Prior to the pandemic halting tourism in 2020, the industry was increasingly becoming aware of the need to create strategies that prioritized climate concerns and other social and economic challenges. As tourism returns, there is an opportunity to reexamine and commit to meaningful changes that can ensure a stable future for the sector. From staffing shortages and economic slowdowns to extreme weather – disruptions can hit in unpredictable waves.

So what is the answer to building a resilient and future-proof travel industry?

In short: sustainability. In 2015, the United Nations made a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. If implemented, they will usher in a world that is profitable for both people and planet. These SDGs were designed with governments in mind, but they can be used in individual organizations’ strategies too.

And tourism businesses are perfectly positioned to make an impact.

Travellers make choices based on their values, and increasingly, they will research a business’s sustainability efforts before booking. As the industry rebuilds its offerings for long-term success, the SDGs are a helpful framework for attracting guests now and into the future.

In the latest EDGE event, Jill Doucette of Synergy Enterprises shared her top tips and real-world examples for building a sustainability action plan for your tourism business, based on the UN SDGs.

Here are our top takeaways from the session:

  1. THINK BIG, START SMALL: Incorporating the UN SDGs into your business plan can be overwhelming. But you don’t need to implement all 17 goals. Start with the areas that you can influence and that align with your objectives. Jill often recommends picking 3-8 SDGs, and then expanding once you have reached your targets.
  2. BEYOND CLIMATE: There’s more to sustainability than environmental impact. The SDGs also include topics like good management, ending poverty, and reducing inequality. For a company to be profitable in the long run, it’s important to consider the well-being of everyone whose lives are affected by it, such as your staff, the locals in your community, your suppliers, and your customers.
  3. RETURN ON INVESTMENT: Sustainability isn’t just a feel-good exercise; it’s also good business. Many of the SDGs may already fit into your existing strategy, such as reducing energy consumption to cut costs, or paying employees a living wage to boost retention. Look at which SDGs will have a positive impact on your current goals — these will be easier to implement.
  4. BRIGHT IDEAS: You are not alone on this journey towards creating a sustainability plan. Take inspiration from other companies across Canada and around the world. Some great real-world examples? Charge your guests a small fee that will be donated to environmental non-profits, set aside paid-time for your staff to volunteer in the community, evaluate ways to reduce waste, or launch programs to improve your employees’ quality of life.
  5. PARTNER UP: Not all businesses have the infrastructure to make changes at their own offices. Growing a green roof or converting to renewable energy may not be possible for companies that rent their workspace, but there are still ways to make a difference. Talk to one of the many organizations that provide sustainability audits (such as Green Step, Green Globe, Travelife, and Jill Doucette’s Synergy Enterprises), and speak with non-profits in Toronto that would love the support of local corporations.
  6. MAKE A PLAN: Start with your “why?” What does being sustainable mean for you and your business? Then choose the UN Sustainable Development Goals you want to work on. In order to set targets for improvement, measure your company’s current metrics. Get your team engaged and excited about the project — and with their support, outline a step-by-step action plan. Once you implement it, celebrate wins along the way. This is key to staying motivated and is an opportunity for you to communicate your efforts to your guests.
  7. POSITIVE LOOP: Your sustainability journey isn’t just about getting from A to B; it’s a cycle of working towards goals, hitting them, and setting new ones. And inspiring others in the process!

Check out some of the impressive tourism sustainability plans Jill shared during her presentation:

Be sure to explore the many educational resources on this topic offered to our industry, such as:

If you weren’t able to join us “live,” you can watch the recording above and read Jill’s presentation HERE (along with a full appendix of Canadian tourism examples). Check out our future event line up at Edge & Events.