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Mission Control / Travel

What DMOs Are Doing to Be Sustainably Responsible (And How They’re Communicating It)

Mass tourism has become a massive problem in recent years. Luckily, many destination marketing organizations are rising to the challenge.

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By Katie Bridges

Can a destination be loved to death?

Let’s take Sedona, for example, which has long captivated wanderers and yogis, nature-lovers and mystics — not to mention thousands of Phoenicians fleeing the heat. (Guilty.) Thanks to its almost preternatural beauty and successful marketing campaigns, Sedona has become a tourism boom town in recent years. Those Ponderosa pines! All those galleries! The stars! The red rocks!

And then those red rocks and the town built around them got, well, almost trampled.

It’s called overtourism, and it’s been a threat to Sedona — a town of 10,000 which welcomes more than 3 million annual visitors — for years. Residents and town leaders wondered: When is too much just too much? They queried citizens and visitors. They started conversations about the intersections between environment, quality of life, the tourism economy and the visitor experience. What emerged was a plan, called the Sedona Sustainable Tourism Plan, which pledges to “keep Sedona the most beautiful place on Earth.” Today, the plan is front and enter on Visit Sedona’s website, where they encourage visitors to take the “Sedona Cares Pledge” to keep Sedona, Sedona.

But Sedona’s not the only place that has risked being loved to death. Maybe your destination is at risk, too. What can you do about it? Here are a few ways destinations are making sustainable tourism a priority.

Destination Marketers Are Becoming “Destination Managers”

The secret of successful DMOs in overtouristed places? They know that the only way forward is to listen to locals and to address their concerns about quality of life. They’re engaging in open, honest dialogue that’s focused on finding solutions — ways “to make tourism regenerative rather than extractive,” as Destination Think explains. Not everyone will agree. They’ll likely be willing to listen, though — and DMOs are nimbly positioned to foster that conversation.

Destinations Are Using Visitation to Educate and Inform

When the onslaught of National Park visitors headed west in the waning days of the pandemic’s first wave, park managers and local tourism officials used it as an opportunity to teach the masses. DMOs in bullseye destinations like the Grand Canyon State leaned into the principles of “Leave No Trace,” sharing informative content that encouraged nature newbies to tread lightly.

Hospitality groups have gone all in on sustainable education, too — Hilton’s “Extending Our Stay” docuseries tackles six different ecological dilemmas and profiles the changemakers who are finding solutions to them. Luxury brands like The Ritz-Carlton understand the importance of educating their guests. The brand has paired up with Jean-Michel Cousteau to offer Ambassadors of the Environment programs at several of its Reserve properties. The goal? To instill sustainable tourism practices that’ll keep these destinations pristine for generations to come.

Destinations Are Going Green to Attract the Eco-traveler

The world is opening back up to tourism, and travel-starved explorers have big decisions to make. To stand apart from the fray, Visit Norway is positioning itself as “greener, cleaner and more authentic,” offering a slew of compelling content that proves that this is far more than marketing speak. Visit Scotland has taken a similar approach, creating a microsite dedicated to planning the greenest of green trips: hidden gems, electric car itineraries, eco-accommodations and the like. Even ecotourism novices will feel well-equipped to book a sustainable stay.

Destinations Are Using Lessons Learned During the Pandemic to Restructure Their Tourism Efforts

As many headaches as it may cause us, we’ve all grown accustomed to scheduling in advance and bidding for tickets to restricted-access events these past few years. The same could be said for destinations. The decline in revenue has been far more than a headache, but the restricted access and thinner crowds have served as a reset of sorts.

This “pause” is allowing destinations to rethink their marketing and visitation strategies. One sustainable tourism marketing strategy could be selling tickets to key attractions and restricting access in a meaningful way. Or it may mean promoting the off-season and off-the-beaten-path adventures. It may even mean marketing to a different kind of tourist, one who wants to leave a destination better than they found it — and who may be willing to pay a premium for the chance to not love a destination to death.

What’s Your Sustainable Strategy?

We can help you create a marketing plan that puts your destination’s green efforts front and center.

LET’S CHAT

Katie Bridges Overlay Blue
Katie Bridges Senior Editor

Katie has almost a decade of editorial experience, spending most of those years as an editor at regional magazines. A Georgetown University grad, she helps guide digital and print content programs from concept to completion for C/A clients such as Vanderbilt Health, Niagara Falls USA and Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation. She has written for Garden & Gun, Washingtonian and Arkansas Life, among others.

The mother of two young girls, Katie can most often be found on a hiking trail with her family (Sedona’s a favorite). She’s a Southerner through and through, and the only member of the C/A team who uses the word “y’all” with abandon.

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