Week 7: Part II- Lessons and Questions

Part II- Lessons and Questions

The 2015 Summer School conference was held in the Europa Conference Center in Vitoria-Gasteiz.  It is an energy efficient building, using daylighting techniques and green walls and a green roof for energy efficiency.


The quality and number of participants in the Summer School, 2015 combined for a great variety in viewpoints and a chance to engage with nearly all of these brilliant individuals that had backgrounds in everything ranging from art, policy, project management DMOs, sustainable building, architecture, NGO operations, research, gastronomy and so many other things.  I can’t stress enough how down to earth, interesting, fun and approachable the speakers and participants were, and how insightful and inspiring it was to be able to share my time with them this week.

These are some of the thoughts that presentations and discussions have inspired:

  • There is an interrelatedness but a distinction between tourism and community building and DSC_0326perhaps, in some cases, building up tourism industry is a backwards approach. It seems building a community where it is wonderful to “live, work, play, study and visit” is the best approach.  (thought provoked by conversation and presentations from Petra Stušek, General Manager, Ljubljana Tourism and Alastaire Upton, Director of the Creative Foundation in Folkestone.  Quote from Alastaire’s presentation, which was taken from the town’s mission statement.)DSC_0316
  • A poignant yet almost common sense idea- give people that are already on board with sustainability the tools to implement it. Don’t waste your efforts on those that are unsure or against it.  Let time and evidence guide them down that path. (thought provided by Robert Wimmer, Chairman, GrAT, Center for Appropriate Technology, through conversation and presentation.  He also has taught me how to hold my breath for longer periods of time.  I am certain this will be valuable in the future.)
  • “Promote what is developed. Develop what is demanded.”  Let’s stop promoting these hugely recognizable destinations and sites. Let’s instead promote smaller destinations to spread the opportunities and reduce the negative impacts of mass tourism.  AND market research when engaging in tourism projects is essential.  We can’t just build and hope for success.  We need to analyze demand.  (Eduardo Santander, CEO European Travel Commission).

    Salli Felton from The Travel Foundation
    Salli Felton from The Travel Foundation
  • Success stories are inspirational. But oftentimes these are isolated solutions.  We need to zoom out, take a broader view and start developing solutions on a local level that are holistic and systemically effective.  (from presentation by Salli Felton, Chief Executive of The Travel Foundation.)
  • Projects needs to be driven by local needs. Currently donors are choosing projects poorly and not monitoring their success.  There is too much ‘for show’ decision making happening, and the funding system can fail us.  And as far as monitoring success, numbers alone are not enough.  We need to measure quality of life and qualitative characteristics of projects that have been implemented.  And on top of that, a lessons learned archive for easy access for tourism professionals would be greatly beneficial.  Unfortunately, this is not likely due to a lack of cooperation from consultants- they don’t want to share information as it increases competitiveness. (information from the presentation by Xavier Font, who presented an eye-opening–self-proclaimed ‘cynical’- behind the scenes look at the donor aspect of tourism projects.)

    Cinzia de Marzo discusses ETIS, European Tourism Indicator System for sustainable management
    Cinzia de Marzo discusses ETIS, European Tourism Indicator System for sustainable management
  • It is important that we have access to approachable and user friendly indicators that are also specific enough for a region to be beneficial. I know that with a flood of sustainability criteria, such as labels, certifications and indicator frameworks (Green Globes, LEED, EcoLabel, ETIS, GSTC, Envision, etc) it can actually confuse the industry and consumers.  I like the idea of a governing body that is in charge of all of these and can direct users to what is most suitable.  But of course, I am not crazy about one organization being in charge, as I think it can minimize creativity and actually bottleneck progress.  So, this isn’t something I learned- in fact, it has only made me ask more questions!  A thanks to Cinzia de Marzo for the interesting talk on the ETIS indicators, and the changes being made to the toolkit.  ETIS aligns with the GSTC criteria with some variations specific to Europe. This leads to a big thanks to Luigi Cabrini, Chairman, GSTC, and UNWTO Advisor, who spoke on the GSTC indicators.  It makes me wonder about the work I did with Dr David Randle and the Sea Turtle Conservancy on the wildlife certification for Florida Green Lodging.  It’s very specific to the region, and I think that’s valuable.  But I wonder if it would be effective to create a ‘governing body’ that can provide a foundation, and then the localized additions can be made more easily.  For instance, a beach resort indicators guide, or a golf course guide, or a- you get the picture… just thoughts, thoughts, thoughts… thank you for getting my mental wheels spinning, Luigi and Cinzia!

    Alla Peressolova talks about the Silk Road
    Alla Peressolova talks about the Silk Road
  • Overall there is a great need for locally driven projects, demanding improved methods of stakeholder engagement. Collaboration, cooperation, information sharing, stakeholder engagement and local community involvement create more sustainable projects in terms of achieving a sturdy foundation for support, policy, and objectives setting.  Several presenters touched on this or in one way or another supported this conclusion: Alla Peressolova, Head of the Silk Road Program, UNWTO; Deirdre Shurland, Sr. Consultant at UNEP, Tourism and Environment Programme; Andrea Serpagli, IFAD; and Nerissa del Fierro.  I also had conversations outside of the conference regarding this, and the potential for improvement in identifying tools and techniques for involving stakeholders at all levels is great, and necessary.  I look forward to researching this further.
  • It is imperative that we have international organizations that can lead projects with the objective of environmental, social and economic sustainability. Alla Peressolova discussed the multinational project, the Silk Road.  The level of coordination required to successfully implement a project of that size and complexity, crossing physical, political and cultural borders, is absolutely stunning.  Deirdre Shurland mentioned in her presentation that too many leading institutions can be disastrous to a project, so this shows that it is important to have international organizations guiding these projects to ensure equity for stakeholders and a more holistic view, guided with non-bias.
At the winery, with Deirdre Shurman, UNEP Senior Advisor and Silvia Barbone, Founder of FEST.
At the winery, with Deirdre Shurland, UNEP Senior Advisor and Silvia Barbone, Founder of FEST.
The mixer on the last night, with Silvia Barbone and Luigi Cabrini, GSTC.
The mixer on the last night, with Silvia Barbone and Luigi Cabrini, GSTC.

Anne Maria Mäkelä summed up the conference by giving us two words to remember.  LOVE and KISS.  I will share my take on that.  Overall, people are people, regardless of race, religion, profession, language, status, or preferences.  We mostly all want the same thing- a clean, happy, healthy world, where we can engage with each other and the world with open minds, open arms and open hearts.  Understanding that and acting on that can help us make a better world.  Acting out of LOVE will help us Keep It Sustainably Simple.

For an insider’s view of the activities and field trips of the 2015 Summer School, visit Part I of this blog: Vitoria-Gateiz, in Prose & Pictures.

Feel free to leave comments below to encourage further discussion on the topics.

The resulting Call for Action can soon be found at http://www.festfoundation.eu/.

Leave a Reply