Azores Leading Sustainable Tourism

Carolina, the DMO Coordinator at Azores Regional Government, delivered the first DMO talk at X Design Week on the topic of sustainable tourism.

The Azores is very committed to bringing sustainable solutions to the destination. It was certified under GSTC in 2019. The Azores is shaped by 9 islands receiving different levels of tourists.

Carolina Mendonça, the DMO Coordinator at Azores Regional Government, delivered the first DMO talk at X Design Week on the topic of sustainable tourism. The Azores is very committed to bringing sustainable solutions to the destination. It was certified under GSTC in 2019. The Azores is shaped by 9 islands receiving different levels of tourists.

Carolina began her talk with a quote from David Attenborough:

"Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a modern or an economist".

Sustainability has become part of Azores' DNA. It has been part of their past and current policies and will continue to be in the future. The Sustainable Development Goals outline roadmaps for governments to achieve targets by 2013. However, as Carolina mentioned, 2030 is not long away. 2017 was the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The EU government called for more smart and sustainable tourism, including providing travel and tourism opportunities with a lesser impact on the environment, expanding tourism in the rural regions and crowd management.

The Azores has taken many initiatives to ensure that it is on the right path. The destination is listed UNESCO World Heritage List, which requires conservation and protection of its values. It is a nature destination and offers an extensive range of outdoors activities on land and sea. Additionally, Azores offers gastronomy experiences showcasing its customs and traditions. As a destination, it aims to provide tourism experiences with added value.

The tourism cycle in the Azores has evolved and, at the same time, suffered from the global pandemic. However, Azores remains optimistic about the recovery process, with their goal being to become the most sustainable Archipelago in the world. To achieve this, Azores has undergone GSTC and EarthCheck certifications. EarthCheck is the world's leading benchmark for sustainability with several steps from destination authority to policy, planning and consultation and reporting.

The Azores believes in measuring because if benchmarks are not measured, then they cannot be managed. The Azores has outlined 12 key performance KPIs that focus on:

  1. Energy efficiency
  2. Greenhouse gasses
  3. Air quality, light and noise pollution
  4. Potable water
  5. Wastewater and sewage
  6. Ecosystem and biodiversity
  7. Transports
  8. Territorial planning and policy
  9. Environmentally harmful substances
  10. Solid waste
  11. Society and culture
  12. Economy

Measuring the KPIs reveals the performance and clarifies where and how much improvement is needed. In the case of Azores, the benchmarking results demonstrate that they are among the best practices for Habitat conservation, percentage of green spaces, and destination safety. In terms of energy consumption, emissions, and water-saving they are above baseline. However, the results show that socio-economic benefits and potable water consumptions need further attention.

The sustainable action plan for the Azores includes several projects and initiatives, including Sustainable Tourism 5.0 in line with the regional strategy, the creation of the REDA platform, and a digital platform Azores's cultural heritage. The Azores has developed a sustainability charter based on three pillars:

  1. Innovate
  2. Empowering
  3. Scalable

Later in the Q&A, Carolina reflected on different aspects of their journey, with the very first question being:

When did it all start?

Azores' journey began in 2017 when the UN announced sustainable tourism development. At the time, the regional government made the commitment and certified the destination.

Your approach is people first. Considering Azores' natural environment, why is not people-nature first?

Sustainability is commonly affiliated with nature, where people are problems and solving problems. Therefore, Azores focus on people and work with them and involves them to make sure everyone rows in the same direction.

How do you activate technology in the strategy? It's a long run. One major challenge is managing capacity. The EarthCheck platform, data storage and measuring are key. However, the challenge is that technology is expensive, and human resources need to be qualified and skilled to use the tech.

What commitments have companies in the region made to the charter?

The only way to see if the destination is sustainable is to measure and report. The ESGC indicators show that companies face fewer risks and now have more access to financial aid. As such, it is great to see the Azores is helping companies to gain resilience in that sense. The Azores supports companies by pitching the benefits to companies throughout the process. Seeing the advantage from the beginning of the process motivates and encourages companies to onboard.

How do you bridge sustainability and promoting and bringing people back?

The question about the environmental impact and balancing visitors and sustainability is 'how much is too much?'. The answer to that is measuring the destination capacity. The Azores is working on a long-term strategy, which includes spreading tourism across the nine islands to benefit communities of all islands.

Key Takeaways

1. Becoming a sustainable destination requires strategy with short-term and long-term vision.

2. The SDGs define targets but is it the duty of governments to define roadmaps to success.

3. Sustainability strategies should be comprehensive and involve all stakeholders.

4. The goal should be to empower the destination, its people and communities while attracting travellers. The secret is to create a balanced destination.

Published on:
June 2022
About the contributor

Carolina Mendaonça

With a strong belief that Tourism is a driver for sustainable development, Carolina is committed to bringing solutions to improve the sustainable management of tourism. She is a purpose-driven professional, curious, and ready to help you with complex problems related to sustainability.