The road to net-zero is long and strenuous, but we have to walk it in a hurry if we want any chance of reaching the finish line. Like many other industries, tourism has its own targets for decarbonisation and challenges along the way. Besides policymakers, setting guidelines, and us, the consumers, who have to be more conscientious about the way we travel, destinations’ tourism boards, or destination management organisations (DMOs), have their own responsibility to become more sustainable.
The Network of European Regions for Sustainable and Competitive Tourism (NECSTouR), in collaboration with SPEL-Turismo Lanzarote, decided to organise a masterclass, on 14-16 March on the island of Lanzarote, aimed at providing destination leaders with the knowledge and practical tools to deliver the necessary action for tackling three major common challenges: reducing seasonality, measuring tourism’s carbon footprint and fostering tourism’s climate action.
What we offer is a space for open and very honest debate for them (destinations) to benchmark examples and learn tools. This empowers them with reasoning to do the right advocacy to the right people so a real change is possible on the ground.Cristina Nuñez, Managing Director NECSTouR, told Travel Tomorrow
19 DMOs, from 8 European countries, gathered in Lanzarote for the masterclass: Ljubljana Tourism, Visit Flanders, Catalan Tourism Board, Comunidad de Madrid, Xunta de Galicia, Province Vlaams-Brabant, Normandie Tourism, Turisme Diputacio Barcelona, Turismo de Gran Canaria, Turismo y Planificacion Costa del Sol, Consell Insular de Menorca, Lapland, Västra Götalands regionen, Lazio Region, Andalucia, AETIB- Balearic Islands Regional Government, Madeira Tourism Board, Turismo Lanzarote and Navarra Region.
1. Measuring the carbon footprint
One of the main challenges DMOs are facing is not having a universal tool for measuring tourism’s carbon footprint in their destination. “We need a common framework, at EU level, for measuring sustainability. If the European Commission is telling us we need to work towards a more sustainable tourism future, we also need tools to make that happen”, said Ana Moniche, who has been working on developing such a tool within a partnership of NECSTouR’s Tourism of Tomorrow Lab (ToT Lab) premium members (Andalusia, Cataluña, Valencia and Navarra). The ToT Lab department is led by José Luis Córdoba, Andalucia Lab Director, and Senior Data Scientists Ana Moniche and Daniel Iglesias Gonsálvez.
The model developed by ToT Lab premium members establishes a set of indicators of sustainability, which, they hope, will turn into a standard measuring framework for all European destinations. The methodology, currently being piloted in the four regions, is only based on actionable indicators, that can contribute to policymaking.
We want to get to the end of the project not with a perfect system of indicators, but with an actionable one. We want policymakers to be as motivated as we are.Ana Moniche, Tourism of Tomorrow Lab
Until a common framework is created however, Dr Anna Torres Delgado, Research Fellow on tourism and sustainability planning and destination management at the University of Surrey, presented a tool destinations can already use, based on data they most likely already collect from tourists.
Using information like the length of stay, where visitors come from, the type of accommodation they stay at and mode of transport, the model estomates the different carbon footprint of tourism markets. The tool is an approach , but it is a start and DMOs can use it to at least get an idea of where they need to make changes in their marketing strategies.
2. The elephant in the room
“They (DMO representatives) came here to find alliances so we can all go in the direction of sustainable growth and then at some point accepting what are the limits of our destination carrying capacity and act accordingly from both marketing and management perspectives. Because that is what destinations need to balance everyone’s wellbeing”, Cristina Nuñez, NECSTouR’s Managing Director, told Travel Tomorrow.
There is no such thing as green growth. The reality is that destinations have to limit the number of tourists they get if they want to become sustainable. A few destinations around the world have already taken measures to tackle overtourism, including Lanzarote, which officially declared itself an oversaturated destination. “We have to face the idea of boundaries of destinations”, stressed Héctor Fernández, CEO of Turismo Lanzarote.
We need the ambition and courage to go out there and say what we need to do. Some people will not like it, some politicians will not like it, but nobody said that doing the right thing is easy.Dr Xavier Font, Professor of Sustainability Marketing at the University of Surrey
The task is easier said than done. The participants agreed that measuring the destination’s success differently than by number of visitors is urgently needed, but pointed out the challenging reality check due to post-Covid recovery pressure, short-term political consequences and the market inertia to keep growing.
A first step towards de-growth is reducing the discrepancy between the standard high season – low season division. To achieve this, DMOs need to take a completely different approach to marketing, Dr Xavier Font, Professor of Sustainability Marketing at the University of Surrey, pointed out during the masterclass. Among others, to attract visitors during the low season, destinations need to market experiences and create a sense of belonging, encouraging tourists to come back. Dr Font warned however that the goal is not to bring as many visitors in the off season as in the high season, but to disperse the number of travellers over the entire year, thus “reducing dependency on unsustainable means of production”.
We need to ask how do we use tourism as a tool for our societies and communities, not how can we sustain tourism.Dr Xavier Font, Professor of Sustainability Marketing at the University of Surrey
3. What’s next?
Continuing to do business as usual is not an option. As shown in the Travel Foundation’s “Envisioning Tourism in 2030 & Beyond” report, all sectors across the tourism industry need to fundamentally change to meet the global decarbonisation pathway milestones, i.e. reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Graem Jackson, Head of Strategic Partnerships at the Travel Foundation, facilitated the discussion and Dr Paul Peeters, from Breda University of Applied Sciences, presented the reports’ warning insights.
The report looked at 40 types of actions, like limiting the global number of long-haul flights, switching to electric cars or having accommodations powered by renewable energy, and showed that there is only one scenario, requiring a united global effort, in which the tourism industry can reach these milestones.
Within a few months of signing the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, destinations have to submit a climate action plan detailing their strategy to decarbonise, however, Dr Font highlighted that most of the proposals submitted so far only name a list of unquantifiable actions. From the destinations attending the event in Lanzarote, a few have already devised plans, measuring how they knew best their carbon footprint, establishing a baseline and setting actionable, quantifiable targets that they already started working on.
This is why the purpose of the NECSTouR Climate Action Plan together with the Tourism of Tomorrow Lab is to foster this knowledge and accelerate the DMOs progress in measuring for managing more sustainably, Nuñez said. “At NECSTouR we believe a possible pathway that considers both the social and environmental challenges occurring in tourism, is a regenerative tourism governance model”, added Justine Bauters, Sustainability and Projects Officer at NECSTouR.
Presenting these plans showed destinations face similar challenges and they realised that, by sharing their knowledge, they can learn and support each other. “You (destinations) have to be brave enough to share that you don’t have the solutions to everything, but, working as a network, at every step there is a challenge you can find the solutions together, because together we are stronger and we can go further”, Nuñez concluded the event.