Door County Tourism: What Is Sustainable Travel?

Let’s start at the beginning of the international “sustainability” movement and work into how this idea affects and influences Door County. In March of 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development, a United Nations agency, published a report called “Our Common Future.” That report described “sustainable development” as that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In other words, sustainability is long term, long lasting and self-renewing.

“Sustainable tourism” is described as attempting to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate income, employment, and the conservation of local ecosystems. It is responsible because it is both ecologically and culturally sensitive.

As the impact of tourism on geographic locations becomes more and more obvious, everyone can recognize that the environment affects travel and tourism. It has happened here with low water levels in the Great Lakes causing beach erosion and reconfiguration, cladophora and zebra mussels, blossom freeze in the fruit crops, erratic weather and the like. These seemingly small factors can affect a vacation planner’s decision to come to Door County. If people don’t visit Door County, it damages our local economy, even for those residents not directly involved in the hospitality industry.

So, the relationship between Door County’s economy and its leisure visitors means the well-being of one directly affects that of the other; for better or worse, we are co-dependent. One task of Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) like the Door County Visitor Bureau (DCVB) is to help keep the delicate balance between marketing the value of the county and meeting the expectations of our visitors once they are here.

That balance can be achieved only if all of us are conservators of the county’s fragile natural resources. If we over-develop, we take away the personality of Door County that charmed us in the first place – and that people want to visit over and over again.

In our state, the Travel Green Wisconsin program is designed to protect the beauty and vitality of Wisconsin’s landscape and natural resources by encouraging visitors to leave a “light footprint.” And in Door County, while there are a high number of Green-Certified businesses, the DCVB would like to increase the number so the entire county could qualify as a Green Destination. That would allow us to grow a niche market of thoughtful, environmentally aware visitors who could appreciate some of the county’s hidden characteristics we locals value highly.

Sustainable or “green” practices aren’t just a fad; they have a positive impact on the bottom line. Take the example of compact fluorescent bulbs; the more expensive bulbs pay off over time not only in reduced energy costs and, because they don’t have to be replaced as often, in reduced labor costs.

Sometimes the sustainable transition isn’t quite as simple. One hotel owner found that purchasing environmentally friendly cleaning supplies was not only less costly, the products actually did a better job. But, he had to retrain the staff – his employees didn’t want to use the green products because they didn’t foam and bubble!

To learn more about the practices that businesses can choose to make their businesses “green,” download the Travel Green Wisconsin Checklist available at and scroll down to “Time to Think Green.”

Almost any business can be certified green. You may be there already or on the verge with just a few modifications to your business plan. The DCVB will pay the cost of your first year’s certification in a regranting program through Wisconsin Division of Energy.

Other resources on sustainability include: the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) has an entire Web site dedicated to sustainable travel at; USTA is also a partner with American Express and its commitment to a greener world; Expedia has partnered with National Geographic’s World Heritage Sites to encourage international eco-travel; and is NatGeo’s site to help people make green decisions when purchasing or recycling consumer goods.

In the U.S. alone, more than half of all adults say they would be more likely to select an airline, rental car or hotel that uses more environmentally friendly products and processes (Travel Industry Association and Y Partnership, 2007). Conscientious travelers seek out places that protect not only their destination’s locale, but benefit the planet at large.

For more information please contact Sally Everhardus, Director of Administration for the Door County Visitor Bureau (DCVB) at 920.743.4456 or [email protected]. The Door County Visitor Bureau is the official tourism marketing organization for the county whose mission is to generate incremental economic impact for the community by attracting visitors with strategies that ensure sustainable tourism.