In this time of pandemic-created disruption and social upheaval, we yearn for connection with the people we love and peaceful distractions. We witness this as people turn toward perceived “safe places” such as the wild wide-open spaces the national parks and national forests provide.
Less populous mountain communities such as ours represent a safe haven, an opportunity to refresh and reset with time away from a state of affairs that looks like it will linger longer than most of us anticipated.
We have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to envision and plan for a future — a new norm of resiliency — that takes into account the possibility of future upheavals and where our wild open spaces degrade significantly because of overcrowding.
Consider the well-being of a community/state as a three-legged stool with economic, social and environmental legs. When each of these systems is in a state of balance, a pandemic or wildfire or earthquake will not topple the stool.
The lack of equilibrium is the fundamental problem that COVID-19 and the protests have laid bare. Being flawed human beings, we may not reach that perfect balance, but striving toward it can be our goal.
Our community’s interdependent environmental, social and economic values and priorities must drive the future of tourism here, not vice versa. With that in mind, how do we identify the lessons learned thus far and collaborate, innovate and implement lasting productive change that future generations of our community can build upon?
Can we reach for this versus racing back to recapture the former status quo? Communities like ours exist around the world. In this moment, many such places are challenging themselves to think beyond traditional economic performance measures. Here are examples to consider:
1. Sustainability in economic recovery planning: Integrating economic recovery and environmental and social sustainability strategies into one economic recovery plan that balances marketing and management (Sedona, Arizona’s Destination Recovery Plan; Dolomites, Italy’s Future Lab Initiative; Colorado Tourism Office).
2. Seven Affirmations for 7 Generations Pledge, the Yellowstone Pledge and the Pledge for the Wild: Educating visitors, residents, businesses and organizations about environmental and social responsibility and resiliency (British Columbia’s Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association, the Yellowstone Association, and western U.S. destinations).
We can also look toward Teton County’s Roadmap to Recovery, which reached out to community members to create and implement a recovery plan that includes public health metrics and guidelines. This is a promising first step in developing a more comprehensive set of social, environmental and economic sustainability performance measures and coordinated communications for managing our community as a tourism destination (Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board and Teton County Public Health).
Our community must be at the heart of rebuilding, recovery and resiliency. Let’s learn from our peers and come together to create a management plan that prioritizes environmental stewardship, lessens tourism’s burden on our community and creates equity and economic resilience for all. As the Global Sustainable Tourism Council said, “Teton County more than any other place in the world has the potential to become a leader as a sustainable destination” and has “the natural capital, human capacity, and financial resources to realize this potential.”