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How one destination aims to get 20 destinations, 1,000 businesses and the entire destination socially, economically and ecologically sustainable by 2030

The topic of sustainability is not new, nor is it any longer considered a trend or passing conversation. Over the last few years, the concern of sustainability has become more apparent to us all and it is gaining significant momentum on a global scale.

This is particularly attributed to multiple documentaries aired about the true extent of plastic pollution which is now termed the ‘Attenborough Effect’, and of course, overtourism. Overtourism has really highlighted the impact of travel today, and the strain this has had on destinations’ local communities and natural resources over time. Popular tourist hotspots closing no longer come as a shock. Some of the most well-known examples include; the famous Maya Bay in Thailand which closed indefinitely in order to revive and restore its delicate natural resources and Boracay in the Philippines, which closed for a period of 6 months due to the damaging effects caused by the sheer volume of tourists visiting over the years. Other destinations such as Peru’s Machu Picchu introduced a new ticketing system at the beginning of 2019, limiting the number of visitors within the area at any one time. 

Above are just a handful of examples and as a result of climate concerns, a huge shift in consumer awareness, and digitalisation, DMOs worldwide are implementing new initiatives and making big movements towards driving sustainability throughout their destination.

But what is a sustainable destination? What does sustainability mean?

During our Designing a Framework for Sustainable Destinations workshop at #DTTTCampus, one of the key takeaways across both days was that there are many different dimensions to sustainability and what it really means for individuals, businesses and destinations alike. With that in mind, we look at Visit Finland’s 7 Step Approach to Designing a Sustainable Nation, which considers sustainable tourism from two key perspectives, destination level and business level.

Sustainable Travel Finland

The purpose of the Sustainable Travel Finland programme, developed by Visit Finland, is twofold. It is about businesses getting certified but also entire destinations getting their city or region certified as part of the programme.

The programme provides a 7-step development path towards sustainable tourism for businesses and tourism, comprised of a set of criteria against which companies are marked and verified on the Sustainable Travel Finland platform. The criteria for sustainable tourism include; environmental sustainability, socio-cultural sustainability and financial sustainability, and 51% of companies in the destination need to meet the criteria (including large companies) in order for a whole destination to become certified. The destination also needs to apply the criteria themselves. They will then receive a label which certifies their level of sustainable activity and helps to identify sustainable travel companies and destinations’ for both the travel trade and consumers. 

The programme is designed to provide companies with a toolkit for sustainable tourism to support tourism planning and management destination-wide, with the ultimate goal being to positively influence permanent change with achievable objectives. In addition to this, companies receive marketing support and exposure via Visit Finland’s various channels, plus continuous ongoing development.

The programme considers sustainability from two key perspectives including; development and support for companies nationwide, in addition to transparency and communication for potential visitors. An e-guide has been created to support the programme, with the purpose to inform the traveller about the content of the Sustainable Travel Finland programme to allow them to make conscious travel choices.

As highlighted before, there are many different dimensions when it comes to sustainability. It’s about ecological and sociological responsibility, and with this programme in place, Finland aims to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable by 2030, and to have 1,000 companies who are labelled as well as 20 destinations by the end of 2023.

Let’s discuss the key elements to making this strategy possible.

Education

This is one of the most important elements of the strategy. In order to get companies on board, Sustainable Travel Finland provides extensive training and coaching to provide everything they need in order to qualify for the sustainable label, and transition towards the Sustainable Travel Finland development path with limited barriers. Businesses now work on; a 1/2 day theory workshop plus a 1/2 day workshop on sustainability strategies. The outcome from this is the businesses create a basic profile/strategy, from that they then embark on the e-learning platform which is an online-based self-assessment model with more than 200 questions.

Culture

Culture is very important, and in order to succeed in launching nationwide measurements for sustainable travel, most companies are likely to need a culture shift to get everyone on board. Sustainable Travel Finland coaches the whole region which in turn inspires a culture shift. This illustrates the importance of education before rolling out new initiatives, which can be applied to anything. 

Visibility

Visit Finland’s big efforts in branding, marketing, content and storytelling is a huge incentive. Those who pass and get the label will get huge visibility and brilliant content/storytelling around the work they’re doing, being featured in campaigns etc. So in the end, to be sustainable means also getting the visibility and exposure to promote the company and wider region’s offer.

Development

As well as initial coaching and workshops, companies and destinations benefit from ongoing development and mentorship. They have to show the evidence and gather the data in order to get the label and each year it needs to be renewed to demonstrate they keep improving on the criteria. This ongoing development ensures that the programme influences permanent change.

Collaboration

Collaboration is key when influencing change, especially across a region. It is essential to get all stakeholders on board and aligned to the key objectives, and communication and transparency is very important when it comes to engaging with stakeholders.

What we find the most interesting, is that there is a huge emphasis placed on the DMOs. They are the most important players in making this a success as they’re on the ground, they can use leadership and they can also monitor the implementation and efforts of the companies. With the destination label, it also helps them to create data to see where companies are being successful and where they’re struggling, which can be used in a strategic way to improve overall sustainability.

Key takeaway

If we go back to the role of a DMO - to create interest through branding, content and storytelling to inspire people to visit the destination, this is a great example of one DMO using their position to influence, shape and define both the offer and the message around it - providing a ‘carrot and stick’ situation for businesses to adapt and change their practices whilst reaping the rewards at the same time.

Liisa Kokkarinen, Regional Partnership Manager at Visit Finland, will be joining us at #DTTTGlobal to share her insights on the work that has gone into this new strategy, and as it is being launched in July 2019, we are excited to hear about the progress so far.

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