Patty Baird: A destination in balance, a community that thrives

Patty Baird

In his recent Sierra Sun article “Should tourism return to normal?” Carl Ribaudo asked, “The current situation presents a unique moment in time for destinations: (should tourism) stay the course or pivot to a new direction?” This is an important question for the Truckee community to ponder, but first, let’s ask ourselves, how did we (and every other popular tourist town in the world) get here, and what exactly is “sustainable” tourism?

The stories of travel to beloved destinations used to be described as one of host and guest, but as global population and discretionary income increased, travel grew so rapidly that this symbiotic relationship deteriorated. Host communities reacted negatively to overcrowding, noise and other adverse impacts. Yet both residents and visitors are important stakeholders in places that are “visited.” The needs of both groups must be addressed in a balanced way so that we do not fracture the quality of place for its residents.

Ribaudo’s article further challenged and offered “An opportunity to rethink the future.” Travel industry pioneer Anna Pollock of Conscious Travel, and a leading expert on the future of tourism, envisions “Flourishing Destinations” as “living communities with stories and patterns of aliveness; where residents, enterprise, visitors and the ecosystem are all supported by their ability to thrive.” According to Ms. Pollack, “The tourism sector needs to focus on helping a community survive, thrive and evolve.”

Pollock continues, “A community thrives and a destination flourishes when the visitor genuinely feels welcomed and can feel the essence of a place. The visitor experiences positive impacts from their stay; they feel immersed, appreciated, wanting to return and recommend the place to others.”

The guiding principles of sustainable tourism are about ensuring that a destination is first and foremost a wonderful community to live and work in, which in turn, has the benefit of becoming a great place to visit.

A community thrives when a place is alluring, pleasing and safe – encouraging encounters between residents, entrepreneurs and visitors. Communities such as Truckee flourish when we can attract travelers who appreciate and respect our unique character, identity, nature, wonderment and culture.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a community thrives when its residents love living in a place, know it well, balance work/life, earn a living, afford housing and are proud caretakers. A destination in balance is when residents do not feel inconvenienced or disrespected by visitors, but instead, enjoy and value the positive impacts that tourism brings with mindful travelers who can strengthen and protect local heritage, natural assets, and character, while supporting businesses and jobs.

The guiding principles of sustainable tourism are about ensuring that a destination is first and foremost a wonderful community to live and work in, which in turn, has the benefit of becoming a great place to visit. Sustainable tourism prioritizes the quality of life for residents and protects the unique sense of place that makes a destination extraordinary. In the future, the success of a destination will not be measured by the old metrics of tourism growth, but by its integrity and how its own values resonate with those of the community. Sustainable tourism is a collective endeavor, and will necessitate public, private and civic engagement, as well as a profound change in practice and perspective.

A destination is a story and a shared home. Truckee is a vibrant story of risk and reward, of service and kindness, of innovation, passion for the outdoors and mountain grit. Truckee is not just a place; it is a mood and state of mind. When COVID-19 began to shut our businesses down, our community did not hesitate a minute to support our stores, lodges and restaurants, buying gift certificates, asking how to help and checking in. COVID exposed the fissures of peak travel periods that were lurking under the surface before the pandemic. Despite the current and future challenges ahead, there is optimism emerging that tourism can be rebuilt into something better. Something sustainable. Something quintessential Truckee. And that, is what the Visit Truckee-Tahoe Board of Directors is focusing on.

“There is no greater force for change than a community that has discovered what it wants to care for” — Margaret Wheatley, author of “Who Do We Choose to Be”

Patty Baird is the owner/director of The Cedar House Sport Hotel, Vice Chair of Visit Truckee-Tahoe, a Destination Management and Marketing organization tasked with building a more resilient and sustainability tourism future for Truckee. Visit Truckee-Tahoe has worked with Carl Ribaudo of SMG Consulting on past projects.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.