Florian Kaefer, PhD is the founder of Sustainability Leaders United (SLU), the leading knowledge platform on tourism sustainability and leadership. Over the past eight years, he has profiled some of the most successful destinations on the platform and interviewed more than 250 sustainability changemakers and sustainable tourism champions. Many of them are now part of the expert panel hosted by SLU, whose insights are published quarterly on Sustainability-Leaders.com.
Florian - born and raised in Southwest Germany - earned his doctorate from Waikato University Management School in New Zealand (management communications). He holds a master's degree in sustainable development (University of Exeter, UK) and a bachelor's degree in tourism management (University of Brighton, UK).
His book, Sustainability Leadership in Tourism: Interviews, Insights and Knowledge from Practice, was published by Springer in summer 2022. Also published by Springer (2021), "An Insider's Guide to Place Branding: Shaping the Identity and Reputation of Cities, Regions, Countries."
In addition to his work as publisher of Sustainability-Leaders.com and The Place Brand Observer (PlaceBrandObserver.com), Florian advises destinations and companies on sustainability strategy, communication and brand storytelling.
As a speaker, he delivers workshops and presentations on success strategies and trends associated with the sustainable development of tourism, as well as the promotion of destinations and business locations.
Florian lives with his young family near Chur, Switzerland.
Florian Kaefer on Sustainability Leadership in Tourism
Florian, what motivated you to write the book, “Sustainability Leadership in Tourism”?
Although I really appreciate the flexibility that digital forms of communication offer, writing the book has helped me to get closer to my goal of imparting knowledge and making it accessible across professional and national boundaries.
In addition, a book like this is a great opportunity to pause and reflect, and to bundle the collected knowledge and the many exciting stories of the movers and shakers in tourism sustainability that we have interviewed over the past eight years.
Another advantage is that, as part of Springer’s “Future of Business” series, the book will reach the libraries of all universities, allowing me to reach many prospective managers.
In a nutshell, what distinguishes your book from others on the subject?
The combination of industry insights and changemaker stories. The first part of the book is all about essential know-how about sustainable tourism and sustainability leadership. The focus is on the “why” and the “how.” The second part of the book is about the pioneers and doers. More than 100 entrepreneurs, managers and scientists share their work – their successes and accumulated experiences.
This combination makes the book unique and exciting reading, especially for all those who are interested in sustainable developments and innovations in tourism, but tend to struggle with scientific literature.
You are the founder of the Sustainability Leaders United initiative – what is it about?
I founded Sustainability Leaders United in 2011 together with my partner at the time. Our motivation was to compile the stories and experiences of entrepreneurs and destinations that were already successful in sustainability. We wanted – and this has not changed to this day – to motivate and inspire people to take up sustainability principles and emulate the successes of the people and companies portrayed.
A lot has happened since then – not least due to the pandemic, which has made the topic much more present. Sustainable tourism has long since moved from the niche to the mainstream.
We also notice this in the growing interest in the platform, coinciding with the relaunch of the Sustainability Leaders Project as Sustainability Leaders United – together with the completely revised new website.
In addition to imparting knowledge about current trends and developments, in our Spotlight series we present cities, regions and countries that are doing pioneering work in tourism sustainability and thus securing their competitiveness and attractiveness. After all, that’s what it’s all about, from a business perspective. For example, we are currently working with Barbados and just a few weeks ago Finland: a destination that is really trying to establish tourism sustainability as the new normal, similar to Slovenia and destinations like Barcelona, Príncipe in West Africa and many more.
Which trends do you observe in connection with sustainability in tourism?
The issue of sustainability has arrived where it belongs: in the boardroom. It’s about competitiveness and attractiveness – not only as a service provider or destination, but also as an employer or potential place to live and work. Sustainable – economically, socially and environmentally – has become an important decision criterion.
The importance of economic – financial – sustainability has been highlighted by the pandemic, especially in tourism. But also how vulnerable this economic sector is, which provides work for so many people. Now there is a shortage of skilled workers everywhere, which also has to do with the failure to ensure the attractiveness of tourism as a profession.
“Overcrowding” of course continues to be an issue for the most popular destinations in particular, and this is where the twin trends of increased digitalization and a greater focus on management and measurement come into play. “DMO” used to stand for “Destination Marketing Organization.” Today, it’s primarily about managing the destination, rather than marketing it.
The book features further insights from our expert panel on the question of trends and priorities.
Your advice to entrepreneurs who want to strengthen their sustainability performance?
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Solutions to most problems already exist, or are already being worked on elsewhere.
Use networks and portals, like LinkedIn or Sustainability-Leaders.com, to stay up to date.
Tell your story – be open about your challenges and solution strategies, as well as your value-based visions and goals. This will pique curiosity and get you in touch with potential partners. Honesty and openness is much more likeable than perfectionism.
Give structure to your sustainability efforts by joining a certification, such as TourCert or Green Destinations – or any other GSTC accredited initiative.
Where do you see the most potential at the moment?
Above all in communication and the exchange of knowledge. In fact, we already have solutions for most problems and many examples of sustainable business worldwide. So we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but simply need better access to existing knowledge. Sustainability as a specialist topic is rather dry and is also perceived as a desire killer, especially in tourism – that’s why people don’t like to communicate about it in B2C. For me, sustainability simply stands for quality assurance, as well as securing the competitiveness of a destination or company, and its brand image. So it is clearly located at senior management.
Especially in German-speaking countries, it is easy to trigger criticism as expectations are very high. So people may not dare to communicate the successes already achieved (“greenhushing”). I observe this especially here in Switzerland, where people are rather shy about sustainability communication. The point is that you are never really completely “sustainable”, certainly not in tourism. I don’t think that’s all that important either. It’s more about the sum of many small improvements and the right strategic direction in the face of major challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss. And that’s where we can help each other by sharing knowledge and experience.
I would like to see more courage from entrepreneurs and destinations in the DACH region to communicate a little more confidently, and I am happy to help, for example by offering a platform through Sustainability-Leaders.com.
As consultant and facilitator, Florian focuses on innovation for sustainability, as well as sustainability leadership: capacity building, organizational change, product diversification in emerging and developed destinations, branding and marketing.
Visit his consulting profile for details.
Florian is a frequent speaker on:
- Innovation for sustainability in tourism
- Characteristics and success strategies of sustainability leaders
- Sustainable tourism trends and priorities: big picture
- Strategy insights and lessons learned
- Connecting sustainability leadership with place brand success
Other topics associated with sustainability, leadership, innovation and tourism might also be possible.
Visit his speaker profile for details.