Destination Stewardship in Port Aransas, Texas
We supported the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau and Chamber of Commerce with a project that aimed to bring the community together around a plan and vision for the destination that will balance visitor growth with the long-term health and vibrancy of the community and place.
Like many other beach and outdoor destinations in the USA, Port Aransas saw a surge in visitor numbers during the pandemic that put increasing pressure on natural resources and infrastructure, as well as impacting the local community and way of life. In response, the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau and Chamber of Commerce put together a program of community engagement, research and planning to improve the impacts of tourism and to stimulate initiatives that would encourage visitors to blend in with, not disrupt, ‘the Port A way’.
What we did
Our role in the project, which was led by consultancy Better Destinations, was to provide research on best practice for managing sustainable coastal tourism and to lead action planning and visioning workshops. As part of the project, Better Destinations also led community workshops to gather community input into a messaging campaign that launched in May 2022. A survey was also conducted by SMARInsights, into the perceptions and concerns of Port A residents, as well as research into past and potential visitors.
Research: Our global best practice research looked at case studies from coastal destinations in the U.S., Caribbean and Europe that provided inspiration for Port Aransas to shape its tourism economy in ways that bring more benefit to residents, whether economic, cultural, or environmental. Some of the key findings of this research included:
- The importance of backing up a responsible messaging campaign with actions of enforcement and events involving locals and visitors in stewardship activities.
- The effectiveness of establishing a mechanism for raising funds and leading campaigns and events to support stewardship goals.
- Beach certification programs offer guidance and tools to help destinations establish protections for fragile marine coastal environments
- Reduction in plastic waste into coastal environments can be achieved with public and private sector working together for example combining tools such as bans, demand-side reduction via campaigns, and training and support for businesses to replace supplies with reusable and biodegradable items.
- Holistic destination management relies on innovative partnerships between public, private, and civic stakeholders working together to implement goals, in many cases through the creation of a destination stewardship council
Workshops: The aim of our action planning and visioning workshops was to generate ideas for actions Port Aransas can take to protect their “island life” and enable tourism to generate more benefits for the community.
The workshops introduced the ‘First Mile’ concept (a Trademark of BehaviorSmart, a partner of the Travel Foundation), which enables participants to focus on changes in choices and actions that make desired behaviour more likely and that can be taken right away and implemented more easily. For example for Port Aransas, we identified actions such as changing the default option in shops and restaurants to reusable, paper or biodegradable bags, improving information on how and where to dispose of trash, changing the order in which activities available are listed to prioritise sustainable options.
The workshops also focussed on three top priority outcomes:
- How to raise funds from visitors to support protection and stewardship of Port A
- How to attract responsible travellers via the promotion of assets, events and products that support destination stewardship
- How to reduce the amount of plastic waste to protect the beach and ocean habitats.
Under each of these priorities ideas were shared and discussed, resulting in recommended actions, for example these included the setting up of a destination stewardship fund, promoting longer stays, building on successful events to attract responsible visitors, improving signage and enforcement around littering and many more.
Another key recommendation was the setting up of a Destination Stewardship Council made of industry leaders, government agencies, community leaders and non-profit organisations, such as those convened for the workshops. This would support the Port A Bureau team in prioritising actions and implementing these, as well as recognising the important role that destination management organisations have in convening and collaborating.