Paris joins Washington, Lima, Berlin, Prague, Zurich, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Bangkok as a global capital committed to measuring and improving on its sustainability strategy year on year in order to ensure sector development that can contribute to a regenerative future.
The GDS-Index was inspired by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Scandinavian chapter and MCI in 2012 when fifteen pioneering cities created and launched the Scandinavian Destination Sustainability Index. In 2015 the project evolved into a collaborative partnership between ICCA, IMEX Exhibitions, European Cities Marketing and MCI Group, and the GDS-Index was born. With an increased focus on regenerative thinking, strategy and capacity development the GDS-Movement was launched in 2020.
Over the years destinations management organisations that have joined the GDS-Index are showing great results for their efforts. Sustainable destination performance as measured by the GDS-index has increased 14% (before COVID it was 21%). The top ten GDS-Leaders demonstrate a performance increase of 23% (33% before COVID). Despite an understandable decrease due to the pandemic, the annual figures clearly demonstrate how benchmarking combined with a focus on improving strategy, capacity building and inter-city collaboration is enabling DMOs and municipalities to better identify sustainability challenges and opportunities, and act upon them to drive improved performance.
From sustainability to regeneration
Sustainability was considered to be a nice-to-have for brands and organisations that were still aiming for a profit at any cost and divorced from the environmental and social impacts their business models had. Then in 2020 the world changed, faced with a pandemic of epic proportions entire sectors were having to revisit how they functioned. The tourism sector has endured tremendous losses and yet there remains a committed group of DMOs and city managers who have used this time to focus on how to build back an offering that is safe and gives back to the community close to its hub.
Regenerative Events is a concept that is gaining a lot of traction at the moment. Simply put – it’s a focus on using events that leave the community and place better than it was before the event. This is an intentional shift from “sustainability” – which generally focused on doing less harm, and making small incremental improvements. This is not to say that all event sustainability initiatives are redundant, however with the challenges facing society and the planet today, this type of thinking is no longer enough.
To achieve a successful and flourishing future, we need to shift the paradigm of beliefs, values and business models from linear to living systems thinking.
The term ‘regeneration’ refers to designing systems and practices that take a holistic living systems approach to solving environmental, social and economic problems; aiming to restore and rejuvenate them rather than merely sustain conditions.
Regenerative design observes nature in order to inspire living systems thinking. It focuses on abundance, vitality, harmony and wellness. It aims for humans to work in partnership with each other and nature rather than in competition against each other.
Regenerative systems have a focus on quality and effectiveness. They are circular by design aiming for energy, natural resources, materials and people to be enriched, repurposed, recycled and empowered to enhance equitable development. The system enables an increase in resilience by increasing diversity and equality.
What does this mean for destinations?
The GDSM’s regenerative destination framework is being developed in collaboration with global experts and its member destinations. It is inspired by living systems thinking and the development and co–creation of solutions inspired by nature.
The tourism and the events industries are part of the same living ecosystem; diverse yet interconnected and interdependent. By understanding the structure, systems, and processes of our living ecosystem, we can better design it to recover and thrive.
The destinations who participate in the GDS-Movement passionately believe that the tourism and events economy have the power to transform our energy, food, water, transport, employment and social systems.
DMOs have a unique position to catalyse the development of local and regenerative food system, that use sustainable gastronomy as a competitive edge. The GDS-Index was invited by the Délice Network to create and deliver a workshop for 31 cities to build capacity and a common framework about sustainable food.
The insights, approaches and best practices generated during the workshop were developed into Recipes for Good: a guide on how to improve sustainability in events through a local food revolution
The success of this project led to a repeat session in Brussels, which gathered chefs, hoteliers, event organisers and farmers to co-create ways to build a more sustainable food chain in the local tourism and events sector
Geneva uses the GDS-Index methodology to improve its global sustainability ranking and destination strategy, witnessing a performance improvement of 11.4% in 2020 from its 2018 ranking. Through close collaboration with the GDS-Movement, Geneva has worked hard to consult extensively with its stakeholders. As a result, there is engagement of an effective cross industry taskforce who meet regularly to decide on next steps for the destination’s regenerative strategy. None of this would be possible however, without the newly coached and skilled up DMO core team who are leading the destination on the journey towards a vibrant recovery following the global pandemic.
As a pillar of the overarching Swisstainable strategy, Switzerland Tourism has formalised an agreement with the GDS-Movement to roll out the GDS-Index in its top business and leisure tourism destinations, signalling a depth of sustainability commitment and performance to rival the Nordic region. To date the destinations of Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne, Montreux, Lugano, Lucerne, Basel, Interlaken and Saint Gallen-Bodensee have all signed up.
Nurturing people and the environment
Developing the value in an organisation may represent itself as the need to nurture staff, clients, supply chain partners, and other stakeholders. By taking a regenerative approach to community management, the development of social capital can be stimulated and enhanced.
Croke Park Stadium in Dublin espouses this approach.
The stadium, which is a business member of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, implements an urban biodiversity programme that includes the installation on stadium grounds of bird boxes for native bird populations and of insect habitats such as bee bricks and bug hotels as well as a planting initiative of native trees and pollinator-friendly ground cover.
Outside the stadium walls, Croke Park’s sustainability and community teams have partnered with local authorities and residents on initiatives for the thoughtful greening of neglected spaces in the local area.
The Croke Park approach to sustainability and community ensures that the stadium generates not only employment and business opportunities in the area but also engenders huge pride of place in the local community. This investment in people and place contributes to the sense of belonging and well-being that is shared by residents and stadium employees alike. It has enabled Croke Park to act as the heart of the complex and vibrant community of Dublin’s North Inner City.
With these examples (and but a few) and the world’s changing imperatives now more than ever sustainability is being seen for what it actually means to the world in terms of economic, environmental and social benefits by considering the whole of the supply chain and the whole of the experience.
Top reasons to join the GDS-Index
A survey conducted by the GDS-Index consultants showed that the top reasons for benchmarking are not only about improving strategy and impact but also about catalysing innovation and collaboration as well as developing a new mind set to adapt to the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The GDS-Index opens for benchmarking on the 1st June 2021 and the revised criteria represent the most comprehensive and far-reaching levels of assessment on this journey towards a future that offers back more than what it extracts.