Susan Guyette



Along with Jeremy Sampson of the Oregon-based Sustainable Travel International and Beth Beloff of the Santa Fe-based Bridges to Sustainability Institute, I was part of a team presentation on sustainable tourism at last month’s Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Taos. My aim in this article is to offer some observations on the benefits of green tourism.



Sustainable Tourism Locally

How does sustainable tourism apply to New Mexico? The three sustainability variables—ecological, financial and socio-cultural—relate very closely to the support of traditional lifestyles.


Beth Beloff emphasized the importance of developing a strategic vision that connects the distinct activities taking place and engages local groups in the process. Members of cultural communities should have a chance to share their ideas about tourism and to benefit directly from the market expenditures there, she said. Further, Beloff discussed the importance of balancing growth with protection of our local quality of life. She said that this will become ever more important as resource supplies becomes scarcer and concerns over carbon imprints grow.


Another opportunity for NM explored was that of utilizing statewide resources to benefit communities in building international markets and coordinating cultural exchanges with other countries.

New Mexico’s potential contributions nationally and internationally are huge. Sharing the successes and struggles of these models globally through tourism will become more and more important to worldwide sustainability. My involvement on the panel emphasized strengths northern NM brings to the international community as a model for sustainability through:


  • Cultural diversity and biodiversity
  • Maintenance of traditional lifeways
  • Small-scale development
  • Preservation intertwined with traditions
  • Cultural arts tied to the land
  • Ways of preserving authenticity


Culture is the cornerstone of sustainability, since all actions are motivated by worldview. For this reason, preserving values, traditions, the arts, cultural landscapes and ecosystems is central to sustainability and resilience for the future of our state.


A united effort is needed in New Mexico to:


  • Identify and gain input from organizations, entrepreneurs and local governments
  • Link them together for regional referral systems
  • Assist them to grow, through resources, marketing and technical assistance
  • Recognize the contributions of rural communities and Tribes
  • Create an itinerary builder at the state level, with easily accessible community input
  • Look at successes in other states, learn and exchange ideas


Besides being the second-largest industry in the state, tourism has the potential, if small-scale inclusive, to support the entrepreneurs that sustain agrarian lifestyles and traditional cultures. Recognition that entrepreneurs supply 80 percent of tourism services (nationally) tells us that a shift in financial support and marketing efforts is needed to support the providers of the leading interests of visitors.


Sustainable Travel International

A global non-profit organization and a leader in sustainable tourism since 2002, Sustainable Travel International’s mission is to assist businesses and destinations in developing and implementing innovative solutions that protect the environment, support adaptation to climate change and preserve cultural heritage while generating economic benefits. This mission is carried out through providing technical services that include sustainability diagnostics, standards and initiatives such as cultural tourism development, traveler’s philanthropy and carbon management.

Through its Green Communities model, STI works with destinations to customize standards to local needs. Sustainable destination management is a shared responsibility. It requires participatory planning across sectors, stakeholder collaboration and ongoing monitoring. Long-term stakeholder engagement helps catalyze the change necessary to keep tourism destinations healthy.


STI helps destination managers identify priority issues and develop practical solutions that address capacity and resource needs, while fostering a collective vision for the future. STI’s STEP (Sustainable Tourism Education Program), a set of globally recognized management tools, including a third-party certification recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, helps tourism businesses manage their impacts and lower costs through resource productivity and waste reduction, while contributing to environmental conservation and the well being of local people.More specifically, STI offers support to small and medium-sized businesses through self-assessment sustainability tools, a carbon calculator and educational programs, including webinars. STI manages the Responsible Travel Report website (, which also serves as a blog and online newsletter.

STI also manages traveler’s philanthropy and carbon offset funds, attracting financial and in-kind support for sustainable development-oriented projects that help conserve the environment, support biodiversity and promote community self-reliance.


STI advocates engaging the entire industry (not just a company and its supply chain partners) and broad representation across all sectors including government, academia, non-governmental organizations and the private sector travel trade, in order to aggressively tackle sustainability challenges and benefit from opportunities.


Current STI services include:


  • Free monthly educational webinars covering sustainability topics (schedule posted on Facebook or sign up for email notification on STI’s website)
  • STEP (Sustainable Tourism Education Program), including a self-assessment and third-party eco-certification that can be licensed and customized
  • Travelers’ Philanthropy and Climate Management Programs
  • Cooperative marketing benefits, including promotion on Responsible Travel Report website, e-newsletter and social media outlets


More information is on the website: If you are interested in participating now or in a future training in NM, email Jeremy Sampson:




Susan Guyette, Ph.D. is Métis (Micmac Indian and Acadian French) and a planner specializing in cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods. She is the author of Sustainable Cultural Tourism (to be released August 2012), Planning for Balanced Development ( and co-author of Zen Birding: Connect in Nature.



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