Oregon group hires climate scientist to walk the talk on coastal tourism

Oregon group hires climate scientist to walk the talk on coastal tourism

The Oregon Coast Visitors Association’s push to tackle climate is encouraging news for the U.S. travel industry, starting with hiring a Ph.D. climate consultant. Figuring out what works for each destination is a complex undertaking but every minute counts to mitigate the climate’s impact on tourism. The clock is ticking.

As surprising as it might seem, a U.S. destination management organization stepping up to tackle climate action head on remains a novelty in the travel industry, despite America ranking among the world’s top three biggest carbon polluters.

But that’s what the Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) is doing, one of seven destination marketing groups for Oregon — it’s placing climate change front and center on its agenda, pushed in part by the return of wildfires to Oregon’s coastline, followed by a global pandemic, supply chain disruptions and record crowds heading to its great outdoors.

A signatory of the Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency initiative and thereafter the Glasgow Declaration, OCVA is now blazing a path from which other U.S. tourism offices could learn, as climate continues to disrupt America’s travel industry, not to mention an ongoing pandemic.

“The more conversations we had, once you have that lens of thinking about climate change and climate action, we realized that actually the Oregon Coast has already been doing this — just not in tourism,” said Arica Sears, deputy director of Oregon Coast Visitors Association, who gave examples of the Oregon’s oyster, crab and dairy industries.

The destination marketing group’s journey to figuring out climate action from a tourism perspective has taken it on a path of collaboration and innovation — including hiring its first-ever climate scientist.  

“It was incredibly overwhelming to go from zero to what is this action plan,” said Patty Martin, a science consultant with OCVA, whose holds a Ph.D. in immunology and transitioned into climate science work.

Martin said that one of the major problems has been the limited education around what climate solutions are. Most people’s default revolves around plastic being bad and not about decarbonizing transportation and what that means for example, Martin said. “It’s like a puzzle that’s actually solvable — that’s been one of my joys of doing this plan is like, let me use logic and reasoning and science-based solutions to figure out how people should approach doing this.”  

The biggest lesson to come out of this process: showing that destination management organizations have a role in climate action even if there is little knowledge and resistance at the start about what that means.

This is an excerpt from an article by Lebawit Lily Girma, originally published by Skift.

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