PORT ANGELES — Quality trumps quantity when it comes to tourism, a keynote speaker said at the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Summit on Thursday.
Promoters of the North Olympic Peninsula should form a council to advance geotourism, a strategy for quality tourism that would protect the character of the region, Jonathan Tourtellot told summit attendees.
“More isn’t better, better is better,” said Tourtellot, founder and CEO of National Geographic’s nonprofit Destination Stewardship Center.
“But more is better has been the prevailing inclination in the world of tourism and the world of government and tourism for a long time. We’re now running into limits to that. So in order to play the long game, we need to re-think how we do it.”
National Geographic defines geotourism as tourism that “sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place — its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents.”
Tourtellot pitched a “Destination Stewardship Council” composed of public, private and civil-society representatives to develop the geotourism concept on the North Olympic Peninsula.
The idea is to incentivize meaningful and more lucrative stay-over visitation and to disincentivize hit-and-run, selfie-stick tourism, he said.
“When you’re dealing with mass tourism, look-alike resorts and all these sorts of things, there are no stories to take home,” Tourtellot told an audience of nearly 100 at the Vern Burton Community Center in Port Angeles.
Tourtellot’s 55-minute address, “Coping with Success,” began with a warning about overtourism, which he said has occurred in places like Barcelona, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and Yellowstone National Park.
The drawbacks of overtourism include traffic, crowds, spikes in real estate prices and wear-and-tear on natural and historic sites, he said.
Tourtellot cited statistics showing how international travel had grown from 25 million trips in 1959 to 1.3 billion trips in 2017. Annual overseas travel is expected to rise to nearly 2 billion by 2030 and 3 billion in 2050, Tourtellot said.
“The Mona Lisa is still 19 inches wide,” he added.
To demonstrate the danger of overtourism in remote areas like the Olympic Peninsula, Tourtellot said the once-isolated lagoons of El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines are now “packed with boats.”
“There’s no privacy in this area whatsoever,” said Tourtellot, who visited El Nido in 2012.
“If places as remote as El Nido are seeing this kind of increase, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that almost any place is vulnerable.”
Olympic National Park is designated as a World Heritage Site. World Heritage Sites are inconsequential to many Americans but draw significant numbers of international tourists, Tourtellot said.
“This brings us to the real dilemma in sustainable tourism when it comes to tourism management, and that’s quantity vs. quality,” Tourtellot said.
“A lot of those government targets are set by people who don’t know anything about tourism, let alone destination stewardship.”
Prior to his speech at the two-day summit, Tourtellot spent three days touring Clallam and Jefferson counties.
He hiked the Olympic Discovery Trail at Railroad Bridge Park in Sequim, gathered oysters at Hamma Hamma, sipped cider at Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, explored the Worthington Mansion in Quilcene, visited the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock and met with the superintendents of Olympic National Park and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
“From the conversations that I’ve had in the past three days, the character of this place is really important,” Tourtellot said.
“That’s what you like about it. So what we need to be aware of is the Yogi Berra effect: ‘Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.’
“That sounds like a joke, but there’s a real element to that,” he said.
Tourtellot used slides of cliffs in Ireland to illustrate a “destination management gap” in which the tourism industry competes against the stewards of a destination.
“We really need to get these two sides talking to each other all the time,” Tourtellot said.
“We’ve been talking a lot about collaboration today. That’s the collaboration you need. I take your collaboration and I raise you five-fold.”
Tourtellot challenged the tourism officials, politicians, business owners and others in the audience to form a Destination Stewardship Council to enable a “geotourism-type strategy.”
Other scheduled presentations at the first day of the Tourism Summit included a “State of the Industry” report from Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau Executive Director Marsha Massey, a “New Tourism Marketing” report from Washington Tourism Alliance Managing Director Mike Moe and an “Olympic Peninsula Destination Assessment” by NEXTFactor Enterprises President and CEO Paul Ouimet.
Today’s agenda includes a presentation on social media influencers and learning lab sessions.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].