The North Coast Tourism Studio, offered by Travel Oregon in partnership with a local steering committee (representing 24 organizations and agencies), began with listening sessions held in spring, 2018, which guided the topics for a series of five workshops last fall and this winter.
Community members were encouraged to work together to find solutions for achieving sustainable tourism best practices on Oregon’s north coast and leverage local programs already in place on a regional scale. The geographic reach of the program included communities and rural surroundings between Astoria and Neskowin. Studio sessions were attended by both the private and public sector representing a variety of interests and knowledge backgrounds, including forestry, state parks, transportation, government, environmental nonprofits, and tourism businesses and organizations.
“The North Coast is clearly entering a new part of its destination ‘lifecycle,’” said Kristin Dahl, vice president of destination development for Travel Oregon. “Key to moving forward will be finding the right balance between the economic and social benefits of tourism, and the impacts that high visitation can have on traffic, local services, natural resources, and quality of life.”
The year-long studio program has concluded, but the work is just beginning for the participants and attendees. The newly created North Coast Tourism Management Network is formed by a leadership team that includes the network coordinator, core leaders, project team leaders, the original steering committee, and active community participants.
The network coordinator is Nan Devlin, executive director of Visit Tillamook Coast. Core team members include Regina Willkie of Astoria Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, Dan Haag of Manzanita Visitors Center, Jim Paino of Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, and Arica Sears of Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA).
The strategies of the network are:
-Strive to retain and maintain quality of life for residents while preserving character and sense of place for Coastal communities in tandem with growing sustainable tourism.
-Preserve and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the region while offering high-quality experiences.
-Encourage stewardship best practices by locals, visitors and tourism organizations.
-Integrate cultural heritage into the visitor experience, authentically and respectfully.
-Reduce congestion during peak seasons and in high-use areas.
-Spread the seasonality of visitation.
-Share the positive economic benefits of tourism throughout the region and maximize the integration with other key economic drivers including fisheries, forestry, agriculture and main street retail.
-Increase local understanding and appreciation of the value of tourism, and the contribution it makes to the local economy.
-Capitalize upon the array of visionary projects already underway to bolster momentum and ensure this region remains a unique destination.
The studio attendees identified five initial action areas they felt needed the most work and did not already have multiple area agencies working to solve, such as workforce housing. Action teams developed a work plan that represents the whole region, geographically and across different sectors. Initial projects are in development now.
1. Improve and diversify visitor transportation options
This task force is working to find ways to encourage visitors to use alternate transportation to and around the coast, and incentives and outreach are being developed to encourage it. This will help reduce peak season traffic, especially along Highway 101.
2. Enhance outdoor recreation experiences
A first project for this task force is developing a Trail and Beachhead Ambassador pilot program at four locations on the North Coast. The goals are to reduce congestion at popular locations by suggesting nearby trails and beaches, using engaging signs rather than brochures to communicate safety and stewardship, and provide information for area activities. They will work with the Stewardship Behavior task force on messaging.
3. Encourage stewardship behavior
Using the Ready, Set, Go model developed by the Columbia Gorge, and the Haystack Rock program in Cannon Beach, the goal is to educate and inform residents and visitors about diverse issues such as: how to enjoy and interact with native wildlife and vegetation, how to recreate safely in fragile coastal ecosystems, waste disposal, marine debris etc. They will work with a facilitator to develop new messaging techniques to reach a wider audience.
4. Champion the value of tourism
Clarifying and communicating the economic impact and value of tourism to North Coast communities is much needed at a time when residents are beginning to push back on what they perceive as “overtourism”. This task force is developing methods for creating tourism ambassadors who will engage with residents and visitors to impart the year-round value tourism dollars bring to each coastal community.
5. Align and enhance regional marketing
First up for this task force is to develop a database of contacts for sharing information with media, groups, government and more. When the stewardship messaging is developed, it will be used across all communications.
The action teams meet in-person or by phone monthly and are currently outlining goals, project ideas and workplans for each impact area. The network coordinator and core team will use these project ideas to apply for grants and community funding.
Community members who would like to be a part of these discussions and work teams can contact network leader Nan Devlin at email@example.com, or Regina Wilke in Astoria at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jim Paino in Cannon Beach, email@example.com; Dan Haag in Manzanita at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Arica Sears in Pacific City, at email@example.com.