Ideas to action leadership forum launches with keynote by Harvard director

Press release from Thrive Asheville

Who: From Harvard and Cornell,  Megan Epler Wood, a globally recognized researcher and thought leader on sustainable tourism will join Vic Isley, CEO/President of Explore Asheville

What: Keynote address to launch the Ideas to Action Leadership Forum on Sustainable Tourism in partnership with the Building Our City speaker series

Where: Zoom; Register here – Thrive Asheville or  Building Our City

When: Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, from 12-1 p.m.

Why: Asheville continues to make the top-destination lists of major newspapers and travel guides. Tourism fuels our economy but also strains our infrastructure and not all Asheville communities benefit. The downsides are felt acutely by vulnerable groups.

The subject of tourism, its impact and the direction of our city has become a hot topic and one that elicits strong reactions among locals.

Thrive Asheville is excited to announce a new initiative: the Ideas to Action Leadership Forum, a year-long community dialogue on sustainable tourism. In a constructive, data-driven dialogue among community leaders and residents, we will identify a shared set of facts, innovative solutions and endorse a change agenda.

Together, our community will be better equipped to ensure that more residents benefit from tourism and that our community is better able to protect the environment on which we all depend. We envision a tourism sector that meets the triple bottom line of profitability, protection for the environment and care for our people and culture.

The launch event will take in collaboration with the Building Our City Speaker Series and take place on Zoom. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Interview opportunities, before or after the event, include:

Megan Epler Wood, former director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at Harvard University and principal of Epler Wood International,

Kate Pett, executive director of Thrive Asheville,

J Hackett, Ideas to Action Leadership Forum steering committee member, on why bringing people together to study sustainable tourism will benefit Asheville,


Thrive Asheville brings together local community advocates, policymakers and professionals from diverse fields and backgrounds to find equitable solutions to our city’s toughest challenges. We connect some of Asheville’s smartest problem-solvers with research and tools they may not have the budget or capacity to easily access on their own. Then we design the best community solutions together so that all in our city can thrive.


To solve Asheville’s toughest challenges, we must create the means for advocates, policymakers and professionals from diverse fields to come together to learn, analyze data, and develop solutions rooted in equity. None of this happens without structured facilitation and a plan to bring together leaders from diverse perspectives who want to see Asheville and her residents thrive.

This fall, Thrive Asheville will launch the Ideas to Action Leadership Forum, a cohort of 30+ diverse community leaders who will study the unique challenge of sustainable tourism in-depth, then develop a plan for actionable solutions. Inspired by the North Carolina Leadership Forum, Ideas to Action helps leaders collaborate effectively through skillful facilitation and expert content.

The cohort starts with understanding the current situation, reviewing all research, data and stories, then explores potential solutions specific to Asheville. The cohort will agree to priority actions, policies, and projects that will drive the work forward next year.

In the second year, Thrive Asheville coordinates the planning and implementation of the plan.


There is much to love about Asheville and so many reasons people want to visit our city.

Tourism is a long-standing economic engine, fueling a stable economy but also straining our infrastructure. With its broad reach and growth orientation, the tourism sector is the right place to focus our community’s efforts. This is the first issue studied by Thrive Asheville’s Ideas to Action Leadership Forum.

The conversation about tourism has become highly polarized, preventing constructive dialog and too often fails to engage people experiencing the negative impacts of tourism. Asheville’s identity as a premier tourist destination is a community asset that the community should manage. In partnership with local government and leaders in tourism and hospitality, residents must participate in ongoing dialogue to ensure the community’s needs are central to decisions made. By learning about the impacts and benefits of tourism, we can ensure that more people experience the benefits of tourism for a long time into the future.


Megan Epler Wood is a thought leader, author, teacher, speaker, and consultant on questions of managing sustainable tourism for destinations and a founder of the field of ecotourism.  From 2010-2021 her research and online courses at Harvard University vetted a wide range of solutions to help protect travel destinations.  At Cornell’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, SC Johnson College of Business, she leads research on how to advance more sustainable use of global resources by the travel industry. She wrote her 2017 book, Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet while at Harvard and the 2019 report Destinations at Risk; The Invisible Burden of Tourism at Cornell to speak to a broad audience about how to meet the goals of sustainable tourism worldwide. Since 2018, she has given keynote speeches on her works at the Banff Center, Canada; Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Edinburgh, Scotland; and many other destinations on Zoom in 2020.  Asheville, North Carolina will be her first in-person speech since the pandemic began.


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