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Tourism companies want to be sustainable – but are lacking a green innovation strategy

Among the countries represented on the conference were Portugal, Mexico and Sweden.
  • Publisert 23.05.2012
A new study mapping the innovation in 28 tourism companies from 10 countries show that these are investing in sustainability, but the initiatives are unfocused and not in line with other parts of their business strategy.

The results from the study were presented at the joint OECD and Nordic Innovation conference Green Business Model Innovation in the Tourism and Experience Economy in Tivoli, Copenhagen on 21 May.


Tivoli’s managing director Lars Liebst opened the conference by telling about the green strategy of the amusement park in the heart of the Danish capital.


- We have a responsibility towards our investors and the four million people visiting the park each year. But it is not only about them, it is also about our employees. Our perception is that a company that shows social responsibility has more satisfied workers.


Jørn Bang Andersen and Petra Nilsson-Andersen, senior innovation advisers at Nordic Innovation, presented the main findings from the Business Model Innovation-programme (BMI-programme), developed by Nordic Innovation in close cooperation with the OECD Tourism Committee, and commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers. By applying a specially designed innovation radar, the programme is providing insight into how tourism and experience companies from Nordic and other OECD countries work strategically with business model innovation – and in particular green business model innovation.


The participating countries were Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Austria, Portugal, South Korea, Mexico and Russia.


- We wanted to have a global perspective on the programme, in order to see what Nordic companies can learn from companies in other countries, Petra Nilsson-Andersen said.


The result shows that only 15 percent of the companies have a clear innovation strategy and as few as 7 percent a green innovation strategy.


Customer and offering innovation are generally most focused on, but when adding a green perspective the outcome is rather different:


- Only 4 percent of all companies have their primary innovation focus on partnership. However, if green is integrated into the equation, the focus on partnership is 33 percent, Jørn Bang Andersen said.


Nordic Innovation has developed a scale, or ladder, to identify different levels of sustainability focus in companies. It goes from regulation driven companies in the bottom to game changers on the top of the ladder, where sustainability is an integrated part of the entire business.


Based on the results from the BMI-programme, Nordic Innovation has also developed policy recommendations for a green tourism:

  • Support measuring for a focused green innovation strategy.
  • Strengthen support for partnership innovation.
  • Tailor programs for green support to help companies move up the sustainability ladder.



Presenting green business cases

Some of the companies participating in the programme presented their green business cases.


Boutiquehotel Stadthalle is an Austrian hotel with a zero energy strategy, meaning that it produces as much as energy as it uses. Among many other green activities, they provide a 10 percent discount to those who travel to the hotel by train, bicycle or e-car.


- Our customers are typically very environmentally conscious, saying that they could not imagine staying in another hotel. In this way, sustainability becomes a competitive advantage, Michaela Reitterer said.


The congress center Coex in South Korea has a high focus on innovation and green innovation on all levels in the company.


- We strongly believe that green management is the future, and we will continue our development of this, Woongok So said.


Julie Forchhammer, representing the yearly music festival Øyafestivalen in Norway, told the audience a story about how baby turtles on a beach in Costa Rica changed her approach to sustainability.


- When watching the small turtles making their way to the ocean, I thought to myself that they have been doing this for ages, and in the future they might not be doing it anymore because of what we are doing to the planet.


Øyafestivalen has a policy of using only organic food, even though it is a more expensive alternative. They have also reduced the energy use by 80 percent, and they are saying no to sponsors who are not green enough.


The outdoor furniture in the eco camping resort Zmar in Portugal is made of 400,000 tons of recycled plastic and Swedish Vildmark i Värmland teach their visitors to show respect to nature and enjoy solitude and silence.


Iliana Rodríguez presented Grupo Xcaret, a Mexican company that provides tourist experiences inspired by the respect of nature, culture and life. Among their green initiatives is the raising of threatened macaw birds, a program awarded by Guinness World Records for its great success.


- It is something that we are very proud of, and I hope that more companies will follow, Rodríguez said.


In the following panel debates, some of the topics discussed were the added business value of sustainability, the existing or non-existing demand from the public and the lack of government support. One of the statements made were that the responsibility lies with the companies that actively must choose to be sustainable.


- One man cannot change the world, but everyone can change one man’s world, Michaela Reitterer said.


Alain Dupeyras from the OECD summed up the conference by stating that developing a green innovation strategy is a complex but essential undertaking, implying a holistic approach, and that the consumers are drivers of green innovation in the tourism sector.


- In order to really succeed, the concept of sustainability needs to be integrated in the consumers’ experience, he concluded.