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Linking Sustainability with Design

When thinking of sustainability, are you just talking about it or are you taking action? In this quarter’s Sustainability & Impact Feature, we want to highlight what we are doing at the DTTT, through our projects and initiatives, to be part of the change towards creating a more sustainable future within the tourism industry.

Design thinking with Tourban

First, we want to shine a spotlight on our Design Thinking Lab in collaboration with Tourban, an EU-funded project supporting urban tourism SMEs in becoming more competitive and more sustainable, during which we focused on the value of applying Design Thinking to develop innovative and human-centred solutions.

Being part of this project was an exciting opportunity, as its pillars are closely aligned to those of the DTTT. We base consultancy and workshops on Design Thinking, and we also actively use Design methods to go beyond 'talking' about sustainability to actually develop new solutions for it through innovation. We believe it's a thought-provoking process that allows us to build and assess scenarios in tourism and travel and could be the best approach to rebuild and restart tourism and find opportunities out of these challenging times. This, of course, always requires taking leadership into consideration for brilliant outcomes.

The Design Thinking Lab brought together over seventy SMEs from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Kiel and Tallinn, all of which are part of the Tourban project and work within tourism. They all focus on different segments of the industry, such as accommodation, innovation, and digitalisation, and face different challenges. So, what did the programme involve?

Taking place on 30th March and 1st April in Barcelona, the Design Thinking Lab was one of the first in-person projects the DTTT was part of in 2022 after the pandemic. Organised as a two half-days event, on Thursday afternoon participants attended a keynote that introduced them to the principles and the keys that drive this iterative process that helps us to focus on and understand our users, challenge our assumptions, redefine our problems and create innovative solutions. On the other hand, on Friday morning, participants took part in a dynamic hands-on workshop during which they had to put all the acquired knowledge into practice by focusing on their own and real day-to-day challenges, around topics such as digitalisation, communication, sustainability, strategy, partnerships, targeting and internal efficiency, and working through the five stages of Design Thinking.

Going through the five stages of this process and working through iteration leads us to reflect on the challenges we face, allowing us to find innovative and creative solutions for them. Whether the focus is on sustainability, digital transformation or consumer needs, this process allows us to challenge our way of thinking and helps us develop new plans of action.

So, what were the results?

The ten teams managed to successfully complete the different templates provided throughout the morning and fill them with innovative and creative thoughts and ideas. In addition, they all presented some brilliant and interesting solutions for the challenges chosen, demonstrating their capability to apply Design Thinking to their daily operations despite it being a challenging process due to requiring participants to change their way of looking at problems.

In this context, as experts, at the DTTT we also believe in the importance of highlighting our role as facilitators. Apart from this project, we have been running the Sustainability Leadership Programme since January. Through this five-module sustainability course, DMOs are led through a sustainability transformation roadmap for their destinations. Also built around Design Thinking, the SLP features live presentations, live thought-provoking discussions and on-demand cases and activities to help the participants establish their role and direction in the destination's transformation.

Both projects have provided valuable learnings for the SMEs and DMOs, but also for the DTTT team. These can be broken down into three main statements. First, leadership, collaboration and co-design are essential for Design Thinking to work, but most importantly, it is a process that needs to be implemented into the daily operations of businesses in order to achieve impactful results. Second, there is a need for whole teams to be involved in the Design Thinking process, only by being actively involved and listening to diverse voices who are part of the value chain can real and innovative solutions be implemented. Lastly, with sustainability becoming an increasingly relevant topic, it is necessary to think about it holistically when developing strategies, making it important to including topics such as data, digitalisation, stakeholder sentiment and innovation.

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