Creating truly sustainable destinations – Interview with Tim O’Donoghue from Riverwind Foundation

Tim O’Donoghue, Executive Director, Riverwind Foundation

Riverwind Foundation was one of the finalists in the Destination Leadership category of the 2017 National Geographic World Legacy Awards hosted at ITB Berlin.

“Together, the Foundation and Chamber of Commerce empower a robust community of motivated, interdependent public and private stakeholders to sustain environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and economic vitality through strong policies; information resources and reporting; training; technical and financial assistance programs; and networking opportunities.” National Geographic.

For this interview, which is part of a series with all the finalists for this year’s National Geographic World Legacy Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Tim O’Donoghue, Executive Director at the Riverwind Foundation.

ANULA: Why did you enter this award?

TIM: While the process of applying to the World Legacy Awards is valuable for understanding how far Jackson Hole has come toward realizing our vision to be a global-leading sustainable destination, it is also a moment in time to clarify what challenges and opportunities remain and express our gratitude and encouragement to the many stakeholders that have contributed toward our sustainable tourism initiatives.

Jackson Hole’s selection as a Finalist for National Geographic’s World Legacy Awards means that not only are we being recognized by one of the world’s most prominent organizations and advocates for sustainable tourism of the hard work our community is doing to be a strong environmental steward and socially responsible destination. It is an opportunity to catalyze our sustainability efforts to the next level of community education, engagement, and unification. who provided financial and other support to our sustainable destination program.”


ANULA: What positive impacts have your efforts to be a sustainable tourism destination business had on the communities and region where you operate?

TIM: The accomplishment that we are proudest of and continue to strengthen build upon is the quantity, diversity, and quality of our destination’s stakeholder education training, and engagement. Over 200 community stakeholders have participated in Riverwind Foundation and Jackson Hole & Yellowstone Sustainable Destination Program projects since the program became operational in 2014. These stakeholders represent federal and local government, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and schools. In addition, private citizens and visitors have been engaged in and are the beneficiaries of our project activities. The results of and impacts from our increasing stakeholder engagement are evident from participation in sustainability inventory surveys, group training and technical assistance sessions, development of information resources and tools for sustainability planning and implementation, visitor sustainability awareness and education, and the creation or enhancement of “green collar” jobs.

ANULA: How do you engage with the local community to ensure they have a positive opinion of your organization working in the area they live?

TIM: Our engagement activities are primarily group workshop trainings, one–on-one technical assistance, and distribution of sustainability information resources and assessment tools.


ANULA: How do you communicate to guests about your responsible tourism practices?

TIM: We reach Jackson Hole’s visitors through distribution of the Explorer Magazine (our visitor guide), which contains information about which businesses have been recognized by local and national sustainability certification programs. The Jackson Hole Sustainability Code of Conduct and responsible traveler tips are distributed directly to visitors by businesses and through Explorer Magazine. The Riverwind Foundation also assists Jackson Hole’s Destination Marketing Organizations and businesses in developing content for inclusion in their online and social media marketing.

ANULA: How do you make sure your staff care about your efforts and support them?

TIM: The basis of the Jackson Hole economy is travel and tourism. With each successive year, our record visitation and corresponding impacts increase. We now have over 4 million visitors annually. If the integrity of our environmental health and natural resources, community character, and the positive visitor experiences is to continue, then our tourism economy must evolve to be a sustainable tourism economy. The prevention, mitigation, and adaptation to visitation impacts and preservation of quality of life for all species can only occur through identification of community sustainability goals, education on global destination sustainability standards, and implementation of plans that promote sustainable tourism. Our future and the futures of other destinations for which Jackson Hole can serve as a model are directly dependent upon a unified, comprehensive, goal-, and action-driven sustainable tourism program that involves our staff and the staff of all businesses and organizations. These staff in addition to the owners and managers of businesses and organizations are included in our group workshop trainings, technical assistance, and monthly community presentations and panel discussions.


ANULA: What’s the best lesson you have learned over the years of developing a successful sustainable tourism organization business?

TIM: Put the highest priority on building collaboration and partnerships to unify destination sustainability efforts. This is fundamental to accomplish common goals collectively where individually destination stakeholders don’t have the necessary resources. Place high priority on planning and providing the necessary resources for communications and networking to facilitate stakeholder awareness and knowledge, mutual understanding, and collaboration.

To find out more about Riverwind Foundation, visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

World-Legacy-Awards logoThis article is part of the interview series with the National Geographic World Legacy Awards 2017 winners and finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in sustainable tourism communications and stakeholders’ engagement.

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