If sustainable tourism was once considered a niche tourism, this is no longer the case. At a time when the climate emergency is on everyone's lips, sustainable tourism has gone from being a fashionable phenomenon to a perennial trend. Starting with tourist destinations, each of which in turn is committing to strategies and approaches that aim to be part of the sustainable development movement. The development and promotion of tourist offers must now rhyme with sustainability in order to attract the attention of travellers who are themselves increasingly committed to preserving the environment. Here is an overview of the latest initiatives in this area.
To find the first part of this analysis on sustainable destinations, click here.
Making its destination a model of sustainability
Occitania has never hidden its ambition to become the sustainable region par excellence of France, as shown by the renewal of its environmental partnership with the UN until 2025. And the region is not stopping there, as it has been experimenting for the past three years with various measures aimed at developing soft mobility. The region's inhabitants can benefit from the Occ'Ygène card, which allows them to use TER trains for 1 euro. In total, more than 1.7 million train tickets were sold in 2021. At the same time, the Region has supported a new degressive transport pricing programme, called + = 0 for the under 25s, which has enabled 270,000 young people to travel by train more easily.
At the same time, the CRT Occitanie is working hard to show that it is possible to make a "Fabulous Journey" in the region without having to travel far, and especially by train. With a view to encouraging as many travellers as possible to get back on the railway, the destination is unveiling the Occitanie Rail Tour, an offer that aims to promote the diversity of train lines found in the region. In addition, the Occitanie Rail Tour will be enriched with alternative routes from 2023 onwards, to combine the train journey with a few kilometres on the Way of Saint James, a boat hire on the Canal du Midi or a canoe trip down the Lot.
We have carried out in-depth work with the SNCF on our tourist sites (100,000 files processed!), in order to reflect on and list their accessibility, to propose routes in slow mode, and thus to connect transport and leisure. This work is still in progress, particularly with regard to the management of the last kilometre and the training of all our tourist offices, but we benefit from the financial support of the ADEME, which has enabled us to hire a person dedicated to soft mobility for the next three years.
Dominique Thillet, Director of the 3D - Information and Observation Division at the Comité Régional du Tourisme et des Loisirs Occitanie
Spain is also very committed to sustainability, and in particular wants to position itself as a sustainable destination in the German market. According to Arturo Ortiz, director of the Turespaña tourist office in Berlin, "It is important to integrate this attribute into our overall image as a destination and into all our tourism products. It is a challenge that will grow in the long term and if we position ourselves in advance, we will be ahead of other destinations.
Some regions of the country are investing more in the development of responsible tourism activity, such as Asturias, which has allocated 11.8 million euros to promote five tourism sustainability plans, with funding from the European Union's Next Generation programme. Running until 2024, these plans aim to promote sustainability and digitalisation in the management of tourism resources, infrastructures and products, as well as to generate employment opportunities in the areas where they are implemented. They also contribute to the preservation of the landscape, as they support actions aimed at reducing polluting gas emissions and the efficiency of waste treatment and water consumption.
The Ebro Delta will also benefit from the European Next Generation funds, with an investment of €9 million to be used for tourism sustainability plans. This substantial sum will enable the destination to extend the Ebro Delta greenway to link Tortosa and La Ràpita, to create a tourist route to promote the banks of Amposta, to rehabilitate houses in the Castell, to install charging points for electric vehicles and to set up a tourist route by ecological boat.
These are strong, well-developed projects that connect with the territory and its identity characteristics, bring cohesion to the Ebro Delta and contribute to improving the tourist experience for visitors.
Marta Domènech, Director General of Tourism of Catalonia
Switzerland is known worldwide for its rich and varied natural heritage and the destination intends to capitalise on this asset. With this in mind, Switzerland Tourism is unveiling its Swisstainable sustainability strategy, aimed at making the country the most sustainable tourist destination in the world. This programme is in line with the country's ecological principles and covers the entire Swiss tourism industry. It is aimed at all those, including locals, who are looking for sustainable options when travelling.
Greece is no exception, as Greek Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias explains. He explains that the government now aims to "implement a sustainable development model that will preserve the authenticity and unique characteristics of every corner of Greece". The Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) will launch a new campaign with the main themes of environmental protection, intelligent mobility, reduction of gas emissions and reduction of the use of plastics. The transition to a sustainable tourism development model will, he said, create quality jobs, generate income, attract investors and lay the foundations for a better future for the next generations.
Greece is at the forefront of accelerating the green transition, which has been made possible by innovative policies, an appropriate institutional framework and public-private partnerships. [...] Implementing greener policies, investing in the circular economy and digital transformation, improving infrastructure projects are the next steps for the development of the "Greece brand".
Vassilis Kikilias, Greek Minister of Tourism
Turkey is the first destination in the world to sign an agreement to develop a national programme with the World Council for Sustainable Tourism (WCST). The Turkish tourism industry will be restructured under this three-year agreement. In the first stage of the agreement, the criteria for the national programme will be established and the inspection companies will be trained. From the first week of February, Turkish tourism actors will also join the programme. The first stage of the programme will be operational in 2023, with the second stage taking place in 2024 and 2025. By 2030, all international standards will be met.
Island destinations are by nature places where environmental protection is paramount. With a budget of €1.2 billion from the European Commission, Cyprus has dedicated 41% of this to measures that support climate objectives. Although the island does not proclaim itself to be a leading sustainable destination, it does not fail to take action in this direction.
For its part, Tahiti wants to become a "leader in slow tourism". As Jean-Marc Mocellin, general manager of Tahiti Tourisme, points out, the destination prefers to focus on qualitative tourism rather than quantitative tourism. The island is thus committed to sustainable tourism, a not so new resolution. Indeed, as an example, Jean-Marc Mocellin cites the ban on cruise ships of more than 1,200 people from docking on Bora Bora. According to him, "isolation is synonymous with preservation and the cost of travel positions Tahiti and Her Islands as a 'slow tourism' destination, far from mass tourism, where the traveller takes the time to reconnect with the essentials. The destination thus wishes to limit the number of tourists it receives to approximately one tourist per inhabitant, i.e. a limit of 300,000 visitors per year. The aim of this new approach is also to encourage visitors to stay longer and to allow them to meet the local population.
Responsible tourism also seems to be the path that Reunion Island wishes to take in the years to come. Indeed, Patrick Lebreton, President of Reunion Island Tourism, has stated that he wants "to provide the generations of today and tomorrow with meaningful and valuable tourism, a tourism that reflects our heritage, our territories and our art of living". It is therefore imperative to find a balance between the number of visitors and local tourism, which has developed strongly since the beginning of the pandemic. The organization envisages in particular to combine the hotel operator offer with the structures of agritourism. As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers.
Within the framework of a cooperation agreement, Atout France and its German counterpart ONAT (German National Tourist Office) are launching a joint campaign around inclusion and sustainable tourism in cross-border tourism. This operation called on French and German travel influencers who set out to discover the cultural, natural and gastronomic heritage of the two destinations. This campaign also benefited from the cooperation of the SNCF, thus promoting soft mobility as a means of transport.
This new campaign with ONAT and the SNCF illustrates our common desire to boost tourism activity around values we hold dear, including inclusiveness and sustainability. Enabling everyone to discover the beauty of our natural sites, to enjoy our art of living, while limiting the impact of their journey on the environment must be the driving force behind our action today.
Caroline Leboucher, Director General of Atout France
Cities on the cutting edge of sustainability
Urban destinations have decided not to be left on the sidelines and to invest just as much in sustainable tourism. Indeed, it is not necessary to have many natural assets to claim to be a sustainable destination, as shown by the many cities and metropolises around the world. From capitals to secondary cities, they are all putting in place ambitious strategies and action plans that demonstrate their desire to offer a more virtuous tourism industry.
Numerous rankings exist to highlight the cities most committed to sustainable development. According to the ranking established by Euromonitor International, Europe is largely responsible for the sustainable transition of urban destinations. The podium is occupied by Madrid, Stockholm and Dublin.
The Spanish capital is at the top of this ranking thanks to the application of the European Union's Environment and Climate Action Programme (LIFE), "using citizen data science and aggregating it with artificial intelligence, thus progressing towards its objective of consolidating itself as a smart and sustainable city".
It is not the only city on the Iberian Peninsula to be committed to a virtuous path. Indeed, Valencia has just allocated 7.5 million euros to the city's tourism sustainability plan for the years 2022-2024, financed mainly by European Next Generation funds. The aim is to ensure that tourism remains an economic driver, a source of well-being for citizens and a source of environmental protection.
The plan is divided into 4 categories: green and sustainable transition, improving energy efficiency, digital transition and competitiveness. Each category includes various actions such as the setting up of a tourism sustainability observatory, the decarbonisation of tourism activity, the development of a global platform for destination management and tourism intelligence, and a communication and awareness-raising plan for tourists and residents.
Valencia is in a position to implement an ambitious plan that allows us to assume the responsibility of minimising the impact of tourism activity, both socially and environmentally.
Sandra Gómez, Acting Mayor of Valencia
This strong commitment has earned the Spanish city the title of European Green Capital 2024 from the European Commission. This distinction recognises and rewards cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants that have implemented projects aimed at reducing their environmental impact and improving the quality of life. This title is well deserved in view of the numerous initiatives in favour of sustainable mobility, good urban waste management and the recovery of public spaces carried out by the city.
This is not the first time that the destination has been awarded for its commitment to the environment. In fact, Valencia was awarded the title of European Capital of Smart Tourism in 2022 and the title of Sustainable Food Capital in 2017. It is also one of the 100 cities selected by the European Union for the Cities Mission project, which aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2030.
French cities are not left behind, as shown by the world ranking of responsible destinations, more commonly known as the "Global Destination Sustainability Index". Indeed, 3 French cities are present in the top 30, namely Bordeaux in 5th place, Lyon in 11th place and Paris in 25th place. With an overall score of 85.1%, Bordeaux recorded a strong progression for its fourth participation.
The "sleeping beauty" was praised for its actions in terms of responsible tourism and events, gaining 4 places in one year. These positive results reward the ambition of the metropolitan strategy of responsible tourism which was adopted in March 2022 and the first promising results of this year.
Indeed, at the beginning of the year, the Bordeaux Metropolitan Council adopted a roadmap setting out the territory's strategy for deploying "sustainable tourism and event activity" by 2026. This strategy is based on four main axes, which include some thirty actions. First of all, Bordeaux wants to support the local tourism offer in its transformation, with a dozen levers, such as the promotion of local products or the development of territorial cooperation. The development of professional meetings and major "positive impact" events, in connection with the territory's sectors of excellence, is also on the agenda. Finally, the city wishes to steer the economic development of tourism in a sustainable manner.
The Nordic cities are equally renowned for their sustainable development, such as Middelfart, a historically and culturally important destination in Denmark. Chosen as a European Destination of Excellence for 2022, the award is a public recognition of Middelfart's efforts in sustainable tourism and green transition. Despite its small size and small population, Middelfart offers many experiences that are part of the sustainable tourism movement. Middelfart is also incorporating sustainable thinking into its decisions, including the Belt in Balance initiative, with the aim of stimulating tourism while promoting awareness of marine and coastal ecosystems.
This year marks Singapore's entry into the same ranking with the support of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), building on the city-state's ongoing sustainability efforts under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a national movement to advance the city's sustainability agenda. This commitment enables Singapore to become a more sustainable urban destination and position itself to achieve its long-term goal of net zero emissions as soon as possible.
A warm welcome to this committed destination that is taking new sustainability measures to assist it to thrive. We are delighted to see some of the best green practices coming out of this city-state, which has used its confined boundaries to its advantage by creating innovative sustainable solutions for the island nation. We also see the power of the community growing with each of its interdependent efforts towards more regenerative management of the destination, and we celebrate the positive impacts this strategic and sustainable change is having for all.
Guy Bigwood, Chief Changemaker of the Global Destination Sustainability Movement
The future of territorial development will inevitably involve sustainable development to ensure the preservation of all ecosystems and communities around the world. As these examples show, the promotion of a destination and the construction of a tourist offer can rhyme with eco-responsibility. Transforming a territory into a sustainable destination is not as complicated as many actors imagine, a sincere commitment and concrete actions are the pillars of such a transition. A transition that is more than necessary in the current context and that responds to the real expectations of international travellers. At a time when COP 27 is being held in Sharm el-Sheikh, the tourism sector must more than ever demonstrate its unwavering commitment and follow the global sustainability agenda.
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