By Kylee Jepsen with Interview Content by Diane Strachan.

Is it really possible to make a difference in San Luis Obispo County, while you are on vacation? We all love to help out in our own communities, but when I first heard this, I was very unsure about how this would fit into a vacation. How much time would it take? Are there really activities that I can enjoy while I am on vacation? I recently came across a interesting opportunity called Stewardship Travel sponsored by WineCoastCountry in San Luis Obispo County. This new program, 2 years in the making, was just launched in August of 2013 and offers travelers 73 activities and contribution opportunities, all of which can be added to one’s existing vacation. I wanted to get a little more information on this unique opportunity, so I scheduled an interview with WineCoastCountry’s Diane Strachan. Diane “Di” is the Stewardship Travel expert for WineCoastCountry. She is a development and training specialist with 30 years in the tourism industry and a degree in environmental planning who helps communities work together for sustainable resources, economies, and positive futures.

Our interview highlighted information on the evolution of ecotourism, new Stewardship Travel opportunities and how visitors and locals alike can really get involved with taking care and helping with sustainability. Below are a few highlights from the questions posed to Diane.

How has tourism evolved in California?

Diane: In the 50s and 60s tourists were very happy to take scenic drives and enjoy great views, museums, and picnics. Then in the 70s the trend was to do something active, to get fit and/or meet challenges on vacation, adventure travel really took off here. In the 80s and 90s, travelers wanted it all - to visit beautiful places, be active, and invest in learning and local culture - this launched Eco-tourism.Emerging now is Stewardship Tourism. It feeds all of the above desires, who doesn’t like picnics? - along with the desire to experience more depth, meaning, and purpose while on vacation. Greater numbers of visitors are wanting to connect in a deeper way with people, places, nature, and heritage along with being able to make a difference by giving or doing.

What exactly is Stewardship Travel?

Diane: I like to think of Stewardship Travel being the difference between a good vacation and a truly great one.Stewardship Travel allows the traveler to add a bit of “doing good and feeling good” to any type of relaxing vacation, especially during the less crowded off-season months of September through May on California’s central coast. Just vacationing during the off-season is a stewardship act in itself. Activities range from planting a tree at a natural preserve, to becoming a “citizen scientist” and preparing water samples for real research at a nature center, to taking a self-guided historical walk and making a donation to help a small town preserve its history. By reserving just one or two hours, you can make a difference and then take off wine tasting - you don’t need a whole day to be a Stewardship Traveler. Many of the 73 opportunities are free and quite a few are family oriented.

How is Stewardship Travel Unique?

Diane: This is the first regional Stewardship Travel opportunity in America. It contributes effectively to sustainability of our natural world and rural economies. Every attraction provides visitors deeper connections, learning and contribution opportunities and/or a direct hands-on stewardship activity. If an attraction does not offer all three opportunities, they do not qualify as a Stewardship Travel attraction.

What are some examples of Stewardship Travel Opportunities?

Diane: There are 36 community partners (28 non-profit organizations, 8 businesses) all providing Stewardship Travel opportunities. Of the 73 activities available, 21 have never even been actively promoted to visitors before (usually just local residents have participated in the conservation). These include helping with wildlife habitat restoration on small preserves, beaches, land conservation easements, park trails, and restoring historic places. For instance, the Audubon Sweet Springs Preserve near Los Osos and Baywood Park is a gem of a destination tucked away in a residential area. The average traveler wouldn’t even know it existed; yet it offers well cared for forests, breathtaking views, tranquil walks and turtle ponds, and a monthly steward’s day for local residents and now visitor participation.

How can someone get more information?

Diane: Stewardship Travel is part of a larger shift tourism called Stewardship Tourism. WineCoastCountry is the first organization to really jump in, commit, and create Stewardship Travel opportunities for visitors. You can visit their website at http://winecoastcountry.com/slo/the-winecoastcountry-stewardship-traveler/

Remember to always call ahead of time if you plan on bringing children, to ensure that the activity you choose is perfect for your kids - most are, like the Kid’s Garden and Events at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden.

Is there anything else we should know about the Stewardship Travel program?

Diane: The community support has been amazing in welcoming visitors who care, the new Stewardship Travelers.Our goal was to create 40 activities and opportunities and the community has created 73 and growing! One thing my research showed is that visitors were already performing spontaneous acts of stewardship. Acts such as asking hotel personnell for beach cleanup bags after a storm, and even willing to pay more to select travel companies that help preserve the region’s natural and cultural heritage.

So, if you are one of the growing group Stewardship Travelers, or would like to be, the website is like a treasure chest of bite-size opportunities to enrich your stay.You are appreciated and welcomed back again and again, for after being stewards together, our home is now your home.

Kylee Jepsen is the Communications Coordinator at Visit San Luis Obispo County. She has been a part of the tourism industry on the Central Coast for five years and can think of no other area she would love to represent. Kylee loves traveling and has a great passion for gaining new food and wine experiences. Feel free to contact her at kyleej@visitsanluisobispocounty or at 805.541.8000.