How collaboration helped accelerate sustainable tourism in East Devon

Five East Devon towns in the UK have been collaborating on ‘Coast & Country’, a visionary tourism project funded by East Devon Council. The initiative aims to connect local visitor economies, develop a shared vision for tourism and contribute to making the region a leader in sustainable tourism. 

The project highlights how important and helpful effective collaboration can be for joint goals and what regional destinations can achieve if they work together. It is also a fantastic example of how destination organisations can support local businesses in their destination. 

The five towns, Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton and Honiton, wanted to focus on ensuring that both residents and visitors benefit from tourism through environmental support, accessibility, inclusivity, and community stewardship, while actively safeguarding East Devon’s unique environment.

The Travel Foundation supported the towns to coordinate efforts on sustainable tourism development and management in their region, including running an ‘Imaginarium’, which brought many people and organisations together to imagine what sustainable tourism could look like in 2050 and how to put the building blocks in place to get there, collaboratively and collectively. The resulting ‘Sustainable Tourism Road Map’ highlights the journey needed to reach joint goals, including success indicators and timescales. Its vision is for a “clean, green, sustainable and inclusive destination where tourism generates local benefits and wellbeing for residents and visitors – delivered through strong cross-sector connectivity and collaboration.”

With two overarching themes (Working Collaboratively and Climate and the Environment), the plan has five main action points: Enabling businesses, careers and skills development; Product development; Sustainable travel and transport; Community engagement and Visitor communications, information and marketing. For each action point, the group collectively plotted out points along their journey to their intended destination: ‘Where we want to be’,  ‘We will get there by…’ and ‘We will have got there when’.

“The sustainable tourism action plan represents collaboration in action at all levels, from engaging with local tourism businesses to understand their needs, to developing shared priorities across the region and aligning with the new local visitor economy partnership for the county,” said Rebecca Armstrong, Sustainable Tourism Specialist at The Travel Foundation.

The project has now published a comprehensive website of local, national and international sustainability resources for local tourism businesses. An important part of the project are the ‘Changemaker Champions’. These businesses already show leadership in one or more key impact areas: improving our natural environment, reducing the carbon footprint, and working towards net zero, making business welcoming, inclusive and accessible for all, and giving back to the community through collaborative stewardship. 

“The Travel Foundation encouraged us to take a broad view of sustainability, encompassing not only environmental stewardship but also inclusivity and community benefit, ensuring that tourism delivers maximum benefits to all.  Their innovative approaches and ways of thinking, for example, encouraging us to see tourism through both a “climate” and an “equity” lens, broadened our considerations of what tourism could and should be and inspired us to see the interconnectivity between the sector and the broader economic and social context. They advised us how to effect change through collaboration, including empowering individuals and businesses to make a positive difference,” said Cllr Hilary Nelson & Louise Cole, Co-Chairs, Coast & Country Project.

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