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It’s a wrap on the much-anticipated USTOA Sustainability is Responsibility Summit, with participants hailing it a success.

Exceeding expectations, according to USTOA president and CEO Terry Dale, the summit, which took place in Bodø, Norway and ran from May 24 to May 26, gathered representatives from USTOA member tour operators, destination marketing organizations, airlines, hotel companies and other travel providers, with the goal of encouraging sustainable tourism.

USTOA has reached its milestone 50th anniversary this year, and instead of looking back, we’re looking forward to the next 50 years and how we can work together to preserve and protect our planet’s natural heritage,” said Dale in a press statement. “This summit was an extraordinary opportunity and example of how all of us can learn, grow, and make positive change towards a more sustainable and equitable future.”

With facilitation from Malcolm Preston, former PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) global head of sustainability services, and Greg Takehara, CEO of Tourism CaresUSTOA brought nine industry leader panelists and 22 member delegates to the Thon Hotel Nordlys to promote discussion on navigating the internal challenges of a sustainability journey and driving sustainability through the supply chain.

Wawa Gatheru (left), with Hege Barnes (right) leads a discussion on environmental justice.

A highlight of the summit was a talk by guest speaker Wawa Gatheru, who spoke to the group about her background as an environmental justice advocate and founder of Black Girl Environmentalist. Gatheru, a writer and current graduate student at the University of Oxford, is a first generation American of Kenyan descent, and as such recognizes that travel is a necessary part of life. “Nothing is perfect in the world of sustainability,” she said during her talk, adding that, it is possible to align travel with environmental demands and organizations have the power to educate and inform consumers on sustainability efforts to lead an environmentally friendly path. She ended her discussion by inspiring delegates to reframe the climate crisis, “…as an opportunity to create a future to be proud of,” she said.

During the Driving Sustainability Through the Supply Chain panel, attendees learned about the cost savings and growth opportunities sustainability can have on businesses. Preston led the discussion along with Leigh Barnes, chief customer officer of Intrepid Group; Adrienne Howard, chief impact & program management officer of WorldStrides; Shannon Guihan, chief sustainability officer & head of TreadRight for The Travel Coporation USA; and Patrick Preiano, sustainability project manager for the Globus Family of Brands. Preston advocated that moving from a profit-maximized to a stakeholder-maximized system will drive sustainability through the supply chain and beyond.

The group under the midnight sun in Bodø, Norway.

Complementing the in-depth discussions were visits to the KRAFT Sustainability Centre to learn about sustainability projects in and around Bodø and the Salmon Centre for a look at aquaculture in small Norwegian communities. The group also set sail aboard The Brim Explorer, a hybrid electric ship, to explore The Arctic Hideaway, where attendees learned about energy positive communities, and to visit one of the most sustainable fish farms in the world. 

“We are so grateful for USTOA’s acceptance of our vision and their commitment to taking on this challenge of creating a platform and community that can raise the bar on internal competence as well as commitment to sustainability implemented into the member organizations’ core business models,” said Hege Barnes, regional director Americas at Visit Norway, in a press statement. “We value the commitment of the USTOA members who attended, for sharing their insights, their challenges and contributing to interactive discussion and dialogue that can help build a global tourism industry that cares. The feedback from the participants proved that SIR is a valuable platform for members with various degrees of experience, and at various stages of their own sustainability journey. The only way to a greener future is together, and the journey has just begun for most of us.”

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