During these difficult and painful times, we have reason to hope. As a result of the pandemic, society is questioning the systems that define our lives. There is a call to change what is broken and the events and tourism industry has responded to this call to action. Destinations all around the world have been pushed into rapid response mode, to support their communities, promote their local nature areas, close their streets to traffic and to attract regional visitors.
As we adjust to the new normal the entire events and tourism industries are being forced into an epoch of rapid change, accelerated innovation and unimagined creativity. COVID-19 is reminding us of the importance of our connections to nature and community as we search for wellbeing. We have an enormous opportunity to stop, to rethink and redesign the future. Let’s reflect and reimagine the new.
Reasons to be cheerful
2019 was already a tipping point for sustainability. Greta and her millions of supporters were protesting in the streets, corporates like Microsoft were making massive commitments to be Carbon Negative; and over 1,737 cities and governments in 30 countries had declared a Climate Emergency.
This positive momentum for change has not slowed down as we enter the summer of 2020. People are protesting across the world demanding racial and economic equality, the upholding of human rights and climate justice. COVID-19 has exposed not only our great vulnerability as a result of our unequal societies, but the extent to which these vulnerabilities and challenges are interconnected.
Thankfully our industry is responding, and the people in our sector are also demanding change. Finally, after 15 years of banging my head against the wall, I have started to see significant change in the events and tourism industries. In our research work for IMEX-Marriott, we surveyed 1500 event professionals from around the world. 79% of participants stated that their focus on making their events more sustainable increased in 2019, and 97% of event organisers were implementing sustainability practices. In their survey of 18 000 tourists, Booking.com revealed that 55% of global travellers reported being more determined to make more sustainable travel choices than they were a year ago.
A poll in May 2020 by European Cities Marketing, revealed that 60% of European DMO leaders said sustainability would be a higher priority than ever before. We repeated the IMEX-Marriott Sustainability Barometer of the events industry and discovered that in May 2020, over 95% of event organisers were committed to developing more sustainable practices.
But is this enough?
Can we sit back and hope that COVID-19 will catalyse the change we need. I don’t think so. While we are seeing many positive areas of progress, we are also seeing a surge in disposable, single use materials. Many industry professionals are pressured to make short term decisions that if analysed over the long term will prove to be entirely unsustainable with severe repercussions. l. There are tsunami waves of impacts ahead, from climate change to economic recession and these will not only impact the demand for tourism and events as COVID-19 has done, but also the supply of food, resources and workforce required to manage our industry.
Einstein once said that “if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Right now I think it’s the time to be asking the really tough questions. The ones that make you feel a bit funny in your stomach. The ones that are hard to ask such as:
- How do we rebuild a tourism and events economy that works for everyone?
- How do we redevelop an industry that regenerates jobs and spreads prosperity inclusively and fairly?
- How do we rebuild an industry that recognises the urgency of climate action, and reboots in order to be more resilient to future environmental, social and economic shocks?
- How do we reimagine our businesses to operate in harmony with, and not against, nature and its boundaries.
To the next level
For the last five years, the GDS-Index has been focused on benchmarking destinations for the sustainability performance of the Meetings and Events (MICE) industry. What started as a small ICCA project for 15 pioneering Scandinavian cities has evolved into a very successful programme winning the UNWTO Award for Innovation and then this week the EIC-IMEX Innovation in sustainability Award. We currently have a community of over 60 destinations who are working on improving their sustainability strategies, sharing best practices and learning together.
But now in the wake of COVID-19 it’s time to “up our game” and move to the next level. Recovering the industry after the pandemic demands a better response, extreme weather events demand a better response; social inequality and racism has to end.
Considering how we grow amidst the threats facing destinations, we have decided to reach for the opportunity to upgrade and extend our programme. This is why we have launched the Global Destination Sustainability Movement.
Launching the Global Destination Sustainability Movement
We believe in a world in which tourism and events are a powerful catalyst to help cities achieve their Sustainable Development Goals
Our mission is to engage, inspire and enable destinations to be more regenerative, flourishing and resilient places to visit, meet and thrive in. Our vision is a regenerative and resilient tourism and events economy that works for everyone: an industry that generates jobs and spreads prosperity across society, inclusively and fairly. This can be a resilient, vibrant, and flourishing industry, that connects cities, people, and nature.
Why the change in focus?
For 25 years, sustainable development has been held up as the solution to the world’s problems. For 15 of those years, I have been actively campaigning and working to make organisations more sustainable, to lower their carbon footprint, to reduce waste and give back more through CSR campaigns. However, while we have made some impact, ultimately we have all failed. The world is less equal and less inclusive. It’s more polluted and we have lost more than 60% of our biodiversity in the last 40 years. The impacts of climate change is ravaging communities. It’s no longer good enough to talk about sustaining a broken system, we have to regenerate the social, economic and ecosystems upon which we depend. With COVID as a constant shadow, this is more apparent than ever.
Our view of regeneration considers the human race as an integral part of nature. Our regenerative framework is being developed in collaboration with global experts and our member destinations. It is inspired by living systems thinking and the development and cocreation of solutions inspired by nature. We believe the tourism and the events industries are part of the same living ecosystem; diverse yet interconnected and interdependable.
We believe that by understanding the structure, systems, and processes of our living ecosystem, we can better design it to recover and thrive. Not only that we passionately believe that the trillion dollar tourism and events economy has the power to transform our energy, food, water, transport, employment and social systems.
How will we achieve this?
The GDS-Movement has expanded our focus to work more with municipalities, national and regional tourism organisations, destination management organisations and convention bureaux in order to co-create their new tourism and events strategies, benchmark and improve their sustainability performance, and transform value chains in order to catalyse regeneration and resilience.
We will leverage our philosophy and passion for “extreme collaboration” to unlock the collective intelligence and knowledge within and between destinations. We will use our advanced IT tools, data, partnerships, collective expertise and the power of a movement to inspire, enable and empower the transformation of a global sector, responsible for over 10% of the world’s GDP.
As a result, the portfolio of services will expand from the GDS-Index to include four new pillars:
- GDS-Forum, a global event that convenes and unites destination management professionals to catalyse innovation for regeneration
- GDS-Academy, which will offer regenerative and sustainable tourism and event education and capacity development services for destinations and their value chain
- GDS-Consulting, which accompanies and supports the sector on its journey towards regeneration
- GDS-Certification, a 3rd party certification aligned to the GSTC-D criteria.
The Power of Partnership
A core mantra for the GDS-Movement comes from the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Collaboration and teamwork has been core to our work from the start. We would not have grown had it not been for the support of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), IMEX Exhibitions, European Cities Marketing, MCI Group and GUBI Consulting.
Looking ahead we have expanded our partnerships to enable greater geographic expansion, reduce our requirements to fly, and to increase our ability to offer a full circle solution for destination management organisations and national tourism organisations working on both leisure tourism and events.
With this launch we are proud to announce an extended network of new regional partners spanning five continents, among them ConnectSeven for North America, Global Meetings and Tourism Specialists LLC and Evensus for LATAM, JCS and MCI Japan for Asia. Additionally, we have and will create more vertical or expertise partnerships with organisations such as Sustained Impact and Meet4Impact.
Find out more about our Changemakers and Partners
COVID-19 has been a powerful reminder that our linear development model is not resilient, nor is it sustainable. An entirely new approach is required to enable the global visitors’ economy to recover, flourish and thrive.
This “systems reset” requires a regenerative, safe, resilient and low carbon growth model that gives back to the people and planet more than it takes. This circular economic model will future proof the tourism and events industry and catalyse investment, generate jobs, develop knowledge, and equitably distribute prosperity. It will support our sector to grow in harmony with, and not against, nature and its species. The GDS-Movement will serve to catalyse this change, but it will take a lot more collaboration and work. I would be delighted if you joined us and the Movement for Regeneration.