Peta Hodge reports on this week's Best of Britain & Ireland Travel Trade Forum, which will be hosting a two-day programme of back-to-back seminars on embedding sustainability into domestic tourism.
is getting serious about sustainable tourism
and it is practising what it preaches. At The Best of Britain & Ireland Travel Trade Show, which kicks off on March 26, it ensuring that sustainable tourism is ‘embedded’ in the show. “We have arranged with the event organisers to have a ‘sustainable tourism suite
’ as a dedicated and permanent feature of the show,” explains Jason Freezer, sustainable tourism project manager for VisitBritain.
But VisitBritain’s championing of sustainability
has not been confined to the walls of the ‘sustainable tourism suite’. “What we didn’t want to do is say ‘we’ve done the trade bit, we’ve ticked the green box and that’s it’,” says Freezer. “What we’ve done – in conjunction with [the organisers] BoB Events – is try to ensure the show is as sustainable as possible. We are using this year very much as the benchmark year, to draw a line in the sand and say ‘this is how environmental performance was this year and we’ll aim to manage that and improve on that year-on-year’.”
VisitBritain and BoB Events have been working closely with SEA (Shetland Environment Agency) Ltd – founders of the Green Tourism Business Scheme
– to develop a green policy for the Best of Britain show, which replaces the British Travel Trade Fair. Together they have come up with some top tips for people visiting the show, on things such as green travel
, managing waste
and eating the local produce available at the show – and for exhibitors, on where to find a green courier or a green events stand manufacturer, for example.
Freezer admits that time has been an issue for this first year of the policy: “We’ve not managed to get to everyone as quickly as we’d hoped to. It will be interesting to see when we go round to the exhibitors how many are actually implementing sustainable stands and things like that,” he said.
SEA Ltd will also be conducting an environmental impact study that will be used to set objectives for future events and provide the benchmark for measuring year-on-year performance.
Part of this will be done through a visitor survey that will aim to establish the carbon footprint
of people attending the show – so it will ask them about the type of transport they used to get to the venue, for example. It will also ask more generic questions about their ethical consumer habits and their experiences of sustainable travel
– the idea is that the organisers will be able to track changes in consumer awareness in the coming years.
Exhibitors will also receive a questionnaire about their use of recycled and sustainably-sourced materials on their stands, whether they had considered using Fair Trade or locally-sourced products and their plans for recycling at the end of the show.
Freezer says the venue for the Forum – ExCeL in London – has also been happy to co-operate with the impact study work. “SEA has already been in to talk to them and will be going in to take all the electricity, water and gas readings so that we can accurately measure what we’ve used,” he explains.
ExCel, says Freezer, is already ahead of the sustainability game. "It has some funky things going on in the recycling area. It recognises, as many events do, that more and more of its customers are demanding a more sustainable approach and it wants to see how it can meet its corporate social responsibilities.”
Freezer says that not all tourism businesses looking to adopt a more sustainable approach come from such an enlightened perspective. One of the sessions at the Forum is engagingly entitled ‘The hoteliers’ million-pound question: how to save a fortune by saving the environment’ and it is this promise of significantly reduced costs that is perhaps most likely to turn tourism businesses green – particularly in these tough economic times.
“Yes, the majority of businesses will go for the ‘low hanging fruit’. Simple things that are either low cost or no cost can make quite a big difference to the bottom line,” Freezer concedes.
“But I think that is not necessarily the thing that will keep businesses involved and engaged in sustainability going forward. It has to develop and evolve more into the social side of sustainability
, because when you move away from purely environmental concerns and more into the social side [promoting things such as local food and local culture], that’s when you start to improve the customer experience and that’s when you can start to get better and bigger gains for your business.”
Freezer says that when it comes to sustainable tourism there’s a scale – from green measures to aid efficiency and cut costs to “the ultimate, holistic approach, where you provide customers and staff with a positive experience”.
A new publication, ‘Sustainable Tourism Champions
’, to be launched at the Forum, features nine businesses that have achieved that “ultimate, holistic approach”. They are the winners of the regional heats of the Enjoy England Awards for Excellence 2008, sustainable tourism category and include: Yorkshire aquarium The Deep; Northumberland self-catering cottage The Hytte; EC&O venues at Earls Court and Olympia and Lincolnshire stately home, Doddington Hall.
Freezer says: “They have all taken sustainability
, embedded it in the core of the business, embraced it and made a real difference to the business, the customers and the staff” – which is what VisitBritain’s two-day seminar programme is all about.
The Best of Britain & Ireland Travel Trade Forum is part of British Tourism Week. It will be followed at ExCel this weekend by a new annual two-day public event called Best of Britain & Ireland 2009.
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