What Is Sustainable Travel?

The organization Sustainable Tourism International defines sustainable travel as “promoting responsible travel and ecotourism, supporting sustainable development, and helping travelers and travel providers protect the cultures and environments they visit.”

That seems like a very broad mission until you take into account that tourism is the world’s largest or second largest industry. (Some claim that the military and weaponry complex is the largest.) Whether first or second, tourism/hospitality generates about 10 percent of total world GDP (gross domestic product) and employs over 10 percent of the global workforce. Those numbers are significant but more astonishing for us is that 46 percent of the Door County population is involved in the hospitality business.

With nearly half of us directly affected by tourism, it’s easy to extrapolate that nearly everyone who lives in Door County is in contact with some of our 2.2 million visitors. Whether you have a roadside farm stand or a restaurant, are a veterinarian or have a home repair business, we all are touched by tourism.

As the Door County Visitor Bureau (DCVB) has moved through the county hosting focus groups and informational sessions, it is obvious that people are very aware of and close to the attributes of this place we call home. We are also fearful and fierce in wanting to protect our lifestyles, maintain our values and control our growth. Nearly every community in the county mourns the loss of a local landmark or a business fondly remembered from decades ago.

Across many cultures, humans are challenged by change, even while acknowledging it is inevitable. According to Brian T. Mullis in Why Sustainable Travel and Tourism:

“The purpose of sustainable tourism is to allow tourism to develop in a way that is fair and equitable for host communities. Sustainable tourism is economically viable in the long-term, and it avoids damage to tourist attractions and the physical environment.

By focusing on the triple bottom lines of economic viability, avoiding damage to attractions and maintaining the physical environment, it adds socio-cultural and environmental dimensions to the traditional economic benchmark for measuring success. A positive triple bottom line means a net improvement in conservation of the natural environment, social benefit for local communities, profit for shareholders, and gain for national or regional economies.”

While our horizons may be considerably more localized, Door County is a microcosm of national and international trends. Sustainably-based travel expectations are growing with over 60 percent of tourists saying they would pay 5 – 10 percent more for sustainable practices at places they visit. This could indicate a substantial shift from traditional business practices that reflects positively on the balance sheet.

There are many case studies readily accessible that document annual savings that over time have a significant effect on overall profitability. Options range from reduced flow shower heads to using recycled paper and printing on two sides.

At the local level, the fire-gutted Cookery restaurant in Fish Creek is being replaced with a green building that will compliment on-going sustainable practices that have been in place for a decade or more.

Courtney Skare says, “At The Cookery, our goal is to lessen our impact on the environment by re-using, reducing, and recycling and encouraging our staff and customers to implement these practices as well. We want to be responsible members of the community and the world, so we are making every effort to go green.”

In addition to The Cookery and The Washington Hotel, both of which have featured locally produced ingredients for some time, several restaurants and local growers are participating in a pilot program facilitated by the DCVB and Dean Volenberg of the UW Extension in Door County.

The aim is to partner local growers with area chefs to serve fresh food with a small “carbon footprint.” Restaurants are providing their raw materials lists to farmers and the growers are planting crops to fulfill their needs. This win-win initiative grew out of “Kingdom So Delicious,” a culinary marketing event that spans three weeks in September. In time, the DCVB hopes to delve more deeply into the niche market of culinary tourism.

These examples are skimming the surface of the many initiatives, large and small, being explored by local businesses and the DCVB. By pursuing sustainable practices and encouraging others to join us, we are doing something for ourselves that is also attractive to our visitors. We are indeed fulfilling Mullis’ belief that sustainable tourism provides “social benefit for local communities.”

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.