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2021 Global Destination Sustainability Index and Awards announcement 

2021 Global Destination Sustainability Index and Awards announcement 

The world’s leading sustainability benchmarking and improvement programme, GDS-Index, announced the results of its 2021 Awards at the 60th ICCA Congress in Paris on the 26th October 2021

Recognising the shining stars of sustainability within the global leisure and business tourism sector, the awards result from comparing data from 73 destinations that submitted their performance for benchmarking  in 2021.

The GDS-Index results offer insights into the trends and progress of the global destinations’ commitment to transforming their social, environmental and management offering.

2021 GDS-Index Award Winners  

Leadership award  Gothenburg - Goteborg&Co
Innovation award  Copenhagen - Copenhagen Legacy Lab 
Most Improved award – Lyon - Office du Tourisme & des Congres du Grand Lyon 

For an outstanding fifth time Gothenburg wins the Leadership award for its consistent improvement, followed closely by Copenhagen and a sterling performance from Aarhus and Glasgow. Tirol and Lyon enter the top 10.  

This is a great award to receive and a huge recognition. Gothenburg has for many years successfully driven the development of a more sustainable meeting industry and hospitality industry. GDSI was born in our city, and the fact that there are now over 70 cities that have joined is in line with our ambition to be an international role model in sustainability,” says Peter Grönberg, CEO of Gothenburg & Co.



The GDS-Index Innovation Award was decided by a panel of industry experts. They chose Wonderful Copenhagen’s impactful Copenhagen Legacy Lab (CLL). It is designed to help international associations achieve long-term, positive impacts from their global events and was developed for the benefit, transformation, and enrichment of the association, its communities, the host destination and society at large. 

Receiving the GDS Innovation Award at the ICCA Congress hub in Paris, Kit Lykketoft – Director of Conventions at Wonderful Copenhagen, said:  “The concept of legacy work and on creating long-lasting positive impact has been on our agenda for some years, but the pandemic has certainly given it new dimensions. It has amplified the necessity to use a system model where associations are given the right tools to achieve their mission towards the community – and our Copenhagen Legacy Lab concept covers this need by offering a new purpose to association conferences. It is our hope that the international acknowledgment received today will serve as an inspiration for more associations and destinations to embrace legacy work and look into the huge untapped potential of impact activities as part of their strategic congress actions.” 



The GDS-Index Most Improved Award was presented to Lyon – Office du Tourisme & des Congres du Grand Lyon. Lyon made the largest improvement in one year by achieving a whopping 42% increase in their overall score, thanks to their improvement in their supplier and DMO performance. Their improvement also launched them from outside the top 20 ranking in previous years into the Top 10, along with their fellow French-leading city, Bordeaux. These two have now raised France’s representation in the top 10. 

Catherine Romeyer the Responsible Tourism Development officer for OnlyLyon Tourisme des Congres was there to accept the award and shared her joy,  we are so delighted by this international recognition of all the work done these last years by the Metropole, the Tourist office and the entire tourism ecosystem for more responsible tourism in Lyon. Our commitment is full, we know we are on the good path and will carry on our actions to become a model of sustainable tourism.”  



Efforts by Destination Fyn have paid off, with Svendborg, Odense, and Nyborg ranking higher, whilst the continuous improvement of Belfast brought it into the top 20 for the first time.   

The GDS-Index witnessed many other examples of sustainability leadership and best practices, from multiple destinations, including Bordeaux who was a top-five finalist in the Innovation award for its Agora for tourism initiative, a measurement and stakeholder engagement programme run by Bordeaux Tourism & Congress. Geneva’s efforts and overall strategy development stood out, as did Zurich’s stakeholder consultation process. Marseille has a powerful biodiversity strategy and hosted the IUCN Congress which it leveraged to enable further positive impact for the destination. 



GDS-Index 2021 Results 

This is the sixth year of benchmarking based on a revised and comprehensive set of criteria that assess four key areas of the sustainability performance of a destination. These include the city’s environmental strategy and infrastructure; its social sustainability performance; industry supplier support; and the destination management organisation’s strategy and initiatives. 

A record 73 destinations participated, and the Index results were positively impacted by the newer destinations challenging the overall ranking, and, in some instances, bringing nail-biting results within decimal points of each other.  

 The results also show that sustainability strategies are starting to have significant positive impact on the design and capabilities of events and tourism despite the pandemic. Overall, the GDS-Index is seeing many more examples of tourism being included in climate change mitigation strategies which shows the commitment of the sector toward integration of inclusive strategies that can shift policy.  

With the help of an external technical advisory board, these performance improvement criteria have brought transparency, rigour, and additional value to participating destinations that now have the data to communicate their sustainability actions with their stakeholders and to the GDS-Index. This further embeds its relevance in accelerating positive change in the Meetings, Events and Tourism sectors.   

The results demonstrate the bounce back and advancement of sustainability after the crisis. In 2021 there were 24 more destinations participating than in the previous public benchmark of 2019, with performance coming back to pre-pandemic levels (average of 61.74 in 2019 and 61.68 in 2021). The top 10 destinations even outperformed pre-pandemic levels. 

 The Index results show that 58% of the cities participating in the GDS-Index have integrated strategies that support the city agenda. Forty percent of municipalities don’t include sustainability in their city’s climate strategy and only 5% are certified. But change is happening and 80% of DMOs have now formalised sustainability within job descriptions and employee roles, which is a significant leap from the early years of the index that recorded a mere 5% of dedicated resources to drive change.  

James Rees President of ICCA said that, “the growth of the GDS-Index demonstrates the increasing importance and focus of sustainability to our destinations and industry. We are proud to see our grassroots Scandinavian project grow to this global level, and continue to play a vital role in guiding and supporting Destination Management Organisations to use events and tourism as catalysts for development and positive change. We congratulate the winners and salute them for the work they have achieved.” 

Guy Bigwood, Managing Director of the GDS-Index stated that: “The Covid-19 pandemic and the increasing public and political focus on equality, diversity, and climate change have had a massive positive impact on destinations in 2021. This year we see a tidal wave of new, sustainable destination strategies and positive action. 2021 will be recognised as a tipping-point year, not only for increased action in sustainability, but also as the year when regenerative thinking started to be more widely integrated into destination management and stewardship plans. It’s the year when destination management really took precedence over destination marketing. “ 

Feeling The Pulse Invitation:

Join the GDS-M team at the next Feeling The Pulse Sessions and meet the winners and discover the trends that have emerged from the GDS-Index results.

Register for November 2nd 10am Madrid time or November 4th 5pm Madrid time.  

An in-depth analysis of the GDS-Index Results will be published in a white paper in 2022. 

Full results here –  

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