Sustainable tourism may seem like an oxymoron. Historically, tourism has resulted in environmental and cultural degradation across the globe. While a diversified economy remains optimal, many places depend heavily on tourism. Locations with delicate natural environments such as the rain forests of Brazil, the coral reefs of Australia, and the plains of Africa often suffer great environmental degradation at the cost of tourist dollars. The same is also true for small resort villages in the United States.
Mammoth Lakes, CA, home to the world renowned Mammoth Mountain, boasts a local population of approximately 8,000 people. On any given weekend during the ski season, the small, four square mile town hosts up to 35,000 visitors. Similar fluctuations occur in small resort communities across the United States from Colorado to Oregon. These varied increases in population create difficulties in terms of the environment, infrastructure, culture, and economy.
These are some ways that resort communities might mitigate the negative effects of large tourist populations.
- Developing environmental stewardship programs: Environmental stewardship programs instill a sense of responsibility in tourists. By collaborating with local environmental non-profits, communities can create a range of programs from info sessions to volunteer trail maintenance opportunities;
- Investing in alternative transportation options: In order to diminish the impacts on the infrastructure of small communities, urban planners should promote alternative transportation. Free local trolley or bus routes decrease congestion in towns with few roads;
- Celebrating local history and culture: The promotion of local culture and history is paramount and can be achieved through fairs, museums, and traditions. Advertising these events through social media marketing will help create more respectful tourists;
- Marketing a “shop local” program: Finally, a “shop local” program will help to keep tourist dollars in resort communities. Almost 80% of each dollar spent at a local business stays within the community. Residents should provide the example by shopping local and recommending their favorite shops to visitors.
Distinct from ecotourism, sustainable tourism attempts to minimize impacts on both the environment and local culture. Do you think it’s the responsibility of local planning departments or visitors to promote sustainable tourism in resort communities?