Running a sustainable tourism business or destination needs more than just financial returns and profits. It requires perseverance and an open mind to learn and amend the business along the way, in line with the three pillars of sustainability: social, environmental, and economic. Earlier this year we asked our panel of sustainable tourism leaders and changemakers what they believe to be the keys to success for 2022 and beyond. Here’s what they answered (highlighted respondents are available as consultants or speakers).
Some key takeaways:
- Strong business model – Align your business model with the Paris Agreement and the SDG goals. Bring sustainability to the core of your purpose of existence (vision and mission).
- Be open to new ideas and feedback – great opportunities for improvement can come from those.
- Storytelling – Share positive experiences, benefits and learnings to help and inspire others in the industry.
- Financial stability – Make sure you can actually afford to help local people, address climate change, heritage conservation, nature or wildlife, etc. – especially during challenging times like the pandemic.
- Local stakeholder engagement – Understand and address the needs of the locals. Actively involve them as much as possible, so your success is theirs, and vice versa.
- Collaborate – Work together across your destination. Sustainable destination building is a team effort. Same goes for business sustainability.
- Be Resilient – So you can weather the storm of crises like the pandemic. The more sustainable your business or destination, the more resilient it will be.
Sustainable tourism success needs a strong business case or proven pilot that speaks to the head, heart and gut and a great deal of patience and perseverance to go along with it.
Succeed by embedding sustainability in the fabric of the business or destination. Not as an option – but as part of the core.
- environmental protection first
- identifying infrastructure capacity
- plan, plan, plan
- support local within the supply chain
- capacity building, bringing up the whole
Get rid of ego, listen and learn from everyone. Awareness and consideration of all. Purpose brings passion, commitment, drive and buy-in. (Inauthentic stands out and is off-putting).
Identifying simple early steps to initiate the sustainability journey. Be committed for the long term, learn from others and from your own mistakes, and don’t be afraid to try things. Be clear on where you want to get to and create milestones to help you achieve it and then monitor and measure. Bring in help and support where you feel the need.
A visionary leader, a good team, cooperation and communication among as many stakeholders as possible. Flexible road map, learning by doing. Much more meaningful aims than growth (money).
Integrity—staying connected with our own truth and values, courage to speak our own truth and walk the talk; self-leadership (as a necessity before being able to lead others)
Resilience, constant iteration, and collaboration!
Training and awareness-raising for all stakeholders.
The adoption of regulations in favour of sustainability.
The mobilization of all the destination stakeholders for a common and win-win objective aiming for positive impacts for all.
Keep it simple. Start doing something (it can be small, and low cost) and build up from there. It’s not rocket science – mostly it’s just common sense, and doesn’t need to be complicated. Don’t get overwhelmed by wanting to do everything at once – it takes time and commitment to do it comprehensively.
Make the most of freely available resources from institutions including the Global Sustainable Tourism Council criteria, the IUCN’s Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group and the Travalyst coalition partners to help guide you (and get a copy of the “Handbook for Sustainable Tourism Practitioners: The Essential Toolbox”!)
The important thing is to get started . . . now.
Tourism businesses need to find a way where sustainability fits into their business and actually makes them better.
Creating a situation where sustainability is fully integrated into the business and not something on the side.
Offer travel experiences that are amazing for travellers to participate in, but also contribute to the local economy, employs locals, protect the environment and include ways to actually conserve it, respect wildlife and only leave a positive impact.
Hard work and an open mind.
The keys to success in all things are ambition, education, preparation and perseverance – never giving up. Each day you need to rise again, like the sun.
Being open and inclusive to different ideas and people around the table. A facilitative and community-driven approach to developing destination, product and marketing strategy. A holistic understanding of how all the different socioeconomic and environmental aspects work together, and the potential unintended negative consequences or impacts when addressing only one component. Storytelling and the ability to bring everyone along on the sustainability journey through shared values and goals. The ability to listen and have empathy.
The keys are part of a big problem: the lack of localization and understanding of what sustainability is! From there, the keys to success are:
- Realize who I am – destination, company, community
- Fall in love with who I am – new eyes on my assets (mirror exercise)
- All together, plan the future to take care of and share my treasure
- Personal connection with the region and the people
- Willingness to always learn and accept external expertise
- Participatory multi-stakeholder approaches
- Innovation in small scale and good sustainability communication
To focus more on the word development. A planned, step-by-step development leads to long-term success and is also easier and more credible to communicate. This approach also makes it easier to involve all types of stakeholders in the process.
Creating an amazing product that gets the customers to do the sales and marketing for you. It’s both cheaper and more sustainable!
Include different perspectives and voices in the search for sustainable solutions.
Provide equitable access to the decision-making places to the local communities so that their social and cultural rights and their perspectives could be considered and become central to the discussion.
Local leadership that understands the urgency to achieve sustainable tourism and national leadership to ensure it is achieved. The problem isn’t ideas – it’s the courage to do what is required despite push-backs from powerful industry groups. Also key is a constant education. Make sustainable tourism a part of the conversation.
Always work bottom-up. Let people discover by themselves what sustainable alternatives there are. Not only for the environment but also business-wise. And see how it is appreciated by the market.
Absolute determination, if you don’t succeed, keep trying until you do. A passion for what you do and a desire to contribute to the greater good. Patience and long-term vision. I also find it helps that I am extremely curious and I like a challenge, I like to be the person who finally succeeds at something when others have said it can’t be done.
Persistence, patience and a focus on practice.
For me, success depends on three basic areas and some luck.
A clear idea of what your goals are, and why you want to fulfil them.
A solid business plan that is based on research, comparative information, and learning about successful case studies.
Understanding your competitors, your potential client base and the financial realities that could burden your development
Never base your business model on being the best or most responsible tourism company in the world – first create an efficient and efficacious business that satisfies or exceeds your clients’ expectations.
Then to bind it all together, weave it into every part of the business and educational, regenerative and ethical cloth that will enhance the client’s experience and add value to your product.
You have to first be passionate about community-based tourism, and happy to interact with the community most of the time when the is something long going on, have time to solve those issues together, the brain behind sustainable tourism.
Having a vision of how it can be, generate a means of distilling that vision into a format that can be easily shared so others can buy into your vision also. Be consistent and start from the bottom and work up. Top-down rarely delivers long-term results.
The key is to look from your base and consider what is appropriate behaviour and the best way to run tourism appropriately from there. This may sound obvious but too many are influenced by the “customer is always right” principle and react from the outside in, feeling that to maximise business they need to provide what the tourist wants, whether appropriate and sustainable or not.
In our experience, if the visitor is provided with a comfortable, interesting stay and experience, and they understand the motivation of what is and is not available, they will be happy. Our experience with bottled water bore this out. From inception we refused to provide plastic water bottles at all; this was at a time when this was untried. The industry told us this was impossible as the tourist would not accept it. We provide freshly filtered RO water instead. In our 11 years of operation, there has only been one guest who found this an issue.
Determined local leadership!!! Top-down rarely works unless invited by locals. One charismatic local leader works for a while, but needs understudies ready to pick up the ball.
A cultural proclivity toward thinking of the common good also helps, especially in terms of natural and cultural heritage.
Same as before COVID, one of the first rules of sustainable tourism is that your operation must be financially viable. Without that, you cannot be in a position to achieve environmental, conservation or social goals.
Tourism businesses and destination planners not trying to do everything alone or by themselves. Choosing a certification in environmental or social standards can help give the path to improvement. Being part of sustainability and or tourism networks is also very important to exchange experience and create partnerships for potential new and innovative projects.
Taking small steps and not rushing your fences – doing too much too fast tends to lead to a perception of failure. Making a long-term ongoing commitment to move forward come what may. Talk less, read widely and listen to those around you.
Education, education and education! about the benefits but also the challenges and how to overcome them for our all wellbeing.
Also, the lack of understanding of how destroying nature is destroying us (humans) is beyond me!!!
Because I have been so happy in academia I would say this. We need to step back from our personal opinions and branding ideas. (That would include me).
We need to stop reinforcing 20-year-old ideas that have left industry and government without the guidance they need. We need our leading institutions to act as if there is a crisis at hand, which requires in-depth research and solid applied ideas. We need to stop thinking that stakeholder meetings can provide solutions until we have a very good idea based on solid research to present and get reactions to.
There is an increasingly compelling case for bringing in impact investment, concessionary finance, and public-private goal setting to transform our shaky destinations which in most cases lack planning that will protect vulnerable infrastructure. These destinations have no ongoing systems in place to manage their carbon emissions, have no investment plan for transformation to low-carbon emission outcomes, and are not operating with strong sustainable destination goals that are in alignment with the Paris Agreement and the SDG goals.
Perseverance, dedication, and meeting the right people at the right time …having a dream, a purpose.
Leadership at a local level at destinations; from public and private sectors and also civil society.
Take a global and long-term view, always problematise ‘magic solutions’, and be inclusive of all tourism not only the small long-haul, air-based international part of it.
- Clean government
- Good, supportive, teamwork, with a check on ego
- Listen, be kind, practice empathy, look for mutually acceptable compromises
- Educate yourself and your team as much as you can
- Be happy with ‘pretty good’ solutions
- Good management systems with strong criteria, applied with some flexibility
- Staff who are genuinely motivated and managers who genuinely listen
Strong leadership and perseverance from a person or company or destination. Learning from our failures.
Encourage, nurture, cajole, nudge, enthuse, persuade, provide evidence of benefits and when it really matters be prepared to get angry!
Ambitious visions, goals and strategies are important. But only implementation counts in the end. Be transparent about strategies and achievements. Only then guests can reward your engagement and you will get feedback to keep on improving.
I don’t know, we have not found the key to success yet at anything but a small individual scale, which even then is not sustainable because of the travel component.
Be clear from the start about what objectives you have, with measurable targets.
Determine the scope of impact, identify what you can actually achieve and move ahead. It is not necessary to begin with everything, it’s simply necessary to begin.
Clarity, simplicity, determination.
- Expanding tourism models to include locals not directly associated with tourism
- Prioritizing quality (types of interaction, total spend etc) over quantity
- Collaboration within the industry and with other industries
Education, education, education! Raising the awareness of the need for sustainable behaviours is essential. We are involved in several bush schools around our lodges and see small changes. Kids are starting to educate their parents and understand better what tourism is.
Making sustainability part of the way you operate – part of the mission.
Collaboration, transparency, honesty.
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.