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

Theresa Link
Theresa Link

couple shopping at local farmer's market

Before the current pandemic, 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. From depleting local resources to creating pollution and waste problems, there are plenty of reasons the travel industry has been identified as a major obstacle to mitigating the effects of climate change. But today, that could be set to change.

As traveling diminished in early 2020, evidence shows destinations once struggling with over-tourism began recovering ecologically. Air pollution levels are dropping significantly since measures such as quarantines and shutdowns were put in place. But what happens when travel returns to or exceeds pre-pandemic levels?

At the COP26 global climate summit, speakers from around the world came together to celebrate the launch of a new coalition through the Sustainable Tourism Global Center (STGC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. At the summit, they discussed how to transform the travel sector into an industry spearheading the way for a more sustainable future.  

This has created an awareness 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 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 done in ways that bring benefit and not harm? Some ideas to consider might include:

1. Develop a plan for your event that includes 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 to incorporate sustainable ideas throughout your event. Water bottle stations, amenities from recycled products, utilizing diverse suppliers and locally sourcing supplies like food and décor are a great place to start. Using technology, such as a mobile app to reward sustainable attendee behaviors, education tracks or keynotes that tie sustainability to your meeting purpose is another idea 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 might be impacted, there may be nearby second tier or smaller cities that offer truly unique and intimate experiences for travelers. Visiting off-the-beaten path locations will set your group apart from competitors. Offer a chance for attendees to visit a newly discovered location with a a more welcoming atmosphere and fewer crowds. 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.

4. 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. As an added bonus, traveling during the offseason provides income to the local community. In many destinations, there is very little sacrifice in weather during offseason so the benefit may outweigh the risk.

5. Use sustainable practices whenever possible. 

COVID-19 brought with it increased single-use products, and while that may be unavoidable in ensuring a safe event, focus on what you can control. For example, utilize recycled cardboard containers rather than Styrofoam or plastic. Or expand your focus to areas of sustainability you know you can impact, like supplier diversity and local givebacks. Too often sustainability feels like an all or nothing situation. Don’t let that keep you from making changes that are within your control. Whether it’s as simple as avoiding printouts and utilizing digital formats 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 can create unique and memorable travel experiences that 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.