Sustainable Travel

Making the Most of an Evolving Trend...and Making a Better Oregon

In 1969, the Oregon House of Representatives failed to pass Bill 1157 – the original Bottle Bill. Grocery store owners and beverage producers foresaw nightmares – how would the bottles be collected, who would pay for the collection, would customers rebel against deposit fees and stop buying beer and soda –and used their influence to quash the legislation.

Two years later, with the added muscle of Governor Tom McCall's support, House Bill 1036 passed. Grocery outlets didn't close, Oregonians didn't stop buying pop and beer… and within a few years, the state of Oregon reported that beverage container litter had been reduced by more than 80 percent.

For hoteliers and others in Oregon's hospitality industry, sustainable travel is the Bottle Bill of the 2010s. It promises – albeit, in less tangible ways than fewer cans along the highway – a more environmentally sound Oregon. The embrace of sustainable practices also poses a potential competitive advantage for Oregon properties. Yet, like the Bottle Bill, it will require key players – from the front office to the housekeeping station – to change the way they perform some day-to-day tasks. And it will require some investment of time and money.

Will it be worthwhile? Travel Oregon (aka, the Oregon Tourism Commission) is banking on it.

Travel Oregon Forever

This April, Travel Oregon launched its new sustainability initiative, "Travel Oregon Forever." The goal of the initiative is four-fold: to provide tools to help tourism-oriented businesses and organizations to implement sustainable practices; to encourage Oregon hospitality businesses to embrace more sustainable practices by showcasing active participants with additional promotional coverage; to underscore Oregon's commitment to sustainability to potential visitors around the world as part of the Travel Oregon brand; and, to build a better Oregon through a broader adoption of sustainable practices.

"Sustainable tourism is a growing market that Oregon is well positioned to capture," said Kristin Dahl, architect of sustainable tourism initiatives for Travel Oregon. "Over 54 million Americans are inclined to select travel companies that strive to protect and preserve the local environment of the destination. (Travel Industry Association of America) And in 2009, nearly 85 percent of visitors considering travel to Oregon identified themselves as "environmentally conscious" – a significantly higher percentage than all Americans. (U.S. Travel Association) With Travel Oregon Forever, we're giving Oregon businesses a competitive advantage by showcasing their good efforts for this expanding travel demographic."

Incidentally, overall visitor spending had an $8.1 billion dollar impact on the state in 2010. The tourism industry directly employed 88,000 people, generating some $2 billion in employee earnings.

Dahl recognizes a number of benefits for hospitality businesses to adopt sustainable practices. "Businesses and organizations making investments in sustainable practices have discovered that they can attract and retain a very committed workforce, and that their employees are happier and healthier," she continued. "These establishments also garner more respect and appreciation from their local community, and are eligible for recognition and awards not previously available to them. And, of course, there's the satisfaction that comes from doing the right thing – properly stewarding the resources upon which the travel industry is built."

In its initial incarnation, Travel Oregon Forever is championing two sustainability initiatives:
1) The Sustainable Business Challenge, which incentivizes businesses to implement sustainable and environmentally responsible practices, and 2) The Oregon Travel Philanthropy Fund (developed along with Sustainable Travel International), which gives businesses and travelers an opportunity to contribute to projects that enhance Oregon's destinations. The Travel Oregon Forever website (TravelOregonForever.com) supports these initiatives and provides sustainable tourism resources.

Defining Sustainability

It's hard to argue with the core benefits of sustainable travel – it seems a win/win/win proposition for all involved. But one of the potential impasses in adopting sustainable practices has been defining sustainable practices. For some, sustainability might mean recycling paper products; for others, it might encompass everything from incorporating solar power to the local sourcing of foodstuffs. After consulting with Sustainable Travel International and Travel Oregon's Sustainable Tourism Advisory Committee, Dahl and her colleagues decided to align the state's sustainable tourism efforts with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC). Assembled by over 40 of the world's leading public, private, non-profit, and academic institutions in 2008, the GSTC are a set of 37 voluntary standards representing the minimum that any tourism business should aspire to reach in order to protect and sustain the world's natural and cultural resources while ensuring tourism meets its potential as a tool for poverty alleviation.

Though the GSTC is the most widely acknowledged set of sustainability guidelines, it's certainly not the only source of criteria. "Our biggest resource for sustainability best practices has been EarthWISE, a program provided by Marion County Public Works," said Kristi Reed, director of sales for the Grand Hotel in Salem. "They help me stay abreast of sustainability trends. We were introduced to Clean the World – a program that recycles shampoo and conditioner – through EarthWISE." continue →