Eco-Tourism in Sonoma County
Sonoma County prepares for Eco-TourismBy Dawn E. Bell
Several years ago a group of people in the Sonoma County tourist industry realized that they needed to do something to extend tourism year-round so that our town's economy wouldn't rise and fall with the summer season…to have jobs extend throughout the year so the local economy could be more stable. Knowing that our greatest asset is the beauty of our land and sea and that our population is ecologically conscious and concerned, they created EcoRing, to encourage Eco-Tourism as a solution to both economic needs as well as environmental concerns.
One of the things that separates Sonoma County from other California counties is the endless variety of experiences that can be had in these 1,768 square miles. The ones that we are most known for – vineyards, coastline and redwoods – continue to attract attention from throngs of tourists. Among these 7.4 million annual visitors, many claim an unforgettable first impression of our environment. The first impactful view of the wild Sonoma Coastline is an awesome encounter for many. The first walk through ancient redwoods can change the way one views the world there after. And a drive through the changing colors of hillside vineyards causes more shutters to click than a herd of paparazzi faced with their favorite celebrity. We who live here are not only privileged to live with these beauties on a daily basis, but also with the responsibility to care for them.
There are many organizations here whose purpose is to protect Sonoma County’s treasures. Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, Daily Acts, for example, focus on protecting and caring for our environment; offering natural docent tours, sustainable activities and education. But one organization is blending the best of stewardship with tourism and is poised to help create economic growth through ecotourism: EcoRing. “This is where the river meets the sea and where a kayaker can float up to a seal pupping area, view the great blue heron or watch an Osprey hunt for dinner in its natural habitat” said Toni Tacoma, President of EcoRing. “All of these elements lend themselves to the heart of eco-tourism: responsible travel that sustains the local population. EcoRing expects to be a big part of the ecotourism market for many years to come and to help lead Sonoma County in conservation and tourism”.
Many countries around the world have focused their tourism dollars on eco-tourism. Countries like Costa Rica, Kenya and Australia where people can enjoy any number of protected natural environments. Countries where tourists can also find activities related to the great outdoor experience through “eco-adventures”. Whether it’s free diving off the coast of Australia, going on a photo-safari in Kenya or spotting rare birds in a Costa Rican rainforest, all Eco-Adventures are designed to promote tourism while protecting the environment.
But you don’t have to go to Australia to experience an exotic EcoAdventure. To international and domestic travelers alike Sonoma County is exotic and exciting. To many travelers Sonoma County is a wild place, filled with lush growth, fine weather, rolling hills and vistas unmatched in the world. Sonoma County will become an ecotourism destination famous for its conservation practices, the warmth of its people and the variety of activity. And EcoRing is leading the way to ensure exciting and safe adventure travel and opportunities.
According to a study by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), 70% of British and Australian travelers would willingly pay up to an additional $150 per week to stay somewhere with a “responsible environmental attitude”. The TIES study also reports ecotourism has been growing 20%-34% per year since the 1990s. TIES analysts predict there will be a boom to eco-resorts and hotels and other nature (eco) tourism businesses in the coming year. “All of this is good news for eco-tourism and therefore, great news for Sonoma County”, said Tacoma.
A big part of EcoRing’s mission is to increase ecotoursim in order to positively impact local commerce and to help create new jobs through this effort. “By marketing eco-adventures, green stays and other environmentally important aspects of travel, EcoRing is poised to bring a lot of responsible travel to Sonoma County in the coming year”, said Tacoma. By working with nearly one hundred and fifty local adventure providers (hot air balloon rides, kayak companies, horseback riding, etc.), the EcoRing website (ecoring.org) provides a way for interested eco-travelers to find and book their green vacations, find out about the region and learn practical tips to being a green tourist.
EcoRing will continue to work with its affiliates like Stewards and Daily Acts to market all types of eco adventures. EcoRing will also oversee the sale of group tours and activities through work with outside contractors like travel agents, meeting planners and other hospitality and travel related industry professionals. Through these collaborative relationships, EcoRing believes its goals will be met and that success to this already popular region will increase in the coming years with the added benefit of new and extended employment and an environment that is maintained through thoughtful visitors.