Developing core messages for your destination: Engaging visitors and tour operators with tourism sustainability issues

Sustainable tourism means that you not only have to attract visitors to your region. You have to attract the right visitors, for the right reasons and then make sure that your guests during their stay act responsibly and leave your area “untouched”. Achieving that involves making the right choices.

By: Kari Evensen Natland – Region Nordhordland

Using examples from three very different projects, the organizers of the workshop on how to engage your visitors in sustainability issues, tried to list some general guidelines for sustainable tourism development. Small communities are vulnerable, and a massive influx of guests may easily upset a fragile natural balance or reduce the value of your cultural assets. You therefore have to make the right choices both in developing your activities and in how you market them.

The participants in the workshop summarized their experiences in five key learnings:

  1. Communicate and engage!
    All destinations need a good communication plan reflecting the sustainable issues at the destination. It is essential for everybody involved – businesses and tour operators – that they know what to communicate, that they have a clear, easy and understandable message to different target groups and a strategy on how to do this.

The plan will help them communicate better with their guests – and the destination as a whole benefits from one, united message. Good communication should lead to engagement and a sense of “ownership” for the destination – not only locally but also among the visitors and tour operators. When you communicate about and engage people to collaborate for sustainable use and development, you testify responsibility and appreciation for the destination!

  1. Choose – be brave!
    Do you have to collaborate with all tour operators? If you have the opportunity, choose your partners carefully. Choose tour operators who practice sustainable principles for their operations and who want to use the destination’s cultural and nature-based attractions in a sustainable way. Such a choice may not be profitable in the short term, but the destination will benefit from it in the long run!
  2. Encourage and reward!
    There are good examples of destinations that have developed various programs where visitors can log their activities at the destination and get points for the right, sustainable choices they made during their stay. The reward may be discount at various attractions or restaurants or a small souvenir from the site. In this way, you convey a lot of important information while focusing on the importance of making good sustainable choices while travelling.
  3. Be original – enjoy the silence!
    Nature-based activities may need extra considerations in order for them to be used in a sustainable way. The workshop participants were given an excellent example of how to do this by introducing quiet zones on a hiking trail. It is a cheap, efficient and different way of making people aware of nature – a way that hopefully will encourage visitors to preserve the sites and their sustainable qualities.
  4. Show – not tell!
    Everything is so much easier if you can use good examples and visual elements. Visualization is an effective tool that easily focus on the desired consideration for the destination. A good example of this is the project “ARCTISEN – Culturally sensitive tourism in the Arctic” where they have used artists to make clear what kind of events and visitors they want and what they do not want.

Here is the link to the presentations.

SHAPE is a three-year Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme (NPA) project promoting the development of ecotourism initiatives. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.