Destination Stewardship: Examples of 7 Best Practices in Action

Summary: This blog addresses destination stewardship and climate action, showcasing examples of the seven best practices leading tourism destinations are taking to improve their sustainability performance. Tourism businesses can follow these same steps within their own organizations, just on a smaller scale. 

Contributed by: Angela Nagy

Destination sustainability, also known as destination stewardship, and measuring ESG (environmental, social and governance), can sometimes feel daunting. Sharing what other destinations are doing can help make these subjects feel more accessible. 

Last year I wrote about the Top Seven Best Practices of Sustainable Tourism Destinations, a topic so popular that it made Destination International’s “Top Blog Posts of 2022” list! We looked at the seven best practices for advancing sustainable tourism at the international, national, regional, and local levels, based on more than a decade of research and experience supporting DMOs on their sustainability journeys. 

In this post, I’ll dive into some specific examples of tourism destinations our team worked with, that are truly leading the way and putting these seven best practices into action. 

Best Practice 1: Engage, educate, and consult with stakeholders through a permanent sustainability committee, to help inform and guide future plans and actions 

When developing a Destination Management or Destination Stewardship plan, it is critical that local voices are included. Many destinations will be familiar with the stakeholder engagement process when designing master plans and strategies, including round tables, surveys, and focus groups. 

Forming a permanent sustainability or stewardship committee may engage very similar individuals, however, it is a standing committee whose purpose is to guide and inform the development and implementation of a detailed destination stewardship plan that identifies specific action items to improve sustainability performance, typically looking at social, environmental, cultural indicators, in addition to the typical economic impact measurements. 

That’s what the Vancouver, Coast & Mountains (VCM) Tourism Region of British Columbia did when forming the VCM Sustainability Council, a diverse collection of dozens of individuals and organizations committed to advancing the sustainability elements of the VCM Destination Development Strategy & Action Plan. 

Best Practice 2: Establish a baseline.

In order to create a sustainability action plan with goals and targets grounded in evidence, VCM worked to understand the region’s current situation by establishing a baseline of sustainability performance. There are several ways to measure baseline performance, such as the Sustainable Tourism Score assessment that we used for VCM, which is currently available for tourism destinations and tourism operators to use, free of charge. This exercise helped to identify strengths and areas of opportunity in alignment with globally recognized best practices for sustainable tourism, as the criteria have been formally recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

Another practice that leading destinations are taking is to measure their carbon footprint. As part of its Climate Action Plan and becoming a signatory of the Glasglow Declaration, we’re working with the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) to measure both its organizational and destination carbon footprint. This will enable a strong starting point from which to better understand where emissions are coming from to identify hotspots, and then a robust and well-informed action plan can be created for achieving their net-zero targets within their organization and within the destination. 

Best Practice 3: Set clear goals and identify the specific actions to achieve those goals.

With an understanding of the current situation, strengths, gaps, and opportunities, destinations can take a deep dive into how to advance the objectives of their existing destination strategies and goals, by creating a comprehensive strategy and action plan for improvement. Each destination’s strategy should be unique and designed to meet the needs of the local community and tourism industry. 

Ontario’s Southwest tourism region developed a comprehensive Sustainability Strategy, complete with goals, targets, and an action plan. The result is a plan that will be used over the next 3+ years with a focus placed on the areas of:

  • Sustainability Management System and Ecosystem
  • Business, Resident and Visitor Engagement, Education and Appreciation
  • Land Use and Infrastructure Planning

The Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Sustainability Council took a similar approach. Over the course of a year, we facilitated quarterly committee and monthly subcommittee meetings, working through our Destination Diagnosis process to identify alignment, gaps and opportunities to advance sustainability in the region, and then developed a set of focus areas and an action plan, which support a number of destination strategies from within the region. The region now has a very clear roadmap for where to focus efforts, align resources, and measurably improve its performance over time. 

Best Practice 4: Ongoing implementation, monitoring, and measurement of impacts and results.

Implementing the action plan and tracking progress is where the fun really begins. This can be led internally, or with the support of external partners who can help to provide guidance and extra support to help ensure the actions are moved forward. A good sustainability action plan should be structured to enable easy updates. 

Over the past year, GreenStep has been working with VCM’s Sustainability Committee on the implementation of their action plan. Subcommittees meet monthly for each of the three focus areas, reporting back on progress, reviewing the next steps, and assigning people responsible as they drive their plan forward. Each quarter, the broader Sustainability Committee is updated and has the opportunity to provide input and feedback. 

Best Practice 5: Publicly Report.

Sustainability and ESG reporting can seem daunting. Signing on to the Sustainable Tourism 2030 Pledge or Glasgow Declaration both provide guidance for simple annual reporting requirements, which is a great place to start. Publishing the progress made on your destination’s sustainability journey can also be done as a formal ESG or Sustainability Report, through a video, or through updating the sustainability page on your website. 

However you choose to report, information about your destination’s baseline, goals, key performance indicators, and the progress you have made over time, should be included.

Some destinations like the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association have taken it to the next level. In 2019, we worked with TOTA to help them become the first Canadian tourism destination to join the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO). As part of this, they have committed to the ongoing monitoring and reporting of nine sustainable tourism indicators, and submitting regular reports, at an international level. 

Best Practice 6: Engagement of tourism businesses.

A destination can only make meaningful progress on sustainability by engaging its tourism businesses on the journey and providing them with support and tools to create their own action plans for improvement. Several tourism destinations, such as Ontario’s Highlands, Central Counties Tourism, and Sunshine Coast Tourism, promote the free Sustainable Tourism 2030 Pledge as a starting point for taking action, providing an opportunity for tourism operators to make a public commitment, measure their performance, and gain access to free tools and guidance to support their journeys. 

Taking it a step further, organizations like the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association are providing direct support to tourism businesses within their region, through programs like the Eco-Efficiency Program. This program provides onsite energy, water, and waste assessments, and a report with recommended actions that businesses can take. In addition, TOTA has offered webinars and tools to help tourism businesses measure their carbon footprint. 

Best Practice 7: Formal assessment and certification of destination

The process of undertaking the formal assessment, verification, and certification of a tourism destination can be an invaluable step in helping to establish an accurate baseline picture of current performance and to gain a clear roadmap of what to do next to continue on the journey to sustainability. Of course, it is also an excellent way to validate and get recognized for your efforts, while demonstrating leadership. 

The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario took the lead in helping to access funding support for Regional Tourism Organizations and destinations throughout the province to become certified, as part of their Advancing Sustainable Tourism in Ontario initiative. Community destinations have also pursued certification at the local level, such as Destination Sherbrooke in Quebec, and Kermodi Tourism in British Columbia. As an outcome of the certification process, all of these destinations have received action plans, and are now working toward improving their score, which in turn will generate positive impacts for the planet, for people, and for their destinations. 


Angela Nagy is the Founder and CEO of GreenStep Solutions. She and her team work with tourism businesses and destinations to assess and accelerate their sustainability performance.