Most people understand the important role that tourism plays in the local economy, but it’s hard not to feel some resentment when you have to swerve around visitors stopped on a scenic roadway or witness out-of-towners leaving trash on our treasured hiking trails. That’s why the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau is launching a new initiative called “Sustainable Moments” aimed at educating tourists and developing a more responsible type of tourism.
“We want to create the right balance between the needs and desires of our visitors and the needs and desires of our residents,” says Rob O’Keefe, chief marketing officer at the MCCVB.
The campaign features a series of videos for incoming visitors, tips for sustainable travel, advice on how to travel like a local expert and a dedicated website: SeeMonterey.com/Sustainable View one of the videos by clicking on the image above.
Recommendations—such as, pay attention to the tides and enjoy fresh sustainable seafood—may seem obvious to local residents, but they are useful for tourists who often live far from the coast. Other advice makes sense for everyone.
“We want tourists to make every moment they spend in our area count and make sure every moment of that experience is just as pristine for the next guest,” he adds.
Sustainable travel tips include: choose an eco-friendly tour operator; buy local goods and produce; turn off the lights when you leave your hotel room; bring a re-useable water bottle; stick to marked trails; and “pack in, pack out.”
A humorous video in the series explains with a light touch how to avoid a #TravelFail on your next trip, by staying a safe distance from wildlife, leaving your stilettos at home while wine tasting and by staying off the cliffs for that special selfie.
The campaign includes a message of support from Congressman Jimmy Panetta, who speaks for many residents when he says: “Monterey County serves as a national example of what can happen when the people, government, and industry work together to sustain the beauty of our surroundings. The protection of our oceans and public lands provides a special experience to everyone who lives in and visits Monterey County.”
Tourism is the number two industry in Monterey County, generating $2.5 billion annually. And while agriculture outpaces tourism in revenues, tourism is the most important economic activity in places like Monterey and Carmel—employing 25,000 people on the Peninsula.
“It’s absolutely essential to us, but you can’t have unbridled growth or you’re going to ruin the destination,” says O’Keefe, noting that 4.5 million visitors already come to Monterey County each year. “We have to be good stewards of the destination.”
The MCCVB is very focused on attracting the “right kind” of tourists, those who appreciate the beautiful natural environment and fine local foods and wines available here.
“We don’t try to be something for everyone,” he says. “We are competing with places like Napa and Santa Barbara for people who are going to stay longer and spend more.”
One of the most effective devices in O’Keefe’s tool bag is the “Monterey Moments Roadshow” which takes place three or four times a year in various cities around the United States. The roadshow includes a pop-up wine dinner for tour operators and other travel influencers hosted by Monterey County chefs and vintners, who put a culinary perspective on the destination.
“We put on a kind of culinary theater and let the chefs preach the message of sustainability by telling their own stories,” he says.
The most recent event was held in Chicago in May and featured the larger-than-life talents of chefs Todd Fisher of Folktale Winery and Matt Beaudin of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Edible Monterey Bay contributor/chef John Cox—partner in Cultura Comida y Bebida—has also been a frequent participant in the roadshow, putting his hyper-local spin on the conversation and tempting would-be visitors with his delicious creations.
Likewise, Aubergine executive chef Justin Cogley flew in for one of these promotional pop up dinners, bringing with him seaweed that he foraged himself off the Carmel coastline to create one of signature dishes, and then talking about his diving experiences.
In tough tourism times—such as during the Soberanes Fire last year and during our heavy winter storms—MCCVB also acts as a clearinghouse for information, communicating updates on road conditions and accessibility to travel partners across the country.
“We’ve been working hard to get the word out that the northern part of Big Sur is still open to visitors, for example,” O’Keefe explains. Being specific about all the things that are still possible to do prevents people from canceling or postponing their trips just because they can’t drive all the way through on Highway 1.
It’s all about sustaining a responsible tourism industry for the benefit of the local economy. As MCCVB chief executive Tammy Blount says: “What makes a destination a great place to live, is exactly what makes it a great place to visit.”
Deborah Luhrman is publisher and editor of Edible Monterey Bay. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains.