Safe Tourism is a Shared Responsibility

By Gabriel Seder, Destinations International Foundation

Last month more than 30 tourism industry trade groups worked together with public health experts to develop a core set of reopening guidelines for the industry as it prepares to reopen after months of shutdown. This group, which included Destinations International, released Travel in the New Normal: Industry Guidance for Promoting the Health and Safety of All Travelers on May 4th.

With destinations across the country beginning to reopen, many sectors of the industry have adapted these guidelines to fit their businesses. The American Hotel and Lodging Association has championed the Stay Safe program, which has been endorsed by all the major hotel brands and implemented at thousands of hotel properties in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. Similar guidelines have been introduced by industry groups representing restaurantsattractionsairlinesmuseums, even outdoor recreation areas.

This specific guidance is invaluable for businesses struggling to understand how to operate in a way that keeps both customers and employees as safe as possible. However, these protocols fail to address one important consideration: the business itself can only do so much to create a safe environment unless the customers are also ready to behave in a safe and responsible manner.

In fact, as destinations continue to move through progressive phases of reopening, it becomes more important than ever that customers patronizing businesses and travelers visiting destinations act in good faith to protect the wellbeing of the communities they visit.  In the travel industry, the responsibility for a destination’s health and safety is shared between tourism businesses and their customers.

This creates an important role for the destination organization to educate both travel businesses and travelers themselves about their shared responsibility for public health. One particularly effective strategy to do this is through public health pledges.

Explore Asheville launched the “Asheville Cares” Stay Safe Pledge at the end of May. The destination organization rolled out the campaign by working with local industry partners to distribute posters in storefronts and other frontline locations, and to push out social media creative, website content, and other digital assets—all of which detail actions that both the business and the customer should take, and asking both to “pledge” to protect the health of the residents, workers, and visitors in the destination.

Tourism pledges that hold visitors to a particular standard of conduct are not new. We saw a wave of voluntary travelers pledges last year in destinations where tourism was seen as a threat to destinations’ cultural or natural resources—including places as diverse as Bend, OregonTaiki, New Zealand, and Aspen, Colorado.  The island nation of Palau created headlines by requiring visitors to sign a pledge upon entering the country to commit to act in an ecologically responsible way on the island.

The same logic that says that a visitor shares a responsibility for safeguarding the place they visit applies in the era of Coronavirus. Pledge programs like Asheville’s Stay Safe Pledge or the Poconos Mountains’ Pocono Promise have the potential to be effective campaigns to demonstrate the destination’s commitment to safety by engaging visitors, demonstrating that they have agency in their own wellbeing, and a responsibility to protect the wellbeing of the residents in the communities they visit.

About the Author

Gabe Seder
Senior Director of Advocacy Policy & Program Development
Destinations International Foundation
Gabe is a tourism marketing and destination development professional with more than 10 years of experience consulting for emerging and established destinations and tourism businesses around the world. He has supported city, regional, and national destination organizations to create and implement tourism strategies and master plans, develop and roll out national tourism brands, and implement international multi-channel marketing campaigns.

A native of coastal Maine, Gabriel lives in Washington DC. He has a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from the George Washington University.