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A Denney for Your Thoughts – ‘Sustainable Tourism.’ What is it?

By Connie Denney

Sustainable development, specifically “sustainable tourism,” seems to get a lot of lip service these days.  But, what does all that talk really mean?  Is it just the latest buzz among a lot of misdirected energy?  And, who can take the time to bother to understand amid the trials of daily living, anyway?

Here in Unicoi County, there is a readily available source for a specific answer to the “What is it?” question.  The longer-range answer could be one that is worth the investment of interest and time to understand.

In the interest of full disclosure, I tell you that my comments are not totally objective. An interest in the idea of tourism as a meaningful economic development tool for Unicoi County directed me here 20 years ago (pre-Interstate 26 coming through). I do have an opinion; and, one of the neat things about writing for this page is that I am not only free—but am encouraged—to express it!

Since I last wrote for this column, the Sustainable Tourism Initiative Report for Unicoi County was released.  Brandon Kane wrote about it in a news story published in the November 9, 2010, issue of this newspaper under the headline, “Report reflects positively on county’s tourism future.”   

Information for a power point presentation lists four things in answering, “What is sustainable tourism?”  They are:

-“Authentic experiences that are unique and specialized to the place (its culture, heritage and natural resources)

-“Emphasizes quality over quantity

-“Focuses on distinctive destinations, unspoiled landscapes and historic buildings

-“Differs from mass-market tourism by favoring locally-owned businesses, thereby increasing circulation of money in the local economy.”

It goes further to list seven “keys to sustainable tourism” as:

-“Recognize that tourism is more than marketing

-“Focus on the authentic

-“Ensure that tourism support facilities fit in – hotels, restaurants, shops

-“Interpret the resource

-“Consider aesthetics and ecology

-“Enhance the journey as well as the destination

-“Manage tourism and recognize its limits.”

Listen up here.  What comes to mind when you think of viewing wildlife, natural features, scenery; going to historic sites, communities or landmarks; hiking, camping, biking, fishing, hunting or boating; eating locally-grown food and authentic cuisine; participating in cultural events, festivals and fairs; buying locally-made crafts; visiting art galleries, theaters and museums; exploring architectural, archaeological and natural treasures; learning about local cultural, heritage and natural history?  The report says that these are the kinds of things such travelers do.

Do you see a pattern here?  Doesn’t it make sense that these are the travelers that would be attracted to this community AND the travelers we want to attract?  They also SPEND MORE, STAY LONGER and SHOP MORE.  Giving sustainable tourism a chance is a way to say that, yes, we know changes are taking place, but the community should decide what controls need to be in place, which areas should look this way or that.

Let Mayor Greg Lynch and/or your county commissioners, leaders of the towns of Erwin or Unicoi if you live in either, know what you think, what your concerns are, what you fear about the process.

You are also encouraged to share your opinion on this page.  Write a letter to the editor.