Meetings No 24
Define Purpose
Long live the ‘both/and’ world in which purpose reigns.
Cover Story
Your Future is Now
Kevin Cottam on ancient wisdom meeting modern leadership.
2031 Vision, Brisbane
Encouraging visitors to stay longer and spend more.
Paths of Progress
The Biggest Challenge Is a Lack of Awareness About Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan embarks on its journey into the business events sector.
Psychological Meetings
Cognitive Dysfunction (Brain Fog)
Hans Gordon about when we humans allow a lot to go wrong.
IBTM World 2019: The Importance of Mentoring In the Events Industry
Always be generous with your knowledge.
Why We Refuse to See the Bright Side, Even Though We Should
Steven Pinker on the subject of irrational pessimism.
White Blossom on Repeat
Flowering melancholy from Sweden.
Network to Share Its Expertise: Learn How Your City Can Become Future-Proof
The European Green Capital Network has launched its Future-proof Toolkit.
The Goal Is 300 Destinations by 2022
GDS-Index shares their audacious goal.
Fear Is a Liar
We all need to fortify our hope.
Dublin Has the World’s First Carbon-­Neutral Convention Centre
One of Europe’s most environmentally friendly venues.
Artificial Intelligence
Human Compatible AI and the Problem of Control
Success would be the biggest event in human history, and perhaps the last event.
IBTM World Should Include Not Exclude
Don’t be sorry. Change the rules!
Press stop!
ACTE, Corporate Travel Executives
has ceased operations and will file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Re-opening time
Dubai hotel operators,
cautiously optimistic, as tourists begin to trickle in.
one step at the time
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
gets the green light to reopen.
330 million jobs worldwide
European Cities Marketing
call for an open and permanent dialogue between European institutions and local destinations.
More than 300 people
ICC Sydney
launches industry leading hybrid event solutions.

RAI Amsterdam
one of first European venues to reopen without visitor number restrictions.
Emirates airline refunds over $500m to passengers
Still over 500,000 refund requests.

Cologne ready for business events
trade fairs are indispensable as central business meeting points.
safety & Security
Ras Al Khaimah
becomes the first city in the world to be certified as safe by Bureau Veritas.
strong program
UFI, has announced that ICC Sydney is the winner
of the UFI Sustainable Development Award 2020.
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The Goal Is 300 Destinations by 2022

As South Africa is one of the world’s most favoured destinations for leisure and business events and exploring the wonders of natural biodiversity, how does it match up to European cities of choice in terms of sustainability?

What could be done to improve its cities ratings as sustainable destinations? How can sustainability be used to boost the tourism sector, drive job creation and the development of more circular and thriving economies?

We spoke to Guy Bigwood, the Managing Director of the Global Destinations Sustainability Index (GDS-Index) and pioneer of sustainability in the business events world, about the global trend driving the development of sustainable event destinations, and the initiatives being used by cities to catalyse a transformation in their tourism sector.

What is the GDS-Index? How does it work?

“It is a global benchmarking and performance improvement programme for destinations. It was created to harness the power of the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions industry, to accelerate sustainable development in cities and surrounding communities,” says Guy Bigwood.

“It was founded in 2016 by visionary Scandinavian Cities and leading event industry organisations MCI, ICCA, IMEX and European Cities Marketing. We have evolved beyond our Scandinavian origins to become the largest global community of tourism and event destinations working on sustainability. At present we have 58 cities, including Barcelona, Copenhagen, Washington, Denver, Bangkok, Brussels, Kyoto, Geneva, Oslo, and Sydney.”

How are the index destinations developing? Will Reykjavik take over the lead in some years?

“The GDS-Index has developed significantly in 2019. Be prepared for a few surprises when we launch the 2019 results at ICCA in Houston. What started as a benchmarking program for Nordic events destinations is now becoming a global movement of sustainable tourism and events destinations. Our work with these destinations is getting much deeper also. From mapping and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a destinations sustainability program, we are now working in close partnership with the Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) to help them better engage and inspire their stakeholders to do more, and then helping them to involve these stakeholders in the creation of a new regenerative vision and strategy for the destination that is based on social, environmental and economic progress and impact.”

How many new destinations have you got since the latest statistics?

“We now have 58 destinations in the program. In 2018, we had 46. We are excited to have new mega destinations such as Vienna, and also whole regions such as Flanders who now participate with six cities.”

How many new destinations are in the pipeline?

“We have another 30 at the moment. Our goal is to have 300 destinations by 2022. This is a big hairy and audacious goal, which requires some big thinking and new partnerships. Expect to hear more about that in the new year.”

What is the single most crucial question to develop for the destinations?

“In general, most destinations do not have a proper sustainability or stewardship strategy. They have not included sustainability into their core vision, and have not set clear SMART goals, and KPIs to track performance. Their strategy is then very tactical and short-sighted, and not a 5 to 10-year programme. DMOs need to change from marketing to management organisations. While we see some great examples, most are just not there yet.”

Tell us more about the objectives and how you see it making improvements to a city’s rating and appeal?

“The GDS-Index was designed to use competition, collaboration and consultation, to drive performance and innovation. It has four main objectives:

  1. Rapidly accelerate the number of destinations with robust and holistic sustainability strategies and practices. When we started, there were less than a handful.
  2. Raise industry awareness and inspire action in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. When we started, most destinations didn’t even know what ’SDG’ stood for.
  3. Build, educate and empower a dynamic community of destination sustainability professionals.
  4. Recognise, reward and share the innovations, performance and improvements of our member’s destinations.

“It evaluates sustainability performance in four main areas: The City’s Environmental Performance, the Social Performance, the Supplier Performance and the Destination Management Organisation’s (DMO) Performance. We use the word DMO to include Convention Bureaus also.

“By gaining an overview of how sustainable a city is, our assessment provides a to-do list of sustainable actions that a destination can implement. Our team then coaches and guides destinations on how to improve their sustainability strategies and practices.”

“In this fashion, we are encouraging more sustainable development across the globe, and facilitating the growth of an international community, where DMOs can share successes and challenges, and learn together.

What sustainability challenges does the GDS-Index address? How can you see it benefiting tourism in South Africa?

“In this context, sustainability means that the events and tourism industry has adopted practices that allow us to meet the needs of current generations while ensuring the same for future generations. Achieving this generational equity, alongside equity between nature and ourselves, is the challenge we are trying to address. The GDS-Index is using destinations and their DMOs as the catalysts for creating a more regenerative future. A future where we don’t just do less bad, but where we live, meet, work and play in a way that regenerates nature and society.

“South Africa comes with its own set of challenges, be it income inequality and associated crime, or the lack of water in some regions of the country have experienced in recent years. Truly integrating sustainability as a fundamental pillar in South Africa’s destinations strategies could very well help to alleviate many of these issues: Be it through the creation of a strategy that allows for a smart long-term destination roadmap for social and environmental action, or ensuring that hotels have eco-certification or developing today’s and tomorrow’s talent with the skills to better manage tourism businesses in a regenerative fashion.

“Last I heard, around one in 20 people working in the South African tourism industry, and if we consider its entire value chain, it contributes almost 10 per cent of the nation’s total GDP. I believe the impact of the changes as mentioned above, would permeate throughout the nation. Our industry could and should contribute to creating a more equal, environmentally conscious, and safer country.”

What value does the programme offer the tourism and events industry?

“We are showing the industry that organising great events, and travelling the world, can be done without destroying the earth in the process. We are doing this by building a body of knowledge from the experiences of the GDS-Index team and its community of destinations. Using this wealth of resources, we then seek to engage, inspire and empower other DMOs to start up, speed up and scale up their sustainability initiatives. We want to raise awareness that our industry’s unique position, which spans across all industries in one way or another, can be used to create a better world. Through us, cities can significantly increase the impact of their sustainability initiatives while dramatically reducing the implementation time and cost.

“Becoming more sustainable and regenerative is also very relevant to organisations who require sponsorship for their events. Sponsors are very aware of risks when choosing to invest their money, and an event without a sustainability commitment poses a tangible environmental risk. As many sponsors already look for events with a strong sustainability commitment, it is not just DMOs but also event organisers that need to start taking action.”

What great examples of change have you seen?

“There are quite a few. For now, let me share some of the results of the top 10 performing destinations from the 2018 results of the GDS-Index, 2019 data gets released in October. This highlights how we see the industry changing in the future.”

  • 100 per cent of leading destinations now have a dedicated sustainability team
  • 100 per cent now measure and report on sustainable destination progress
  • 92 per cent include sustainability features on their website, featuring guides and manuals, supplier lists and best practice examples
  • 92 per cent now have programmes with restaurants and catering companies to reduce non-recyclable/biodegradable material waste and food waste
  • 92 per cent provide free or subsidised public transport for major conventions
  • 85 per cent have a sustainability committee with industry stakeholders
  • 85 per cent of top 10 destinations now have, or are in the process of obtaining, third party eco-certification
  • 70 per cent are actively engaging their stakeholders to support local community development initiatives and prove the information to their clients on donation programs for food and leftover event materials

Results of all destinations since 2016

  • 68 per cent of all destinations have a sustainability strategy. 97 per cent increase
  • 39 per cent improvement in destination performance
  • 32 per cent growth in destinations with eco-certifications
  • 74 per cent increase in destinations integrating sustainability into core business strategy

Offering a sustainable tourism and events programme will not only be an advantage for cities. It will be a requirement by clients, visitors, and perhaps most importantly, their citizens.

As part of their licence to operate, DMOs will have to integrate and weave environmental and social criteria holistically into their strategies, business models, and operations.

What have you learned in your journey developing the GDS-Index?

“Ah, so much! I’ll try and distil it down into my top 5 insights.”

  1. Collaboration as an enabler: Cities want and need to share best practices and experiences.
  2. Competition is an accelerator: Collaboration is good, but the competitive nature of our industry responds well to a challenge such as the GDS-Index. Cities are ’battling’ to improve their ranking.
  3. Competition is a barrier: While ranking works well for the top performers, it can be frustrating for developing cities. Consequently, we have had to pay attention to work with the ’starters, laggards and improvers’ to ensure that they’re developing their performance consistently, even if their overall position isn’t improving.
  4. Technology as a multiplier: With the vision for massive growth in the number of destinations involved, we need to develop a more powerful IT platform to support the benchmarking process, share information, enable collaboration and permit self-service data analysis. This is taking full-speed as we speak, and we look forward to continually refining the process of data collection and analysis.
  5. Cities as multipliers: DMOs and the events industry have a significant opportunity to support their city’s sustainable goals and accelerate achievement. We are catalysts, and the impact model for the GDS-Index can be adapted and used in other industry sectors of a city.

What do you see emerging in the next five years?

“The importance of a destination’s sustainability in the business tourism and events industry will grow significantly. We see the GDS-Index becoming an increasingly dynamic community and partnership of purpose between cities. I foresee that we develop solutions to help cities better manage the nexus of leisure and business tourism sustainably. In a nearer-term, we will provide advanced cities with a clearer path to certify their destination with internationally recognised third party sustainability standards.

“With a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. We will need to help cities implement science-based approaches, measure their footprint, develop their professionals and accelerate their sustainability programmes. Our goal is to grow the partnership to include over 300 destinations by 2022. Alongside this shift in how destinations are managed, we must accelerate the growing focus on organising events more sustainably. So, we will be working to catalyse global collaboration between DMOs, event organisers, and suppliers.”

Last question. What about the elephant in the room?

“Oh, we have a huge elephant in the room. The IPCC tells us that to reduce the increase of global temperatures to an average of 1.5 degrees, we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, and to net-zero by 2050.

“Similarly, the European Travel Commission says we need to reduce GHG by 50 per cent by 2035. And it’s a moving target. It is now estimated that by 2036, 7.8 billion passengers will travel via plane, nearly double the number who flew in 2017. (IATA 2017.) Air travel generates about around 52 per cent of the tourism carbon footprint, and probably a large amount more for the meetings industry. On most international events flying is 80–90 per cent of the impact.

“Flying underpins our business model and without it our current industry would collapse. So, on one side, we must reduce our flying, yet we are flying more. A worrying dilemma?

“So, to achieve this moon-shot goal of a 50 per cent reduction in ten years and to be carbon neutral by 2050, our industry needs to rethink, redesign and regenerate its roadmap to the future. We require massive innovation from the airlines and plane manufacturers. Like low-carbon fuels and more efficient planes, innovation in the design and optimisation of hotels/venues infrastructures, zero waste management, a new policy from government, mass offsetting, probably carbon taxes and most importantly to change our habits of flying.”

The GDS Index Whitepaper defines five converging megatrends that present destinations and the event industry with opportunities to improve their performance and adapt to the risks presented by Climate Breakdown, Ecocide, demographic shifts, social change and digitalisation.

It highlights four fundamental building blocks for DMOs to become sustainable destination stewards and defines eight tactics on how destinations can integrate sustainability into their core strategy and become leaders in future-oriented collaboration.

Download the whitepaper on