Climate Action 101 for place managers

By Georgina Davies, Communications Manager, The Travel Foundation

There are many reasons for your organisation to take climate action, not least because you’ll be left behind if you don’t. Many destinations have already realised that taking action on climate brings benefits, such as helping to raise the quality of life for residents, boosting reputation, enhancing resilience, conserving assets, creating investment opportunities and futureproofing against more stringent regulation, amongst others.

There is also the more obvious reason that action is needed because tourism in your community is both contributing to and being impacted by the changing climate. Extreme events like storms, floods and heatwaves are happening more often and with greater intensity, risking tourist and resident safety, damaging infrastructure and natural attractions, disrupting travel and changing visitor patterns.

No destination will be spared from the impacts of climate change, but every destination has the potential and the responsibility to be part of the solution by:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions: Travel and Tourism accounts for 8%-11% of global greenhouse gas emissions and, with tourism set to almost double in size by 2050, these emissions will increase dramatically unless we take action.
  • Adapting to climate change: Addressing the impacts of climate change on our destinations by changing our behaviours and processes, creating new infrastructure, restoring natural ecosystems and developing new products and services.  

Ten top tips on how to get started.


1. Just start!

Building a plan for climate action can be daunting, but there’s lots of help out there and whatever you do, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Your plan will constantly evolve as new solutions, funding and technologies come along. As Aileen Lamb from Scottish Enterprise, (Scotland’s main economic development agency, that works with VisitScotland) said, “Just start. Just do something. There is lots of support out there and there are lots of tools that industry and destinations can use. So don't hold on, just get going today.”


2. Take stock.

Look at what you are already doing and the wider context in your destination. Does your organisation have any sustainability plans in place, including for energy efficiency, sustainable purchasing, waste management and conservation? Are there any other climate or sustainability action plans that you can build on, for example from the local or regional government? Get a picture of the current and future climate impacts on your destination, including on assets (e.g. snow, beach, water, food, heritage sites etc) and around disruption to travel. Then map out your key stakeholders. Whose buy in, support and advice do you need to create an effective plan?  

3. Define your scope of influence.

Understanding where you can have the greatest impact and influence will determine what you put into your plan. Changes to your own operation are important, but the big impact lies more broadly in your influence across the destination through which your organisation can become a catalyst for change, helping to speed up and scale solutions. Look to your industry partnerships, through which you may be well-placed to inspire action. Through marketing and behaviour change tactics, you can also influence visitor behaviour.  

Whilst most travel related emissions are beyond the scope of a place manager’s direct control, there is much that you can do, including to address emissions to and from the destination. Arica Sears from Oregon Coast Visitors Association said, “We should not underestimate the influence we have as DMOs and NTOs both on policymakers, but also on local organisations and visitors themselves. People value our opinion and simply speaking up helps. So our voice counts and let's use that voice.”


4. Create a plan.

Your climate action plan will be your roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building climate resilience. At its simplest, it should include the main climate impacts of your operations, the steps you will take to address these and how you will monitor and report on your progress. Examples of climate action plans from leading destinations are linked throughout this article and include 4VI (Vancouver Island), Cairngorms National Park Authority, Göteborg & Co, Promotur Turismo de Canarias, City of Lappeenranta, Niseko Town Hall, VisitFlanders.  

5. Sign the Glasgow Declaration.

The Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism sets out five pathways: measure, decarbonise, regenerate, collaborate and finance, which can be used as a framework for setting out your plan. The One Planet website also provides information, resources and links to plans from other destinations. Signing up to the Glasgow Declaration will support you to meet global commitments to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero as soon as possible before 2050, it commits you to publishing progress annually and aids you in finding organisations to share successes and ideas with.  

6. Measurement is important, but don’t let it delay action.

Depending on the size, role and capacity of your DMO, measuring tourism's carbon footprint in your destination might be challenging. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a measurement plan in place. Understanding your baseline, the impact of your business-as-usual operations, is important because this allows you to compare any action against this standard. Then, a mechanism to measure your actions and solutions will enable you to assess how you are creating change. Go to Visit Valencia for a good example.

If creating a way to measure emissions is going to take some time, a useful estimate of what your destination is responsible for (gained from the average of five baseline emissions from DMOs around the world) is as follows:

  • 72% = transportation to your destination
  • 12% = food and catering
  • 8% = accommodation
  • 6% = events and activities.

These numbers will vary for your specific destination, but they give you a ballpark of where to start and indicate where to focus, highlighting that prioritising lower carbon source markets is likely to create the greatest impact.

7. Apply a climate lens to your operations

Looking at processes, operations and products across all aspects of your organisation, (including product development, marketing, research, data gathering and governance) through a ‘climate lens’ and considering what changes are required, will greatly improve the success of your plan. Doing so can highlight useful and impactful strategies such as working with local businesses to develop a ‘low carbon’ itinerary, or targeting your marketing to demographics whose journeys to your destination result in the least emissions.

8. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate!

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of collaboration when it comes to climate action. Collaboration will increase your impact and support long term success. Liisa Kokkarinen from VisitFinland explained, “You can do really good work in climate action alone, but when it comes to impact, you will need your partners to be with you, especially as most of the emissions are actually caused in your value and supply chain.”

Plus, talking to your contemporaries and experts will provide you with support and knowledge. Ewout Versloot from the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions said, “I think it's important to realise that many, many people want to make the same changes that you want to make. We often see those and hear those who do not want to make a change, but those who do are not always as loud or as present. Find them and build a community with them or a coalition and support each other.

9. Lead change across your destination

Your impact can be greatly increased by implementing or signposting initiatives that help tourism businesses across your destination to take climate action. This might include grants and funding, training, incentives, access to research and measurement tools and marketing support. For example, VisitFinland has provided a carbon calculator for businesses to identify and reduce the key emission sources, as well as providing climate change training. Similarly, the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) in British Columbia, Canada, partners with organisations to fund specialists, such as an energy analyst who gives free energy assessments and reduction recommendations.

Be mindful of the businesses and communities most affected by climate change. Small businesses in particular may lack the skills and resources to adapt, deal with reporting requirements, or access new finance.


10. Climate smart marketing

Marketing can also be used as a powerful tool for climate action, whether through targeting low carbon source markets, promoting low carbon activities or incentivising longer trips. For example, Norway has developed an optimum market analytical tool to better understand the monetary value of a consumer alongside their climate costs and identify climate-smart market priorities, helping to achieve their target of 10% per year decrease in tourism-related carbon emissions.

Being transparent about what climate action you are taking and the changes that you have measured as a result, can also strengthen your positioning and brand.  

If you want to learn more about how to create a climate action plan and gain fluency in climate resilience, look out for the new, virtual training programme designed specifically for DMOs and NTOs coming soon from the Travel Foundation and Expedia Group. 

Click here for a glossary of common terms and phrases associated with climate change.

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