The Elephant is in the Room

Guest Author
Guest Author
May 9, 2019

Citizens around the world are demanding climate action. The kids are on strike, London was blocked for weeks by the Extinction Rebellion and the young Swedish powerhouse Greta Thunberg has just convinced the UK government to be the first to declare a climate emergency.

For 10 years I have been predicting a time when governments and citizens would start to take action to demand a more sustainable form of the events industry. Has that time come? Are we arriving at a moment when we – the events industry has to admit there is an elephant is in the room? The elephant being that our entire business model is almost entirely built on the need for our clients to fly for us to be profitable.

Air travel, once the epitome of coolness, is rapidly losing its charm as “flygskam” (“flight shame” in Swedish) is taking off across Europe, and spreading globally. Emerging in Sweden over the past year, the neologism “flygskam” refers to the feeling of being ashamed or embarrassed to board a plane because of its negative impact on the environment. The movement has even created an Instagram account with 63k followers that are publicly shaming celebrities for flying.

Every day I am hearing of more stories of people being “socially shamed” for flying. Personally, my friends on social media lambast me for flying so much, and it’s taking an effect. I am changing my habits and business model to not fly so much, and to attend fewer events that require flying.

Swedish Railways has reported a 21% increase in business travel this winter and various travel agencies are saying that their train business is booming. This switch to train-travelling has sprouted a new word: “tagskryt”, literally “train-bragging”. With Swedes and now other Europeans expressing their pride of travelling by train.

So will this movement build enough inertia to actually be a material risk to event organisers? Will it actually reduce attendance? Or will it just change how people travel to events? And perhaps most importantly are we as an industry ready to admit that we have an angry elephant in the room?

After 15 years working on sustainability, from experience I can say that the events industry and particularly destinations are no-where near prepared to manage this situation. You can count on one hand, the number of Convention Bureaus (CVBs) with a proper sustainability strategy, and with the expertise and processes to implement it.

What we need now, are more destinations prepared to step up to the challenge, to dedicate resources, to collaborate with their stakeholders to rethink and replan growth strategies; and to use events as a catalyst to accelerate a cities development strategy (socially, environmentally and

Through my work leading the Global Destination Sustainability Index, we are helping destinations to strategize and align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and then to speed up and scale up their sustainability initiatives. Our 50 participating cities around the world are leading the way – sharing data and best practices, looking for new ways of collaboration and co-creating new ways to be stewards of their destinations.

In Ireland – we have already started to see this in action. The Dublin Convention Bureau was a pioneering member of the GDS-Index, who saw the potential to engage with the other CVBs in the Meet In Ireland network and create a national “movement” for change. We have already seen this
collaboration delivering impacts in terms of education and outreach, and as a next step, we are working on the co-development of a common stewardship strategy and plan.

It’s time to recognise that the Elephant is in the Room and that we need to develop risk mitigation innovation and collaboration strategies to ensure our industry retains its’ social license to operate and continues to deliver value to the citizens that live in the destinations that host our events.

This blog is authored by Guy Bigwood and supported by the Dublin Convention Bureau team.

Guy Bigwood

Guy Bigwood

Managing Director

Global Destination Sustainability Index and GuBi Consulting

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About SoolNua

SoolNua is a specialist MICE agency helping destinations, hotels and venues with strategy, marketing and training based on 6 decades of expertise as global leaders in the industry.


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