Gardiner, We Are Not Alone. Managing the Negative Impacts of Tourism.

In Successful Gardiner’s public input summary, concerns over the impacts of increasing tourism on community character, sense of community, and housing were at the top. We are not alone in this struggle. Across the world, communities are grappling with a nearly 10% increase in visitation worldwide.

Overtourism describes destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably. So how are other communities responding to this phenomena and what tools are in the toolbox?

  1. Adopt principle for sustainable or responsible tourism.

  2. Partner with public land agencies on visitor management plans.

  3. Employ local government authority to manage visitation numbers and impacts.

Each of these is described below in more detail with case studies.

1. Adopt principles for sustainable or responsible tourism.

The concept of sustainable tourism has been around for a very long time now. What has changed is this notion it is only applied in a developing country context. According to the World Tourism Organization sustainable tourism should:

  1. Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.

  2. Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.

  3. Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities and contributing to poverty alleviation.

More simply responsible tourism is about using tourism to make better places for people to live in, first; and second, better places for people to visit.

Case Study: Gunnison Colorado | Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee

In 2016, the Gunnison River Valley was reaching maximum bed nights for two summer months a year as well as exceeding campground capacity across the region. In a regional planning process, principles for sustainable tourism were developed which then led to an action planning team and eventually, the formalization of a standing county led committee, the STOR Committee. Read their charter and action plan on the link above. The principles they developed were:

We believe the culture of the Gunnison Valley, which is inclusive of all people, and reveres our natural setting is important. We will welcome guests to our Valley and strive to include them in our culture and educate them about our values in which outdoor education plays a significant role. We believe sustainable tourism should:

  1. Have positive impacts on the communities, culture, and local values while minimizing impacts to our fragile environment and man-made resources.

  2. Provide visitors with an outstanding experience through information, education, infrastructure, friendly atmosphere, and a remarkable environment.

Check out their first education effort, Mountain Manners, to promote a culture for environmental stewardship.

2. Partner with public land agencies on a Visitor Management Plan.

A Visitor Management Plan is a tool available to public land agencies to manage visitation. Strategies to manage impacts of tourism are outlines in this excellent resource from UNEP. In summary, these strategies include:

  1. Manage the supply of visitor opportunities (e.g. increase places available, times to accommodate visitors, etc.)

  2. Manage the demand for visitation (e.g. length of stay, total visitor numbers, types of uses, etc.)

  3. Manage the resource capability to handle uses (e.g. site management expansion or hardening, etc.)

  4. Manage the impacts of the use (e.g. modify types of uses, disperse uses, etc.)

Parks across the US, including Yellowstone, have begun to employ many of these strategies to limit impacts to natural resources. You can visit the YNP visitor management webpage here.

Case Study: Zion National Park VUMP Process

Zion National Park and its adjacent gateway community, Springdale, Utah (population 600) have been working together for nearly 20 years to manage increasing tourism. After years of planning, debates, and conflict, a shuttle system was initiated in 2000 to reduce traffic in the park. While that has helped alleviate some pressure, visitation to Zion National Park continues to grow and reached 4.5 million in 2017. A visitation management planning process was initiated in 2015 to identify strategies for managing visitor use and access. The plan is addressing a number of issues including:

  • Visitor health and safety concerns

  • Diminishing quality of the visitor experience

  • Natural and cultural resource impacts

  • Heavy strain on the park's facilities and ability to perform daily operations

  • Effects to and from adjacent communities

In summer 2017, the NPS released a draft set of alternatives to inform the Environmental Assessment that outlined the types of strategies being considered. The principle strategy is to create an advance permitting system that would limit access into the park and impacts of traffic. The draft plan and EA is currently being developed.