With the announcement today (19 November) that we have joined Tourism Declares along with industry partners, we caught up with the initiative's founder, Jeremy Smith.
I am incredibly excited that today VisitScotland, in a joint declaration with Wild Scotland and Sail Scotland, becomes the first National Tourist Organisation to join Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency. It continues to be the hardest year for us all, and yet just as we must focus on the current crisis, we also have to look ahead. With just under 12 months until Scotland hosts the COP26 climate conference, this feels like a key moment for our industry’s climate action.
When we launched Tourism Declares back in January this year, during the Australian bushfires, we were a group of 14 founder signatories who’d come together to find a framework to accelerate our response to the climate emergency. We’d seen how, over the past few years, a growing number of places - now 1,833 villages, towns, regions and countries - were launching Climate Emergency Declarations. We felt this focus on community and commitment offered the right approach for our industry.
Whether it’s a remote island, a globally connected city, or a country that contains them all, these are the places where tourism happens. For tourism to be part of developing a sustainable future, we have to support the aspirations of the communities we rely on. If our communities are declaring a climate emergency, then we believe tourism needs to declare too.
Scotland’s communities are at the forefront of this - almost an alphabet of places have declared a climate emergency: Angus, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, East Lothian, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow, The Highland Council, Kingsbarns, Midlothian, Moray Speyside, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, Shetland, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian. And perhaps most significantly, on 28 April 2019, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency on behalf of the Scottish Government, the first time this had happened at a national level anywhere in the world.
Our aim with Tourism Declares is to develop tourism that supports all these communities now and in the years to come. Having begun with 14 signatories, we are now 121, with representatives from just about every corner of our industry - accommodation, aviation, certification, consultants, education, event management, finance, media, online, trade bodies, travel agents, and now our first National Tourism Organisation. Every one of them has declared a climate emergency, committed to publishing a climate action plan, and agreed to work together to develop tourism that aligns with the need to cut global emissions in half by 2030.
With today’s announcements, I am able to imagine how this might work across a whole destination. VisitScotland, Sail Scotland and Wild Scotland are joined today in declaring by the operator Wild Tree Adventures. Wilderness Scotland is already declared, as are the certification schemes Green Key and Blue Flag. These last two are global schemes, but they are run in Scotland by Keep Scotland Beautiful, which is also responsible for delivering climate emergency training to local organisations and communities across the country. Having this range of organisations on board offers huge potential for us to collaborate with and support one another.
It also connects us with Scotland’s broader vision for its industry’s future. Writing in the foreword to Scotland Outlook 2030, the recently published vision for Scottish tourism, Nicola Sturgeon wrote: “The Scottish Government’s declaration of a climate emergency committed Scotland to tackling its impacts. I am pleased that our collaborative new tourism strategy recognises the vital role the industry has in addressing the climate emergency and safeguarding our breath-taking landscapes and rich heritage for future generations.”
Tourism Declares exists to support such vital collaboration. We have recently launched a community platform for our members where anyone who has declared (and anyone who works with that organisation) can connect with other members to share challenges, ideas and best practice. Already it is playing host to conversations on topics ranging from the use of the Science Based Targets, how best to measure the emissions from menu choices, and how to communicate your initiatives to your guests. Today’s news will enrich our community enormously, and I hope will bring great benefit to Scotland, too.
What might this look like for Scottish tourism? Can we share ideas to ensure it supports the restoration of a unique region like Caithness and Sutherland’s Flow Country, the world’s largest carbon store? Or connect with members across the world to develop Scottish safaris across its rewilded estates? What role does the Caledonian Sleeper have in connecting Scotland to Europe? And how might other destinations learn from Scotland’s experiences, just as Scotland learns from them?
With a year to go until COP26 takes place in Glasgow, having the host country declare gives us a perfect foundation to work with many more. Earlier this week the UK’s Travel Foundation also declared, and we are working with them and their partners at the Future of Tourism Coalition to bring together more committed destinations and organisations to create a blueprint for tourism ready for next November.
We don’t yet know what this will look like, but we strongly believe that it is only by coming together and learning from each other that we will be able to make real, transformative change within our industry. Yes it is about finding the best ways to reduce emissions, but it is also much more: it’s about imagining the best that tourism can be and working out how to create this together. How can we inspire our guests, support our host communities, and restore biodiversity? And how can doing all this help our sector develop a thriving, regenerative future on the other side of COVID-19?
Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant who co-founded Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency in January 2020 . He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and Clean Breaks - 500 New Ways to See the World (2010).
He is also the co-founder and editor of Travindy.com, the travel industry sustainable tourism website newsletter and website.