Nine top tips to help you unearth and grow your sustainable place proposition

There’s a lot of scrutiny on sustainability these days. Consumers are not afraid to call out a company perceived to be over-inflating their Environmental & Social Governance strategies [ESG]. At the same time, it’s becoming an important differentiator for travellers or investors deciding where to direct their money and attention.

Nine of our expert partners shared their advice on how you can make sure that you grow and communicate your sustainable values in a way that is authentic, actionable, and compelling. 

Play to your authentic strengths.

Costa Rica blazed a trail in ecosystem conservation and restoration, the ecotourism boom it has enjoyed has leveraged this. Iceland’s development of geothermal and other sources of renewable energy is the focus of its inward investment communications. Helsinki’s public transport and its proximity to pristine wilderness have been the focus of Finland’s efforts to attract talent. Reaffirming and accentuating existing beliefs or truths will be much more effective than attempting to go against the grain of reporting on a country. This is especially true with sustainability, where audiences are increasingly sensitive to what they may regard as greenwashing.

Robert Haigh, Strategy & Sustainability Director, Brand Finance

Make sure you’re telling a story that reflects your reality.

A place needs to know its story; a shared, forward-looking view seen through the eyes of its stakeholders of how it is special, distinct and the opportunities it offers. Critically, this must be authentic, recognised locally and deliverable, not just a wish list. The key is to focus on the assets you have which often involves reimagining what you’ve got, thinking wider than just the urban core and importantly packaging elements so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. If the stakeholders are part of creating the story, they’ll be happy to tell and sell it; your sustainable place salesforce.

John Till, Director, thinkingplace

Don’t overcomplicate it.

Our piece of advice is not to over-complicate the telling of your sustainability "story". Pick 1-2 aspects of sustainability that your place is committed to improving and explain what it is that you do and why you do it. Are the majority of your properties locally owned? Are your attractions and destinations committed to reducing water usage or improving carbon footprint? Why is that important? How is it ensuring the long-term sustainability of your place? The only way to attract conscientious travellers is by showcasing not only what you are doing really well, where you are looking to improve, but why you are doing it.

Danny Cohanpour, CEO & Founder, Trove Tourism Development Advisors


Engage your residents in the development and delivery of your strategy.

Sustainable places can create a unique sense of place that reflects the local cultural and natural heritage, which is appealing to visitors who are seeking authentic experiences and to residents who value the uniqueness of the place. A sustainable proposition also means engagement and collaboration with residents and visitors to create a sense of community, to work together on sustainability initiatives, and to encourage sustainable behaviour. This needs to be actively communicated — sustainable places should promote their sustainability initiatives and their positive social, economic and environmental impact that will attract conscious residents, tourists, and investors.

Marta Mills, Senior Project Manager, Sustainable Tourism, TOPOSOPHY

A sustainable strategy can be a huge incentive in the MICE sector – leverage this to grow investment.

Right now, we see sustainability as a much stronger B2B than B2C proposition. So far, we have not seen a major shift in consumer behaviour based on how sustainable a destination is. That will likely change as travel volumes return and the negative impacts of tourism remerge in some destinations. Where we are seeing a change in behaviour is with corporate meetings and events. As these come back online and companies implement recently minted ESG policies, more sustainable destinations have a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting corporate meetings, associations and events. Likewise, investment is also likely to flow more strongly towards these cities as well.

Chris Fair, President & CEO, Resonance Consultancy

Adopt a data-driven approach to attract the right visitors and encourage off-season tourism.

Sustainability has been at the top of DMOs’ agendas for years. Attracting the right set of travellers and at the right time is key to thinking intentionally about sustainable travel. Tenerife’s DMO is a great example of this. Turismo de Tenerife partnered with us to develop a data-driven approach to advertise and develop targeted campaigns with multiple strands of messaging tailored for various segments of travellers. It was their key objective to frame the destination in new and uniquely attractive ways to appeal to different demographics. They wanted to highlight the distinct experiences and remarkable natural beauty that the island has to offer to inspire and win visitors who may be interested in the outdoors and would appreciate the nature and uniqueness of Tenerife. Embracing a data-driven approach enabled them to track demand (i.e., what markets are looking to travel to Tenerife) and get a better understanding of how the destination is performing in comparison to competitors – and therefore how they can encourage a more sustainable pattern of visitation to the island.

By understanding the correlation between demand and conversions and its lead time, DMOs are enabled to overcome seasonality. In this way, they can use air and accommodation data to promote a sustainable development plan for the destination and target their campaigns during off-peak seasons.

Tom Starr, Vice President of Global Destinations, Hospitality, Amadeus

Make sure you’re addressing the carbon footprint of your own organisation.

By now, anyone might be familiar with the practice of building a sustainable supply chain in a physical sense, a method to try and achieve net-zero carbon emissions across all stages of transportation, for example.

Apart from the physical world, though, there is also the digital realm, which includes your company’s data infrastructure as well as your marketing. The former is simpler, and you map out the relationship of every application and vendor you use and trace out how you pass the data. The latter is much more complex. A digital marketing strategy combines your media plan itself, the outcome of your advertising, and the eventual effects of any transactions.

To be sustainable conscious, companies need to keep track of both the physical and digital worlds. This way, you can actively develop a strategy that optimizes your supply chains to offset your organization and create a net-zero state. You can learn more about data and sustainability in this blog here.

Nikolai Scholz, Director, Product Management, Adara

Identify what’s most important to your destination.

For destinations, implementing sustainability isn’t just the latest trend. It’s the difference between preserving the integrity of the environment and ensuring your destination’s stability for future generations. Travelers who care about sustainability want to spend their money in places that both share their values and provide positive experiences for them. Making sustainability a focus means figuring out what’s most important to your destination, whether it’s environmental conservation, nature safety and resources, waste management, and more, and ingraining it in all of your sustainability initiatives. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out these tips and tricks.

Kerrigan Flynn, Content Marketing Manager, Sojern

Highlight under-invested areas of your community through placemaking and public art.

At Creos, we believe that temporary art can provide the perfect solution to making lesser-visited neighbourhoods more attractive – ensuring a more sustainable spread of economic benefit from tourism and investment.  Here are 3 reasons why to invest in presenting a temporary art installation.

They Bring Spaces to Life: Interactive art installations coupled with social media coverage, go a long way to improving visibility, public perception of destinations, and long-term brand awareness of neighbourhoods and cities.

They Increase Economic Impact: The unique and engaging experiences created by interactive installations generate must-see destinations by making neighbourhoods buzzworthy, increasing pedestrian traffic, and revenue for both hosts and surrounding businesses.

They Create Community Hubs: Enhance the conversation about the overall offering in the space. Our installations serve as ambassadors for your communities, creating dialogue about unusual and surprising experiences from users and long-lasting social ties through accessible interactive art.

Alexandre Lemieux, Co-founder & Business Development Director, Creos



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