Sustainable Tourism

What is Sustainable Tourism?

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines sustainable tourism, as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”. 

Like many communities across the country, Chelan County struggles to manage successfully the impacts of tourism, both positive and negative. On the positive side, tourism supports the local economy, creates employment opportunities, and sustains local employers and business owners. If managed incorrectly, though, it negatively impacts both the local environment and quality of life for local residents. In both cases, the impacts of tourism are wide-ranging and tangible, impacting a variety of stakeholders whose respective interests should be equitably balanced to ensure a healthy community.

Residents Coalition of Chelan County wholeheartedly supports sustainable tourism. Yet, we believe it is vitally important for the health of our communities that all relevant stakeholders participate in an informed, and candid, dialogue regarding tourism’s impacts. We further believe that strong political leadership is critical to ensure effective policy-making around tourism issues and to build an equitable consensus among all impacted stakeholders.

Lack of adequate parking, traffic congestion, over-crowding in and around local lakes and rivers, overburdened hiking trails, and unruly visitors bringing noise and nuisance to local neighborhoods are just a few of the negative impacts of tourism that already are evident in a number of our communities. Bold steps will be required to reverse these effects and to preserve our precious way of life in Chelan County. We need bold leaders to implement these measures, or we risk forever losing the way of life we all hold dear.

Tourism Spending in Chelan County

According to Chelan-Douglas Trends (Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis at Eastern Washington University) during 2020 in Chelan County (the last year of available data), total direct travel and tourism spending was $379.6 million, increasing from $374.6 million, or by 1.3% since 2015. It is worth noting that total direct travel and tourism spending in 2020 was down 24% when compared to 2019 ($469.4M) due to the impact of COVID-19.  During 2020, the per capita amount of direct travel and tourism spending in Chelan County was $4,765, decreasing from $4,993, or by 4.6% since 2015.  Again, this data is skewed downward due to the impact of COVID-19.  By comparison, Washington State was $1,670, decreasing from $2,563, or by 33.7% since 2015.

In Chelan County in 2021, the total taxable retail sales in the Accommodation sector was $142.9 million, increasing from $64.1 million or by 123% since 2006. The annual growth rate of taxable retail sales in Accommodation from 2020 to 2021 in Chelan County was 58.2%. (The Accommodation sector includes all businesses falling into the NAICS Subsector Code 721 – Accommodations.  This indicator counts businesses that offer lodging or short-term accommodations for travelers, vacationers, and others.)

RC3 Position on Sustainable Tourism

RC3 strongly supports sustainable tourism, which necessarily implies that tourism must be balanced in a way that honors the interests of all stakeholders equitably. To that end, the following are our current priorities regarding tourism:

  1. Protect the environment from the negative impact of overuse and preserve our precious natural resources and local ecosystems for the enjoyment of all.
  2. Ensure that adequate infrastructure exists to facilitate access to recreational and natural resources for residents and tourists alike.
  3. Support local economic development, including employment and income-earning opportunities, consistent with available social services and infrastructure in the host communities.
  4. Ensure a meaningful and positive experience for tourists, while encouraging them to be good stewards of our local environment and ecosystems.
  5. Implement a method to measure tourism’s local impacts to inform decisions about modifications that may be required so that the interests of all stakeholders are equitably addressed.

For more information on sustainable tourism see the following resources: