Destination leaders in sustainable tourism 2019, according to expert panel

Which destinations deserve to be celebrated right now, for their approach to more sustainable tourism?

That’s what we asked our panel of sustainable tourism experts. Among the answers are many well-known sustainability champions, but also some surprising newcomers doing good things behind the scenes: rising stars on the responsible tourism horizon.

There are many ways of identifying sustainability leaders: you can ask travellers about their experiences and perceptions, inviting destinations to send in proof of their good work – or you ask the world’s leading specialists in the topic, which is the approach we’re following with this panel because we think they may know best.

Our key takeaways:

Bhutan, Copenhagen, Costa Rica and Faroe Islands, Palau and Sedona in Arizona are considered among the most proactive destinations right now regarding sustainability – together with St. Kitts and Nevis, Thompson Okanagan in British Columbia and Vail (Colorado).

Intriguing also to see how destinations differ from our 2017 panel on the same question! Copenhagen stands out for having been mentioned by several panel members both then and now.

Below the panel answers (in alphabetical order –  highlighted respondents are available for consulting or as speakers).

Albert Salman, Netherlands:

Schouwen-Duiveland, the Netherlands: unknown but it’s an island connected to the famous Dutch storm surge barrier, and the most sustainable destination of Europe. Green Destinations certified.

Vail, Colorado, one of America’s most famous winter sport destinations: asked Sustainable Travel International (STI) to help develop a sustainable tourism plan, successfully certified by Green Destinations in 2018.

Republic of Palau, winner of the Top 100 ITB Earth Award 2019.

Amine Ahlafi, Morocco:


The city is a full-scale testing laboratory for innovation and implementation of relevant actions for sustainability. This paradise of cycling continues to influence global trends by showing that living in a sustainable and resilient city is possible. In addition, the local communities are very invested and contribute strongly to the respect of the pillars of sustainability: sustainable mobility, sustainable production and consumption, waste recycling at the domestic scale, respect of the other cultures and other religions….

Doha in Qatar

Doha has a strategic framework aiming to improve the quality of life and to provide decent living conditions for both locals and visitors within a sustainable and resilient city.

Unlike other cities in the region, Doha aims for a sustainable and resilient urbanism with open spaces marked by green and recreational areas, as well as museums, that contribute to the tourism promotion of the destination.

The 2022 World Cup will be a showcase of sustainability in Qatar.

The local authorities are trying to erase this bad image of proposing an AC stadium (energy consuming), via designing projects under the sign of sustainability in all its facets.

Utrecht, Netherlands

The city is aiming to be entirely energy-neutral by 2030: solar energy, electric cars, electric buses and of course a land of bikes with all the necessary infrastructure.

The innovative sustainability is in the heart of the R&D for academic institutes and for businesses.

Beyond that, the locals are convinced that they have a major role to play towards a sustainable destination.

Anna Alaman, India:

I believe Bhutan is still an example of a good approach to managing sustainable tourism in a destination. Governance has built sustainability into its NDA. Not only is Bhutan the happiest country in the world, but probably also the greenest.

I also believe there are upcoming great examples of innovative strategies from Destination Management Organizations (DMO), like “Wonderful Copenhagen” with the new plan 2020: “The end of tourism as we know it. Towards a new beginning of localhood”.

Brian Mullis, sustainable tourism expert panel memberBrian Mullis, Guyana:

Business profile | Speaker profile




Gavin Bate, United Kingdom:

I think Costa Rica has done an amazing job so far of doing something remarkable. They gave people a reason to live better and more sustainably, by simply linking it to national happiness. Thereby creating the Why in any action and involving everybody.

Scotland too has built on the national pride that people have in their land, culture and history. They have put environment and good sustainable living at the heart of their approach to tourism.

I’m also going to say America for its approach to wilderness, which forms a big part of the national psyche. The management of wilderness through the national parks in America is – and has been for a long time really – a masterclass in sustainable management.

Gianna Moscardo, Australia:

This is a hard question to answer as you really have to spend time in the destination and amongst the local community to be able to judge this. But Magnetic Island here in Queensland is one place I know has focused on sustainable living in general for all its residents and has been working hard to embed this philosophy in all their tourism as well.

Jonathan Tourtellot, USA:

Colorado, USA

Prompted by concerns raised by its own citizens, Colorado has in the past two years inaugurated a state-wide, community-informed program to manage tourism more sustainably and forestall overtourism, in the process uniting all DMOs in the state.

Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands, despite their relative obscurity, have nevertheless been coping with overtourism in a couple of over-popular sites. The islands have moved aggressively to place stewardship above tourism revenues, most famously by closing themselves to all but voluntourists for a week of maintenance and clean-up in April. Great innovation.

Portland, Oregon, USA

Portland, Oregon, has long been a sustainability leader, both in stewardship of the city and management of tourism.

Jonathon Day Placemark SolutionsJonathon Day, USA:

Business profile | Speaker profile

I am incredibly impressed by destinations that commit to a raft of sustainability activities and can maintain the focus over time. With that in mind I have been really impressed by the work done in Snaefellsness Peninsula, Iceland.

In recent months I have been looking more closely at US destinations and their journey to sustainability. I am excited by commitment to sustainable tourism made by Sedona, Arizona. They aren’t the only destination in the West moving towards sustainable tourism, but they are certainly on the leading edge.

It is hard to find destinations that are doing everything right – but there are many great examples of destinations with outstanding components of sustainable tourism. Monterrey in California is doing a great job at encouraging responsible travel in their destination.

Kelly Bricker, sustainable tourism expert panel memberKelly Bricker, USA:

Speaker profile

Thompson Okanagan in British Columbia

St. Kitts and Nevis

City of Bydgoszcz, Poland

Maja Pak, Slovenia:

In Slovenia, we have eight destinations that stand out in terms of their sustainable development. They are the holders of the Slovenia Green certificate: Ljubljana, Bled, Rogaška Slatina, Podčetrtek, Komen, Kamnik, Laško and Miren Kras.

Masaru Takayama, Japan:

Palau, Slovenia, and Costa Rica

Natalia Naranjo, sustainable tourism expert panel memberNatalia Naranjo, Colombia:

Business profile

Galapagos Island, Ecuador

Chilean Touristic Zones like “Chelenko” in the Chilean Patagonia

Riviera Maya, Mexico

Peter Richards, Thailand:

Luang Prabang old city, Lao PDR. The old city on the peninsular has become gentrified, and price rises have pushed some of the original inhabitants outside the old city, impacting intangible heritage. However, the extremely beautiful material culture of the old town on the Mekong peninsular has been well preserved, including in the town’s small back alleys. Moreover, many local families are earning a decent living in the many small guest houses and restaurants. A lot of useful lessons can be learned from this destination.

Hoi An old city, Vietnam: The walking route visiting ancient houses and temples, while facilitating large numbers of tourists (with the ticket system) is worth study.

Philippe Moreau, Portugal:

Cempadak private island

Nomad lodge, Amazonas


Rachel Dodds, sustainable tourism expert panel memberRachel Dodds, Canada:

Business profile

Tough question… Norway and NZ have done some good things but also they face challenges.

Sedona in the USA also has put in place some good ideals… not sure if it is working though.

The US National Parks have done some great work, but they too are facing overtourism challenges.

Raj Gyawali, sustainable tourism expert panel memberRaj Gyawali, Nepal:

Speaker profile

There are not many destinations in the world that are actively engaged in sustainability as almost all destinations struggle with the volume quality conundrum in an increasingly growing tourism market. There are only few destinations that have the courage to refuse or create mechanisms by which the incoming business is managed correctly.

The only example currently that comes even close enough to be working in this direction would be Bhutan. The actions taken there should be celebrated and shared, there is no doubts about that!

Richard Butler, United Kingdom:

Faroe Islands

Bornholm Island, Denmark

Ronald Sanabria, Costa Rica:

All destinations have challenges. Costa Rica and St. Kitts & Nevis are countries making concrete, interesting efforts.

Steve Noakes, Australia:

At the national level: New Zealand

At the State/Provincial level: Vail, Colorado (USA)  and the Thompson Okanagan in British Columbia (Canada)

At the local level: Rottnest Island, Western Australia

More about the sustainable tourism expert panel here – including previous sessions and answers to some of the most pressing issues linked to making tourism more sustainable.

You want to ask the panel a question? Here’s how

Destinations Leading in Sustainable Tourism in 2019: Sustainability Champions to Keep an Eye On
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