A process led by the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board (JHTTB) is underway to create a Sustainable Destination Management Plan for Jackson Hole. The goal is to refocus on managing tourism in the Tetons to protect the environment, residents’ quality of life and a sustainable local economy.
KHOL News Director Kyle Mackie spoke to Crista Valentino, a JHTTB board member and chair of the board’s sustainability committee, about the effort ahead of two community engagement meetings scheduled for Tuesday, March 15, in Jackson and Wednesday, March 16, in Driggs.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KYLE MACKIE/KHOL: Crista, thank you so much for joining us today on KHOL.
CRISTA VALENTINO: Thanks for having me, Kyle.
KHOL: So, let’s talk about the need identified for a Sustainable Destination Management Plan for Jackson. Can you tell us about how this all got started?
VALENTINO: Definitely. So, this is a conversation that started actually about three years ago in early 2018, when we realized that we wanted to shift as a board more on looking at how to educate visitors on coming here, mitigate the impacts of tourism and really focus on the quality of visitor that we were attracting versus just trying to promote Jackson as a destination. And so, we began those conversations in 2018, and then, as we all know, we went through a pandemic. We saw the highest rates of tourism year over year that we’ve ever seen and continue to see that and know that now is as important as ever to reconsider how it is that we go about managing and mitigating those impacts of tourism so that we use tourism as an enabling factor for our community versus a burden or something that hinders our community and way of life.
KHOL: Okay, so can you give us an overview of where are we in this process now?
VALENTINO: We started the Sustainable Destination Management Plan process about six months ago, so mid-2021, and we brought on a consulting team of George Washington University and Confluence Sustainability, and within the Jackson Travel & Tourism Board, also contracted a consultant through the River Wind Foundation. That whole process began last summer, and then we really have dove into the whole process every step of the way, such as developing a situational analysis, developing a visitor sentiment survey that has actually just gone out to the community. And we’re also gearing up for these public workshops from March 15-16.*
KHOL: You mentioned George Washington University and I just want to disclose I’m a GWU alum [but I] have no connection to the [International] Institute of Tourism Studies. I’m also from a tourist destination myself. I’m from Cooperstown, New York, which has a different situation than Jackson, but they are both small towns and get insanely crowded in the summer. Cooperstown is the ‘Home of Baseball,’ the [National] Baseball Hall of Fame is there. So, even though I’ve only been in the Tetons a little over a year myself, I understand this kind of love-hate relationship that residents of these small destination communities sometimes have with tourism. So, I wanted to ask you to kind of give your best pitch to local residents to get involved with this process if maybe they fall on the more jaded end of the spectrum.
VALENTINO: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. There is this love-hate relationship that I think a lot of our community feels and so many of our jobs and our economy and our livelihoods do hinge on people coming to Jackson, especially year-round. As much as we love having offseasons, we also have to recognize that having sustainable or long-term sustainable, thriving businesses, [they] also need to know that they’re going to make money in the off-time as well. So, it is this really high-tension conversation that I know many people I’ve talked to really struggle with, especially so many people who work in the hospitality and tourism industries, right? And then go out and see their favorite powder stash poached or their favorite trails being overrun with people.
And so, my best pitch is that we’re all trying to find a way to share our voice and make a difference in this community, [and] have an influence over what the future looks like, whether that’s for one season from now, or whether that’s 10 years from now when we’re talking about raising the next generation or your children or whomever. And this is really going to be that process that allows you to have your voice in it. This isn’t just going to be a plan that sits on the shelf, that we could say we point to, we check the box and we’re going to continue as business as usual. My plea, my ask, is: If you feel pressure, if you also don’t—if you think that tourism is great and you rely on it and you don’t want us to start promoting or doing things differently because your livelihood depends on this demographic that are coming in—tell us that. Let us hear it. Come to the community workshops. Submit your surveys. Tell your friends to [submit theirs]. If you have an opinion, do something about it.
KHOL: I wonder if you can talk a little bit about what the board’s vision of success would look like, you know, for sustainably managing tourism in Jackson Hole. What are some of the things you think about?
VALENTINO: Yeah, it’s a really good question, and I think success for many of the board members is going to look different depending on who you ask. But an overall vision of success really includes balance. And that is the balance of ecosystem stewardship. That’s the balance of having a vibrant economy, of managing growth of tourism and of our community in general, and also balancing and making sure that we focus on the quality of life for residents. And that’s not just sustaining it or keeping it status quo, but enhancing it.
KHOL: Alright, great. Well, Crista, thank you so much for joining us today on KHOL.
VALENTINO: Thank you for having me.
More information, including the survey for area residents to take about tourism, is available at visitjacksonhole.com/locals.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: The wrong dates for the community meetings were included in the radio version of this interview. This story has been updated with the correct dates.