Brevard and Transylvania County are one of only four destinations in North America recently honored with the coveted “Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories” award sponsored by Green Destinations, the world’s leading destinations network for responsible tourism.
Other notable award winners include Alberta, Canada; Vail, Colorado; Samana, Dominican Republic; as well as destinations in 33 other countries, including Australia, Germany, Montenegro, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, and Tunisia.
“This is our second consecutive year receiving this recognition,” said Clark Lovelace, executive director of the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority (TCTDA), sponsoring organization of the Transylvania Always committee, which submitted the nomination. “The Top 100 Award reflects this community’s deep commitment to protecting our cherished natural and cultural resources.” The Green Destinations Top 100 program enables a place to present itself as a responsible, healthy, and authentic destination towards its visitors, residents, and entrepreneurs.
Every year, the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition collects Good Practice Stories from destinations all over the world to be shared as inspiring examples to others, from tourism professionals to travelers. With the tourism sector facing very challenging times in the past 18 months, the resilience and hard work of these destinations to become more responsible should be celebrated.
Transylvania County’s nomination was evaluated by the Top 100 Team, country experts and Green Destination Partners and measured against standards of quality, effectiveness, and transferability of good practices and procedures. The Top 100 Team was pleased to see improvements from last year’s initial assessment.
“The goals of this year’s nomination process were to improve upon the sustainability baseline established in the 2020 Top 100 competition and to further refine Transylvania County’s strengths and weaknesses as a sustainable tourism destination,” said Lee McMinn who led the effort on behalf of the TCTDA. “It was a lot of work, but we now have a valuable roadmap to help direct our future efforts. Working on this project gave us a greater appreciation for the ways in which sustainability touches almost every aspect of a community’s life. It is certainly about natural resource preservation – protecting sensitive habitats, lowering energy use, and reducing waste. But it’s also about engaging our area residents, increasing public safety, honoring our cultural heritage, and celebrating authenticity.”
A Good Practice Story (GPS) was also required as part of a much broader Sustainability Assessment. Authored by McMinn, the Good Practice Story provided a compelling narrative about the initiatives being led by the TCTDA and its committees. These include managing visitor impacts on our public lands, promoting waterfall safety and the Leave It Better campaigns, enhancing access to the French Broad River, and fostering deeper collaboration and partnerships with community stakeholders to tackle other challenges as they arise.
“Visitor AND community satisfaction are important to sustainability,” said Aaron Baker, chair of the Transylvania Always committee. “It is our hope that the manner in which we are navigating the growth of tourism in Transylvania County, working together with stakeholders through multiple shared initiatives, can become a model for how we tackle other sustainability challenges within our community.”
The Transylvania Always committee members were guided in their effort by Bobby Chappell, president of Tourism Impact Services. Chappell, an international expert in destination stewardship planning and sustainable destination standards, previously mentored Vail and Breckenridge, CO, through an extensive assessment process that resulted in both being awarded full certification as a Sustainable Tourism Destination.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with the TCTDA team for over two years, and I’m excited to see them continue to raise the bar,” said Chappell. “I started working with the organization pre-COVID, and they were already starting to experience some impacts of overtourism. Since that time, visitation has only continued to increase. The TCTDA recognizes these challenges and is using the results of the assessment to plan for a more sustainable and regenerative tourism industry by developing a comprehensive destination stewardship strategic plan.”
“I am very proud of the sustainability efforts of the TCTDA through our Transylvania Always initiative, with our Be Waterfall Wise safety program and our Leave It Better campaign serving as great examples,” said Lovelace. “I’m also excited for the opportunity that this assessment brings for growing our program of work and doing even more to support sustainable use of our natural resources and our destination as a whole.”
More information on Global Top 100 Sustainable Destinations may be found at GreenDestinations.org.
“We’re glad this honor will help shine the spotlight on our community’s commitment to sustainability,” said McMinn. “But, more importantly, we hope it will inspire others throughout our community to join us in embracing the principles of sustainability as a way to balance economic interests with protection for everything we hold so dear – our woods, our water, our culture and our tradition.”