I firmly believe that travel makes us better. It broadens our perspectives, pushes our boundaries and by allowing us to experience the world from a different point of view, we often become more understanding of other people, cultures and ways of life.

Sustainable travel is how to travel well. This entails supporting local communities, protecting local cultures and heritage and engage with the destination while leaving the smallest environmental footprint possible.

At a recent tourism conference, the topic of sustainable tourism was discussed, and research showed the increase in importance of sustainability to tourists. A group of active travelers were asked two questions:

1) Does a destination’s commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship impact your decision or willingness to visit?

More than 55% felt important

2) If having to choose between multiple destinations, would a destination that focuses on environmental stewardship and sustainability be more appealing for you to visit?

53% strongly agree/agree

Sustainable management and socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental impacts are the four pillars of sustainable tourism.

Sustainable tourism considers its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts by addressing the needs of its ecological surroundings and the local communities. This is achieved by protecting natural environments and wildlife when developing and managing tourism activities, providing only authentic experiences for tourists that don’t appropriate or misrepresent local heritage and culture, or creating direct socioeconomic benefits for local communities through training and employment.

Most of us travel to experience the world. New cultures, new traditions, new sights and smells and tastes are what makes traveling so rewarding. It is our responsibility as travelers to ensure that these destinations are protected not only for the sake of the communities who rely upon them, but for a future generation of travelers.

Visit Sebring is working in several ways to help Highlands County become a more sustainable tourism destination above and beyond our position as a nature-based tourism destination with attractions like Highlands Hammock State Park and Archbold Biological Station.

In September 2020, we launched the Sebring Area GeoTour: Florida’s Hidden Gem to encourage visitors to explore the entire county and learn about our unique heritage. Through the Sebring Area GeoTour, geocachers discover the region’s unique history, vast outdoor adventures, unexpected culinary delights and charming small towns. By using a GPS or smartphone, geocachers are guided along four fun GeoTrails that make up the Sebring Area GeoTour: Ranch & Harvest, Parks & Recreation, Historic, and Arts & Culture, with geocaches hidden among cattle ranches and citrus groves, museums and historical sites, a variety of parks and numerous arts and cultural areas. We are providing an authentic experience for tourists that educates and informs.

In 2019, we hired a tourism consultant to help us draft a strategic plan. One of the strategic pillars of the plan was to focus Visit Sebring’s marketing on digital assets and advertising (digital first). This made sense because most tourists currently research destinations online and prefer online information versus print. It is also helping us move to a more digital destination less reliant on printed materials and, therefore, viewed as a more sustainable tourism destination.

I challenge you, whether you are a tourism partner or local resident, to think of ways we can make Highlands County a more sustainable tourism destination.

For more information, go to VisitSebring.com and find us on social media: @VisitSebring #VisitSebring.

Casey Wohl Hartt is the lead marketing consultant for Visit Sebring/Highlands County TDC. Raised in Highlands County, Hartt has 20-plus years of experience in marketing, brand management, and public relations. She worked for various Florida industries before launching her own marketing & public relations firm, Gray Dog Communications, and travel brand, The Getaway Girl, in 2007.

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