Encouraging tourists to behave when they visit sensitive sites

Everyone needs to work together when it comes to balancing demands of a growing tourism sector with environmental stewardship, the president of the Monterey Country Convention and Visitors Bureau said in Victoria on Tuesday.

“Unless visitor education is evangelized by local residents and business and government, it won’t get the traction it needs,” said Tammy Blount-Canavan.

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She is in Victoria for the three-day IMPACT Sustainability Travel and Tourism Conference, wrapping up today. The event attracted about 270 participants from across Canada to the Victoria Conference Centre.

IMPACT was founded by Beattie Tartan, Synergy Enterprises, Starrboard Enterprises and Destination Victoria. Its goal is to bring together various segments of the tourist industry, such as governments, planners, operators, investors and academics to develop economic, social and environmental sustainability and follow restorative practices.

The Monterey County tourism body launched its Sustainable Moments initiative in 2015, focusing on encouraging visitors to enjoy themselves and at the same time, to behave in a responsible way. “Ultimately, responsible tourism is about balance and preserving our incredible destination,” Blount-Canavan said.

Within Monterey County is Big Sur, renowned for its dramatic scenery with steep cliffs and sandy beaches, which Blount-Canavan said has been described as “restoration for your soul.”

It is hugely popular. Millions of people visit every year.

“It is really an international bucket-list destination,” she said.

Monterey County was hit by a massive wildfire in 2016 and by subsequent landslides. One destroyed a key bridge (which was rebuilt) used by motorists heading south to Big Sur.

When it became known that the fire was started by an illegal campfire, tempers rose. It may have been a local who was responsible, but the fire became a platform for anti-tourism groups to criticize visitors, Blount-Canavan said. The tourism group entered into a dialogue with community associations and other organizations, which has continued and expanded.

Unwanted behaviours came to light, such as people camping on private land and in some cases using bolt cutters to get through gates, building fires, and leaving garbage around, including dirty diapers and human waste. The group heard of drivers stopping in the middle of the winding coastal highway because pull-out spaces were full. Some locals called for gates and barriers. There was talk of “over-tourism.”

Tourism is worth $2.5 billion to Monterey County every year. A survey found most residents understood its importance to the economy. A total of 78 per cent of respondents said they would feel better about tourism if they knew it was being promoted as responsible tourism.

“Our appeal is our environment and the care that we take with it,” Blount-Canavan said. The tag line “Sustainable Moments” was born. “It is really a challenge to visitors.”

Its goal is to foster a culture both within the local community and with visitors that makes adherence to Monterey’s values a priority. The county focuses on sustainable practices such as water conservation, commercial composting, and wildlife and nature preservation. “We are well ahead of many places in the United States. Environmental conservation is in the DNA of our citizens, our community,” she said.

This approach is being used as a competitive advantage. It was developed by working with neighbourhoods and community groups to develop content specific to particular areas, with an emphasis on visitor education.

Last spring, the tourism organization announced the Sustainable Moments Collective, a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other local organizations to foster a balance between a strong tourism economy and preserving the environment.

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