Nakatsugawa-Ena Tourism Council, Gifu, Japan

Nakatsugawa-Ena Tourism Council: Becoming a Sustainable Tourism Destination

Nakatsugawa-Ena Tourism Council is a joint tourism council of two small cities, Nakatsugawa (中津川) and Ena (恵那), Gifu Prefecture, Japan, and works to establish and promote the Nakatsugawa-Ena area in the central region of Japan as a sustainable tourism destination to attract inbound tourists.

Expert Team at TrainingAid

Nakatsugawa-Ena Tourism Council
Photo © Nakatsugawa-Ena Tourism Council

Project example provided by: Mami Futagami


Project Title:
Nakatsugawa-Ena Tourism Council: Becoming a Sustainable Tourism Destination

Nakatsugawa and Ena, Gifu Prefecture, Japan

Project Scope:
To establish and promote the Nakatsugawa-Ena area in the central region of Japan as a sustainable tourism destination to attract inbound tourists.

Nakatsugawa-Ena Tourism Council, a joint tourism council of two small cities, Nakatsugawa (中津川) and Ena (恵那), Gifu Prefecture, Japan.

Background: Reasons for This Project

The Nakatsugawa-Ena area is rich in forests, and famous for locally produced chestnuts sweets. As a heritage site, it used to accommodate travelers who walked on the historical trail (about 530 kilometers long) called Nakasendo between Edo (today’s Tokyo) and Kyoto. Recently the area has become an attractive destination for foreign independent travelers who visit the area for hiking along the trail and visiting the hot spring resorts nearby.

The rapid increase in the number of inbound tourists has partially contributed to the economic growth of the area, but the locals seek for a more balanced development with the natural environment and their traditional lifestyles preserved in a sustainable manner.

To promote a more balanced development of tourism, the Tourism Council has identified that as the first step, education and awareness-raising efforts were needed, so that the local and regional policy-makers, as well as other industry stakeholders, would have a better understanding of the concept of sustainable tourism and its importance and relevance.

The long-term goal of the project is to become certified by a destination certification program that is accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). This has been identified as an important way to gain credibility, to avoid green-washing (both in perception and practice), and to achieve international recognition.

Vision: Global Standard, Local Context

Rather than focusing on increasing the number of visitor arrivals, and thus promoting mass tourism options (e.g. group bus tours), the Nakatsugawa-Ena region would like to transform the area into a green destination based on global sustainable standards, and promote the area as a sustainable tourism destination to attract responsible travelers.

With the long-term vision of becoming a certified sustainable destination, the project in the initial stages focuses on evaluating the current level of sustainability practices using the baseline standard (GSTC Criteria) and a set of indicators based on the GSTC Destination Criteria.

While the GSTC Criteria have been helpful in advocating the idea of sustainable tourism among local stakeholders, but to promote wider acceptance, the destination stakeholders need sustainability indicators and measurement schemes that are tailored to the specific local context.

To this end, the Tourism Council has implemented steps to collaborate with local stakeholders on identifying and developing localized sustainability performance indicators. Meetings and workshops have been held to explain the project to local stakeholders, and stakeholder feedback has been collected through a survey, to help create a checklist of indicators.

Benefit Realization: Quality Visitor Experience, Local Well-Being

The goal of becoming a sustainable destination has been set as a way for the Nakatsugawa-Ena region to deal with the challenges associated with rapid tourism growth, and to ensure a sustainable development of the region. Tourism development must be balanced, taking into consideration the social, economic and environmental impacts of the visitor activities, as well as the well-being of local community members.

The Tourism Council has identified destination certification (by a GSTC-accredited certification body) as a key objective of this project, because:

  • Achieving certification by a GSTC-accredited certification program helps avoid green-washing.
  • The recognition will also help promote the Nakatsugawa-Ena region as a sustainable destination to international markets.

At the same time, the following “by-products” of benefits can also be expected:

  • By emphasizing sustainability efforts and community initiatives, the destination will be able to better target responsible travelers; those who are more likely to spend locally and appreciate the natural landscape and historical heritage the region has to offer.
  • Through the engagement of local stakeholders in decisions around sustainable tourism development, the project will help enhance the level of satisfaction among local residents and their support for tourism, which in turn helps the destination deliver quality visitor experiences.

Furthermore, looking more broadly at the sustainable development of tourism across the country, Nakatsugawa-Ena Tourism Council can serve as a model of how community-based destinations could develop sustainably, maintain authenticity, and attract international visitors, thus helping encourage other destinations from across Japan to become more engaged in sustainable tourism.

The Council is in the process of applying to become a member of the UNWTO International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO).