Interview with Michael Golding, the CEO of Visit Inverness & Loch Ness about their sustainability practices and the Destination Climate Action Plan.
This article is part of the “Sustainable tourism best practices” interview series with the finalists of the 2023 Green Destinations Top 100 Stories Awards, who were announced at ITB Berlin in March 2023.
Anula: For those who don’t know Inverness & Loch Ness, please describe it briefly. Why do tourists visit your destination?
Michael: In our destination, we have Loch Ness – which is know around the world, and the capital of the Highlands of Scotland, Inverness. We represent 1200 square miles around Inverness and Loch Ness, and the wider Highland area is the size of Belgium. Our destination is known for it’s iconic loch, easy access to go from the city into rural nature. We have iconic historic sites that are a big part of Scotland’s history, as well as great outdoor activities, boat tours, wildlife and nature.
Anula: You are one of the finalists of the 2023 Green Destinations Top 100 Sustainability Stories Awards. Congratulations! Please share with our readers, what your sustainability good practice story was about.
Michael: Our story was about the creation of a Destination Climate Action Plan, after COP 26, we used the five pathways (measure, decarbonise, regenerate, collaborate and finance) to create our plan. We worked with our stakeholders to develop a world-leading plan with a set of deliverables for the next 12 months. We told our story of creating and delivering our climate action plan.
Anula: Why have you decided to run this initiative?
Michael: We wanted to show leadership, to help of 500 business members and local stakeholders to be part of the transition of tourism. We already have world leading renewable energy from wind and hydro in the destination. Now we need to keep moving forwards and protect our amazing area for future generations.
Anula: What were the key results of this initiative? What are you mostly proud of?
Michael: The key results are full delivery of 23 key points. We reduced waste, increase access to water, educated our business and communities and much more. We are most proud of how far we have come in a short time. Sustainability was not in our 2019 – 2024 business plan. We decided to make a change in 2020, and have been working hard ever since. This all came together, as we won the ITB Earth Award in March 2023.
Anula: What were your main challenges on the way and how have you overcome them?
Michael: The main challenge is changing people with some interest, into being active. Our members are mostly small businesses, self-catering, guest houses and Bed&Breakfast. We want to make it easy for even small businesses to make change happen. We worked on how we communicate, what information we provide and what activities we spend our time on to achieve our aims.
Anula: Who were your key stakeholders, and how have you engaged them?
Michael: We have 500 tourism business members, over 40 small communities – almost all under 500 people living in them, as well as a strong well connected business community. We have hosted and attended more than 30 events in the last year, despite being a small team of 7 and having our main business plan to deliver as well.
Anula: How was the initiative financed?
Michael: We gained funding for a role focused on sustainability, then used that person to find further funding for projects and activity.
Anula: What is the next step? How are you planning to increase its impact?
Michael: We have delivered our first year of our Climate Action Plan. Now we are consulting again, and deciding what to aim for in the next year. With the recognition we have received within the industry, this gives us credibility for people to want to be part of the change with us. Our role is to show leadership, and by continually making progress, making it easy for small business and growing our impact.
Anula: If another destination would like to implement a similar initiative, what advice would you give them? Share your top three tips.
Michael: Firstly, start with your organisation – why should other change unless you have done it yourself. Secondly, understand your audience – for us it is small businesses, people who needs to know everything from cleaning, marketing and finance. Make it easy for your main audience. And finally, resource your ambition – we had to find funding to be able to deliver what we have, once we employed a person it transformed what we could achieve.
To learn more about Inverness & Loch Ness and their sustainable tourism best practices, follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin.