Destinations, tourism sustainability and geotourism are the focus of this interview with Jonathan Tourtellot, whose professional journey has included positions as feature writer and editor for National Geographic Traveler, as well as researcher, communicator and facilitator for the Destination Stewardship Center.
- How Jonathan Tourtellot’s view of tourism and sustainability has changed over the years;
- Why he established the Destination Stewardship Center, and what it is all about;
- Lessons learned from his more than 20 years with the National Geographic Traveler;
- Overtourism, and how destination managers can deal with it;
- The main destination challenges right now, regarding sustainability;
- How sustainability performance impacts destination reputation and competitiveness;
- His thoughts on the current state of tourism sustainability in the USA;
- 3 bits of sustainability advice for destination managers.
Jonathan, you have been involved in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship for many years. Do you remember what brought you to the topic in the first place? And your view/thoughts on destination sustainability back then?
In the 1990s I happened to return to two places for which I had fond memories from visits a decade earlier: the coast of Crete and northern Iceland. I was stunned. Resorts and villas had sprung up all along Crete’s Aegean coast, catering to international resort tourism and blunting the very Creteness of the place. Around Lake Myvatn in Iceland the changes were more subtle: A hot spring closed here, pathways roped off there. Growth in tourism was taming the wild appeal of the area. The two experiences constituted an epiphany for me. Tourism was transforming the world—even in once-remote northern Iceland!—but it seemed the world was not paying much attention.
I was a writer/editor at National Geographic then, where I had always been most focused on both travel and Earth-system sciences—ecology, climate, human geography. That led me to learn about ecotourism, which in turn led me to tourism impacts generally.
Once I wandered into the valley of tourism policy, I never came out again; tourism interacts with almost everything! Never boring. I’ve been trying to call more attention to it ever since.