Where are we going?

– 61 countries gather around sustainable tourism at GSTC2022

Global criteria for sustainable tourism are adopted worldwide. Recently, 350 representatives from 61 countries from all corners of the world gathered in Seville to learn more and exchange experiences at GSTC2022. On site from Sweden were Visit Sweden, Region Västerbotten, Visit Skellefteå, Swedish Lapland Visitors Board and us from the Royal Djurgården Society. The big challenge – to find ways to drive sustainable tourism nationally, regionally, and locally in a structured way, was discussed based on concrete examples. But there was also a big focus on how to go from words to action.

After two years of remote meetings, it was finally time to meet again in person at the Global Sustainable Tourism Council world congress GSTC2022. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council, GSTC, is founded by, among others, the UN agencies UNWTO and UNEP to set global standards for sustainable tourism. The standards constitute a comprehensive system with criteria based on all 17 UN global sustainability goals and show how these should be applied within the tourism industry.

The tourism industry is by its nature global and when we at the Royal Djurgården sought a global system to reflect our sustainability efforts, the choice fell on GSTC. It was exactly what we wanted – a challenge with high demands within all perspectives of sustainability, international benchmarking, all quality assured through an independent review process. In September this year, we became the first metropolitan destination to receive the Green Destinations Platinum Award. In Sweden, the destinations of Järvsö and Åsnen have also gone through the process and the principles are being adopted by more and more organizations; for example, Västerbotten Experience and Swedish Lapland. And of course, several more worldwide.

The Nordics in the starting blocks

Many have come a long way and in Seville we saw how neighbouring countries such as Norway, Finland and Estonia are in the starting blocks to launch national programs based on GSTC’s standards. In a world that is constantly developing, a clear direction is to be found here. Sustainability becomes the tool to develop destinations wisely in the long term, not some imposition on the side. One must also not forget that it is also a way of attracting the right guests. So, in Sweden we all, from the national level to every single attraction, have to up our game. The competition in our region is getting tougher – what a great motivator.

Also on the agenda was “Destination Stewardship”, a concept that includes broader leadership and can be seen as the next big step forward after the discussion on the concept of “DMO” and the change in meaning from Destination Marketing Organization to Destination Management Organization. In conversations with our Nordic colleagues, I note that the pandemic of recent years has reinforced the shift in how we view our mission. Previously the customers’ needs and wants was at the core but now the starting point is much more often who you are and what you stand for and based on this, experiences are built and shared with your guests. But not only that. It was refreshing to hear speakers say: “We know what to do, more workshops are just procrastination”. “Let’s act”. And “let’s make the sustainable choice the only choice”. Wise, that’s how we really build a clear identity.

The role of the tourism industry in social development

Several items on the agenda also pointed to the fact that the development of the tourism industry can be an asset in the development of society in general when the principles of sustainability are prioritised. Annika Fredriksson, CEO of the Swedish Lapland Visitors Board, was part of a panel to talk about smart cities and regions that benefit both visitors and residents.

I was part of a panel where four of the 100 cities within the EU that have accepted the challenge to be climate neutral by 2030 were represented – Athens, Seville, Valencia, and I for Stockholm. The starting point for me is the question of what we in the tourism industry can contribute to reach this ambitious goal by 2030 and at the same time build stronger attractiveness for our destinations and attractions. I think it’s time we start choosing for our guests. By building in smarter transport – for better accessibility, digitizing in a way that allows us to control visitor flows and extend seasons – for better business, choosing more wisely on the menus – for happier customers, to name a few. But we also have a role to play in inspiring, as we meet guests from all over the world on a daily basis.

I see the many exhibitions here at Djurgården as important examples of this. The National Museum of Science and Technology’s exhibition “Zero City” depicts the goal – the climate-neutral city, and shows that the transition is not only necessary, but also something attractive to strive for together. I am convinced that the 100 climate-neutral cities, with innovative and smart solutions, good transport, clean air, clean water and carefully thought-out experiences, will have a competitive advantage in the future.

The panel on the EU’s mission “100 climate-neutral cities”, where I represented Djurgården and Stockholm.

Looking towards 2024

In April 2024, GSTC2024 will come to Sweden, Stockholm and to us at the Royal Djurgården. Visit Sweden, Visit Stockholm and we at the Royal Djurgården Society are co-hosting the event together with the entire Swedish hospitality industry. A big investment. In Seville, we learnt more about the meeting and about how we want to welcome colleagues from all over the world. Now is the time to start working towards 2024 to develop both our strategies and tactics – individually and together. My hope is that by then we have taken several steps forward and that we can showcase Sweden as an attractive forerunner in innovative and long-term sustainable tourism.