No matter where you are in the world or how big or small the location, your city boasts its own unique set of community values, goals, and culture. Both you and the residents of your city love where they live for this exact reason – these spoken and unspoken rules help things run smoothly and allow you to preserve the character and charm that makes your city so special.
However, when inviting in tourists who may not be as familiar with these rules and ideals of your city, you run a higher risk of these outsiders disregarding and negatively impacting the culture and environment you have worked so hard to achieve.
So how can a destination best approach this situation? As a city, you understand the importance of tourism to your local economy; However, you also do not want to lose your city’s authenticity, beauty, and sense of self.
Cities and destinations around the world are working hard to discover new ways to not only educate their tourists, familiarizing them with the locations they choose to visit, but to also provide a unique sense of responsibility and community to these outside individuals.
Here are four ways cities are helping tourists abide by their community values.
Over the years, one of the most common ways destinations have been educating tourists to respect the areas they are visiting is through the implementation of pledge programs. These programs are an effort to encourage tourists to stop and think about the place they are visiting and the impact their actions may have there.
Locations around the world like Aspen, Iceland, Hawaii and New Zealand have embraced their own unique pledges. Tourist’s ability to opt in can be as hands off as a request to sign an online form prior to their visit or as concrete as Palau’s pledge being physically stamped in all of their visitor’s passports.
Regardless of the location, many of these pledges follow a similar theme or formula – asking tourists to treat the area with respect, leave nothing but footprints behind, and prioritize their own safety and surroundings over social media. However, many locations also customize their pledge to include hazards or issues unique to their area – for example, Hawaii’s Pono Pledge warns against tampering with their extensive lava fields, stating “Molten lava will mesmerize me, but I will not disrupt its flow.”
And while many pledges are focused solely on spreading the word of respecting their environment, other destinations have connected their pledges to support causes. Some cities have begun asking tourists to not only promise to apply their values when they visit, but to also donate to protect the wildlife and upkeep of these locations. Pledge for the Wild is a community value initiative created by five mountain towns throughout the United States — Bend, OR, Bozeman, MT, Flagstaff, AZ, South Lake Tahoe, CA, and Steamboat Springs, CO — encouraging visitors to not only be a considerate visitor, but to also donate funds to help with general upkeep.
While it may seem simple, these pledge programs provide visitors with a sobering reminder to respect the locations they are visiting with as much care and consideration as they do within their own home.
Some destinations have taken the concept of pledges and pushed it one step further, creating in-depth educational content and programs surrounding their locations. These programs focus on deeply educating tourists, challenging visitors to interact with the content by completing programs, watching videos, and reading relevant articles.
In Banff, the Banff Mountain Institute encourages visitors to watch a handful of educational online videos prior to their trip and in doing so receive a certificate customized with their name upon completion. They also can show their certificate when they arrive in Banff to get a free branded water bottle. Meanwhile, the Invasive Species Initiative is a multi-country effort focused on familiarizing visitors with invasive species via videos, articles, and breakdowns and what can be done to prevent further damage to local ecosystems.
No matter how it is approached, these programs help communities roll out the welcome mat for tourists and truly introduce the feeling of being an ambassador or honorary local. By doing this, tourists come in with a sense of pride and personal responsibility to help respect their surroundings.
Image from Banff and Lake Louise Mountain Institute
While many cities boast certain attractions that drive in droves of tourists, some locations are choosing to steer visitors away from the areas that they are most well known for. This concept, dubbed as “detourism”, encourages visitors to move away from the beaten path and truly engage with the authentic culture of the city. Cities participating often provide visitors with alternative itineraries and travel tips as well as ideas for visiting during off-peak seasons.
Venice is one of the most notable locations promoting detourism. Their detourism initiative boasts a full digital magazine, newsletter, and social media account encouraging tourists to skip the typical sights of the city and experience Venice as authentically as a local would.
By making lesser known spots more accessible and laid out, detourism gives tourists the opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of the local people and creates a more sustainable and value-focused method of exploring the city.
Many tourism initiatives purely focus on constantly bringing in new visitors. While new faces can be a beneficial addition to the city, a large group of valuable additions are often ignored in the process – recurring visitors.
Because of their existing familiarity with the location, many destinations have found that returning visitors often have a better sense of the city’s culture and values. The more often a tourist chooses to visit, the easier it is to integrate their behavior with those of the locals.
In Barcelona, it was discovered that French tourists made up the largest portion of their recurring visitor base. Once Barcelona chose to begin extended promotion towards those frequent visitors, they found French recurring visitors were more likely to visit during off-peak times, purchase local products, and explore lesser known sections of the city, increasing the city’s sustainable tourism and creating a healthy connection between the visitors and Barcelona’s values.
By splitting your city’s efforts between attracting new visitors and maintaining a close relationship with existing and recurring tourists, you can create a more sustainable internal ecosystem and extend the opportunity to turn visitors into honorary residents.
With the right tools and strategy, tourism doesn’t have to be a frightening threat to the community values of your city. Through implementation of educational programs and convenient resources, you will not only ensure your city’s tourists will be respectful visitors, but can also help transform them into loyal ambassadors for your destination.