15 November 2019 Gareth Berry
Image credit: “Mark de Jong on Unsplash @mrmarkdejong
At Heavenly we make brands. Big, bold and brilliant brands. We’ve created brands that have reimagined real estate, created credibility for cryptocurrency, changed attitudes towards dementia, helped tackle knife crime and turned countless start-ups into grown-ups. We are particularly good at putting places on the map. We’ve created Place Brands for Cardiff, Belfast, West Midlands, Wiltshire and Salisbury to name but a few.
What drives place brand projects you may ask? Changing priorities, a response to a crisis, new leadership, a different direction or the formation of completely new region as was the case for the West Midlands. The reasons can be many, but their aims broadly lie in increasing awareness, telling a coherent story, driving inward investment, building local pride and increasing visitor numbers.
There can be huge positives from an uplift in tourism. More money, more jobs and more investment. World Travel & Tourism Council’s research reveals that the sector accounted for 10.4% of global GDP and 319 million jobs, or 10% of total employment in 2018. But, and it’s a big but, are more visitors always a good thing?
Tourism accounts for between 5% and 10% of global CO2 emissions. It’s impact on the planet is huge. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that internationally there were just 25 million tourist arrivals in 1950. 68 years later this number has increased to 1.4 billion international arrivals per year. This is a 56-fold increase and is only going to continue to rise.
Alongside the huge environmental impact of tourism, there are negative sociocultural impacts on a destination. In certain places, the negative impacts of tourism are putting huge pressure on local resources and infrastructure and contributing to the destruction of the social fabric of local communities. There is a growing desire from tourists for authentic and immersive experiences and many travel providers are providing more opportunities to ‘live like a local’. The reality of this in some places is the dilution of the uniqueness of their places that led them to become tourism hotspots in the first place.
In light of these two forces, sustainable tourism is something of a misnomer.
Sustainable, as defined in the dictionary, “is the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” This is evidently not the case in some places. Destinations and locals are pushing back against the damage to the environment, the disruption to their lives and the destruction of the social fabric of the place. Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam, Bali and Maya Bay Thailand are all recent examples of places fighting back against what has become known as ‘overtourism’.
So, how to we design place brands that acknowledges these problems and take steps to address it?
Destination Management Organisations (previously the good old Tourist Boards) are doing their bit to make travel more sustainable. Availability of public transport, cycling initiatives, electric vehicle provision, supply chain auditing and recycling initiatives can limit the impact of tourism on the planet. Limiting permits, restricting development and banning certain activities in certain areas are reducing the negative impacts of tourism on the social fabric of places. Different destinations are on their own sustainability journey and this top-down approach is effective, but it also needs to be supported by behaviour change on an individual level.
And this we see as the future. Encouraging visitors to behave in a more sustainable way. Highlighting the responsibility on to the individual to do their bit. Persuading the visitor to take ownership of the impact they are having on the places they visit. To put the ‘us’, in sustainable. At Heavenly, we call this #Ustainability. Appealing to responsible tourists; urging them to travel lightly, tread carefully, and leave as little trace as possible of their visit.
We particularly like this example from Palau. They’ve become the first nation on earth to only issue visas to tourists who sign an eco-pledge to act in an environmentally responsible way.
Heavenly is currently working on a new tourism experience called ‘Celtic Routes’. A project showcasing the best of West Wales and South-East Ireland which invites visitors to ‘Discover their Celtic Spirit’. You can see more of it here. For this initiative we’re developing a ‘Celtic Code’ to encourage visitors to preserve the past, protect the present and to ensure future generations can continue to enjoy these magical Celtic lands.
So, on your next holiday, go on your own sustainability journey. Make the move to #Ustainability and challenge yourself to respect the wellbeing of the planet and your chosen destination.