7 Tips for Sustainable Events in Post-COVID-19 Group Travel

Theresa Link
Theresa Link

sustainable event attendee shopping at a farmer's market

Before the current pandemic (and likely to continue well after), popular destinations globally had been struggling with over-tourism. Due in no small part to the massive numbers of travelers, local destinations were struggling to keep up with the explosive growth. As a result, there was a drain on resources, which negatively impacted local residents, popular points of interest were overcrowded and native habitats were irreparably damaged.

Noteworthy Environmental Effects of COVID-19

However, as traveling diminished in early 2020, evidence shows that these same destinations were now recovering ecologically. Air pollution levels have dropped significantly since measures such as quarantines and shutdowns were put in place to contain COVID-19. Goats are running in the streets in Wales, skies are clearer in major cities around the globe, water in the Venice canals are unusually clear, and mountain ranges in Kathmandu (one of the most polluted areas of the world) are now visible once again.

This has created an awareness for all travelers of how travel impacts our world as well as a shift in thinking.

As event planners, we have a responsibility to pay attention to how tourism is impacts local, national and global environments. It’s important to take action now to ensure travel to these destinations can be enjoyed for generations to come.

So what can we, as event planners, do to ensure that travel is being done in ways that will bring benefit and not harm? Some ideas to consider might include:

  1. Develop a plan for your event that will include allocating resources to focus on sustainability issues and a strong to-do list to ensure milestones are included to bring about action. Consider establishing a sustainability team that will work to incorporate sustainable ideas throughout your event—water bottle stations, amenities from recycled products, using technology, like your mobile app, to reward sustainable attendee behaviors, education tracks or keynotes that tie sustainability to your meeting purpose are just some ideas to get you started.
  2. Make a commitment to leave every destination better by being a responsible visitor. This means supporting the local economy (shops, farms, restaurants, etc.) to help improve the quality of life for local residents. Work with local experts who partner closely with area providers of produce, amenities and local labor experience.
  3. Consider smaller cities or out of the box experiences. While larger cities in a destination might be impacted, there may be nearby second tier or smaller cities which can offer truly unique and intimate experiences for your travelers. Visiting more unfamiliar places will set your group apart from competitors as off-the-beaten path locations give planners a chance to provide attendees with a destination that is less crowded and more welcoming, while offering attendees a chance to bring home stories of newly discovered locations. Currently, there is surging interest in domestic locations that were previously undiscovered for groups. Imagine your attendees lobster trapping in Portland, Maine, a teambuilding rowing experience on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, or a private State Fair and rodeo experience in Des Moines, Iowa.  

Related: Incorporating destination-specific elements helps your people truly experience a destination, not just pass by. Take your guests beyond the surface of a destination and give them a taste of cultural flair with these tips.

  1. Consider the timing and seasonality for your event. Going during shoulder season or even offseason in some destinations can offer stronger rates, more availability and balances the tourist load, which in turn balances the burden on workers and resources. In many destinations, there is very little sacrifice in weather during offseason so the benefit may outweigh the risk.
  2. Use sustainable practices whenever possible. Whether it’s as simple as avoiding printouts and utilizing technology instead or whether you commit to a broader smart procurement strategy that will favor social and environmental supplies and options, keeping sustainability on your planning radar will help to keep the industry moving forward in a conscious way.
  3. Involve attendees in your endeavors. It is important that you explain to your attendees and let them have a voice. Explaining any changes that you are making and why, describing for attendees what your organization is doing to promote sustainable tourism will show your attendees that you care about the future of travel. Utilizing technology such as a mobile application allows you to communicate how you are implementing sustainable solutions in addition to providing a portal for rewarding sustainable attendee behaviors, or promoting education tracks and keynotes that tie to sustainability.
  4. Partner with a professional organization who can advise you in these endeavors and provide assistance to ease your burden. As sustainability concerns continue to grow, so do the number of partners who are committed to promoting sustainable practices. Ensure that your partners including hotels, venues, and transportation companies are focusing on helping you with your sustainability initiatives.

As our industry begins to recover from reduced travel during the pandemic, it’s critical we take the lessons learned to ensure some of the previous detriment to our climate is avoided in the future.  By taking action now, event planners have the capability to create unique and memorable travel experiences in ways that will bring benefit to today’s travelers and provide ongoing sustainable travel for the travelers of tomorrow.

Still curious about sustainable and eco-friendly events? From paper trails to transportation, all the elements needed for an event can pile up. To reduce your carbon footprint, here are some strategies you can incorporate into you next event to make it more eco-friendly.