Sonoma landscape mountain with river

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) conducted a Destination Assessment of Sonoma County, California from February to November 2022. The Destination Assessment was led by Dr. Kelly Bricker, GSTC Vice-Chair, with the full support of Sonoma County Tourism (SCT).

Sonoma County Tourism Overview

Encompassing 1,575 square miles in northwestern California, Sonoma County is known for its natural beauty, rural charm, and unique ecosystems that include mountains, redwoods, rivers, valleys, and fifty-five miles of coastline. Sonoma County also offers amazing wines and legendary vineyards. Sonoma County Tourism (SCT) serves as the official Destination Stewardship Organization dedicated to promoting overnight stays and creating a sustainable hospitality economy in Sonoma County, California. Sonoma County Tourism, the nation’s first Destination Stewardship Organization, embarked on this assessment to understand Sonoma County’s compliance with the GSTC Destination Criteria (GSTC-D).

GSTC Destination Assessment of Sonoma County

Picture of Sonoma, California, mountain with road and a car next to the seaThe GSTC Destination Assessment is designed to introduce Sonoma County to the core elements needed for development of sustainable policies and practices by applying the GSTC Criteria. The Sonoma County assessment process allows a destination to participate directly in GSTC application of the Criteria to the destination, to understand Sonoma County’s sustainability status against the world’s leading standard, and to identify areas for improvement based on the GSTC Criteria.

GSTC destination assessor, Dr. Kelly Bricker, completed this objective assessment of the management of Sonoma County’s compliance to the GSTC-D, the global standard for sustainable destinations. The results and recommendations of this assessment supply context and suggested direction on how SCT can Lead, Partner, or Influence stewardship support as it relates to the recommended priorities among the four pillars of the GSTC-D: Sustainable Management, Socio-Economic Sustainability, Cultural Sustainability, and Environmental Sustainability.

Dr. Bricker led the assessment with the full support of Sonoma County Tourism. The assessment consisted of an extensive desktop analysis of current tourism activities and management approaches, and a four-day on-site visit involving interviews with local authorities and stakeholders to objectively verify evidence of compliance with the GSTC-D V2 Criteria.

Key Takeaways

Sonoma bridge view from aboveSonoma County is advancing and in some cases pioneering sustainable tourism in the destination in many ways. As the nation’s first Destination Marketing Organization to transition to a Destination Stewardship Organization, it embraced stewardship and sustainability as a foundational part of its brand. SCT is partnered with the Sonoma County Regional Parks (a government agency) in a program with Leave No Trace that provides a practical list of principles SCT and Regional Parks customized to integrate the issues and opportunities specific to this region. Through this partnership with Leave No Trace, an additional partnership with Mendocino and Marin Counties has begun, creating a three-county commitment to reducing litter and waste in coastal regions and watersheds. 

“The GSTC assessment provided great insights into the destination through a broad set of measurements,” said Claudia Vecchio, CEO, Sonoma County Tourism. “Some of the gaps that surfaced have become part of the Destination Stewardship and Resiliency Master Plan and will be critical objectives for the long-term sustainability of the region.”

The Sonoma County Destination Stewardship and Resiliency Master Plan here.

More information about GSTC Destination Assessment is available here.