Embrace Whidbey and Camano Islands was awarded the Best New Idea award by the Destination Marketing Association of the West — an organization that comprises more than 150 destination marketing organizations — and the Destination Stewardship award by the State of Washington Tourism.
Embrace Whidbey and Camano Islands, also known as EWCI, received the awards earlier this month for its project “Regenerative Places, a Community-Based Tourism Model,” which came to life after two years of community feedback.
In May, the former Whidbey and Camano Islands Tourism rebranded as Embrace Whidbey and Camano Islands with the objective of creating a regenerative and community-based tourism framework that would strengthen relations with the locals and encourage visitors to leave the place better than they found it.
Sherrye Wyatt, the organization’s public relations and marketing manager, said they are still learning how to make the experience of visiting the islands more enriching by giving residents opportunities to share opinions and ideas through workshops, surveys and conversations.
“You have a stake in this because you live here and you love this place,” she said. “We want people to feel like tourism can be a force for good and harness that power.”
In the old tourism model, Wyatt said, success was more based on the number of visitors and the amount of money they’d spend rather than the quality of the experience for all stakeholders. By failing to fully consider the impacts of tourism on the residents, the infrastructure and the environment, Island County got a taste of what overtourism has done to other destinations around the globe.
Wyatt acknowledged the importance of tourism for the local economy, but over time she noticed many complaints from residents under the organization’s Facebook posts, where the tourism fatigue became particularly obvious to Wyatt. To many community members, tourism felt like a matter of residents vs. visitors.
“The new direction takes everything into consideration. It’s more of a holistic approach,” Wyatt said. “We hope that creates a better experience for residents and takes better care of here — a place that we love and want to share.”
Examples of how EWCI is trying to take better care of residents’ home and create meaningful experiences include the creation of the “24 Trails off the Beaten Path” guide (which reduces traffic on the most popular trails), connection of short-term rentals and traditional lodging to address general challenges and concerns, beach cleanups, promotion of slow food through Eat Local Month, and ongoing efforts to create a cultural heritage guide that highlights 24 cultural sites between the two islands, created in close collaboration with the tribes.
Another project that is currently underway is making the islands a “film-friendly” destination, as Wyatt said. This consists of encouraging filmmakers to look at the different jurisdictions’ permitting processes for filming and inviting residents to list their properties in the state’s film location database.
EWCI invites community members to share their ideas and feedback. For more information, visit whidbeycamanoislands.com.
Note: a previous version of this story inaccurately reported that EWCI received both awards from Destination Marketing Association of the West. EWCI was awarded the Best New Idea award by the Destination Marketing Association of the West, and the the Destination Stewardship award by the State of Washington Tourism. We regret the error.