By Wolf Johnson

Tourism, at its core, not only gives us an open and meaningful look at the world, but it inspires us within our day-to-day lives. Our adventures not only enhance our worldview but also inform our communities back home. By seeing the world around us, we can more easily reflect on the places we come from too. 

However, tourism can have some not-so-positive impacts too. Communities especially can be affected when tourists pollute, don’t invest back into the destination, or overcrowd an area. Doing these things not only creates negative experiences for future visitors but can discourage a community from welcoming visitors. Tourism and travel can be powerful tools for enhancing infrastructure, making a positive economic impact, and creating long-lasting good memories for people. These things are possible by educating visitors on how they can show up for your destination long after a trip. 

Encourage Visitors to Spend Locally

Shop door with Open sign
Photo by Mike Petrucci

Firstly, one must remember that the ideal visitor is not just respectful but also contributes financially. As you help travelers plan, think about visitor contribution instead of visitor spending. When someone visits a community, it can be tempting to eat out at chain restaurants and go-to businesses with familiarity. These can have fewer lines, shorter wait times, and more predictable food and service. However, DMOS can remind guests that  patronizing chain restaurants doesn’t give back to the community as much as dining at locally-owned restaurants. The right messaging can gently remind travelers themselves why they chose to visit that place and what they hoped to gain from experiencing a new destination. There’s nothing more immersive than eating, drinking, and enjoying yourself like a local. If your destination has local grocery stores, shops, restaurants, bars, and hotels, promoting these can be beneficial suggestions to tourists. Engaging in local businesses not only will give travelers a better experience, but they’ll also be contributing to the community. This will help your destination grow, create a better overall sentiment and promote more immersive experiences.

Highlight Off-Season Visitor Experiences

deadhorse point state park moab tobey-schmidt
Photo by Tobey Schmidt

Encouraging travel during the off-season can also help travelers to have a more immersive experience at your destination with less impact. When visitors overcrowd your destination it can push community members and other tourists out and even cause physical harm to a location. Encouraging visitation in the off-season can help minimize stress, impact, environmental impact, and give people more space to enjoy their trip. There’s no better time than the off-season to immerse oneself in your destination–it’s just a matter of helping travelers realize that with the right messaging/campaign.

Remind Visitors That Sustainable Is Responsible

Leaving no trace is also an important value to promote to travelers. From a community standpoint, there is a lot of time and energy put into the trail, campsite, and destination upkeep. When visitors go into a community, making sure to properly dispose of trash, being mindful of the physical traces they’re leaving behind, and being responsible with how they use the space is essential. When a community is neglected, it not only ruins the experience for future travelers but it leaves the locals of the area with a polluted community. Educating travelers—gently or even in a fun way—of the leave-no-trace principles is a big part of travel etiquette and crucial to promote when advertising to travelers.

Monitor Resident Sentiment & Consider Quality of Life

Town hall meeting
Photo by Austin Distel

Resident sentiment is another factor that should be taken into consideration when striving to be a sustainable tourism destination. If residents of your destination are disgruntled because they feel the place they call home is being overrun by tourists, that not only lowers the residents’ quality of life but could also adversely affect a visitor’s experience. Additionally, it may deter people from moving to the area or starting businesses in the area, potentially creating an economy that is too dependent on tourism. 

So, how do you address resident concerns about overtourism? A good place to start is to find out exactly what the challenges and pain points are. Consider doing a community and stakeholder survey to gather feedback. Then, be as involved as possible with local government and other organizations that are having conversations about managing your destination and taking steps toward reducing the negative impacts of tourism in your community.

Emphasize the Benefits of Tourism For the Community

Some residents might be completely against welcoming visitors into your destination and will never be convinced that there’s any value in tourists. However, many may just need a little reassurance. As the DMO, it often pays off to inform locals about your marketing efforts and their results. Make lodging and sales tax reports available. Provide information on community projects and initiatives that have been made possible largely because of revenue generated from visitor spending. And, remind them that destination development benefits both residents and visitors. 

Tourism is a very positive thing. It brings people together, creates memories, and it can build communities. In order to keep your destination at its best for those who live there and for those traveling and exploring the world, we need to help people discover the joy and rewards of traveling responsibly and mindfully. By being aware of visitor contribution, off-season travel, and the leave no trace principles, visitors can not only have a wonderful vacation but pass the experience forward to more tourists and community members in the future.

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