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OSU-Cascades’ Sustainable Tourism Lab expands to benefit tourists while meeting community needs

(Update: Adding video, comments from Sustainable Tourism Lab director, Visit McMinnville founder)

Sustainable Tourism Lab given $60,000 by Visit McMinnville for expanded efforts

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- As tourism grows, the Sustainable Tourism Lab at Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend hopes to help communities around the Northwest maintain a balance between tourism, an integral part our local economy, and the desires of community members.

"The vision, the mission is quite simple," lab Director Todd Montgomery said Monday. "It is to protect tourist destinations, for future communities and tourism alike."

The lab opened last January, with seed capital from Visit Bend. It collaborates with tourism bureaus to research and design sustainable solutions to address the challenges of balancing tourism and quality of life.

The OSU-Cascades Sustainable Tourism Lab recently was gifted $60,000 from Visit McMinnville for expansion.

The funds will enable the Sustainable Tourism Lab support the tourism bureaus’ goals to serve visitor needs and advance community quality of life.

A town of 33,000 in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, McMinnville attracts visitors and residents in part because of its historic downtown and surrounding wine region. The community faces similar challenges to destinations across the U.S., where tourism is key to regional economic development, yet needs to be balanced with the needs and desires of community members.

“We are inspired by and grateful for Visit McMinnville’s investment in a long-term vision to become a model for sustainable tourism, where the needs of future generations of visitors and community members are recognized,” said Montgomery, who is also executive-in-residence in the OSU-Cascades hospitality management program.  

Jeff Knapp, president and CEO of Visit McMinnville, said it’s important to establish balance as tourism grows.

“Consumer spending has increased 150 percent over the last eight years," he said. "We see new businesses, new hotels opening up, we see new restaurants. And we are concerned about ensuring the success of those and the sustainability of this industry."

Montgomery said, “People are reassessing and reevaluating what it’s like to travel, how they want travel, and how they also want to live in a community that has travelers."

In light of the spectrum of topics the study will address, Montgomery said sustainable tourism involves three major factors: the economic aspect, the environmental side, and a social piece.

“In particular, the areas that we are focusing on is -- we started with workforce development. Workforce in the travel industry went through a lot during Covid,” he said.

The lab is In a partnership with the OSU College of Engineering to develop a food waste app, to measure and quantify post-consumer food waste. 

It’s also analyzing how residents feel about tourism.

Montgomery pointed to some important questions they seek answers to: "What are some points, what are some costs, what are some benefits, where they’d like to see things go?"

Back in the spring, the lab launched a survey to gain insight from community members across the Pacific Northwest, with the goal of finding best tourism practices.

Work on the project began in October, when a team of students from OSU-Cascades surveyed local residents and captured sentiments regarding tourism and community quality of life. The survey results will help determine next steps around engaging stakeholders and ultimately in determining how to best invest tourism development funding.

Knapp said, “It’s exciting, because that gives us data.” 

Montgomery expects the study to take five years and not just to benefit Central Oregon, but to serve as a model for the Pacific Northwest.

The study also takes into account the workforce issue in Oregon.

“The funds go primarily to student workers," he said. "These are undergraduates that are looking to make a difference."

Montgomery, who is also the holder of the Robin and Curt Baney Professorship in Hospitality Management, sees the impact of Visit McMinnville’s gift reaching beyond Oregon.

Montgomery said, “With so little research available for communities seeking to build sustainable tourism practices, Visit McMinnville’s generosity can help us design best practices that will serve not only other Oregon communities, but communities across the country."

Knapp said, "Collaborating with the Sustainable Tourism Lab at OSU-Cascades is a critical investment foundational to our work. Visit McMinnville's mission is to cultivate the visitor economy to help steward quality of life for McMinnville. This valuable effort will guide sustainable growth in McMinnville and ensure the community’s voice is heard along the way.”

Shawn L. Scoville, president and CEO of the OSU Foundation, which secured the gift said, "I am grateful to Visit McMinnville for their generous commitment to this project. Their investment is an example of how philanthropy can drive impact for the greater good, providing enriching opportunities for faculty experts and students to contribute to a more sustainable and prosperous future for Oregonians."

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