Sustainability in Action through the Tourism Industry

by JULIE GILBERT, President and CEO, Destination Door County

“Sustainability” is a word that we hear often, but what does it really mean? 

The definition focuses on fulfilling the needs of future generations while ensuring the delicate balance among economic growth, environmental care and social well-being.

How does that relate to Destination Door County and the visitor economy, and how does it affect our community?

Our economic sustainability for the tourism industry relies on visitors coming into the county every year. In 2022, our visitors’ spending in key business categories totaled $466.5 million and is broken down by lodging at 48% of that total, food and beverage at 21%, retail 14.3%, recreation 10.5% and local transportation 6.2%. These businesses supported 3,335 jobs in Door County, with labor income of $113.3 million driven by the visitor economy. As locals, we are also able to enjoy the experiences and services that all of these businesses provide.

As we look at environmental and societal sustainability, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of taking care of the place we love. Our Care for Door County program is the sum of all of our cultural, quality-of-life and eco-focused initiatives and the actions we can take to protect and care for Door County.

We recognize the value of maintaining and preserving the natural environment and cultural heritage of our community. We have seen our local economy grow and provide more opportunities for our residents because of an increase in visitor numbers, but it has also put stress on our fragile natural ecosystem.  

We understand the importance of investing in our community, along with the importance of the visitor economy. Balance is essential. Outdoor recreation is a major driver of visitation and a key quality-of-life component for our community. An investment in our state, county and local parks underscores their value to our destination’s long-term sustainability; it reflects a commitment to our visitors and residents; and it highlights how important it is to continue our Care for Door County initiatives. 

The visitor economy is providing the opportunity for us to make a special investment of $800,000 in Door County’s parks. This is possible due to higher-than-anticipated room-tax collections in 2022, and this one-time funding allocation will be shared by municipal parks, county parks’ Friends groups and state parks’ Friends groups in Door County.  

Another result of our strong visitor economy has been the creation of the Community Investment Fund, facilitated by the Door County Community Foundation. Using a portion of the room-tax dollars paid by visitors, the Community Investment Fund offers grants to projects that benefit our visitors while they’re here and improves the quality of life for those who live and work in Door County.

Wisconsin state lodging tax statute requires that we use room-tax dollars on projects that will be significantly used by visitors and must likely lead to an increase in visitors staying overnight in paid accommodations in Door County. These are the requirements of any application to the Community Investment Fund. However, to earn a grant from the fund, a project must also demonstrate how it will meaningfully improve the quality of life for residents of Door County. 

As we continue to build toward a common future in 2023 and beyond, we see the necessity for destination stewardship that meets the needs of the present without compromising the sustainability of future generations. We need to make sure that we do have an integrated approach that focuses on environmental conservation and economic opportunity while providing societal equity for all our residents. 

Sustainability is so important across our businesses, environment and society. We must ensure a robust visitor economy that respects the local culture and environment while it supports the quality of life for residents.

And because it’s July, we know the county is busy! We appreciate all of our incredible hospitality workers who go above and beyond to serve us and our visitors. Without our tourism industry, we would not be able to provide the experiences that our family, friends and all visitors look forward to when they’re here. Our communities wouldn’t have the breadth of artisanal offerings that we all enjoy so much. Thank you to all of you!

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions to help us continue growing in a positive direction.

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