San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau Suggests Tourism Plan to Protect Islands’ Nature
From San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
Since May 2-8 is National Travel and Tourism Week, this is the perfect opportunity to restart the dialogue about the future of the San Juan Islands’ experience economy: tourism.
Nobody in the world anticipated this vast, COVID-19 health crisis and resulting economic crisis. Industry after industry ground to a screeching halt.
Nowhere has that been more evident than in the hospitality industry in San Juan County and throughout the world.
According to a Washington Tourism Alliance’s Tourism Economics Report, visitors spent over $236 million in San Juan County in 2019.
With tourism occupying such a significant percentage of the San Juan Islands economy and currently in a holding pattern, this is a golden opportunity to create a more resilient method of tourism management. There’s no time like the present to evaluate our current standards.
A tourism management plan has been on the county and losing tax advisory committee’s radar for several years. Let’s get the process started in 2021.
The San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau and the islands’ tourism industry recognize that the economic vitality of tourism is only sustainable if the features that make the archipelago special are preserved: the rural character, natural beauty, and diversity of wildlife.
A 2018 tourism impact study by our local parks and land managers reinforced the fact that visitors come here primarily to take part in low-impact outdoor activities.
Rather than returning to the currently COVID-interrupted way things were here, we can evolve instead into a new “Golden Age of Tourism:” a time of well-managed places and beneficial travel for tourists, for residents and for natural and cultural preservation. Is that too much to expect? Maybe. But now is the time to ask for too much. If not now, when?
Regenerative principles are emerging as the future of tourism worldwide.
The aim of regenerative travel is not only that visitors take care not to degrade, in any way, the places they visit, but that they actually improve conditions there. They can, and should, make things better, and not just for the sector, but for locals, the environment, and travel in the future. How do we make this more than just the latest buzzword? Get the tourism management plan underway.
Sustainability for our islands’ way of life also happens when we collaborate with other entities like the Economic Development Council for a more diverse and resilient economy that can weather downturns in the hospitality industry, such as the one we are experiencing.
Nevertheless, since tourism is currently vitally important to our local economy, we encourage you to get involved in the planning process, when it begins, so that tourism moving forward represents the wishes of our whole community.
With representatives from across the sectors (residents, business, agriculture, government, conservation, education, etc.), we can outline both short and long-term scenarios, including best-and-worst-case, and from there, create a well-balanced management plan to revitalize tourism post-COVID. We envision this plan centering around four pillars: the natural environment, residents’ quality of life, quality of the economy and the visitor experience.
Legendary marine biologist Sylvia Earle expressed hope for a post-COVID world. “There will be a renewal of optimism in a better world that we know is possible,” she said. “That we can, through our individual and collective actions, turn to a new era of respect for the natural systems that keep us alive, and for one another.”
Let’s make that better world for the San Juans with a tourism management plan.