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What is ecotourism, anyway, and can Bend accomplish it? 

We discuss the fallout from being ranked #1, again.

click to enlarge Those tree-hugging-outdoorsy Bendites... right?
  • Those tree-hugging-outdoorsy Bendites... right?

Like any story that delves into the complexity of living in a tourist town that gets a lot of attention—and many subsequent transplants—last week's story, "Unsolicited Accolades" elicited a lot of commentary. Following "Outside" magazine's designation of Bend as the "Best Multisport Town" in the United States, we sought to ask locals what they thought.

Among the comments we received on the story, some stood out:

Doug Cristafir said:

"I do believe Bend can pull it off in actually morphing into something new and better version of a tourist planet...we have the creative class to do it, but so far not the political imagination to pull it off. I hear visitors all the time wishing they could find a way to live here as they drool at the lifestyle."

Laurel Brauns said:

"Ecotourism is a beautiful movement that insists that tourism benefit the local people and the environment, instead of allowing the place to fall victim to the forces of capitalism. The problem is, this requires a lot more work and intentional planning and decision-making than our egregiously underpaid City Council has time for."

click to enlarge feature-outsidemag-ad5c96c50b64b99d.jpg

Our current city leaders maintain that there's little to be done to stop a tourist influx. Indeed, as Visit Bend's Kevney Dugan pointed out in the article, most of the tourists who come here don't find out about Bend through a magazine article; they find out from their family members and through word of mouth. Visit Bend takes a lot of flack for being the agency responsible for marketing our region to the world, but at the end of the day, they're a marketing agency, not responsible for the decision-making about how our city is run.

So who is responsible? City leaders, of course—and it's strong leadership that could help ease the ongoing tension between residents and the people whose job it is to market our region to visitors.

Take Brauns' suggestion about ecotourism. What is ecotourism, anyway?

The International Ecotourism Society's Principles of Ecotourism include the following tenets:

  • Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
  • Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.
  • Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
  • Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

How are we doing on these, Bend? Are we minimizing social impacts? Are we providing positive experiences for both visitors and hosts? While the agency tasked with promoting Bend has some role in these missives, it's ultimately a city leader's job to recognize these challenges and to create a vision for how to address them.

Bend is and will continue to be a place that people visit and fall in love with. The weather and the scenery are going to bring people here, marketing or magazine stories or not. But what we do to manage that and make it positive for "both visitors and hosts" is always the perennial question. To answer it, let's start by changing the city charter to allow for a directly-elected mayor who can lead the movement.


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