The Annual Meetingopened to a buzz of networking industry professionals and sustainable tourism stakeholders at the Hilton Washington, DC.
Attendees of the Open Forum were welcomed by the opening remarks of Luigi Cabrini of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), reminding us of the growing importance of travel. He specifically honed in on the UNWTO projections that global travel will hit 1 billion people by the end of this year.
This volume of travel really set the tone for the rest of the morning. With the volume of people traveling, travel and tourism has an enormous impact on the world we live in. We as an industry have a responsibility to protect the planet and to operate sustainability, and those who took the stage following Mr. Cabrini brought this sentiment to life and also to the practical business considerations.
Next, we heard from Lisa Jackson, administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who spoke about the role the global tourism industry has to play in sustainability and the efforts that are already being made. As she pointed out, «With 1 billion tourists traveling this year, even small adjustments in operations can make huge difference.»
She was followed by Dr. Kelly Bricker, chair of the GSTC, who discussed the role of the GSTC in rallying around common criteria for sustainability and encouraging wide adoption.
After an energizing coffee break, we heard from a panel of speakers who have embraced sustainability and incorporated it as a core value in operations.
First Dorinda Elliott, Global Affairs Editor at Conde Nast Traveler, discussed how she tells the story of sustainability and global issues on the pages of her magazine. Next Paul Brown, president of brands and commercial services for Hilton Worldwide, shared the company’s laser focus on sustainability through its LightStay program and why it is at the core of their business model and makes business sense—to the tune of $147 million in savings last year.
Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, took the stage next and shared a few of the community projects his travel company is working on – from a weaving cooperative in Peru to New Hope educational organization in Siem Reap, Cambodia – that not only benefit the communities in which they operate and offer a differentiated experience to customers, but cost nothing to their company. Lastly Kim Slicklein, President of Ogilvy Earth, concluded with a practical and inspiring talk about making green more mainstream. Most of all, start with making sustainability more normal and shed the feminine, crunchy, yuppie stereotypes.
GSTC Third Annual Meeting Open Forum: Afternoon Overview
The second half of the day continued in the same vein as the morning session – information packed, and the amount of knowledge contained in our ballroom is inspiring, and we hope to share some snippets of the day with you. Each speaker brought his/her own background and professional take on sustainability, and backed it up with real-life business examples that brought the concepts to life.
Panel: The Value of Standards
The first session The Value of Standards, a key component for the GSTC, took the abstract and complex concept of standards and gave them tangible business applications courtesy of our panelists. We thank Ronald Sanabria, vice president of tourism for the Rainforest Alliance, for moderating the discussions of our heavy-hitting panel.
Jane Ashton, director of group sustainable development at TUI Travel PLC, shared her perspective on the standards and ultimately when working with as many suppliers as a company of their size does, standards are an essential tool in procurement. She also discussed TUI’s 3-year sustainability plan and the importance of standards and criteria when evaluating the results.
Next Leilani Latimer, senior director global sustainability initiatives of Sabre Holdings, took the mic and discussed many of their initiatives as it relates to standards including the buzz-worthy rollout of the Green Hotel Directory for its subsidiary Travelocity, effectively bringing green sourcing to a mainstream consumer channel. Lastly, Sabrina Vigilante, director strategic initiatives of the Rainforest Alliance, brought the conversation home with an intimate look into their Shop the Frog labeling program, and how it gets the message out of sustainable sourcing to consumers and manufacturers alike. (Check out Magnum Ice Cream’s promo video on their sustainable sourcing and the label here.)
Panel: A Mutli-Stakeholder Approach to a Successful Sustainability Strategy
This session brought to light an important issue in any sustainability plan, stakeholder involvement. As champions of sustainability, our panelists shared insight on their broad range of stakeholders and how they are considered in the sustainable journey.
Moderator Gwen Migita, vice president of sustainability and community engagement for Caesars Entertainment, framed the complex and sensitive topic prior to sharing insights from the panelists.
Jorge Saggiante, executive secretary for the Department of Economic Development of the Trade and Tourism of the Office of American States, discussed tourism’s capacity to mitigate poverty and social inequality through its economic strength noting that tourism directly and indirectly employs 3.9 million people the Americas—roughly the population of Argentina. Secondly Kelly Bricker, chair of GSTC, discussed the formidable task of creating the GSTC criteria with worldwide applicability and buy in. Just to give a sense of the breadth of the process 4,500 existing criteria were evaluated, more than 100 organizations were asked to participate, and more than 80,000 people touched the standards at some point in the process. Now that’s stakeholder involvement!
Hugh Sinnock, director of customer experience of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor, spoke about Las Vegas’ commitment to sustainability that exists behind all the glitz and glamour Vegas is known for (fun fact: the water in the famous Bellagio fountains is recycled gray water). Lastly, Faith Taylor, senior vice president of sustainability and innovation of Wyndham Worldwide, succinctly discussed the viewpoints of a few of the company’s stakeholder groups (consumers, governments and investors) and how they consider their interests while accelerating their sustainability plan amid a constantly changing hospitality climate. She discussed how sustainability does not necessarily need to be more expensive; cost neutral initiatives are usually a superior product.
Panel: Early Adopters of the Destination Criteria
Lastly, we concluded the content portion of the day with a session on Destinations – Presentations of the GSTC Early Adopters. This panel of sustainable trailblazers was moderated by Jamie Sweeting, vice president of the environmental stewardship and global chief environmental officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
The following destinations showcased their dazzling settings, which they hope to protect through their sustainable efforts. These passionate professionals also gave insight into why they decided to become Early Adopters and provided reasons sustainability fits into their tourism plan for continued tourism and business success.
Timothy O’Donoghue, executive director of Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce
Kristian B. Jørgensen, CEO of Fjord Norway
Minsheng Yao, deputy director of the Economic Development Bureau of the Mt. Huangshan Administrative Committee
Pedro San Ginés, president of the Cabildo de Lanzarote
Mafila Richard Malesu, senior grading manager of the Botswana Tourism Organisation
To finish today’s recap, this statement from Mr. Sweeting really sums up where we are in the sustainable travel process and where we are heading. “We know we are far from perfect, but we are excited to be a part of the dialogue on how we can improve.” We all need to keep the dialogue going and improve.
Stay tuned for more updates from the conference. Follow the event and join the conversation on theGSTC Facebook page and on Twitter @GSTCcouncil with the event hashtag #GSTC2012.
About the author: Talia Salem is a travel professional and communications specialist. She has worked as a journalist and travel writer for the past six years specializing in the group travel industry, as well as culinary and sustainable tourism. She was most recently managing editor ofSmart Meetings magazine, where she helped the magazine expand into the national market. She has a passion for the tourism industry, and its intersections with sustainability, and social media and technology. Talia is currently working on her Masters in Sustainable Tourism Destination Management at the George Washington University and consulting for a handful of travel organizations. Talia is trilingual and has also spent extensive time abroad in the France and Jordan, and plans to expand that list ASAP. You can follow her on Twitter at @theurbanomad.