During the period when conferences came to a standstill, the already environmentally focused Convention Bureau ‘Visit Norway’ – and its partner congress cities in Norway VisitOslo, Region Stavanger, VisitBergen, VisitTromsø, VisitTrondheim, VisitBodø and VisitKristiansand – decided to expand the concept of sustainability in order to cover all areas of society. With the realization that business tourism has a great direct and indirect impact on other industries such as infrastructure, technology and agriculture, it seems obvious that the development of this industry is key to bouncing back stronger from the recent crisis.
A Strategic Plan For The Future
Development through the lens of sustainability is the vision behind Visit Norway’s new, ambitious National Tourism Strategy 2030. Commissioned by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries in January 2020 to develop a general strategy for the development of Norway as a travel destination, the project focuses on creating greater value of the country’s offerings while being part of the solution to the climate crisis. In the center of it all is the commitment to reduce by 50% its climate emissions by 2030 (based on 2019 levels).
“It is an ambitious project,” says Frode Aasheim, Director of Meetings and Events at Visit Norway, “but the meetings industry plays a vital role in its realization. Meetings bring thousands of people to our country all year round. By combining this concentrated high spending with a smaller carbon footprint, we can create more jobs and higher revenue, hence better quality of life for the community. Therefore, we have stated in the strategy that we must increase the number of tourism-related jobs in Norway by 25 per cent by 2030.”
How Can Associations Help
This belief touches a nerve with associations whose mission is to help their members create stronger communities. Inevitably, the spotlight of sustainable growth falls on those who are the core of business tourism. And it is up to them – associations of all sizes – to twist the negative preconceptions on travelling and consumption to greener positive ones. “It is quite the challenge,” says Elisabeth Alethe Bugge, Manager Convention at Visit Norway, “but, with effective communication to their members and disciplined commitment, the goal can be achieved.”
And she continues: “If there is something Norway has got enough of, it’s space! Conferences can take place outside high season, when travelling is already dense, and can be organized in smaller less crowded destinations benefiting the local community as well as contributing to sustainability. Besides, they can follow the new trend of creating regional meeting hubs where travelling is shorter. On top of this, delegate stay can be extended to a longer period of time when possible.”
According to Bugge, associations have the power to demand change. “Associations should demand more sustainable services and products from a destination or a specific venue. Environmentally friendly certified products must be on top of the list when hosting a conference. The concept should be well communicated to delegates along with extensive knowledge about the impacts of emissions of different travel methods. This raises awareness and leads people to more sustainable alternatives.”
One of the biggest challenges, one would argue, is the transportation issue. How can Norway increase the profitability of the industry but decrease its footprint – reducing annual transport emissions by 10%, given travelling is essential in this case? “Business meetings are the villain when discussing climate crisis. Climate friendly transportation is not an oxymoron, though. Visit Norway is part of Innovation Norway, which has worked towards this goal over many years. With technology providing green ferries and buses and the establishment of processes, like certification schemes for sustainable tourist destinations that maintain and develop a more sustainable operation, transportation shows promise for a green future,” says Aasheim.
The green alternatives are there; associations need only reach out to Visit Norway for support in order to get the best out of them. Bugge says: “We work with the Norwegian tourism industry that they implement sustainability in their deliveries of products and staff and we are doing destination certification which is committed to a long-term process for a sustainable development.”
“We can work together to encourage soft mobility among delegates (local transport and activities without emissions). Developing and utilizing climate-friendly buildings and transport solutions will also bring value creation and longer stay. Our commitment is to prioritize congresses who can sign off and fulfill the criteria for a sustainable event.”
Needless to say, the new Strategy reinforces this support with initiatives that look into the future. “One of the recommendations in the Strategy is the development of a calculator called Klimasmart (‘Climate smart’). This will reveal the consumption per kilo of CO2 emissions for the various tourist markets on the transport part of the trip. A tool of this kind will make it easier for all elements of the tourist industry to make better assessments of the relationship between consumer impact and climate costs in their own strategic initiatives,” Aasheim informs.
Sustainable Destination, the Nordic region’s only national accreditation scheme for travel destinations, also comes into play here. “It is a tool for the sustainable development of businesses and destinations when it comes to the environment, the local community, the cultural heritage, and the economy. The accreditation does not mean that the destinations are 100 per cent sustainable yet but shows that they are committed to a long-term process for a sustainable development. The destinations are evaluated every three years,” explains Aasheim.
One other noteworthy initiative is «CO2rism», a digital tool launched by Visit Norway in 2020 for calculating the CO2 emissions caused by transport of tourists to and in Norway. The user groups of this calculator are businesses and destinations marketeers, interested in insight on the emissions caused by the guests they want to attract to Norway. The input data covers both leisure and business travel for a more complete picture.
These solutions can be adapted by Visit Norway to meet the needs of travelers and be seamless when it comes to booking and transfer options. “All stakeholders – carriers, intermediaries, county and transport authorities and user organizations – must get behind these initiatives in order to try them out and implement them successfully. Everyone must realize that sustainability is more than just climate; it is also about economy and social conditions,” concludes Aasheim.