By Shawna McKinley
Master of Arts in Environmental Education and Communication Thesis
Royal Roads University
Event professionals have begun to develop policies and practices that conserve resources and reduce waste. Planners are considering environmental aspects of prospective destinations and cities are responding by developing strategies that cater to this market.
In order to better understand the viability of green event management, this studyexamined two perspectives in the delivery of green events:
- Expectations and satisfaction of event planners (the demand side), and
- Strategies employed by destinations to provide green event services (the supply side).
Analysis of three event destination cities reveals specific strategies that create a green image that can be substantiated by real environmental practices. Although these practices are important and rated good or very good by planners, they are not considered to be critical destination selection factors by event planners. Study results are used to identify priority opportunities for convention and visitor bureaus to become more competitive and sustainable.
International policy documents, industry and academic research and discussion with
professionals in the meeting and event sector substantiate the following observations:
- Global environmental crises exist that affect the tourism industry. Tourism, including the meeting and event sector, affects the environment and has an opportunity to address these environmental issues.
- Environmental quality is linked to destination attractiveness and competitiveness.
- Event planners have environmental preferences, but they appear to be secondary in their destination selection decisions.
- Event planners have complex destination preferences which influence decision making.
- Destination managers are challenged to sustain the environmental quality of their destination, which is important to planners, even though environmental programs are not particularly marketable to planners.
This project considered three main questions:
- What strategies are used by green destinations to attract green events?
- How do event planners select a green destination?
- Are event planners satisfied with the product provided by green destinations?
Collectively these questions seek to understand how different convention and visitor bureaus (CVB’s) as destination suppliers are using green strategies to distinguish themselves in the event market and whether or not these strategies match the demand for green destinations by event planners. The findings are used to suggest how destinations might plan a prioritized approach to environmental issues as a means to improve competitiveness and advance sustainability.
The following two approaches were adopted to explore the research questions:
- Supply Study: A case study to identify green strategies adopted by three convention and visitor bureaus in the cities of Pittsburgh, Portland and Vancouver.
- Demand Study: An online survey of event planners concerning their expectations and experience in the case study destinations.
Study findings reveal:
- A diversity of strategies are being employed by event destinations that are perceived as ‘green’. These strategies have been adopted in varying degrees by the case study destinations and include both management and marketing tactics. Tactics therefore focus on both promoting the image of a green destination, along with maintaining the integrity of these marketing claims through various destination management strategies.
- Event planners consider convention and visitors bureaux, requests for proposals and web sites to be extremely important in acquiring information about prospective destinations.
- Planners have a high degree of influence over the selection of event destination cities.
- Planners perceive environmental aspects of destinations, accommodations and event venues as important.
- Energy efficiency and linen and towel reuse programs are considered to be quite to extremely important for accommodations.
- China and linen catering service, food donation, recycling/reuse programs, energy efficiency and local, organic and/or vegetarian menus have the highest degrees of importance for meeting venues.
- Walkable venues are easily the most important environmental criteria for host cities, followed by available local transit and municipal recycling and reuse programs.
- Environmental certification appears to be the least important environmental criteria for planners.
- Environmental criteria may be of secondary importance when compared to other non-environmental destination selection criteria, such as destination accessibility, the cost and availability of event venues and accommodation, destination attractiveness, quality of customer service and safety and security.
- Overall planners are very satisfied with the meeting product offered by the case study destinations.
- Environmental practices present opportunities to improve destination competitiveness for destination selection criteria that are most important to planners (i.e. destination accessibility and meeting facility and accommodation cost).
- Most important destination selection criteria between destinations being equal environmental criteria can come into play for certain planners who deem it important, presenting competitive advantages for green event destinations.
Having acquired an understanding of the nature of green event destination supply and demand, what can the results show us about alignment between green CVB strategies and planner needs and how can this be used as a management tool for practitioners? The following three approaches have been used to illustrate connections between green event destination supply and demand:
- Green Destination Supply-Demand Model: This Model combines the survey and case study results to show the links between green event destination supply and demand.
- Performance-improvement matrices: This tool can be used to show the relative importance and performance of the destination in terms of both environmental and non-environmental destination selection criteria. The matrices show areas of excellence destinations should continue to focus on, and other areas that may require more attention.
- Green Destination Action Grid: The Grid shows where opportunities might exist to implement or influence the development of environmental practices that are important to planners. Similarly, it can show strategies from which resources may be diverted to focus on other higher priority areas related to destination competitiveness and sustainability.
It is important to state that CVB’s have limited ability to meet all aspects of destination demand. CVB’s are able to direct and control environmental aspects of their own operations including policy development, marketing, purchasing and employee activities. Beyond this however, they are only able to influence the activities of members and partner agencies to meet aspects of green event destination demand. This can be a challenging process as members and partners can be reluctant to invest the resources necessary to improve their environmental performance. Members may also be skeptical of cost efficiencies, competitive advantages and the actual environmental benefits of green practices. Although they do not have the direct ability to control the activities of these external groups, CVB’s are able to influence through incentives, training, advocacy, and lobbying.
CONCLUSIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Environmental responsibility has become a daily practice for many sectors of the tourism industry, particularly those involved in nature-based activities. The adoption of such practices is grounded in a stewardship ethic for the conservation of the earth’s resources, as well as a desire to maintain the integrity of the attractions upon which tourism depends. This study has sought to analyse how this practice is being approached by the event destination sector and has determined:
- To be competitive event destinations need to pay close attention to a complex diversity of destination selection factors that are important to planners.
- Destination professionals must also invest in maintaining and improving their attractions, including environmental aspects, in order to sustain their appeal.
- CVB’s are challenged to manage limited resources in order to best be competitive and sustainable where environmental programs – although important – are not a primary destination selection criteria for planners.
- Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Portland have emerged as leaders in attempting to meet this evolving challenge and collectively provide a good description of what presently epitomizes a green event destination.
Into the future competitive and sustainable CVB’s would be well informed to:
- Invest in those destination selection and environmental aspects that are important to planners. This should include continued investment in aspects that are rated of high importance and satisfaction by planners, as well as those that are important, but rated lower in performance by planners.
- Invest in environmental practices that can supplement destination competitiveness concerning primary destination selection criteria (i.e. cost and accessibility).
- Communicate information regarding destination environmental attributes, which may tip the scales in favour of their destination where all primary decision making criteria are being met by prospective destinations under consideration by planners.
- Seek out and market to those groups that should share destination environmental values, including non-governmental groups with environmental mandates, governmental organizations, businesses with well-rated corporate responsibility programs, and members of green-minded organizations, such as the Green Meeting Industry Council.
Further information, including more detailed results from the study can be acquired by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.