Tourism boards, both national and regional can play a vital role in supporting their destinations sustainable development. Historically, the traditional role of a tourism board was to market the destination, helping to grow visitor numbers and spending as the main goal. However, with the growing interest and need for the tourism industry to increase its sustainability practices tourism boards must take a more strategic approach. This includes shifting from a streamlined focus on marketing and putting emphasis on research, analysis, development and planning for the destination’s future development.

Destinations can’t just market themselves as a sustainable destination, but must embed sustainability throughout the visitor experience, this might include undertaking in-depth research, supporting local stakeholders with funding and strategy and implementing codes of conduct and policies that support the future sustainable development of the industry. Those tourism boards who are implementing sustainability into their strategies are moving away from a traditional high volume, low margin tourism model to an approach that has less negative impact on their destination and creates a greater balance between biodiversity, social-cultural value, and economic benefit.

A tourism board can’t be responsible for local stakeholders’ sustainability practices. However, through their unique position at the top of the value chain and if done correctly, they can play a vital leadership role by supporting and influencing their stakeholders to act in a similar fashion.

Here are a handful of ideas that tourism boards can take to support the sustainable development of their destination.

Advise and support stakeholders with sustainability certification

Understanding why and how to begin one’s journey to certification can be difficult and confusing for stakeholders. The number of certification options on the market is likely to be the main cause for this confusion, therefore tourism boards can take on the role of supporting stakeholders with recommendations on which certifications are most relevant or by setting up their own national or regional sustainability scheme.

  1. Recommending schemes

To begin with tourism boards can undertake research to understand what certifications are currently in use within their destination, understanding the cost and process, before consulting with local stakeholders to gain valued feedback on the schemes.

This research will allow tourism boards to build up a list of certifications to spotlight and promote to their local stakeholders.

  1. Developing a destination scheme

Additionally, some destinations have gone a step further through the development of their own sustainability scheme. This process can take some time to set up but can be extremely beneficial in the long run. There are two specific ways that tourism boards have taken to set these up, read more about the two approaches in last month’s blog here.

Promote sustainable stakeholders

Giving sustainable businesses promotional benefits, is an effective way to incentivise businesses to increase their sustainable operations. Specific ways that tourism boards can prioritise these businesses includes:

  • Putting them at the top of a listing site
  • Build them into example itineraries
  • Provide incentives for them to represent the destination at tradeshows and industry events

Understand your destination’s current positioning

Understanding the current positioning of your destination is key when developing a sustainable action plan. Some research should be carried out to understand some of the following:

  • How your destination is currently perceived
  • What your destination and its stakeholders are already doing in relation to sustainability
  • What sustainable products and assets your destination has to offer
  • The current issues and opportunities surrounding sustainable development

Involve residents and stakeholders in the planning process

For the long-time success of tourism development, involving residents and businesses in destination planning is extremely important. Local stakeholders act as the face of the tourism industry in many destinations and if they are happy and feel like they are involved in the planning process, they are more likely to support the longevity of the industry. Local stakeholders and residents also understand the social, environmental, and economic implications of tourism, and can provide information that the tourism board may not be aware of.  Therefore, involvement of these stakeholders not only helps to increase local empowerment, but it also allows for long term success.

Review your marketing and branding strategies

Tourism boards, to attract the right niche markets, must review their marketing and branding strategies to ensure that sustainability is at its core. It is no use having a strategy that is marketing the destination to all audiences, sustainable destination marketing must focus on targeting relevant niche markets. Stakeholders are unlikely to be incentivised to become more sustainable if the visitors the tourism board is targeting aren’t interest in their local tourism offer.  

These tourism offerings should have sustainability at their core and excite the type of traveller who would embrace the sustainable activities that your destination has on offer. Research to understand your current target market is important, alongside a thorough understanding of the offerings your destination has. Tourism boards can then conduct consumer research, looking at growing trends, new outbound markets etc. This research can lead to product development, changes in marketing campaigns to allow tourism boards to pick relevant market segments that they can spend time and effort attracting to their destination.

At Acorn Tourism we have worked with number of destinations supporting them with their the development of their sustainability strategy, helping them to empower others to follow suit.

We would be delighted to speak with you and answer any questions you may have. Please feel free to email Alison Burgh at to set up an initial meeting.


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