Tourist Tuesday — Sonoma County

This was sent out as part of a mailing by They also mentioned MoCo’s sustainable moments campaign — which is mostly just “talk” or website rather than action. I like what Sonoma County is doing, and suggest we can learn from them. It is not a complete solution, but may be one link in a real chain of sustainability that includes more than just talk about what it is. We have TONS more tourists than ever, but the businesses here in Big Sur are not getting the business. Promote our local businesses, not Bixby Bridge or McWay falls. This has to change. The nature of the tourist has to change. The quality of the tourist has to change. Tourists are welcome here, just not idiots.

Sonoma County

Sonoma County Tourism (SCT) recently announced its shift from a Destination Marketing Organization to a Destination Stewardship Organization as part of its commitment to amplifying tourism’s positive role in the local community and environment. 

“Sales and marketing will remain very important for our organization,” said Director of Global Media Relations Birgitt Vaughan. “But everything will really stand on promoting our area to travelers who look for an experience that aligns with the values of stewardship and responsible travel.”

Sonoma County is positioned to become America’s first 100 percent sustainable wine region this year, a goal undertaken by Sonoma County Winegrowers five years ago in 2014. In partnership with SCT, green and white branded “Sonoma County Sustainable” signs posted at vineyards and wineries declare to travelers and locals the commitment to agricultural heritage and environmental stewardship. 

SCT launched a two-year partnership with Kind Traveler in August. This first-of-its-kind hotel booking platform unlocks special rates, perks and amenities in exchange for a $10 per night donation to a local charity within Sonoma County. 

Guests are incentivized with perks such as a complimentary bottle of wine, a credit towards dining, or a certificate to a local tasting room, while 100 percent of their donation goes directly to 1 of 3 local charity organizations: Redwood Empire Food BankRussian Riverkeeper, or Sonoma Land Trust. Visitors’ donations allow the organizations to maintain natural landscapes, hiking trails and waterways, and provide food to members of the community. 

Participating Kind Hotels include Farmhouse Inn, Timber Cove Resort, h2hotel, Harmon Guest House, Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa, Hotel E by Greystone Hotel, The Sandman Hotel, Vintners Inn Sonoma County, El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen, and Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country.

For some comparisons about what I addressed in the first paragraph, the Hawaii Tourist Association reported that Maui visitor spending decreased nearly 2% to $2.6 billion, while visitor arrivals grew 4% to more than 1.5 million. That’s the opposite of HTA’s goal. (

That is also the opposite of Big Sur’s goal. We want the tourists who will stay here, patronize our local businesses, and thereby learn to love our local environment, culture, and the entire Big Sur Experience.

Tourist Tuesday — Focus on Norway.

We are about 12 years behind Norway, the leader in the field of sustainable tourism.

“The effort dates back to 2007, when the country began working on a sustainable-tourism plan. In 2013, it became the first country in the world to implement a sustainable destination national standard, which is now the model used by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, the international accreditation body for sustainable tourism.

“Norway has always been a sustainability trailblazer,” says Neil Rogers, a Stockholm-based consultant who has worked the past 40 years in eco-, adventure, and sustainable tourism. “Most Norwegians still live close to nature. They appreciate and care about the places they recreate in and understand that they must rapidly take actions to protect and conserve their environment and culture.”

The sustainable destination national standard goes way beyond leaving a note in a hotel room asking guests not to change their towels. It covers six main sustainability themes, 45 criteria, and 108 indicators in the areas of nature, culture, environment, social values, community involvement, and economic viability. Once a destination devises a viable plan, it implements energy-saving initiatives and projects that promote local food and culture, and it builds infrastructure, like signposts and trails or trail upgrades. Those upgrades are then monitored before receiving accreditation. From start to finish, the entire process takes two to three years. “The long-term goal,” says Sornes, “is that every destination in Norway is making use of the system.”  

This is a longer than usual article, and a bit complex, but worth the read.

Tourist Tuesday, 8/27/19 — Emergency Response hampered by tourist traffic at Bixby Bridge

Today, I am going to forego my planned post on the “Invisible Costs of Tourism” to talk about a very real cost that many of us have been warning about for some time — that is traffic jams at Bixby and the impact on emergency response times. These costs are not monetary, they are to life and limb. I admit, I am biased. I lost my leg in an auto accident, and nearly lost my life. I am VERY aware that in emergency responses, time is a critical factor.

Medical Emergency on Highway One hampered by tourist traffic jam and road construction at Bixby Bridge.

There was a head-on collision at Big Creek yesterday, with several people injured, one critically. The CHP dispatcher wrote this:

12:07 PM8[24] A27-014 HEAVY TRAFF AT BIXBY / DOWN TO 1 LN / REQ 1141 BE ADVSD

Fortunately, Big Sur Fire is south of Bixby. Thankfully, Chief Matt Harris, and his supportive volunteer board is cross-training ALL volunteers not only for fire fighting, but for cliff-rescue as well as EMTs. They needed both for this incident, as is often the case. These are the men and women we count on, who are also there for our tourists. Please consider a donation to: It is a completely voluntary organization dependent on donations and grants.

For the critical patient, our military neighbor, Fort Hunter Liggett, sent a medical helicopter. He was not able to land at Big Creek due to fog, so he landed at the Hermitage. Big Sur Fire, MCSO, AMR met him there and transferred the patient from the ambulance to the helicopter. Good job all, and I probably speak for the entire coast when I wish the patient a speedy and full recovery.

I would just like to note that all of these people involved are professionals, only one of which is not paid. Marcus Foster, and Big Sur Fire, I hold you in great regard. Thank you.

I should add, that in addition to the traffic problems at Bixby, there is currently road construction going on in the area which exacerbates the problem.

Photos by Brendon Shave:

Marcus Foster of Big Sur Fire

The Invisible Burden of Tourism, part 3

While we have been working through stakeholder meetings, Martha Diehl is one voice that keeps asking to start with collecting data. Fortunately for the rest of us, her voice is getting louder on this issue. Megan Epler Wood agrees with Martha when she says that local stakeholder meetings are insufficient because they are not discussions based on data that all can share and comprehend. Instead they are often led by angry and upset stakeholders trying to persuade other with opinions based on anecdotal information and with governmental agencies have no budgets to manage tourism’s impacts. “Neither the gurus nor the protesters are advancing approaches that are genuinely constructive because they are based on opinion and anecdotal information.” (Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet, p. 26.)

Thanks to the efforts of Lisa Kleissner, and her contacts in Hawaii, we have been able to obtain the surveys used by the UH for its own study on the Invisible Costs of Tourism. It will be easy to adapt them to our situation. It surveys both tourists and residents. We are looking for one that similarly surveys businesses. This can be the beginning of our data collection strategy, if we can work with cooperation from MCCVB and Monterey County to obtain the funds necessary to implement this data collection process.

Continuing on with the article that relies on Professor Epler Wood’s work found here:

While figures proclaiming the number of visitor arrivals or tourism jobs have become common yardsticks for assessing the health of a local tourism industry, the study finds that destination managers often ignore other vital metrics. 

Those include each individual traveler’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, wear and tear on local infrastructure, threats to biodiversity and demand for land and housing.

Failure to confront these hidden costs is starting to degrade the customs, culture, monuments, natural resources and other assets that make these destinations so appealing to visit in the first place.

In Barcelona, visitors swarm beaches and other beloved attractions, transforming places long loved by residents into virtual no-go zones for locals. Residents are being driven out of Venice as 30 million annual tourists bombard the Italian city, stampeding streets, sidewalks and canals and skyrocketing the price of rent. Poorly behaving tourists on Easter Island have made a mockery of the island’s indigenous culture, climbing on giant moai statues and posing with them for nose-picking photos

To turn this scenario on its head, governments and the travel industry must reinvest a higher percentage of tourism revenues into the destination, the study concludes. The first step toward achieving this requires destination managers to uncover the full cost of hosting each individual visitor. Only then can stakeholders figure out how to pay for those costs.

When such costs go ignored, the study finds that residents are forced to foot the bill. Or worse, the bill doesn’t get paid at all.

The idea is to make tourism pay its own way to the benefit of everyone.

To achieve this, the “Invisible Burden” study suggests local governments create a global trust or revolving fund account with apolitical leaders to finance the preservation of destination assets. (To be continued.)

The Invisible Burden of Tourism, part 2

As Megan Epler Wood stated in the quote I cited in part one, if local people are engaged in the monitoring of vital indicators to protect local resources AND the policy makers and tourist organizations like and actually listen and implement changes and develop the programs and frameworks to actually protect the health and well-being of the local populations, ecosystems, cultures, and monuments, then the civil disobedience witnessed in July would not be necessary. When local people do not feel they are being heard, but instead federal, state, and county government, as well as the tourist organizations mentioned above put money above the health and safety of the local population and of the delicate ecosystem, then frustration will lead to the kinds of behavior we have witnessed.

Continuing on with the article by Brittany Lyte from Honolulu Civil Beat, which can be found here:

“The famous case is Mallorca, where they were down to $30 per night for a hotel in the ‘70s because it was a very overcrowded tourist destination,” said Megan Epler Wood, director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author of the study. 

“And I attended a meeting in the Canary Islands where the mayor of Mallorca announced that they were going to tear down hotels and the whole audience stood up and cheered. And, in fact, they did it.” 

Mallorca has since recouped high-value tourism on the island in part by shuttering hotels, and also by establishing a new eco-tax on tourists in 2016 that is funneled into a fund to pay the hidden costs of tourism. Those include managing and upgrading systems for water use, waste disposal, land use, air and carbon emissions, transportation, community values and cultural heritage.

“You can drive a destination over a cliff,” Epler Wood said. “But the way to reinsert value is to properly account for tourism’s costs and then strategically look at reinvestment.”

The Key here is “properly account for tourism’s costs” — in other words, design and implement meaningful ways to collect the data about what tourism is costing Big Sur. (To be continued next Tuesday.)

Tourist Tuesday: Lessons from Borocay Island 8/6/19

I wrote the article below, and the one that will follow later this morning two weeks ago, before the Mill Fire and before yesterday’s meetings with CABS AND Costas Christ. I still think they are valid, even though as Costas said last night, Borocay Island was an extreme solution.

Today, I would again like to offer two separate articles, this first one: Lessons from Borocay Island, The Philippines and then in a couple hours, continue on with my invisible burden series. While it would be difficult for Big Sur to implement some of these practices — we are not an island, most of the time — there is still much we can learn about the extreme measures that have been used and look at whether we can avoid any such extreme measures, in order to save to save Big Sur. (This post was originally scheduled for last week, but I changed the schedule to accommodate the Mill Fire reporting.)

The President of the Philippines closed Borocay Island, for 6 months — no planes were allowed to land, and no tourists were allowed in. The reason (to use the President’s words) was the island had become a cesspool that needed immediate action from political authorities.

While Borocay Island was closed, it was cleaned up and a new strategy put into place. The sudden decision to shutter the island for tourism in February 2018 was very harsh for the locals who depend heavily on tourism. The main idea behind the decision was to use the hiatus to clean up the environment, improve hotels’ sewage treatment systems, and to develop a tourism strategy that guarantees a sustainable future for the island. Hence, Boracay re-opened on October 26, 2018 with a new strategy that intends to restrict tourism to make it more sustainable

These rules are as follows:

  • Quota on tourist visits based on the island’s carrying capacity (only 6,405 tourists per day can land on the island).
  • New regulations regarding tourists’ attitudes and behavior (e.g., smoking and drinking alcohol are forbidden on White beach, the most visited beach on the island) – (click here to see all the regulations).
  • New regulations regarding locals’ attitudes and behavior (e.g. raising pigs or chickens for a living is forbidden).
  • Only the hotels compliant with the requirements of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and accredited by the Department of Tourism, can open again. Tourists can only come to the island if they reserve a room at one of these hotels.
  • All hotels must be connected to a proper sewage treatment system.
  • Road widening project to resolve congestion issues.
  • Trash and unauthorized buildings will be removed from the wetlands.
  • Buildings within 30 meters of the shoreline will be destroyed.
  • Gambling is forbidden on the island.

These regulations, assuming compliance is widespread, should enable tourism on Boracay Island to become more sustainable. But what has really happened since the reopening? Costas Christ touched on one of the ramifications of this extreme measure last night.

For the answer to that question, go here: to read the rest of the article.

The Invisible Burden of Tourism, part 1

“A record-setting 10.2 million tourists are expected to visit Hawaii this year. What’s the full cost of welcoming them?

According to a new academic study, “Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism,” even the best attempts at answering this question are informed by inaccurate, incomplete and otherwise misleading data. 

The impact of global tourism on local economies remains largely unknown, and this knowledge gap has allowed poor management to fester, according to the study authored by EplerWood International, Cornell University and the Travel Foundation.

Overtourism is identified in the March 2019 study as a symptom of this underlying problem. To fix it requires a paradigm shift.”

Lisa Kleissner introduced me to this article, and my immediate reaction was that this was such an important article, I wanted to feature it over the rest of the summer on Tourist Tuesdays. In fact, Megan Epler Wood, cited extensively in this article is the author of Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet and the founder of the EplerWood Institute. CABS thinks that the speaker they have arranged for August 5, Christ Costas, who partnered with Megan Epler Wood in the early days of the sustainable tourism movement, is a better fit for us. But the information in the article and in her book, is invaluable.

This is my copy of her ground-breaking book

Form an introduction to this book:

“This book recommends that decision makers assess the current and future value of natural, social, and cultural capital to guide investment in destinations and protect vital resources. Case studies illustrate why budgets to protect local destinations are consistently underestimated and offer guidance on new metrics. Innovative approaches are proposed to support the transition to green infrastructure, protect incomparable landscapes, and engage local people in the monitoring of vital indicators to protect local resources.”

This will be a lengthy series which will probably last throughout the rest of the summer season. It is already in 4 parts and I have at least 1 or 2 more parts to write. Tune in next Tourist Tuesday for part 2.

Tourist Tuesday —Hawaii to increase fines for illegally-parked cars

Highway Solution for numerous trouble spots — Point Lobos, Bixby & McWay

By Ellie Nakamoto-White| July 11, 2019 at 2:12 PM HST – Updated July 11 at 2:12 PM 

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – The growing number of illegally parked vehicles along Kauai’s state highways has prompted an increase in fines for those parked illegally in places along the North Shore.

A bill first introduced by Rep. Nadine Nakamura, and signed into law last week by Gov. David Ige, establishes a new State Highway Enforcement Program, establishing a parking violation surcharge in special ‘no parking’ zones ― in addition to other penalties and fines for parking violations on state highways.

According to Nakamura, the thousands of people drawn to the island’s north shore on a daily basis causes gridlock, safety concerns and numerous complaints.

“This bill is the direct result of Haena and Wainiha residents raising the concern about illegally-parked cars taking over their community and causing health and safety issues,” Rep. Nakamura said. “Adding a $200 surcharge to the existing parking fine of $35 will deter visitors from parking in the newly established ‘no parking’ zone.”

This is just one step officials are taking in hopes of controlling the tourism at Haena State Park.

Other ways are reducing daily visitor counts from 3,000 to 900, having visitors make advance parking and entrance reservations, and accessing the park via the North Shore Shuttle. Copyright 2019 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

And this is what we need for Bixby. A complete and total ban of any parking anywhere near Bixby. Want to stop and take a selfie? You must take the Big Little Lies shuttle from Rio Road.