The beginning of the new year is an excellent time both to reflect on global trends and key industry developments, and to look inward to identify opportunities for creating positive change from within.
As many of us return to work after the holidays this week, let's dedicate some of the energy we're putting into our new year's resolutions to come up with concrete actions we can take at the individual and organization levels to help make tourism more sustainable.
Based on the conversations we've had in the past few years with our course participants from around the world, here are some ideas for simple actions you can take to start implementing and improving sustainability practices at your organization and within your community.
Start small. Engage others. Evaluate, share and continue making progress.
Start with Self-Assessment
Before you start implementing actions to improve your sustainability practices, it will be helpful to understand your current sustainability efforts, and to assess where you can improve. Evaluate what your organization is currently doing and where additional efforts are needed.
This step might be a simply check-list exercise, or, if you have the time and resources available, could be turned into an extensive strategic planning process involving different departments and stakeholder groups.
To have a structured approach to assessing your current sustainability efforts, you can use the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC Criteria) as the basis to evaluate what your organization is currently doing and where additional efforts are needed.
Want to take a step further? Take our online course to get an in-depth knowledge of the GSTC Criteria, the global baseline standard for sustainability practices in travel and tourism.
Set Measurable Goals
Once you've spent some time to better understand your current sustainability performance and the areas needing improvement, you can work on identifying appropriate goals for your organization - from short-term small tasks to long-term major changes.
It's important that you set your goals in measurable terms, so that you will be able to monitor and evaluate the results of your efforts. So instead of "improve sustainability communications", your goal should be more concrete in terms of how you measure the improvements to be made - for example "increase the number of downloads of our sustainability report by 30%".
As we often hear, you can't manage what you can't measure, and you won't be able to improve your practice if you aren't managing your efforts well.
Become an Active Player in Your Destination
If you are not yet an active member of the local destination body where you operate - whether it be a destination management organization, an industry association or an informal community group - make 2019 the year when you start playing an active role in your destination.
As a tourism professional, regardless of which sector you work in or what position you have a stake in the well-being of your destination.
Connect with - or if you're already connected but haven't been actively involved, re-engage with the destination body in your area, and find out how you can become a more active member of the community. This may mean simply showing up to regular meetings, or making in-kind or financial contributions to support the work of ensuring that tourism is being developed and managed sustainably in your destination.
Get Your Team Members on Board
Take small steps to engage your colleagues and team members in sustainability initiatives. The more support you have from within your organization, the more likely it will be that you will stick to your goals.
You don't need a lot of time or money to get started, and - importantly - it should be fun and enjoyable.
Here are some ideas:
- Start a regular email to team members including sustainability "fun facts" or tips on reducing individual footprint.
- Create simple learning materials on sustainability issues that can be included in staff training.
- Invite local speakers to share insights on sustainability issues relevant to your organization.
- Promote behavior change by incorporating sustainability messages and tips into the daily routine at the office - e.g. a poster in the coffee area.
In the long term, these small steps can contribute to creating a culture of sustainability in your organization.
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) shares sustainability tips in its newsletter.
Engage Your Business Partners and Suppliers
The impacts of your actions and the benefits they can spread are not just confined to your own organization. The tourism value chain involves a wide range of stakeholders - from suppliers, partners, to customers - who will be directly and indirectly impacted by your sustainability efforts.
This means you have a lot of opportunities to scale your impact and reach more people. To support local suppliers and responsible businesses, you can start networking and getting to know local businesses, service providers and entrepreneurs in your area. You may be able to work with some of them, or even if you don't, you can still support them by offering professional support - for example, giving advice on business practices, or helping make connections with other prospective partners and buyers.
And be sure to continue engaging your business partners and suppliers in your ongoing sustainability efforts, through regular and open communications on your progress and achievements.
Inspire and Be Inspired
Commit to spreading the word about sustainable tourism, beyond your staff and partners.
You can share your own success stories and lessons learned with local community members through social events, or with a broader stakeholder group through other networks such as associations and membership bodies.
You can also look for examples and inspirations from other businesses and destinations, and share their stories online and offline.
Helping educate others may not have direct impact on your financial bottomline, but will go a long way in raising awareness of the importance of sustainable tourism, and inspiring more people to become engaged in actions that will benefit the industry as a whole.
A great example is the "Wisdom Wednesday" talk series by Ayana Journeys in Siem Reap, Cambodia, sharing ethical tourism insights and advice to travelers and tourism professionals. *This, and many more examples of sustainability initiatives by Ayana Journeys were shared as part of the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Training Online Course in 2018.
What do YOU think? Got your own ideas on simple sustainability actions, or advice for other tourism professionals? Share in the comments below!