With the explosion of tourism into western gateway and natural amenity regions (GNARs), communities have benefitted from the tourism sector of the economy but have also faced unprecedented pressures on their existing resources and infrastructure. Sustainable tourism is a form of environmentally and socially responsible travel that allows communities to both benefit economically from natural resources as well as maintain and improve these areas, thus maximizing the advantages of tourism while reducing its negative impacts. Particularly relevant to GNAR communities is ecotourism, which is a subset of sustainable tourism that focuses on natural areas that has a strong potential for marketability.
This page provides resources, tools, and case studies that may be helpful to GNAR communities interested in creating plans for more sustainable tourism. Many of the resources focus on park management of tourists, but may still hold important concepts for GNAR communities to consider and understand.
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Resources & Tools
The Colorado Tourism office has an excellent toolkit to introduce viewers to sustainable tourism. It walks through the need for and definition of sustainable tourism in a natural-resource-based tourism economy. This toolkit contains case studies, planning resources, marketing, resources for private tourism businesses, and more. It’s a great place to start your research and understanding of the topic
In 2017, Gunnison County created a community coalition called the Sustainable Tourism & Outdoor Recreation (STOR) Committee to both improve and maintain tourism and outdoor recreation in an environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable manner. They provide a model on how to establish such a committee and examples of projects ideas to improve develop more sustainable tourism, making the high summer tourism more sustainable and building a year-round tourism industry. This webpage provides links to their charter statement, a 2020 Action Year End Report, and the 2020-2022 strategic plan (including a very specific set of actions related to each goal such as improved signage, determinations on e-bikes for USFS trails, volunteer outreach, improved campgrounds and trails, and more).
This action plan shows the BLM approach to tourism as part of federal directives and their commitment to sustainable tourism. It also showcases BLM initiatives and project plans that communities may be able to take advantage of. One listed BLM action is to “support gateway communities and their convention and visitor bureaus with the development of their travel and tourism plans, by providing information on recreation and other opportunities and by participating in travel forums and events.” While the document focuses more on tourism generally, it provides a model of a more traditional action plan that incorporates some aspects of sustainable tourism.
"MoabFirst” brings together the local community, business owners, land agencies, local Government Departments, and Grand County, Utah Stakeholders to develop the short-term and long-term Sustainable Tourism Criteria for Moab, Utah. Setting short and long term goals will allow the “MoabFirst” Sustainable Tourism Committee to plan, execute, and monitor the Criteria for the future of Moab, Grand County local community and its visitors.
This webpage leads to the UN’s efforts on sustainable tourism, providing information about initiatives and making the connection between economy, local people, and environmental conservation through tourism clear. It also brings a focus on ecotourism in a way that is not traditionally marketed in Western US states. While a lot of the specific cases mentioned are international sites, the UN documents here provide specific wording that communities can use to bring a compelling international angle while seeking to increase their sustainable tourism industry.
This program, led by the WI Dept. of Tourism provides sustainable travel green certifications for tourism businesses that work to decrease their environmental impact. Interested businesses are reviewed in nine categories, such as air quality, local community benefits, waste reduction, and landscape conservation. As a pilot program, WI’s system of certification provides a model for state-sponsored sustainable tourism efforts that connects privately-owned tourism businesses to the community and government resources.
Adventure Green Alaska (AGA) is a voluntary certification program of the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) for sustainable tourism businesses operating in Alaska that meet standards of economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Companies that become certified can use the AGA label and are listed on the AGA website, demonstrating the economic value and interest from tourists who specifically plan trips to be more sustainable. The website provides more information for interested businesses, providing a workable model for communities who want to create their own certification.
This archived website page connects American tourism to “ecotourism” and emphasizes the importance in having local management for natural resource areas. The document provides a broad overview of many principles that are relevant for sustainable tourism and the types of regulations and plans that communities may pursue. In particular, this webpage emphasizes the value in marketing a business through ecotourism and lists educational and private resources on nature-based tourism.
Research & Case Studies
This study applies a set of 37 criteria from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council on standards for tourism businesses to 13 statewide certification programs for sustainable tourism. The results indicated that some of these international criteria are not applicable or emphasized in US states, resulting in a need for additional education, training, and access to resources.