Label Certification Scheme. These programs enable recognition of destination sustainability efforts while providing important information to travelers seeking sustainable experiences.

Several other notable schemes which are effective in encouraging environmental awareness may not be GSTC accredited, but they do include the GSTC standards and/or the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Blue Flag has a global accreditation program for beaches, marinas and tourism boats and promotes sustainable development in freshwater and marine areas. GreenKey audits and certifies tourism establishments (accommodation, restaurants, attractions and more) and promotes sustainable methods of operation and technologies, offering carbon and water calculation tools. Travelife is a certifying body for tour operators and travel agents. The program includes managing the impact of accommodation, transport and excursion providers. They offer a wide range of training and management tools to improve social and environmental impact in the destination. Biosphere tourism is a certification scheme that includes companies involved in destinations, events, hotels, and transportation, measuring environmental performance and social and cultural impacts.

Limitations of Sustainable Tourism Certification Schemes

Certification schemes are not without their complexities. Currently, over 100 companies claim to have developed sustainable tourism certification schemes to measure the impacts of tourism, from municipal waste, climate costs, and financial burdens. While these schemes tout their accreditation methods, many are certifying that the stakeholders they work for have met a minimum standard, instead of encouraging improved environmental and human conditions. Most certifications reward companies for doing their homework, but they don’t set standards for minimum wages, workers rights, and environmental initiatives.

Importantly, certification schemes must be transparent in order to be credible. Many resulting figures and measures from certifications are often unavailable to the consumer. Contrary to other certification schemes, sustainable tourism accreditation is often measuring progress or an effort to track progress against an unknown baseline. Certification programs such as Green Destinations offer destinations a goal to work towards improving their sustainability practices, which is an important aim in and of itself.

While it is critical that businesses measure impact and costs, the bigger picture can still have a negative impact. A company is part of a complex system, where the individual business may meet the criteria, but still harms the system as a whole. An example could be a certified hotel in a desert area. The hotel is incredibly resource intensive, extracting a depth of resources from a water-poor desert environment. Operations like this do not serve people or the environment.

In this case, the certifications the hotel has received are effective at attracting lucrative business and well-intentioned customers, but not for creating equitable environmental and social conditions for local ecosystems and people. Usually, there are no obligations to keep profits at the destination to contribute to this local ecosystem, but international chains shift their earnings to tax havens. Updating these certification schemes to include minimum requirements for acceptable environmental practices and working conditions for employees and include a fair contribution to the local ecosystem could hugely improve the broader sustainability goals.

Conclusion and Further Readings

Despite these limitations that can lead customers astray, the efforts to become a certified sustainable tourism business offer opportunities to improve environmental and social circumstances, address climate change, land use, animal welfare, and create healthy economies. Successful integration of sustainable practices and management can support a sustainable socioeconomic development strategy, increased economic security, and improved environmental conditions.

Do you represent a destination of tourism organization interested in being certified as sustainable? Solimar can help you to choose a certification program that suits your future sustainability goals. Contact us to learn more.

 

Written by Cat Padgett and Carla Rijnders on January 19, 2023
destination management

Destination management is the process in which Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) work with stakeholders to increase development of the tourism sector, gain more tourists, address challenges, and bring more benefit to the local community. In the case of Solimar, this is also done while ensuring that this development is conducted sustainably, both from an economic perspective as well as an environmental perspective. This practice sounds simple in theory, but it can be a complicated process that requires coordination with a large group of people with diverse interests. Solimar is currently working in the Sugar River Region of New Hampshire to help develop a DMO from the ground up, as well as establish a website and marketing plan for the destination. 

The Sugar River Region of New Hampshire is a picturesque New England destination that is made up of fourteen towns and one city. The region has hiking trails with scenic views, historic covered bridges, as well as quaint small-town charm as you travel from town to town. Solimar is partnered with the Sugar River Destination Council, the existing organization concerned with tourism, to assist in creating a Destination Management Plan that will benefit all the local stakeholders. The first step in this process was to create a DMO, and the Sugar River Region Destination Council (SRRDC) was established to coordinate and create, as well as conduct Destination Management. 

new hampshire

Engaging Stakeholders in Destination Management & Understanding the Destination

To successfully manage a destination, it is important that the DMO fully understands the unique challenges and opportunities of the place. To understand your destination, you have to understand the tourists that are interested in visiting, as well as how to keep local residents satisfied. This holistic approach makes it very clear that different stakeholders and industries that are involved in tourism must be unified in their efforts in order to create a seamless experience for tourists. 

Outside of the Sugar River Region example, Solimar has also created comprehensive Destination Management Plans in other regions of the world. Solimar’s work in Timor-Leste established a network of businesses that were key to the tourism sector of the island, and also assisted the community in creating a DMO. This community-based approach has yielded a lot of success for the local businesses throughout the island and has helped Solimar to hone its framework for creating and managing DMOs. destination stakeholders discuss topics related to management

In the case of the Sugar River Region, Solimar and the SRRDC worked together to consult with a wide variety of organizations and individuals to better understand the needs of the community, as well as the goals these stakeholders shared for the community. These talks were held with local governments, tour and transport operators, accommodation providers, educators, business owners, as well as residents from across the region. Once common goals for the region are established, the DMO can guide the Destination Management Plan in the direction it needs to in order to reach these goals. This is an important part of community-based tourism, which is crucial to creating a sustainable Destination Management Plan. 

Understanding the goals of all the stakeholders involved in the destination is critical, but it is also important to understand exactly what the destination has to offer as well as its capacity to host tourists. Conducting research on tourism, as well as the impacts it will have on the region is vital in order to stay true to the holistic approach. For one, this research can underscore the potential pitfalls that could occur if destination management is not done incorrectly. These downsides could pertain to environmental, economic, or social concerns. These concerns must be addressed in the Destination Management Plan to ensure that the destination is developed in a sustainable manner. These studies can also identify key opportunities to further develop attractions to bring success to the destination. 

When background research was conducted in the Sugar River Region, key opportunities for collaboration with local stakeholders were highlighted. For instance, they found that cultural events in the region could be expanded to attract more visitors while partnerships between local businesses and residents of the region could be enhanced to make decision-making and strategizing more collaborative.

Considering Infrastructure and Logistics in Destination Management 

Once goals are established, it is important to evaluate the region’s capacity and infrastructure in order to determine how best to move forward. For instance, where are the closest airports to the region, and is it easy to get there from the airports once tourists have arrived? In less developed tourism industries abroad, this step is very important to destination management. 

Luckily, in the case of the Sugar River Region, the area is close to three airports in Boston, Hartford, and Burlington. There are shuttles that run from two of these airports, but the most scenic way to see the area is to rent a car and use it for travel! The Destination Development Plan aims to encourage this, as it is an easy way to get around the area while still getting to see all the breathtaking sights before you. In fact, the Sugar River Region plans to promote designated Sugar River Region Scenic Routes, which will connect the towns and bring you near historical markers. 

There are many moving parts within destination management. As previously mentioned, understanding the region and its residents is necessary to ensure that the DMO is promoting equitable and sustainable practices in tourism development. Tourism is a fast-paced industry, therefore coordination and constant communication among stakeholders is the name of the game. Some examples of these coordination efforts within the Sugar River Region project are: 

  • Ensure that campgrounds in the New England woods are properly prepared to host guests
  • Organize with local accommodations and restaurants to boost their visibility to tourists
  • Cooperate with cultural groups, such as the Claremont Arts Council to ensure that there are a myriad of events to encourage tourists to visit
  • Work with local governments to establish a Visitor Center for tourists. 
  • Ensure that hiking trails are maintained and promoted 

The DMO responsible for destination management also must ensure that the destination becomes successful, as this will bring more profits to the area and sustain the Destination Development Plan. Sustainability necessitates processes that are environmentally, socially and financially maintainable. Achieving this can be very difficult, but incredibly beneficial process to ensure that a destination’s tourism sector is developed sustainably. 

arts center community development

Marketing & Destination Management 

It is the role of the DMO to manage and coordinate with various organizations in the local tourism network. While this is the case, another important aspect of destination management is digital destination marketing. Digital marketing can change the reach of marketing campaigns for a destination from a local audience to a global one. Especially today, it is important that a destination has a strong digital footprint. With a strong digital footprint, it is easier for people to discover your destination and learn more about it. 

The first step to building a strong digital footprint is to create a tourism website. This website should aim to not only promote the region, its attractions and its people, but also to encourage others to visit. In the case of the Sugar River Region, Solimar is currently working in conjunction with the SRRDC to make a website that will fit the destination’s needs. The website must ensure that campgrounds are listed online, as well as restaurants, and that events are properly listed and up to date. This requires a significant amount of information from the various stakeholders. 

Creating a website itself is a significant undertaking, and it requires the same coordination between stakeholders that is necessary for the other aspects of destination management that have been previously discussed. The DMO must also ensure that social media posts are created which boost interest in the region and let tourists know that the destination has much to offer. Social media is a very powerful tool in increasing how much attention your destination gets, and destination management should account for utilizing social media to receive these benefits.

Destination management is an all-encompassing process that ensures that a Destination Management Plan is created and followed. The DMO responsible for destination management must ensure that all stakeholders are consulted, and that the destination is developed in a way that will help achieve these goals. 

This is not an easy process, and one that requires careful coordination. However, by properly addressing these concerns, the Destination Management Plan will ensure that the destination becomes both sustainable and beneficial to all members involved, including the local government, the businesses and the community. The Sugar River Region is a great example of Solimar’s destination management process being put into practice. We encourage you to visit the area and see all that it has to offer! 

Liked learning about Destination Management and want to hear more? Take one of our courses to learn more about destination management! Visit our Institute for Sustainable Destinations website today: https://institute.solimarinternational.com/

Tourism is truly a booming industry and affects many people around the world. Some destinations have flourished, but many have had to endure the negative aspects of tourism. Taking into account all of the global issues we face nowadays, such as climate change and pandemics, it is now more crucial than ever to assure a destination is thoroughly planned and effectively managed. In this blog we cover the question of what a destination development plan is, what process it undergoes and why every destination needs one.

What is Destination Development?

The development of a destination is the process of evolving the location’s supply side of tourism in order to meet the area’s tourism demands. This can be achieved by adding supporting infrastructure, including accommodations, transport, technological advancements, but also intangible aspects like workforce development. Destination development will automatically occur when the demand for a destination increases; so it is vital to ensure it is a strategically executed process.

Why is it important to plan a destination’s development? 

Planning a destination’s development is a crucial process, which provides tourism organizations with the needed tools to achieve a common goal. In any destination the necessary steps must be taken early on in the process to prevent unhealthy growth. 

How do destinations change over time?

Destinations can evolve quite drastically over time, especially emerging destinations. Emerging destinations typically have more local participation. As they become more developed, they get an influx of foreign investors and business owners who can change the feel of a destination.

What are the social impacts of tourism?

It is more or less inevitable for a destination with an attractive tourist offer to become popular. Take for example an emerging destination. With an increase in visitors, more and more outside business interests will see it as an opportunity. Once international interest for the area starts to increase, new challenges and barriers emerge for service providers as they don’t have the training and knowledge to capture markets coming from outside the country.

Without a destination development plan that considers growth, as well as the needs of tourists and service providers, destinations are going to miss that market entirely. This can lead to another investor from the outside with the necessary expertise taking advantage of the growing market.

This in return will entirely change the visitor experience. The destination will lose its authenticity: its uniqueness and with that its ability to compete and differentiate itself from other destinations. 

How can tourism planning help the environment and its protection?

Generally global tourism isn’t known for being environmentally friendly. Increased demand leads to an increase in travel, as well as the destruction of nature to acquire greater space and resources. Even further, this is all done for the few “good” months of the year, in which tourism is optimal.  

However, by introducing a tourism strategy, it is then possible to minimize these effects and maximize the environment’s protection. 

By including a careful assessment of the region’s environmental problems as well as possible threats it could face with an increase in tourism into the destination analysis, one can set a clear goal. One can include these critical environmental aspects into the objectives and incentivize the creation of policies that can protect the destination’s environment. 

In addition, tourism generates two key resources that can be harnessed to protect the environment. 

  • Increased financial income: Earmark a portion of the profits and direct them towards local environmental conservation activities.
  • People’s engagement: Reach agreements with local beneficiaries to make an individual commitment to support the project outcome. 
Set the roots for sustainable destination development
Set the roots and groundwork for sustainable and maintainable growth early on.

What is a Destination Development Plan?

Destination Development Plans (DDPs), also known as Destination Development Strategies or Destination Management Plans, are all closely related tourism plans.

Tourism plans are holistic strategies, dedicated to a defined tourist area, which based upon intricate destination research and a market analysis, form destination specific objectives and correlating approaches. The strategy is designed to create a guiding plan to develop and manage a destination to its specific needs and reach a common goal.

The strategy should always have an outcome in mind to maximize local economic profit and set the groundwork for sustainable and maintainable growth.

Solimar International refers to the term Destination Development Plan, as for most of their sites, development is a major part of the objective. 

What does a Destination Development Plan generally include?

Destination Development Plans can generally be split into two halves. 

  1. Situation Analysis: A detailed evaluation of the destination’s current state. This would include information on existing tourism assets, available tourism services, the industry’s performance and its competitors, as well as involved parties for tourism policy, management, marketing and investment. 
  2. Future Goal: Concluded from the analysis, the future goal is both the desired outcome for the development of the destination as well as the means to get there. It is vital to agree upon a shared vision and form several strategic objectives to focus on.
Chasing a shared destination vision
Make sure you chase a shared and reasonable goal.

How do you make a plan for a Tourism Destination?

The process of making a plan for a tourism destination can differ. This is greatly affected by the type of stakeholders that are involved and especially whether the destination already has a Destination Management Organisation. However they usually all follow similar steps of action.

In the Visit Tunisia Project, where Solimar was contracted to develop a National Tourism Strategy and six regional destination development plans aligning with the national strategy, the process underwent the following steps.

Developing a destination should go step by step
Destination development planning should be a step by step process.
  1. Understand the place and all of its attractions.

    This is especially important for consulting companies like Solimar. Foreign entities cannot just come in and create a plan for a destination; in order to gather on-site knowledge and incorporate different local perspectives in the plan, it is imperative to involve local stakeholders in the process.

  2. Understand the visitor.

    This step will directly influence the path a destination will take. It is important to figure out what kinds of people visit the destination, for how long and when. Once this is understood, it will provide vital information on visitors’ behavior and how to better attract your target audience. This will shape the future of a destination.

  3. Inventory what services are available. 

    It is crucial to understand the destination’s existing human capital, as well as infrastructure (including accommodations, tourist facilities, transportation, signage, retail, hospital facilities, payment options etc.)

  4. Bring it all together with the SWOT Analysis.

    The SWOT Analysis is a final conclusion, drawn from the situation analysis, which displays all of the internal, as well as external positives and negatives to a destination: the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

  5. Develop the future vision and its major objectives. 

    With the accumulated in-depth knowledge from the situation analysis, you have the groundwork for what the obtainable future vision will be. The main goal will then be divided into several clear objectives and the needed approaches. Here the destination asks itself, in what direction should this development go? 

  6. Set the plan up for success by ending with an Action Matrix.

    The process of making a DDP already brings its own benefits, however it can easily be abandoned once development begins. Therefore it is indispensable to create a plan of action to accomplish the objectives aimed for. Each strategic initiative should have several actions dedicated to it. For each action it is important to identify the partners responsible for its implementation and create a timeline (near-, mid-, and long-term).

What entities are involved in the process of making a Destination Development Plan?

The question of who is in charge of making a destination development plan, as well as what kinds of entities get involved, mainly comes down to whether the destination already has a DMO which in addition needs sufficient resources and knowledge to complete such a process. In the case where there is not a DMO or they don’t have enough of an experienced workforce, they hire a consultant such as Solimar.

Apart from the DMO or consulting company, there are three separate levels of partners involved in the process of making a destination’s strategy. 

  • Donor: With emerging destinations especially, donors make up the first layer. For example, in the case of the “Visit Tunisia Project,” the donor is USAID. 
  • National level partners: Government institutions or independent organizations given the power by the government to manage the tourism sector or other intersecting sectors. Examples of these include the Ministry of Tourism in Namibia, the Forest Department of Liberia  or the Ministry of Environment in Uganda. 
  • Local industry associations, such as tour guide associations, hotel owner associations or artisanal associations. This third level, especially for emerging destinations without an established tourism organization, creates a deep connection with local stakeholders and lets the local community be represented.

What is the purpose of a Destination Development Plan?

The general purpose of a destination development plan is to guarantee a long-term positive outcome for a destination. It takes into account a destination’s assets as well as opportunities that it’s missing out on. Among the goals of the destination development plan, one is to ensure the destination is competitive and delivers a strong product to satisfy visitors. However more importantly, it creates the framework and guidelines for sustainable development of the destination.

What are the main objectives of tourism planning in a Destination? 

The main objectives for any tourism plan are to:

  • Increase visitor satisfaction
  • Assure a destination’s competitiveness (and foster its uniqueness)
  • Maintain participation and integration of local communities
  • Use of resources and the environment in a sustainable manner
  • Protect cultural heritage 
  • Stimulate Economic growth

In order to achieve these goals, destinations will set up several objectives tailored to its specific needs.

What are the benefits of destination planning?

In addition to making a destination competitive, proper tourism planning will provide perspectives for local communities, ensure the protection of environmental and cultural resources and protect the destination from being overwhelmed by the industry.

So by taking a destination’s assets into account these strategies serve as a guidance tool to tourism organizations. If executed correctly, this creates benefits for more than just economic growth. Planned destinations can:

  • Involve the local community and provide income
  • Minimize environmental impact and drive some of the profits towards its protection
  • Support a destination to stay true to its traditions and uphold its culture
  • Improve understanding of different cultures and relations between guests and hosts
  • Prevent over-tourism
  • Make it more than just another “beach experience”
Destination Development Plans guide the process for the desired direction
Destination development plans help define the desired direction and reach the goal.

What makes Solimar International’s help effective? 

Although each destination is different, the process of making a destination development plan doesn’t change significantly. Not only is the knowledge needed regarding how such plans are structured, but experience and knowledge of the tourism industry is also necessary.

Through Solimar’s vast experience, gained from 200 projects and over 500 destinations, the organization boasts the complete suite of tools needed to help destination’s reach a sustainable goal. This knowledge includes: 

  • Developing a well-defined and well-successful formula for such plans
  • Incentivizing the participation of various stakeholders and create a space for collaboration
  • Having the understanding of the most effective marketing tools that exist 
  • Being well-networked within the private sector of the tourism industry and being well versed in investment promotion
  • Having repeated experience with the later implementation of such plans

If you want to learn more about how tourism can help destination’s develop in the right way, and how our work makes a difference, check out our Virtual Internship Program!

Shows overtourism at Trevi Fountain in Rome

Overtourism strikes back: Steps you can take to combat its return and become a more responsible traveler.

After being deprived of travel experiences for a larger part of the last two years, travelers have been itching to start exploring new destinations, cultures, and cuisines. But as travel re-opens in our post-pandemic world, the threat of overtourism once again looms over some of our favorite destinations. 

What is Overtourism? 

Overtourism is the increase in tourist numbers at such high volumes that it negatively impacts local residents, visitors, and the surrounding environment of a particular destination. The actual number of visitors is subjective to the capacity a given destination can manage without seeing detriment to their environment. But when a location’s hosts and its guests feel that the quality of life, the experiences offered, and the environment have deteriorated, it’s safe to say that destination is suffering from overtourism

In regions of Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa, countries have struggled to balance economic growth with the environmental regulations needed to protect the wildlife and ecosystems that attract tourists in the first place. In Europe, popular cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Venice are all struggling to reduce visitor numbers. Barcelona alone has seen 30 million tourists to its 1.6 million residents in one year. And Amsterdam is projected to receive around 42 million tourists to its estimated million residents in 2030. With those numbers, it’s no wonder anti-tourist sentiment has surged in recent years.

Tourists in Park Guell Barcelona
Park Güell, Barcelona has set daily limits on the number of visitors to combat overtourism (Vincenzo Biancamano, Unsplash)

For many places burdened by overtourism, the travel ban was a welcome relief for local residents and wildlife. Lamentably, travel in popular destinations has already started reflecting pre-pandemic levels. For both the health of locals, visitors, and the environment, it is essential to prevent overtourism from coming back in full force. But to do that, we need to know what causes it. 

What causes overtourism?  

There is not a single cause of overtourism. Rather, it can be attributed to the intersection of innovation across numerous industries. From advances in the airline industry reducing the costs of airfare, to the enlargement of cruise ships increasing the capacity of passengers on board, it has never been easier for travelers to go from one place to another in the sheer quantities possible today. The infrastructure simply was not in place, and arguably neither was the technology. 

Innovations in tech from the internet to smartphones have revolutionized our lives in countless ways, travel included. From online bookings and reviews, to home-sharing, ride-sharing and mapping services, technology facilitates every step in a traveler’s journey. Not to mention the major role that social media plays in augmenting the effects of overtourism.

Less visited destinations can become hotspots for mass tourism almost overnight thanks to the influence of social media. And while increased tourism promotes economic growth, most of these places don’t have the infrastructure or capacity to support thousands of visitors. Boracay, in the Philippines, recently saw a huge influx in visitor numbers thanks to its popularity among influencers on Instagram. The island eventually suffered from algal blooms because it lacked the sewage and wastewater treatment facilities necessary to support increased numbers of tourists. This is just one of the many ways in which overtourism can impact a destination. 

What are some more impacts? 

Overtourism alters the fundamental character of some of the world’s most popular destinations. Increased tourists cause congestion and traffic, litter and pollution, and the degradation of local cultures and environments. Residents have long complained about tourists driving costs of living so high that locals are eventually priced out. With locals gone, the authenticity of the experience for travelers is also at a loss. Maintaining the quality of life for locals is essential to creating a quality visitor experience. However, striking that balance can be difficult.

anti-tourist sentiment from overtourism
Overtourism leads to the kind of anti-tourist sentiment seen in graffiti above (Mark de Jong, Unsplash)

Mass tourism is not restricted to major cities or a specific destination for that matter. The impacts can be felt worldwide. From large-scale effects of increased carbon emissions from aviation contributing to climate change, down to the overcrowding of beaches in Phuket, Thailand inhibiting the successful reproduction of endangered leatherback sea turtles.  

Mass tourism undoubtedly causes detriment to all parties involved: locals, tourists, and the environment. The pandemic revealed what happens when these highly sought-after destinations are given a break from tourism. With cleaner air in major cities and the recovery of wildlife in the absence of tourists, we saw just how much of an impact over-tourism can really have on a destination. 

What can we do to prevent overtourism from targeting more of the places we care about?

As the travel industry recovers, we need to make travel more sustainable both for the stability of local economies and the enjoyment of travelers everywhere. Governments worldwide have committed to updating regulations to address the crisis. Meanwhile organizations like Solimar International are using destination management plans to help counties manage an increased number of tourists at up-and-coming locations. If we want to ensure that our favorite destinations last for generations to come, we all need to do our part to become more responsible travelers. Be aware of the impact your trips have on local environments so you can take steps to leave a more positive impact. 

Five steps you can take to become a more responsible traveler: 

1. Look for sustainable travel options that support local businesses 

There are many alternatives to choose from when planning your next vacation. Search for experiences labeled regenerative, responsible, or sustainable to find travel options that care for the health, longevity, and prosperity of a destination and its people. Try to avoid greenwashing and opt for locally owned operations. When compared to foreign tourism operators, locals will usually have more consideration for the places they call home.

2. Take the road less traveled (literally)

One of the biggest steps you can take to prevent over-tourism is to go to destinations facing under-tourism. Seek out less visited regions or locations that are actually welcoming visitors. For example, if you have always wanted to go to Bali, go to a place like Ataúro Island in Timor Leste instead. 

alternative to overtourism
Ataúro Island, Timor-Leste is a great alternative destination (Tanushree Rao, Unsplash)

 

3. Be respectful of local customs and cultural norms

Overtourism stirs up a lot of anti-tourist sentiment from local residents. Don’t add to it by coming off as a disrespectful traveler. If you are planning a trip, make sure you do your research first. Educating yourself on current social and environmental issues at a destination will make you a more mindful visitor. Plus, local residents will appreciate efforts made to be respectful. You wouldn’t want a guest in your home to be inconsiderate of your wishes and needs, so make sure to be considerate of their wishes as well!

4. Travel during the off season

Certain weather patterns or vacation schedules make a destination more popular at certain times of year. This concentrates an overwhelming influx of visitors to a two-to-three-month window. Traveling during the off season helps alleviate this stress by spreading tourists and local incomes out over a longer period. Next time you want to take that trip to a popular destination, go during the off season. You will be able to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more authentic experience.  You might even score a better deal on stays and experiences! 

5. Consider non-group travel 

Large tour groups tend to overcrowd popular locations. Think increased wait times for restaurants, museums, etc… No one wants to spend their precious vacation time waiting around. Or worse, unable to get tickets to popular attractions because there are simply too many people. Going in smaller groups will reduce the stress of increased visitors. And if you are feeling up to it, going solo will allow you to make even better connections to your destination.

solo travel
Solo Traveler at Cabo da Roca, Portugal (Fransisco T Santos, Unsplash)

Finding a solution to the overtourism crisis is not easy. Increased government regulations and cooperation across industries will be required to even begin to address the problem. Mitigating the impacts of overtourism is a challenge for businesses and individuals at all levels of the travel chain. But there is some good news. As travelers, we have the power to make better travel decisions by researching a destination in advance. We can rest assured knowing our trips will leave a positive impact on a destination, or at least avoid contributing further to the problem. If you don’t have time to look before you book, then you can still be part of the solution by checking out Solimar International’s current projects!

When it comes to tourism experiences in the United States, there is arguably none as large in scale or impact as the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (LCNHT). The trail spans 4,900 miles and is accompanied by over 6,000 miles of driving routes across 16 states, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the Oregon’s Pacific Coast. It is a trail equal in size to the distances from Anchorage to Cancun, from Paris to Mumbai, or from Cairo to Cape Town. Needless to say, the trail is massive, and has a potentially huge impact on any town or community it runs through as a result. 

The interesting part about the trail however, is that even though it is administered by the National Park Service, they own almost none of the land along the trail. Instead, the route is owned and operated by the stakeholders that call each place along the trail home. They are the people who can help better the trail, and, in turn, make the trail better for them and their communities. But who are these stakeholders? What importance do they actually play in the trail’s success? We hope to answer these questions as we discuss the roles these people have in one of the biggest tourism networks on the planet. 

lcnht landmark
Gateway Arch National Park, the former start of the Louisiana Purchase exploration

Who are the Stakeholders of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail?

Stakeholders are individuals or groups that have an interest in, or are impacted by, the decisions, operations, and success of a business. In this case, it is anyone who has an invested interest in the success of Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. These stakeholders can range from federal government organizations to individual business owners. Most stakeholders for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail fall into one of the following six categories: 

LCNHT stakeholders

1. States

The trail is split up into five regions. It begins in the Ohio River region, which includes Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. It continues through the Missouri Traverse region, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa. The trail then flows through the Great Plains region of North Dakota and South Dakota, and the Plains to Peaks region of Montana and Idaho. It finishes in the Columbia River region of Oregon and Washington. People from every state mentioned here collaborate to run activities along the trail, whether they are from official state tourism departments, state parks teams, or any other state-level government agency. 

2. Native American Tribes

The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) helps the project by leading the charge to promote native-owned businesses and communicate with tribal lands along the trail. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail passes through 15 reservations, as well as the historical lands of many more tribes that have since moved. Each tribe has interpretive centers, museums, festivals, and restaurants that all showcase Native traditions and their side of the Lewis and Clark story. The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association is our valued partner in facilitating these relationships. 

native american tribal history is integral to the LCNHT

3. Federal Land Managers

The National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all oversee and manage land on the trail. Anytime the trail passes through a national park, national forest, or any other land operated by the federal government, these guys help keep it the healthiest and most thriving it can be. 

4. Volunteer Groups

Many local destination marketing and management organizations, interpretative teams in parks, or local museums are made up of volunteer groups working to bring people to their town. They do incredible work and are deeply passionate about their jobs. The LCNHT provides them with great opportunities to grow tourism in their hometowns and achieve their goals. 

5. Nonprofit Groups 

Nonprofit groups like the Lewis and Clark Trust and the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation work to educate the public and preserve the land and history of the trail. They contribute greatly to the interpretive information presented about the trail’s history. Many other local nonprofits that have a mission to solve a problem or promote a topic lie along the trail. The popularity of the LCNHT makes it easier to bring visitors to their communities and raise awareness for their causes. 

6. Private Sector 

Lastly, the private sector comprises all the privately-owned businesses along the trail. This includes hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, gift shops, tour operators, wineries, breweries, and more. This is mainly made up of local residents who live along the trail, and they have a huge impact on its success. 

wineries LNCHT
Wineries are great businesses to feature on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

Why Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Stakeholders are Essential

As previously mentioned, the National Park Service may be advertising and managing the trail, but the actual attractions and points of interest along the trail are owned by the locals. This is a type of tourism called geotourism, in which the goal is to promote the unique character of a place. This is best done through local collaboration. People are usually proud and passionate about the place they live, or the community they are a part of. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail hopes to tap into that passion by asking the locals along the trail to help with its promotion and marketing. 

The main way of doing this is via the LCNHT website and its interactive map. The tourism team at Solimar International who operate the website know that a full knowledge of everything to do in every town along the trail is hard to have, if not impossible. The way they combat this is by having local business owners submit their business to be featured on the website’s map. Soon enough, the whole map will be filled with local spots to eat, shop, drink, and play. This gives a sense of authenticity to tourists, and economic and cultural prosperity to the locals. Research shows that local collaboration makes tourism destinations succeed and be viewed positively in the eyes of locals. Stakeholders of the Lewis and Clark trail are what make the trail what it is, and their collaboration is paramount to the success of it as a tourist destination. 

families hike the LCNHT
The Lewis and Clark Trail is an iconic cross-country trip, perfect for families

How You Can Get Involved in the LNCHT as a Stakeholder or Tourist

There is a lot of potential for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail to impact communities around the United States in a positive way. If you or someone you know lives along the trail, the best way to get involved is to make an account on the Lewis and Clark Travel website. From there, you can submit local points of interest to be featured on our interactive map. The listing could be as big as a national park, or as small as your local small business. Other than that, it comes down to learning more about the relationships between communities and the tourism industry. Learning how to showcase your town, no matter how small, can help attract people from all around the United States and beyond. 

For more information on how communities and stakeholders can enhance the tourism industry (and vice versa), check out our blogs on community-based tourism, stakeholder engagement in destination planning, and how stakeholders embraced tourism in Armenia. We hope to see you all exploring the trail sometime soon!

“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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