June 2014

Sustainable Tourism Ignites the Hearts and Minds of Northern New Mexicans


Erin Sanborn


A strong commitment to tourism that has a net-positive impact on people and places was evident among the participants in the Sustainable Tourism: Infrastructure for a Solid Path Forward conference, held in Taos on May 19. Organized by the Taos and Santa Fe chapters of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, the conference highlighted a collaborative, inclusive dialogue among business owners, elected officials, and community members from Santa Fe, Española, Taos, Chimayó, Angel Fire, Red River, Chama, Costilla and Amalia.

The conference began with a presentation by Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson of the New Mexico Tourism Department, herself a northern New Mexican, focusing on the recent New Mexico True marketing campaign and how it encompasses all that sustainable tourism is and can be. Business people were elated to learn how to better connect and utilize the resources at the New Mexico Tourism Department. People were also heartened by Secretary Jacobson’s love for New Mexico and her authentic commitment to celebrate each and every person and place as one of New Mexico’s treasures. Jacobson honored the conference participants in the same ways she honors New Mexico.

What is sustainable tourism?” was asked throughout the conference. Participants knew it included marketing, and yet requires a systemic look at tourism. It clearly includes ecotourism, agricultural tourism, cultural tourism, volunteer tourism and outdoor adventure tourism. It delivers on the authentic experiences within New Mexico True. It is a business and policy commitment to continuously monitor the impacts of tourism on land, water, wealth and community. It is also about consciously designing projects, initiatives, tours and experiences that enrich visitors and, at the same time, give back to people, planet and profit. Conference participants explored sustainable tourism while identifying infrastructure projects, their projected costs, the names of implementation partners, the priorities for every city and town, as well as the priorities for the Northern New Mexico corridor.

In order to assist the 70-or-so participants, the dialogue was framed around the Five Capitals Model: a Framework for Sustainability. The Five Capitals Model provides a simple way of understanding the full range of economic wealth and how to generate capital for long-term profitability. The five capitals are natural, human, social, manufactured and financial. Most people are familiar with financial and manufactured capital. As participants looked at projects, other participants asked them how their project would concurrently enhance all five capitals. Minds were stretched. Hearts were opened. Creativity flowed. Sustainable tourism infrastructure projects were identified. Here are some of the project ideas suggested by conference participants:

  • Integrated walking, biking and hiking trail systems
  • Educational collaborations regarding sustainability
  • Zero-waste events and policies
  • Trip itineraries and booking systems for tourists and locals who travel the corridor
  • A regional, renewable energy-based transportation system
  • Forest restoration for watershed absorption and regeneration
  • Sidewalks
  • A toolkit to help hotels and restaurants to cut energy-, water- and waste-management costs
  • Sustainable tourism fund
  • Sustainable tourism councils throughout the northern New Mexico corridor

The deep level of dialogue and the relationships built made this conference different from most conferences. Many projects were identified, and new collaborations were founded during the event. Business connections were made on behalf of these communities and the corridor. Funding resources were identified. A couple of communities realized they needed more stakeholder input on priorities and will apply the conference process and tools as they conduct sustainable-tourism summits in their communities. All in all, the first annual Sustainable Tourism Conference successfully launched a collaborative, corridor-based set of infrastructure projects.

The Sustainable Tourism Conference final report will be posted by June 30 at www.nmgreenchamber.com. For more information, contact Erin Sanborn, executive director, Taos Green Chamber.




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