Navigating Climate Action: Examples and case studies for destination managers

By Georgina Davies, Communications Manager, The Travel Foundation

Climate action planning can bring many opportunities for destinations, helping to future-proof the place offer and enhance resilience. Yet, it can also be a daunting task, with complex stakeholder dynamics, infrastructure limitations, and economic restrictions amongst other challenges to consider. You may feel you don’t know where to start, or that an issue is too difficult to handle – yet you are not alone! There are now many examples of climate action plans for you to draw inspiration and ideas from, and the chances are there are destinations out there tackling many of the same challenges you face. The following are just a small selection of the many good plans that are out there, arranged around five themes that are key to success in planning for a more sustainable future for your place.

Including transport to and from the destination

With transport to and from a destination usually accounting for the lion’s share of emissions – likely to be around 70-75% - this is often the area where the biggest gains can be made in reducing carbon emissions. Yet many avoid grasping this nettle because it also poses very real challenges. In general, travelling long distances by means other than aviation remains unfeasible for most travellers and for some destinations, lower carbon options such as connection by rail or coach, may be limited. However, some destinations do have bold and holistic plans that include travel to and from their destinations. Both Visit Finland and The Netherland’s Board of Tourism & Conventions are looking to reduce reliance on aviation by, among other things, promoting low carbon transport options and focussing on markets that will generate lower emissions such as regional and domestic markets. Similarly, Innovation Norway has continued development of its carbon calculator, which enables them to measure and compare emissions from various transport options to and within Norway. Gothenburg’s climate target for 2030 includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport within the city by 90 per cent, and from international travel by 64 per cent. The city is also striving to reduce emissions from staff travel, with a policy that staff should not fly for trips under 600km.

Fostering alignment and interconnection 

Having a consistent approach, goals, and framework for climate action across a destination enables all tourism stakeholders, including those in the wider supply chain, to align their efforts for greatest efficiency and effectiveness. In its recent Glasgow Declaration implementation report, UN Tourism notes that tourism organisations that have developed their climate action plans as part of a network tend to create the most thorough and thoughtful plans. A good example of this can be found in Finland, where climate action is being driven through the Sustainable Travel Finland programme. The results can be seen in the shared commitments and collaborative action within the climate action plans and roadmaps of neighbouring Finnish destination management organisations (DMOs), such as Saimaa and Lappeenranta. Visit Finland’s plan is itself rooted in the country’s wider climate policy and climate act, which commits to bold carbon reduction targets.

This alignment can also happen across international regions. For example, The European Travel Commission (ETC) has committed to support its national members by building opportunities for collective action in Europe and providing technical support regarding the shift to Net Zero. Whilst the Network of European Regions for Competitive and Sustainable Tourism (NECSTouR) is creating a Blueprint to guide the development of Climate Action Plans in Mediterranean Regions.

For global, cross-sector alignment, the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism offers a simple, flexible and shared framework for all tourism organisations, which many of the stronger climate action plans follow. For example, 4VI (Vancouver Island)’s climate action plan sets out achievements, goals, and actions for each of the Glasgow Declaration’s five pathways: measure, decarbonise, regenerate, collaborate, and finance.

Providing tools and support for stakeholders

Many destinations and supporting organisations also foster wider engagement in climate action planning by sharing tips and advice for how to create a plan, or by providing tools and training for stakeholders.  For example, the ETC is creating a plan to improve skills and knowledge of its members and is creating an online platform to share best practice examples, case studies, and tools.

Similarly, the Canary Islands’ new Climate Action Platform supports companies and destinations in the islands to develop their own Climate Action Plan, providing them with a catalogue of over 200 decarbonisation measures arranged by sector and focus area. The destination is also developing a tool on their Canary Islands Tourism Destination Platform for all tourism businesses in the region to measure emissions, track progress and gain guidance in how to reduce emissions further.

Visit Tampere also puts collaboration with businesses at the heart of its approach, providing tools and training for companies in the city. This includes an open-source carbon footprint calculator, created in collaboration with Visit Finland, and the Think Sustainably Service, which encourages companies to adopt sustainable actions through criteria developed for different categories e.g. accommodation, restaurants, and events.

Framing within the local context

Although climate change is a shared global challenge, the way it is experienced is locally specific, with different risks, priorities and opportunities for support and action. Grounding a climate action plan in this local context and acknowledging the risks faced from extreme weather, natural disasters, biodiversity pollution, or disruption to power supplies, enables better prioritisation of strategies. For example, the Japanese local government Niseko Town Hall starts its plan with an analysis of the local situation, including surveying residents’ concerns with questions like: “Will the progression of climate change cause frequent extreme weather events, which will have a negative impact on our lives and industry?” or “Will the quality of life and the economy deteriorate due to strict global warming policies?”

Embracing regeneration

The concept of regeneration in climate action planning can cover everything from actions that address climate impacts to initiatives to restore ecosystems. In short, it is all about how visitors can contribute to the development of the communities and ecosystems of a place. There are huge benefits to taking a regenerative approach, including boosting resilience, protecting local assets and resources, improving human health and well-being and creating meaningful exchanges between tourists and local communities.  A good example of this approach is the Cairngorms National Park Authority, whose Partnership Plan is organised around the three pillars of Nature, People and Place. It includes measures to address climate impacts such as biodiversity loss and disruption to water supplies and to contribute to Scotland’s goal of reaching net zero by 2045. The destination is encouraging people to use low-carbon modes of transport and is implementing nature-based solutions such as peatland restoration, river re-naturalisation, nature-friendly framing, and species conservation.

More case studies and examples of climate action plans are available on the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism’s website. The Glasgow Declaration Implementation Report 2023 annexes include guidance on the creation of climate action plans and lists of decarbonisation and regeneration actions that can be found in the action plans of the Declaration’s signatories. So don’t reinvent the wheel or try to go it alone when the solutions and the peer support are right there.

Additional Resources:  The ‘Guide to Action on Climate Change’ is a free, practical guide for Destination Organisations and tourism. Developed by Miles Partnership, The Travel Foundation, Global Destination Sustainability Movement and other industry partners, it features 28 areas of action and dozens of case study examples from around the world. This 3rd annual edition was relaunched on Earth Day 2024 with this call to action for Destination Organisations to get actively involved in this global challenge: “Earth Day 2024: Climate Action in Your Destination”

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.