Guest Post: The Rewards of Regenerative Strategy

By: GDS-Movement

A long-form look at the key to sustained positive change and profit for MICE and leisure Tourism

A trade fair visitor walks into a bar and… the bar is empty. Or, too full, depending on lockdown restrictions. The bar’s broken glasses and used napkins pile up in the alley alongside the entrance, awaiting a recycling company that declared bankruptcy at the height of the pandemic. Leaving, the patron decides against returning next year.  There are plenty of other places offering the same with less …mess.

Not funny? Not half. Let’s try again. A convention guest walks into a bar… the bar is sparkling and spotted with smiling, socially distant (and mostly vaccinated) patrons. The draught is organic. The whisky is fair trade. The staff are part-owners and their circular mindset means there is zero waste on-site, offsite, or in their supply chain. This feels like home. This feels like the future we want right now. You’re smiling, right?

Scenario one is all-too-common; scenario two is the vision and is very likely the result of a Destination Marketing and Management Organization that has worked with the Global Destination Sustainability Movement.

The joke is, the leisure tourism and meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) industry is ill and we’re arguing over how to hold the vial that the antidote is in. It’s not a good joke, and nobody is laughing, least of all to the bank. Indeed, profit was a vital part of a riveting presentation from John Lambeth, Civitas president and CEO, on innovative funding strategy for regenerative destinations at our recent Feeling the Pulse webinar.

He knows, and we know, that the business of travel is changing fast. Post-Covid travelers demand sustainability from destinations, Google ranks flights by carbon emission and hotels by eco-certification, and the world’s largest money manager and shareholder prioritize positive climate leadership in its vast portfolio. Business and leisure travel contributes significantly to the human-caused changes negatively affecting our species and all others. How can DMOs immunize themselves against growing irrelevance and evolve to be the change we need to see? By flipping the script, naturally.

At present, responsibility and response are part of a highly-polarised “debate” in sustainability discourse. “Individual” is pitted against “institution” and the argument plays out often and inconclusively; it’s tantamount to a disheartening distraction at best.

Individual efforts are a drop in the ocean if institutions aren’t also towing the line, says the one side. Institutions will never make change without pressure from the public (or politicians), say the other. Around and around we go, our planet on a plate in a microwave of madness, while time runs short. The burning issue is not responsibility, though, it’s strategy.

If the average human being wants harmony, liberty, peace, and prosperity, the now-outdated, fossil-fuel-run, too-free-market-capitalism systems we’ve developed want the opposite. We might have been well-meaning when we developed the technologies and infrastructure that brought us to the new now, but, unmitigated, they define our undoing rather than our destiny. We can’t undo what’s done, but we can change reality promptly with long-term, living strategy that’s both responsive and respectful.

Strategy is a fundamental framework for DMOs to create a prosperous and lasting visitor economy. It starts with a vision, expands to include every stakeholder, goal, and action, and is continuously measured, massaged, and tweaked to remain relevant and, of course, regenerative, because sustainability by itself is not enough.

Yes, it’s great that MICE service providers recycle, but it’s better to reuse and repurpose those materials in a circular system. It’s wonderful to see a crop of biodiversity projects take root, but they’re more likely to flourish going forward forty or fifty years (or even just five!) if these efforts are centralized, coordinated, and corroborated by everyone (and everything) they affect. It’s fantastic that equity and integration are listed by name in a meeting supplier’s HR policy; it’s noticeable when that supplier hires a “nameless” individual from a vulnerable minority group and actively supports them to upskill and evolve professionally and personally to become a team leader.

Knowing that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, we engage the GDS-Index, a ranking tool that recognizes destinations’ sustainability efforts. In 2021, we benchmarked 75 brave destinations that care enough to be counted. We analyze their good work based on strict criteria in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The list includes DMOs and CVBs small to large, and even whole country regions. They all benefit from measurement and reporting from our proven approaches and methodologies, but it’s collaborative strategy creation that is the true seed for productive change.

New economics for travel and tourism

Good intentions lead to isolated triumphs, we find time and time again, but good strategy leads to sustained success, and successful sustainability strategy leads to regeneration. Regeneration is the greatest investment a business can make in an unpredictable economic climate: to leave a place better than we find it.

Keeping time with clients through the GDS-Index benchmarking process and beyond, we see their striking efforts and stunning opportunities. A destination with determination and appropriate support can co-create a vision and strategy, develop teams with absolute buy-in, engage stakeholders towards total market integration, communicate efforts, share learnings, and celebrate achievement and planet-protecting growth.

Recognizing regenerative strategy in practice

Every year, the Global Destination Sustainability Movement celebrates evolution in the meetings and leisure tourism industry at the annual ICCA Congress. The GDS-Movement Awards include the GDs-Movement’s Leadership, Most Improved, and Innovation awards. The Index results inform the first two awards, while the latter is chosen by an independent panel of experienced event professionals and sustainability leaders.

The Innovation Award showcases remarkable, scalable, and globally applicable solutions driving a destination’s regenerative management. In 2021, chief GDS-Changemaker, Guy Bigwood, presents these in person at the European hub in Paris, 26 October, 12h00 – 12h30 Central European Time (CET). He begins with an introduction to the Regenerative Revolution. ICCA’s president and executive director, James Rees, also gives a refreshing perspective on the sustainability tsunami, and the winners are welcomed on stage/screen. All eyes are on the 75 destinations, 18 capitals, 27 countries that stepped up to be included in 2021’s climate of positive change.

If we want to immunize ourselves against time-wasting wonderings, we must dispense with arguing, and inject collaborative action steeped in living strategy into every effort. Nature does not evolve in isolation – each element responds to every other in an immaculate and constantly changing web of inter-relationships. We need to do the same, to recognize every other as a part of the process. The Southern African adage of ubuntu translates roughly into “I am because you are”, and it is this fundamental philosophy that can guide attitudes and actions towards increased impact. Like global warming, positive impact can be exponential, and like a virus, it can be contagious. Ready to replicate, innovate, and regenerate?  Stop focusing on the vial – focus on what’s vital!

To be the new “but” – not the butt – of the joke, flip the DMO strategy script towards more sustainable and competitive efforts and impacts with these vital actions, which are much more effective if combined :

  • Join us at the GDS-Movement 2021 Awards at the ICCA Congress to be inspired by examples of long-term, living strategy in action, and
  • Find out more about how we can help you develop a deep-rooted, far-reaching, human-loving and natural-system-supporting regeneration strategy for your destination.


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