Tourism Leaders Are Expanding Their Perspective on Sustainability

[November 6, 2018] — A high percentage of destination organizations (42%) define sustainability as “long-term cultural, social and economic viability” according to a new survey conducted by NEXTFactor.

In comparison, less than one out of 10 survey participants (8%) responded that their definition of sustainability equated primarily with “environmental integrity.”

We polled 50 destination organizations in October 2018 for their perspective on sustainability, overtourism and how their communities are reacting to increasing visitation.

The results suggest that tourism leaders have a more holistic view of sustainability than might be anticipated. And, while communities in the surveyed destinations mostly support tourism, there is growing negative sentiment about the impact that tourism has on local quality of life.

According to the survey, 83 percent of destinations reported that residents generally support tourism growth. However, at the same time, 28 percent said they’re seeing increasing community opposition to higher visitor numbers.

Here are the full survey results:

Repositioning Sustainable Tourism as ‘Quality of Place’

NEXTFactor presented the survey’s takeaways at the Marketing Outlook Forum in Las Vegas last month, produced by the Travel & Tourism Research Association. We also hosted a roundtable session focusing on overtourism and how destinations are addressing it, both geographically and seasonally.

The session kicked off with a proposal to reposition the conversation around Sustainable Tourism by emphasizing Quality of Place and Quality of Life. That’s based on the growing awareness in the tourism industry that sustainability encompasses many different themes relating to the aforementioned “long-term cultural, social and economic viability” of a destination.

A new framework to approach sustainability in the global visitor economy on a broader scale would look like this:

Defining Sustainable Tourism as:

  1. Long-term equitable economic development, with an emphasis on “equitable”
  2. Long-term viability of the local cultural and social fabric, prioritizing diversity and inclusivity
  3. Integrity of the natural and built environment
  4. Quality of life for locals, including a high degree of public connectivity and mobility
  5. Quality of the destination visitor experience

Through that lens, the tourism industry can approach sustainability on a more holistic and better defined platform for knowledge sharing around policy and best practices.

The exponential rise of debate around overtourism in the last year actually lays the groundwork for a more intentional and strategic focus on quality of place and life.

Heading into 2019, the conversation around overtourism is evolving from identifying the challenges to developing actionable visitor dispersal strategies. In September 2018, the UNWTO provided some much-needed guidance toward that direction with a comprehensive new report: Overtourism? – Understanding and Managing Urban Tourism Growth beyond Perceptions ($50 / press release).

The report proposes 11 strategies to address overtourism and drive visitor dispersal, which are detailed in the free Executive Summary. The primary thrust of the report hinges on the idea that sustainable tourism management must be approached by a broad coalition of public and private sector leaders — both within and beyond the tourism industry — in order to be effective.

“Governance is key,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “Addressing the challenges facing urban tourism today is a much more complex issue than is commonly recognized. We need to set a sustainable roadmap for urban tourism and place tourism in the wider urban agenda. We must also ensure local communities see and benefit from the positive aspects of tourism.”

To better capture the many challenges created by overtourism, and how they’re shifting the relationship between residents and visitors, the report investigates residents’ perceptions toward tourism in eight European cities: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Munich, Salzburg and Tallinn. It also recommends that cities and non-urban regions need to develop a common strategic vision among all stakeholders that respects the limits of capacity in relation to the specific destination.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to deal with overtourism,” said Dr. Ko Koens of the Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality (CELTH). “Instead tourism needs to be part of a city-wide strategy for sustainable development.”

Professor Albert Postma of CELTH and NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences added, “The involvement and support of local residents is key in achieving sustainable tourism.”

NEXTFactor Overtourism Roundtable Suggestions

During the NEXTFactor Overtourism Roundtable session at TTRA, participants shared a variety of examples of how destinations and travel companies are collaborating to alleviate high visitor compression. Following are a few of those. We will be publishing a broader research report in 2019 building on these and other case studies.

Victoria Tourism: Pacific Marine Circle Route

An excellent vision of visitor dispersal strategy, designed to address overtourism in Victoria Harbour in British Columba during the summer. The Pacific Marine Circle Route encourages travelers to explore beyond the city toward the region’s wine country and seaside towns, etc. The quality of online content, including the maps and videos, make this a benchmark case study for other destination organizations.

Travel Oregon: “Only Slightly Exaggerated”

New in 2018, Travel Oregon’s animated “Only Slightly Exaggerated” (OSE) campaign stopped promoting specific out-of-the-way vacation spots across the state. That’s because past campaigns had actually proved too successful at driving traffic to remote, fragile areas, and therefore contributed to degrading pristine environments

The new OSE campaign speaks more to various consumer segments in general regions throughout Oregon, with content promoting off-peak times to improve the overall visitor experience, both daily/yearly.

Trailhead Ambassadors: Columbia Gorge & Mt. Hood, Oregon

Also in Oregon, the Trailhead Ambassador initiative places knowledgable locals at the often-clogged gateways to popular hiking and biking trails. The ambassadors are there to encourage people to visit other nearby trails when overcrowding is an issue, ultimately resulting in a better visitor experience. They’re also able to educate visitors about hiker/biker preparedness and basic visitor responsibilities to help protect the trails.

Dubrovnik Mayor Meets with Cruise Lines International Association

CLIA, the professional association representing the world’s cruise lines, worked with Dubrovnik’s town council to limit the volume of visitors entering the popular Croatian town at one time. The cruise lines are now communicating with each to stagger ship arrivals, and the town has placed visitor caps on hourly attendance.

DestinationDC Neighborhood and Visitor Dispersal Strategy

In recent years, DestinationDC has been promoting many of its unique neighborhoods to move visitors beyond the National Mall, museums, and downtown core. The motivation behind this, as in many other cities, has as much to do with economic dispersal as it does visitor dispersal to help drive higher visitor spend into underserved areas.

More Links

Here are a few more stories highlighting how destinations are addressing overtourism to deliver higher quality of place for both locals and visitors.

  1. The Genesis of Overtourism: Why We [Skift] Came Up With the Term and What’s Happened Since
  2. Proposing Solutions to Overtourism in Popular Destinations: A Skift Framework
  3. Record Visitation Prompts Overtourism Fears at Zion National Park
  4. Overtourism Leads Zion National Park to Consider New Reservation System
  5. U.S. National Park Service Still Figuring Out the Travel Industry and Overtourism
  6. U.S. National Parks Still Aren’t Sure How to Deal With Overtourism
  7. “Overtourism” Old wine in new bottles?
  8. An Analysis of the Factors behind the Citizen’s Attitude of Rejection towards Tourism in a Context of Overtourism and Economic Dependence on This Activity
  9. Overtourism and Underemployment: A Modern Labour Market Dilemma
  10. Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet