California’s Sonoma County Tourism (SCT) has announced a significant commitment to helping travellers enjoy a visit to the area while protecting local natural and cultural resources.
With more than 60 unique nature parks, Sonoma County’s rich, diverse landscape is one of its main attractions. Visitors can explore redwood forests, paddle three rivers and hike/bike miles of trails.
According to the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), ‘… responsible tourism aims to minimize tourism’s negative impacts on the environment and maximize the positive contributions tourism can make to local communities. Traveling responsibly is not about halting development or staying home.
‘It is about managing travel and destinations in an environmentally and culturally responsible way and designing tourism programs and individual trips carefully, to provide travelers with the experience they seek, while leaving a positive footprint on their destination.’
Through three distinct programs, SCT is working with partners across the county to ensure resources are protected and ‘the vibrant economic engine that tourism provides to the economy is focused on creating a balance between robust tourism development and sustainable tourism practices.’
Tourism generates nearly $2.2bn annually for the local economy, resulting in $193.8m in tax revenue, and supports more than 22,300 jobs. Claudia Vecchio, President/CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, said, “Travelers are increasingly interested in protecting a destination’s resources so we feel strongly that this emphasis will resonate not only with locals, but our global visitors as well.”
As part of its FY19-21 strategic plan, SCT will move from being a destination marketing organisation (DMO) to a destination stewardship organisation (DSO) with the goal of ensuring all programming is in the best interest of Sonoma County.
The core programming around sales and marketing remain paramount but the activities and associated messaging will centre on promoting the area for travellers who seek an experience that aligns with the values around stewardship and responsible travel.
SCT joins several Sonoma County businesses that have already shown a dedication to sustainability. For instance, Sonoma County Winegrowers have set a benchmark for sustainable growing practices.
Through a short but insightful pledge, visitors can confirm their commitment to considering the environment and those around them while in Sonoma County. “Sonoma County currently sees about 10.8 million day and overnight visitors per year,” Vecchio said. “If just one-tenth of our visitors raise their hands for sustainability, we’ll reach our goal of 1 million within a year.”
Sonoma County also is working with Kind Traveler, an innovative online travel agent (OTA) in a program that allows visitors to give back to local organisations with every booked hotel stay. Travellers who book via the website can give back to one of three area organisations: Redwood Empire Food Bank, Sonoma Land Trust and Russian Riverkeeper.
Nearly 75% of travellers polled in Tourism Cares and Phocuswright’s Good Travels research study believe it’s important that their travel dollars benefit the communities they visit.
SCT has engaged the Coraggio Group to help craft a destination master plan. The plan will provide a roadmap for becoming a destination that compels travelers from around the world, while interconnecting the needs of local residents and businesses.
Steve Jung, chair, Sonoma County Tourism board of directors, noted, “The tourism master plan will give Sonoma County the chance to identify and, as much as is possible, control its destiny. Destinations run into challenges when they allow their future to be managed by outside influencers. This gives us a chance to create a framework for our future under which we can all align.”
Through a series of meetings with and surveys to residents, business leaders, elected officials, and others interested in this process, the plan will identify potential outcomes and the strategies for achieving the critical long-term objectives. Community meetings will kick off in the early fall with the entire process set to complete in the spring of 2020.