‘New Normal’ is the buzz-phrase of the moment as our industry, governments, media outlets and citizens around the world talk about what life will be like beyond the current global crisis.

Approaching the end of 2019, the global crisis that many of us were concerned about was that of our climate and wider sustainability, encompassed within the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.  To re-iterate the ‘phrase of the moment’, we strove for a new normal of no single-use plastics, reducing food waste, equality, clean energy sources and so on. 

Now, as we attempt to transition from lockdown conditions to the re-opening up of our societies, I fear that many of the solutions we need to put in place will be contrary to what we strive for in our push for sustainability. In order to inspire confidence in the safety and security of our clients in travel, many solutions we see are disposable plastics, while the costs businesses will have to absorb for new procedures and fewer customers in a socially distanced world will further deflect from investing in sustainability. 

At the end of last year, Fáilte Ireland surveyed over 250 members of our MICE industry in association with the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDSI).  One percent concerningly stated that sustainability was not important, and they did not consider it important – a small number I know, but nonetheless why has the message not got through?  When asked what obstacles they face in implementing sustainability, the responses were not surprising and crucially for us as the DMO, there was an ask for leadership, guidance and education:

55% – Lack of resources and time
47% – Lack of knowledge and skills
44% – Cost

These results were then used to structure a workshop in early January and then a sustainability session at the annual Business Tourism conference held in the beautiful Dromoland Castle in association with SITE and the Association of Irish Professional Conference Organisers (AIPCO).  (We finished that event in late February with an additional panel session that had not been programmed as the effects of Covid-19 were beginning to be seen in Europe.) 

Our sustainability sessions allowed us to address the thoughts and challenges of our industry; we have a strong will, but the delivery is far from consistent.  There certainly is an understanding that more sustainable practices are the right thing to do by our planet, but they also offer us an opportunity to win more business.  As an island destination air is the method of travel for almost every single one of our visitors, so what can we do as a whole? 

As an industry, we crowd-sourced a pledge on sustainability that we will all sign up to.  Each individual business will continue with their own sustainability plans.  We as the National Tourism Authority will continue to drive the sustainability agenda – it cannot be side-lined as we emerge from our current crisis – we will lose more business due to the carbon cost of getting here, and it is the right thing to do as citizens.  We will continue to measure our regional convention bureaux through the GDSI, we look forward to the delivery of a consultancy piece of meaningful carbon off-setting, and we will enhance supports for events that are run sustainably. 

In the ‘new normal’ we must ensure that we protect our planet.  We as an industry have the opportunity, the ability and the reach to demonstrate leadership.  Let our ‘new normal’ be deeply founded on sustainable practices across the world where SITE members are truly making a positive difference.

Sam Johnston, Manager, Dublin Convention Bureau, Ireland