Fredrik Lindén and Marie Linde on the Sustainable Tourism Strategy of Destination West Sweden

Published 30/04/2024

Welcome to West Sweden, a destination celebrated for its breathtaking landscapes and innovative approach to sustainable tourism. At the helm of this remarkable journey called “Stepping up Sustainability” are Fredrik Lindén and Marie Linde of the West Sweden Tourist Board. In this interview, we explore their vision, strategy, and the collaborative spirit that drives West Sweden’s sustainability initiatives.

The “Stepping up Sustainability” initiative is a remarkable approach to fostering sustainable tourism development. How did this initiative come about and what impact has it had?

The West Sweden Tourist Board has been around for over twenty years and has always worked on sustainability within the tourism industry, but it’s only with “Stepping up Sustainability” that we’ve put sustainability at the forefront of the entire operation.

It was when we were developing a new strategy for our own operations that we realized the need to create a common strategy for the entire region to truly bring about the necessary change.

The role of tourist organizations like ours has changed in recent years. It’s no longer about maximizing the number of visitors but about creating sustainable development in the tourism industry.

We based our strategy on Agenda 2030, but we also realized the need to adapt it to better fit our tourism industry, that is, more user-friendly, and understandable.

Most tourist businesses in our region are small businesses with few employees. For them, Agenda 2030 feels very abstract to work with. Therefore, we have developed four basic principles that cover all dimensions of sustainability. They are easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to act upon:

  • As little unnecessary environmental impact as possible
  • Good for both residents and visitors
  • More visitors when and where places are not full
  • More full-time jobs and more resilient businesses

Crucial for anchoring the strategy has been political decision-making in all 49 municipalities that are part of our region.

Could you share your vision for West Sweden’s destination development?

Our vision is that “The tourism industry of West Sweden is a role model in the transition towards a sustainable society”.

Our ultimate ambition is to maintain the leading position in this area. Despite much progress and many improvements, there is still a lot of work to be done. This is not something that can be done individually. We must all come together to be successful. More people must do more, and we must maintain the pace to achieve the necessary change.

It is also important not to forget that sustainability encompasses all three dimensions: economic, social, and ecological.

Explore our Destination West Sweden Showcase

Which challenges have you faced in steering the region towards sustainability?

The greatest challenge – and simultaneously, the accomplishment that we are most proud of – is getting “Stepping up Sustainability” to involve everyone working in the tourism industry in West Sweden.

It’s relatively easy to develop a strategy for your own operation and get your own staff on board, but with ” Stepping up Sustainability”, we wanted to create a common strategy for everyone. It has been a challenge both practically to inform and inspire so many people in such a short time, and to get everyone to understand the importance of working sustainably.

We are proud of the fact that we, as a public organization, have managed to mobilize so many stakeholders from both the public and private sectors to work together towards a common goal. We believe a key factor to success is that we combine the three aspects of sustainability: economic, social, and ecological.

We have avoided making sustainability issues political; both those solely focusing on ecological sustainability and those solely looking at economic growth feel that “Stepping up Sustainability ” broadens their horizons and adds a perspective they can feel comfortable with.

Another key factor is that, from the beginning, we chose to be very open and inclusive. Anyone who wants to become more sustainable is welcome to be part of ” Stepping up Sustainability”. There are no high barriers to entry.

The most important thing is not to meet a set of criteria but to take as many as possible steps – large or small – in the right direction.

One of your key initiatives focuses on “Climate Smart Holidays”. What is this all about?

We created the initiative Climate Smart Holidays to prove that it’s possible to have a vacation with minimal or extremely low carbon emissions, without sacrificing comfort. It doesn’t have to mean staying in shelters or tents to have a vacation in a climate-smart way.

The businesses included in Climate Smart Holidays offer package tours where visitors travel by train and are picked up by electric cars at the station. The electric car is charged using solar panels. Accommodation is provided in well-designed cabins with comfortable beds, stylish decor, and access to showers and toilets. The food served is based on ingredients from local producers, and all activities offered are completely free from CO2 emissions, such as hiking, kayaking, and cycling.

All package tours are carbon-calculated by researchers, allowing visitors to understand the carbon footprint of their trip. Together with researchers, the West Sweden Tourist Board has developed an online tool for calculating CO2 emissions from vacation trips. Feel free to try it out here:

Your initiative to “Meet the Locals” offers visitors a unique perspective on West Sweden through the eyes of its residents. How do you engage locals in this program, and what has been the response so far?

Among visitors to West Sweden, activities like hiking, cycling, and visiting gardens have always been popular. Therefore, we primarily engage locals offering these kinds of activities. They provide visitors with a deeper and more personal insight into the destination and the local culture.

By meeting a local, you get to experience things that may otherwise be difficult to find as a tourist. To find locals, we have utilized our own networks. The locals then recommend others. We have also advertised in local newspapers to find more locals.

The initiative is highly appreciated, both among locals and visitors. Every week, we receive several requests from people from all over the world who want to meet one of our locals.

Meet the Locals is a nice addition to what West Sweden has to offer and something that can make a visit unique.

Are there any upcoming initiatives that you are particularly excited about?

The next initiative within “Stepping up Sustainability” are sustainability advisory services for tourist businesses. This involves conversations and workshops to help businesses develop within the four basic principles:

  • As little unnecessary environmental impact as possible
  • Good for both residents and visitors
  • More visitors when and where places are not full
  • More full-time jobs and more resilient businesses

Within “Climate Smart Holidays” we have initiated collaborations with foreign tour operators.. We hope that more and more companies will want to offer this type of product. We can already observe a significant amount of media interest in our initiative.

We look forward to spreading the message about “Stepping up sustainability” both in Sweden and internationally. Several regions in Sweden have shown an interest in our way of working.

Visit Sweden, the national Tourism Board, has also been inspired by “Stepping up Sustainability.” On several occasions, we have presented the initiative internationally, and we are receiving more and more inquiries about sharing our knowledge.

Thank you, Fredrik and Marie, keep up the good work!

Visit our Destination West Sweden showcase for details on the destination’s pathway towards sustainability.