Sustainability Metrics: Resources for Measuring Green Travel, Meetings, and Tourism

Author: Joy Lin
Posted: March 11, 2014
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With all the Al Gore documentaries, Doomsday scientists, and some especially vortex-y winter weather this year, the environment looks like one sad place. To make matters worse, sustainability measures often end up sounding alarmist in the media or self-righteous in practice.

We often see sustainability as a trade-off between the experiences we have today versus the experiences our children will have in the future. We often see it as a zero-sum game, where being sustainable means we have to give up ours so they can have theirs. Or maybe we’re simply occupied with more immediate problems to worry about climate change or environmental degradation just yet.

But guess what: being sustainable is awesome! In addition to the long-term benefits, there are a lot of immediate advantages to DMOs who embark on this path. Here are four areas where DMOs can truly shine, and resources on how to measure your success.

1. Culture

One example is the tourism initiative of the Seminole Okalee Indian village where the tribe’s culture, important wildlife, and even deep-water alligator wrestling are showcased. The “museumification” of some parts of their culture ultimately allows the tribe to engage their young people in more opportunities on the reservation. And by keeping future generations engaged, they are able continue their traditions outside of simply tourist hours.

Example metrics that a DMO can use:

  • Number of cultural programs that the DMO supports, partners, or initiates
  • Number of local youth participating in cultural tourism programs
  • Percentage reduction in outbound migration from the hospitality and tourism sector

Resources to get you started:

  • The Global Travel Sustainability Council (GTSC) is an internationally recognized body under the United Nations and the World Travel Organisation dedicated to increasing understanding and adoption of sustainable tourism practices. They have lots of resources and guidelines dedicated to destinations that can be found on their website.
  • DMAI’s Destination Marketing Accreditation Program (DMAP) takes a broad view of organizational excellence for DMOs, only part of which is sustainability.

2. Environment

It’s no surprise that the meetings industry often gets a bad rap when it comes to being environmentally friendly. Luckily, all that is changing – slowly but surely, and you as a DMO have the chance to lead meetings and events to leave smaller footprints within your destinations. For example, exactly one year ago, Visit Denver became the first convention and visitors bureau in the world to become certified in the events industry’s standard for environmentally and socially responsible practices. With the Colorado Convention Center receiving the same certification as well in 2012, Denver is well-positioned to not only secure its environmental future, but also up its marketability as a leading destination in green meetings.

Example metrics that a DMO can use:

  • Number of local food suppliers used for meetings and events
  • Percentage of diverting waste from landfills
  • Percentage reduction in water and energy consumption
  • Cost savings due to sustainable practices like using alternative resources

Resources to get you started:

  • Again, GTSC and DMAP are great places to simply learn more about different criteria for responsible practices in destination management.
  • If meetings is what you’re interested in, DMAI’s empowerMINT has a free meeting planning webinar this month on green meeting practices with Amanda Simons, Sustainable Program Manager of Greenview. Or pick up her tips right away on the empowerMINT blog.
  • For more information on the APEX/ASTM certification that Visit Denver achieved, visit the CIC webpage.

3. Economy

One example of DMOs taking an active role in destination management is the growth of Tourism Improvement District (TID). TIDs are a type of business improvement district; a public-private partnership formed by the local government at the request and approval of businesses in a district. The aim is to increase the number of overnight visitors using business and services of that area, resulting in significant growth in spending within the local economy. According to last year’s DMO Organizational & Financial Profile Study by DMAI, one out of seven destinations – from urban giants like San Francisco to nature’s gateway cities like Billings, MT – report increased investment through a TID, or other voluntary marketing fees.

Example metrics that a DMO can use:

  • Percentage change in hotel occupancy, room rates, and commercial activity
  • Percentage change in overall revenue generation within the district
  • Percentage change in total meetings or events booked
  • Percentage change in visitors and attendees

Resources to get you started:

  • Learn more about TIDs with DMAI with this presentation on future funding models from Civitas at last year’s CEO Summit.
  • Join us at DMAI’s CEO Summit at the end of April this year to learn more about this important source of funding for DMOs and huge revenue generator for our hotel and business partners.

4. Creativity

Ultimately, our generation faces a creative challenge to take an active role in determining our own future. Sustainability doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Instead of nagging over being green, we can cater to society’s traveling conscience and the longevity of our destinations with creative solutions.

Some examples that come to mind include:

  • Resort ecosystems in Hawaii where aquaponics take waste water from farmed fish pools to nourish their golf courses. The pools themselves provide not only aesthetic benefits, they supply locally raised fish to hotel restaurants.
  • Hospitality companies like Cayuga in Costa Rica who encourage guests to plant saplings as a part of their cultural immersion. Employees are hired from the local areas, trained on care of local plant and animal species, and take guests on tours of surrounding parks and jungles.
  • As a native Houstonian, I have to mention the Water Wall. Primarily serving as an air-conditioning system for the neighboring Williams Tower, the Water Wall is a monumental structure of water that not only recycles itself to cool the building but also acts an architectural centerpiece in an open space park that locals and tourists enjoy.

As a DMO, you are in the unique position of helping to shape how the public and the world see your destination. There may be things that your community wants to change, and things that it wants to preserve. By taking an active interest and collaborating with local officials, businesses, and associations, you have many opportunities to shape the future of your community.

Imagine how great it would be if your destination were available for travelers to come and enjoy… for all eternity. What would that look like? Who would you want on your team to help get you there? How would you know if you’re on the right track? Challenge yourself to get started today.