Travel continues to be a puzzle we all—as destinations, as marketers, and as travelers—are trying to solve while the pieces continually change. But this isn’t unique to the current pandemic, and I believe there are some trends that are coming, perhaps accelerated by COVID-19, that all DMOs should embrace. Believe it or not, they’re all based on responsible travel.

Leaving No Trace

As travelers (re)discover the power and wonder of the great outdoors, they are hiking and camping in unprecedented numbers. Some don’t know how to care for the places they explore and sleep; others don’t care. But many do, and many destinations are coming to understand just how important it is that they do. Encourage conscientious visitation to preserve your greatest asset: your outdoor spaces and public lands. An easy way to do this is to pull from the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, or LNT. Educate travelers (take care not to lecture) on how easy and vital it is to apply these principles to their stays.

Visiting Untraveled Communities

Viruses and political tensions have people seeking space and solitude in their travels, and they’re looking for uncrowded places to go. Your destination probably offers that. Take this opportunity to be found by the right travelers—they’ll probably come back and tell others about you. If you have a heavily trodden attraction in your destination, help travelers spread their impact out by recommending carpooling, early morning or evening visits (better photos for Instagram, anyway!), off- or shoulder-season trips with discounts or authentic storytelling, or even alternative attractions. Help travelers understand by simply reminding them of the effects of over-tourism in your region. Responsible travelers will want to make a difference.

Woman looks at Dead Horse Point State Park in the winter
Dead Horse Point State Park in the winter is stunning, and not over-crowded. Emily Taylor photo

Minimizing Tourism Leakage

You have stakeholders and partners in your community who own businesses on Main Street. And you have services and businesses in your destination that aren’t locally owned. When a traveler spends $100 at a locally owned business, $68 of it stays in that community, compared to just $43 when spent at a chain. Again, many travelers want to have a connection and a positive impact on their destinations. Help them remember to shop locally (your Shop Local campaign doesn’t just apply to locals during the holidays) whenever possible by highlighting the connection and positive role they get to play.

Elvis statue in front of Retro Inn in Cortez, Colorado
The Retro Inn in Cortez, Colorado is owned by a local family—and makes for better photos than any chain! Emily Taylor photo

Conversely, remind local business owners that they are more likely to be found by travelers if they stay open after 5, have accurate Google Business listings, and are welcoming to out-of-state license plates. Help them identify what travelers are searching for so they can provide it.

Reducing or Offsetting Your Carbon Footprint

It can be intimidating, even overwhelming to be reminded that travel to far-off places and vacation routines have huge carbon emissions. It can be welcoming and exciting to be told that it’s manageable, and that’s the opportunity of DMOs in a world where people are becoming more and more environmentally conscious.

Sustainable travel can be using e-bikes to tour a national park or city instead of driving from point of interest to point of interest. It can be making sure local businesses provide solar-chargers or allow travelers to refill their reusable water bottles. It can be creating signage to help travelers find recycling and composting drop points or providing green public transportation. It can mean including a tree-planting volunteer day in your vacation. Minimizing and offsetting carbon footprints of travelers is a team effort, and destinations that team up with their travelers will win.

Collage of images of Zion National Park, including a bike and empty trails
Electric bikes make exploring national parks and other wild areas more accessible to all travelers while keeping cars off the usually limited roads in places like this. Tobey Schmidt photos

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