Lessons Learned from the GDS Forum in Valencia

27th October 2023

Valencia, Spain, played host to the GDS-Forum from October 2nd to 4th, 2023, the very first of its kind. As participants ventured into the uncharted waters of regenerative tourism, events, and destination management, the ‘unconference’ provided the perfect platform to brainstorm, network and come up with concrete ideas on how to do things not only differently, but definitely better.

Words Remi Deve

At the heart of the recent GDS-Forum lay a collective aspiration to co-create a regenerative future for the tourism and events sector, a mission as profound as it was clear. The forum sought to transform mindsets, urging participants to empower sustainable leadership, kindling innovation, and fostering collaboration among industry leaders. This approach encouraged holistic practices within the tourism and events sector, steering it toward becoming a more regenerative and sustainable industry.

Central to the Forum was its role as a catalyst for building management capacity, enabling the development of social, environmental, and economic solutions for sustainable growth. It aimed to empower professionals to manage transformation toward a future defined by a positive impact. Beyond individual endeavors, the event sought to create a cohesive and collaborative international community of sustainability practitioners within the tourism and events sector, highlighting the collective nature of this monumental task.

And what set the GDS-Forum apart was its distinctive “un-conference” paradigm, characterized by an emergent and inclusive model. This meant no traditional keynote speakers and PowerPoint presentations, but a highly participatory environment that encouraged dynamic and future-focused conversations, as well as practical, very concret steps highlighting what to do next. In this way, the GDS-Forum not only painted a vision of a regenerative future but actively engaged its attendees in the process of shaping it.

Coming out of the Forum, there is a clear roadmap for the future. First and foremost, there’s a strong call for improved resident engagement in the tourism sector, highlighting the importance of ensuring local communities are an integral part of the industry. DMO’s are urged to make their own sustainable commitments, setting a leadership example for others to follow. Collaboration between destinations is seen as a key driver of success, fostering innovative solutions and shared strategies.

Education is paramount, with local businesses encouraged to embrace sustainability as a core principle. Beyond mere economic gains, the emphasis is on achieving a significant social impact, making tourism a force for positive change. To achieve these goals, a shift in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) towards more transformative metrics is recommended, enabling a holistic approach to success measurement. Above all, the message is clear – every small step counts, and continued progress is the path to lasting change.

On the last day, the GDS-Awards were handed out, standing as a testament to destinations boldly pushing the boundaries of sustainability and legacy. Among the winners, Gothenburg secured the Leadership Award, while Liverpool clinched the Most Improved Destination Award. In recognition of its DEI program, Washington DC accepted the Innovation Award. The GDS-Movement and #MEET4IMPACT Impact Award (the first of its kind) went to Sydney, Australia, with BESydney leading the way in designing and measuring impactful business events.

More information on the GDS Movement here.

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