Blue Beacon: Reimagining Tourism and Recreation through Destination Stewardship


22 Apr, 2023


Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel
3841 North Roosevelt Boulevard
Key West FL, 33040

Recreation and tourism are powerful economic engines, supporting local, regional, national, and international economies. These drivers bolster communities near many national marine sanctuaries. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. The spectacular wildlife and allure of outdoor activities make National Marine Sanctuaries destinations for both recreation and tourism. As an example, the communities adjacent to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary receive over 5 million domestic and international tourists annually. Within the Sanctuary System are also the traditional lands and waters of many Native American tribes, Native Hawaiian, Native Samoan, and other Indigenous people.

According to NOAA’s most recent economic data, marine-based recreation and sustainable tourism employ nearly 2.5 million people, and contribute about $143 billion to the annual U.S. gross domestic products. Marine resource managers must plan for heightened levels of tourism and consider how to build resiliency in partnership with communities and industry.

In a “destination stewardship” approach, when used collaboratively by National Marine Sanctuaries and communities, recreation and sustainable tourism can protect both the cultural and natural systems in marine areas while supporting equitable experiences. Use of a destination stewardship framework will retain and enhance the distinctive attributes that will also make the destination (Sanctuaries) and gateway communities more attractive for responsible tourism. Destinations, such as National Marine Sanctuaries, that promote a regenerative economy centered in sustainable tourism, support healthy marine environments, a prosperous blue economy and thriving businesses, and enhanced quality of life and recreation for its communities.

Join the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in partnership with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries on April 22, 2023 from 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm, at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel for Blue Beacon: Reimagining Tourism and Recreation through Destination Stewardship, presented by Yamaha!

Keynote Address

Julie Heizer, Deputy Director, National Travel & Tourism Office, U.S. Department of Commerce

Roundtable – Harnessing Sustainable Tourism for a Regenerative Economy

Fifty percent of travelers are making more climate-friendly travel choices. Fifty-nine percent of travelers say they want to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived. By promoting a regenerative economy centered in sustainable tourism, communities, in partnership with National Marine Sanctuaries, become highly desired international travel destinations.


Concurrent Breakout Sessions

Destination Stewardship  

Community-based tourism relies on healthy and climate resilient communities and businesses to be able to sustainably support local economies. To “build back better”, these communities and businesses can work in partnership with National Marine Sanctuaries through a destination stewardship approach. This multi-stakeholder approach prioritizes the protection and conservation of resources to ensure a healthy destination that supports tourism. To do so, community led initiatives need to be brought to the forefront of planning. Businesses need to contribute back to support healthier marine ecosystems, regenerative economies, and integrate with the community and local culture. Join this discussion to learn about how businesses and communities can contribute to and benefit from a healthy marine environment through use of a destination stewardship approach.


Aspirations of Regenerative Tourism and Voluntourism

Regenerative tourism moves beyond sustainable tourism, where visitors not only want to protect an area, but intend to leave a destination better than it was before they arrived. As an emerging mindset, regenerative tourism and voluntourism create an opportunity for new ways for tourists to interact with a destination. Established citizen science programs in a destination can be used for voluntourism. What role can regenerate tourism and voluntourism play in the National Marine Sanctuary System? Join this discussion to hear about existing examples and potential opportunities.

Investments in Sustainable Tourism 

What could success look like for sustainable tourism? This discussion will focus on what a tourism destination and adjacent communities’ needs for infrastructure investments, innovative conservation tools, and community enrichment to create equitable experiences for all visitors.

About the Blue Beacon Series

The National Marine Sanctuary’s Blue Beacon Series aims to bring to light the ocean and Great Lakes’ biggest challenges through panels, lectures, and film screenings hosted around the country in order to build communities of support for marine protected areas. This series builds on the momentum of Capitol Hill Ocean Week, the nation’s premier conference on ocean and Great Lakes policy issues by bringing these important conversations into locally relevant contexts. For more information, visit


Please contact Abigail Rodgers,