- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
Tourism is both the best economic hope for Prince William Sound's residents and the greatest threat to its environment and quality of life. While tourism is likely to be the growth industry of the future, environmental policies do not force tourism operators to bear the costs of their use of Prince William Sound's environment and the market does not reward businesses that operate sustainably. Consequently, there is an economic imbalance that is eroding the environmental health of Prince William Sound and the quality of life of its communities. This project seeks to make sustainable tourism practices more profitable while demonstrating the connection between protecting the environment and a healthy economy.
During the last 12 months, NWF has made substantial progress in its efforts to promote sustainable tourism and make conservation a pocketbook issue.
Tourism is Alaska’s second-largest private sector employer and the state’s largest growth industry. For communities in rural Alaska, tourism often provides the only opportunity for economic development. Unfortunately, the state’s official tourism marketing program has produced uneven results. The cruise industry and tourism businesses associated with that industry have grown in recent years. However, smaller tourism companies, especially in rural Alaska, seeking to attract small groups and independent travelers have seen business stagnate or decline. With the approval of the Walker Foundation, we have begun developing a web portal to promote wilderness-dependent tourism businesses that have committed to principles of sustainability.
Working in partnership with the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association (AWRTA), we are in the final stages of creating a marketing website, www.visitwildalaska.com. The site will feature progressive tourism businesses throughout the state, but particularly in rural areas. AWRTA is a nonprofit trade association composed of companies dedicated to ecotourism. NWF and AWRTA have contracted with a marketing company in San Francisco and a web design firm in Boseman to develop the website which should be completed in December 2009. The site is intended to complement the state tourism marketing program by focusing upon small and rural Alaska businesses. Eventually, we hope to secure state funding to support this and similar cooperative marketing ventures.
We have also worked with AWRTA to encourage better, more sustainable practices among tourism businesses. Last year, we began developing Adventure Green Alaska (AGA), the state's first certification program for sustainable tourism businesses. The program was formally launched in September. A copy of the press release is attached. AGA is a voluntary program that certifies tourism businesses operating in Alaska that meet specific standards of economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Businesses receiving an AGA certification are publicly recognized as leaders in the industry, giving them a marketing advantage with consumers and creating an incentive for other businesses to improve their operations. The program is administered by a new nonprofit corporation, Adventure Green Alaska, Inc. A copy of the AGA application is attached.
We announced the first nine certified operators at the 20th annual conference of the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association on March 9, 2009. A copy of the press release is attached. In addition to receiving local and regional press coverage, the certified operators are featured on a new AGA website, www.adventuregreenalaska.org. The site is also an opportunity for the most progress businesses to share successful practices and inspire other businesses to improve their operations. We are currently accepting a second round of AGA applications.
A third project priority has been to develop a more extensive physical infrastructure for sustainable tourism in Prince William Sound (PWS). Two years ago, in collaboration with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, NWF proposed developing a world-class 300-mile marine trail extending from Whittier to Cordova along PWS's spectacular shoreline. The idea is to connect a series of campsites, rest areas, and safe havens for use by kayakers, sailboats, motorboats, and other independent travelers. The marine trail would build community and visitor support for conservation, create opportunities for sustainable tourism companies, and boost the regional economy.
This proposal eventually led to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Alaska State Parks, Chugach National Forest, National Park Service, Prince William Sound Economic Development District, and NWF. The MOU provides a cooperative framework for the planning, development, and maintenance of the marine trail. A copy of the MOU is attached. We have also held more than a dozen meetings throughout the region and created a steering committee of more than 20 major stakeholders with representatives from each of the five PWS communities. Steering committee members act as a blue ribbon advisory council and as liaisons with the communities and interest groups within PWS.
Currently, we are working with the PWS communities to identify "phase 1" projects that enjoy strong local support and can be used to test and evaluate the marine trail concept. The first such project is likely to involve Chenega Bay, a small Native community in remote southwestern PWS. At the request of Chenega's tribal council, we worked with staff exploring the possibility of building a public use cabin or small campground in Iktua Bay, on the north side of Evans Island. The council subsequently adopted a resolution supporting the PWS marine trail and the construction of a public use cabin in Iktua Bay. The resolutution notes that the cabin would generate income for the Tribe and move it towards "economic self-sufficiency through increased tourism."
The Chenega Bay project is particularly exciting because it could become a model for environmental-economic partnerships in other parts of the state. Conservation groups in Alaska, which often oppose economic development, have sometimes had strained relationships with Native organizations who see economic development as critical to rural communities. Working with Chenega Bay has given us an opportunity to build a more constructive relationship while demonstrating that conservation and economic development can go hand-in-hand. In a sign of new collaboration, Chenega Bay applied for a grant to build the public use cabin in Iktua Bay and was supported by letters from the Prince William Sound Economic Development District, Knik Canoers & Kayakers, Alaska State Parks, and National Wildlife Federation.
Finally, we continue to work with public lands agencies, particularly the Forest Service, to ensure that protected areas are appropriately managed. Early in May, NWF was asked to make a presentation to the Forest Service's regional leadership team. Our talk emphasized the potential role of sustainable tourism in building appreciation for our public lands, getting children and their families outdoors, and providing global warming education.
While sustainable tourism practices are often expensive, tourism operators generally receive little financial reward for their efforts to protect the environment and quality of life in local communities. Although many visitors are willing to pay more to patronize truly sustainable businesses, the vast majority of visitors do not have enough information to confidently identify sustainable operators or to recognize sustainable practices.
This project attempts to address the problem by educating the public about sustainable tourism, developing a regional infrastructure supporting sustainable practices, building a healthy and accountable sustainable tourism industry, marketing sustainable tourism to potential visitors to Prince William Sound, and encouraging public lands management that favors sustainable tourism practices.
A successful project to promote sustainable forms of tourism in Prince William Sound will have important implications for Alaska and the rest of the United States. By some estimates, tourism is now the largest industry in the world. In Alaska, tourism has grown to become the third-largest private sector employer and similar growth is occurring in other states. This project will demonstrate the viability of making conservation a pocket book issue. Specifically, we will increase the consumer market for sustainable tourism in Prince William Sound, thus increasing the size of the business niche and the influence of an industry with an economic incentive to protect the environment.
Project Link http://www.adventuregreenalaska.org
(Check sent: 12/22/2008)