Category Archives: Sustainable Tourism

Successful, sustainable tourism – The courage to start with the market in mind

From a marketing perspective, the answer to “where do I start?” is always with your target market. For many small tourism businesses that can be a hard thing to do – after all – your product is right there in front of you – and it is beautiful.

Over summer I had the great pleasure of visiting tourism product in the area of San Juan de Arama in the Meta region of Colombia. As the ink dries on the peace treaty that ends the war in Colombia, the people of this region are working to develop post-conflict tourism in their region. They are developing an exciting vision of the future in which tourism is a tool to improve their quality of life. They envisage tourism that respects their culture and preserves the incredible natural places in their region. Like all great marketers – even now, at the very beginning of the process – they are thinking about the market they want to attract and the type of visitor they want to welcome.

While the textbooks may make this sound easy, I applaud the courage of these tourism marketers. It is not easy to stay focused on a specific type of tourist – one that shares respect for the environment and local people – when there are easier markets to go after. And it takes courage and faith to turn away business – even business that doesn’t exactly fit your vision for the future – when you are a small business and need short-term cash flow.

One of the tourism micro-entrepreneurs I met in the region was Ferney Perilla from Rerserva Natural el India Acostado. Ferney, confined to a wheelchair, has created an outstanding nature-based experience designed for responsible travelers who are keen to learn of the culture and natural heritage of the region. He knows exactly the type of traveler he wants to visit the Reserva.

Targeting the mass market and providing tourism products for the “lowest common denominator” may be easier in the short term – but in the long run it makes it harder to achieve the goals of the destination community. Congratulations to Ferney Perilla and all the tourism operators of San Juan for their wisdom in working together to create a great tourism destination – starting with the ideal market in mind.

In Defense of Small and Local (Social Entrepreneurs)


Ang Chomba Sherpa

There is an excitement about the power of social entrepreneurship. Unleashing the power of entrepreneurial thinking on social problems provides “out of the box” solutions  after years of “standard” responses these challenges. However, some of the most vocal advocates for social entrepreneurship only extoll the virtues of scalable solutions and game-changing approaches.

There is more to social enterprise than a few large organizations and I want to take a moment to celebrate social entrepreneurs that are working in their own small corners of the world, making real and positive change in communities around the world. Academics have called these social entrepreneurs “Bricoleurs”, from the French word bricolage – because they use what “is at hand”. These social entrepreneurs have deep understanding of the issues they are working on and strong relationships with the people they are working with.

P1030124Ang Chhomba Sherpa, chairman of Moving Mountains Nepal, is a social entrepreneur working to improve the lives of people living in the villages of the Solukhumbu region of Nepal. Chhomba and his colleagues at Moving Mountains provide electricity (via a micro-hydro system), healthcare and education (supporting some teachers’ salaries) in small villages. Moving Mountains uses funds generated by its for-profit sister company, Adventure Alternative, to help fund these projects. Chhomba, who is originally from the region, works closely with community leaders to achieve the goal of improving the lives of the villagers. While the scale of this work is focused on a specific region, Moving Mountains and Adventure Alternative have been recognized internationally for their very real impact.

While we definitely need scalable, game changers – like Grameen Bank – that change the “big picture”, many social entrepreneurs in the tourism sector are addressing local issues and creating local solutions. For the people of those regions, social entrepreneurship is delivering on its promise.

DMO Managers are working on sustainability every day..

“Sustainability” has been described as one of the most “jargony-ist” words of recent times. Because I talk about sustainability a lot, I get this feedback from everyone – students, hoteliers, tour operators and DMOs.  I agree ! The word “sustainability”  is used way too frequently and too carelessly – and it’s too bad – because lost in the “I’m so over this word – sustainability” attitude is the important fact that DMOs are important agents of sustainability.

Imagine working to make the destination the best place it could be – a beautiful environment, people treated well and locals celebrating their unique culture, a healthy economy. Imagine you are doing it to get the best from/for the destination today – and that you are working to ensure the destination community remains a great place to be in the years to come. This scenario doesn’t take make imagination for many DMO managers – it is what they do every day.

So – sustainability and improving the “triple bottom line” – people, planet, profits – is core to the role of a DMO manager. Might be time to update the job description ….

Acquiesce or consent ?

At a recent conference one of the speakers reminded the audience that tourism takes place at the acquiescence of the community. I thought the statement was eloquent and expressed an important idea…. but it has been bouncing around in my head ever since.

According to my dictionary, the noun acquiescence is tacit assent or agreement by silence. In the legal sense it is ” such neglect to take legal proceedings for such a long time as to imply the abandonment of a right’. It is unfortunate that so often “acquiescence” is exactly what happens in tourism destination communities. 

One of the principles of sustainable tourism is that destination community stakeholders have an active say in the development process. It is interesting that while this principle is applied in developing destinations around the world, it is rarely applied to communities here in the United States. Few CVBs track consumer sentiment toward tourism or reach out to diverse stakeholder groups in developing strategic tourism plans.

So – for the sustainability of tourism and the benefit of destination communities – I will say tourism takes place in destination communities,  not with their acquiescence but with their consent ( and I will continue to work with destination leaders to ensure that is, in fact, the case).


Imagine a new way…

So often, tourism is a “bit player” in the health of a community. In the traditional models of tourism,  tour operators come and – at best – the visitors they bring spend money that contributes to the local economy. While the tourism income helps, there is a lot of  what economists call “leakage”.

Imagine a new type of tourism company – a company founded for the purpose of enhancing the cultural and economic benefit of the host community. Imagine a social enterprise – like Tom’s Shoes or Ethos Water – that plows back profits from tourism operations into the community itself . This is the model that responsible tour operator Adventure Alternative and its sister charity, Moving Mountains  have brought to the villages of Bumburi and Bupsa, high in the Himalaya. Congratulations to Gavin Bate, Ang Chhongba Sherpa and Pasange Tendi Sherpa and their team, for finding a new path for tourism in this special part of theP1020391 world.

Beyond Sustainability… Regenerative, Restorative Tourism

While I am committed to promoting sustainability in tourism, I am sure that we can do better.
Sure – I know many destinations are struggling just to ensure that tourism is not a destructive force in their communities.But just not being bad isn’t good enough… I believe we should set the bar higher.
I am happy to say that some thought leaders in other fields are showing the way. I recently attended a presentation that highlighted the work of Bill Reed. Bill is one of the drivers behind the hugely influential LEED program. He has taken the next step – beyond sustainability- and committed himself to work that not only doesn’t harm the environment – but contributes to environmental regeneration. As it says on his website “Ultimately, his objective is to improve the overall quality of the physical, social and spiritual life of our living places”.

Tourism can be part of that future – a future that is not only sustainable – but restorative and regenerative.

Leading by Example – Surf City USA

Surf City USA really gets sustainable tourism. The folks at Visit Huntington Beach realized that their long term success meant protecting the environment, and celebrating the culture of the iconic SoCal Surf City while ensuring the visitor economy remained vibrant.

In other words – they recognized the importance of sustainable tourism and took

an active role in promoting within the

Huntington Beach Report


To support industry and community adoption of sustainable tourism they produced some great materials that explain sustainability and provide action tips to visitors, business owners and the community. To get the sustainability guide click through here. Its worth the read !

Getting Out and Experiencing Nature

I love getting out into nature. It refreshes and invigorates me. Many of my favorite memories include visits to national parks – in both Australia and the US.  My love of nature also inspires my concern for sustainability.

So – I worry that fewer people are visiting national parks and natural places. It isn’t surprising – most camping experiences are really only appealing to a relatively small group of people. Most camp grounds I’ve been to have basic facilities at best ( and filthy disgusting facilities at worst), require campers to have their own equipment and expect visitors to be “in the know” about camping. Those can be pretty big barriers to entry.

The time has come for new ways of thinking about the facilities and services we provide to allow people to experience the nature. There are large groups of people who want to experience the outdoors but don’t want to be uncomfortable doing it. Let’s find ways to satisfy their needs and get them outdoors.

Some folks will say it is good that visitation is dropping off – it means less people are out “wrecking”  natural places. I worry about the sustainability of that position. If people don’t experience these places they won’t value them with the same intensity. It is one thing to know “academically” that National Parks are a good thing, it is another to have lived it.

Perhaps purists will say that I am wrong in suggesting that “one size never fits all” and that if people want to experience outdoors they must get dirty. My response – why ? Sure – I love getting dirty and away from the crowds – but that doesn’t mean everyone has to do it the way my way. Expecting that everyone will be happy with the same product offering is the problem.

Of course – wherever there is a problem, there is opportunity. And already some entrepreneurs are starting to offer new products. Indeed,  as is often the case, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. USA Today recently included an article on “glamping”, the “new” trend of glamour camping complete with butlers and chefs.   While this isn’t exactly my cup of tea I do applaud these entrepreneurs who are seeking ways to get new groups of people to experience (and develop a love of) nature.  Between glamping and the average campground there must be many new ways of providing visitors more satisfying experiences of nature…. and its important we get it right for nature’s sake. 

The Right Message Matters…

Most destinations marketers are familiar with the principles of target marketing. Targeting the right message to move a specific group of consumers through the buying process is standard operating practice at most DMOs.

It is surprising how few DMOs use the same principles of targeting their message to specific groups within the destination. Often the communication with these stakeholder groups is “one size fits all”. Of course, “one size fits all” normally means that no one is getting what they need.

This point was made clear to me during a recent research project led by my colleague, Dr. Mick La Lopa. In this project we examined the adoption of sustainable tourism practices in a specific destination and the results were clear. There were three distinct groups within the businesses we surveyed: one group that was “on the fence” and needed specific suggestions and assistance to get things moving, one segment that was “on board” and needed support and encouragement and a final group that wasn’t thinking about sustainability and needed to be introduced to the concept and convinced of its importance.  The strategies needed to support these three groups are very different – one size does not fit all.

As DMOs grapple with their role in product development “internal marketing” is becoming more important. Targeting the message to the folks at home is just as important as targeting the message to consumers.


Want to read the article?

La Lopa, J., & Day, J. (2011). Pilot study to assess the readiness of the tourism industry in Wales to change to sustainable tourism business practices. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 18, 130–139. DOI 10.1375/jhtm.18.1.130

Corporate Social Responsibility in China’s Hospitality Industry.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one of the key drivers of sustainable tourism. The tourism system involves many actors all working to deliver a customer experience. There is little in the way of “top down, command and control” in tourism.  So – without the active participation of companies – and the managers that run those companies – it is difficult to imagine the tourism system becoming more sustainable.

In a recent study led by Diana Chan Yu, we examined the drivers of Corporate Social Responsibility in hotels in China. A couple of findings stood out to me:

  • Confucianism and commitments to a Harmonious Society provide a solid foundation for CSR in China.
  • CSR often starts close to home – with stakeholders that are critical to the company’s operation. Many CSR activities involve staff members and the local community.
  • Finally, while many hoteliers don’t necessarily call their activities “CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility” they actively engage in CSR activities – from supporting local environmental initiatives to supporting staff (beyond the letter of the law).

To see the full study – click here.