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GDS-Movement’s Journey

GDS-Movement’s Journey

An overview of our efforts to date supporting more regenerative destinations to visit, meet, and live in

The Vision

GDS-Movement envisions thriving places and communities activated by regenerative tourism and events.

Our Offerings

It empowers people with the mindsets, skill sets, and toolsets to create regenerative destinations to visit, meet, and live in.

– GDS-Index benchmarks sustainability efforts from cities across the world.

– GDS-Academy offers immersive B2B education that inspires.

– GDS-Consulting facilitates sustainability strategies and roadmaps for visitor economies.

– GDS-Research provides fresh industry perspectives and regenerative values to transform tourism and events into a force for good.

The Roots of the Movement

In 2009 when organising the COP15 Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Guy Bigwood noticed that destination management organisations were critical to making the events industry more sustainable and resilient to climate change. However, 5 things stood in the way of this:

1. There were very few DMOs with a robust sustainability strategy for their events industry including effective practices, measurement, and reporting.

2. There were no global sustainability initiatives focused exclusively on DMOs, and the specific requirements and challenges of the events industry.

3. There were no sustainable city indices (indexes) and rankings with a focus on continuous improvement that were designed for the events industry.

4. There was almost no awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals and their value/application within the events industry.

5. There was no third-party assessment of an event destinations sustainability programme.

Of course, this had to change, and change it did. The GDS-Index is now becoming an engine for tourism and events industry transformation, and social and climate impact in cities around the world. How did this come about? Read on…

At the time, Guy was the Sustainability Director of MCI, where he launched and developed its CSR programme across 60 offices and 2500 project managers, developing a business strategy that positioned MCI to be an award-winning sustainability champion and the organiser of over 1000 events about sustainable development, Smart Cities, and energy.

GDS-Index is born

Based on this foresight, Guy, in partnership with International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) Scandinavian chapter, MCI, and 13 other pioneering cities, facilitated a workshop to engage and inspire the CVBs to step up. As a result of this workshop, Guy co-created the Scandinavian Destination Sustainability Index in 2010 to measure destination sustainability and enable destinations to create and implement sustainability programmes.

The GDS-Index delivered immediate results and catapulted the development of Scandinavian sustainable destination strategies and leadership. Based on that, Guy and the founding partner decided to develop the collaborative partnership to a global level to include ICCA Global, IMEX Exhibitions, City Destinations Alliance (CityDNA), MCI, and GUBI Consulting.

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The Growing Scope of GDS-Index Today

The GDS-Index today measures and ranks 103+ cities across the world, guiding them towards greater regenerative destination management aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). It has expanded to be a movement of passionate destination professionals who are inspired, empowered, and supported to transform a growing list of engaged destinations to have greater social, environmental and economic impacts, and prepare them for climate-positive futures

GDS-Movement’s Timeline

2010 – Birth:

The dream for a Scandinavian Destination Sustainability Index took root in Gothenburg, through the collaborative effort of ICCA’s Scandinavian Chapter and MCI. 2012 Baby Steps: The first benchmarking results go live for the Scandinavian Destination Sustainability Index.

2015 – Going Global:

After the concept showed great outcomes, ICCA Scandinavian Chapter, ICCA , IMEX, and MCI sign an MOU to create the Global Destination Sustainability Index. 2017 Growing Partnerships: European Cities Marketing (now City Destinations Alliance or CityDNA) partners with the GDS-Index.

2019 – Growing Destinations:

The GDS-Index reaches 50 destinations.

2020 – Regeneration:

The Global Destination Sustainability Movement emerges out of the need to drive the regeneration of destinations. The portfolio of services expands to include consulting, education, and training.

2021- Reset:

The pandemic gives us all the opportunity to rethink and reprioritise. We continue to measure sustainability performance and double down on support for destinations with tailored Feeling the Pulse webinars. We launch GDS-Academy in partnership with ICCA and City Destinations Alliance, with the flagship GDS-ICCA-CityDNA Certificate in Regenerative Destination Management headlining the offerings. The Storytelling and Communication Strategies for Regeneration Masterclass, Regenerative Events Management Masterclass, and Impact Strategy and Measurement Masterclass are available in-house.

2022 – Refine:

The year’s GDS-Index data reveals that the sustainability contributions of participating destinations now exceed pre-pandemic levels. GDS-Academy picks up speed, developing bespoke programmes for destinations. GDS-Academy picks up speed. The year’s GDS-Index data reveals that the sustainability contributions of participating destinations now exceed pre-pandemic levels. GDS-Consulting branches out into sustainable events consulting, and starts a partnership with isla and using the TRACE tool.

2023 – Expand:

We broaden our expertise in close partnership with #Meet4impact, and sharpen our climate focus with CUR8. Regenerative Event Management trends in workshops, and GDS-Index hits 100+ destinations. Globally, we see increasing activity in regional tourism including national bodies and increasing interest in our bespoke in-house GDS-Academy Masterclasses. We celebrate the launch of the GDS-Forum in collaboration with CityDNA and a new Impact award.

Our approach

Using radical collaboration and competition to create opportunity and growth

Steered by its visionary and CEO, Guy Bigwood, GDS-Movement partnered with the founding partners and hundreds of other organisations to network and activate business and leisure tourism and events through measurement, management, and incremental improvement.

This hyper-collaborative approach that values progress over perfection has allowed interested parties to co-create responsive, science-based methodologies that nurture scalable solutions for destinations everywhere.

Our Tools

A regenerative modus operandi and methodology

By reframing strategic development around the regenerative potential in a visitor economy, GDS-Movement can support destinations to tackle a range of sustainability concerns, including climate, and turn the tourism sector into a catalyst for positive change by involving interested parties including the supply chain (accommodation, venues, DMCs).

Our Changemakers

Our powerful team of Changemakers located around the world offers a breadth of consulting expertise and experience in sustainability, tourism, events and communications. We are united with one purpose: to inspire and enable regeneration through tourism and events.

Meet the extended team here.

Our Impact

Developing more regenerative tourism to benefit people, place, and planet is ongoing work, and we are seeing increasingly greater impact as we empower more destinations to better manage their visitor economy.

From its official launch in 2015, the GDS-Index has rated, ranked and guided hundreds of destinations to empower their stakeholders to leave a place better merely by being there. Global leaders such as Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Bergen, Glasgow, Sydney, Montreal, Canada, and many more have trusted the GDS-Movement to help them develop and implement their climate and sustainability strategy. We have always been on the pioneering edge. This month, for example, we are developing a new climate roadmap for Belfast, a Regenerative Strategy for the Visitor Economy for Edmonton (here’s one of its workshops), and implementing a training and capacity-building programme with over 19 English destinations.

Key GDS-Index achievements

1. Integrative Strategy
80% of destinations have a sustainable tourism strategy, up from 47% in 2019.

2. Democratic Participation
45% of destinations consulted with visitors, clients, industry, government, and community stakeholders to co-create their strategy, which is 10% more than in 2021.

3. Third-Party Certification:
An average of 34% of hotels across all destinations have third-party certification. Certified venue averages increased from 47% in 2021 to 58%.

4. Impact Measurement
48% of DMOs have a system to measure and monitor the environmental, economic, and social impact and performance of tourism, up from 15% in 2019.

5. Evolution in Sustainability Governance
92% of DMOs have a dedicated sustainability manager and 55% have formed a committee with external non-industry stakeholders to oversee and steward stakeholder input and participation.

Each year we recognise top contributors in the GDS-Index and an Innovation leader during the GDS-Awards.

We continue to grow, launching GDS-Forum in partnership with CityDNA in October 2023, and partnering with boutique consultancy Meet4Impact focused on legacy development.

The team has grown from 1 to over 18 changemakers based around the world who have delivered over 600 workshops, trained more than 50.000 people, and delivered over 300 sustainability projects. The impact of the work can be seen in the following graph which shows how sustainability performance has improved by a staggering 33% in participating destinations in the last 7 years.

Average Performance Evolution by Year- GDS-Index 2022

The Results (Keep Getting Better)

The GDS-Index is significantly helping DMOsS to develop effective sustainability strategies that accelerate implementation time, enhance effectiveness, and reduce costs.

1. For clients, the GDS-Index is a tool for associations and corporates to better assess and qualify a destination’s commitment to sustainability through tourism and events.

2. For city and DMO professionals, we offer a growing body of vetted, science-based practices derived from the experiences of the GDS-Index team and its community of destinations. We use this data to engage, inspire and empower other non-participating DMOs around the world to start up, speed up and scale up their sustainability programmes.

3. For PCOs and DMCs, the GDS-Index is an effective and low-cost way to promote their destinations sustainability commitment and credentials, to engage their team and suppliers, and inspire more action in their events.

4. For academia, we are building a body of knowledge that is helping universities and industry associations to develop expertise and capability of their students. ECM, ICCA and EIC have embedded the GDS-Index into their educational curriculum. Various universities, such as the London Business School, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Surrey now include the GDS-Index in their programmes.

5. The GDS-Academy, launched in 2021, in partnership with ICCA and City Destinations Alliance, trains individuals and whole teams in sustainable practices that include climate action as a focus.

Download Raising the Bar, the latest data on destination sustainability amongst participating cities and regions across the world.

Raising the Bar - 2022 GDS-Index Results_cover

Inspired? Reach out to us, or download the GDS-Movement media kit:

GDS-Movement Media Kit COVER

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