Visit Belfast

Jac Callan, Visit Belfast Sustainability and Impact Manager

Provide a brief background on your organization

Visit Belfast is the official destination marketing organisation for Belfast city. We are a public-private sector partnership that represents over 500 tourism businesses, operators and services, dedicated to promoting Belfast as a tourist destination.

Outline the reasons your company are working towards improving sustainability credentials

Belfast launched its Resilience Strategy – the city’s first climate plan – in December 2020, setting out 30 transformational programmes to transition the Belfast City Region to an inclusive, zero-emissions, climate-resilient economy within a generation. In partnership with Belfast City Council, Visit Belfast have committed to the development of a sustainable tourism plan as one of the resilience strategy transformational programmes.

Improving the city’s sustainability credentials will be key to securing business in the new normal, and that is why Visit Belfast and Belfast City Council have launched an ambitious new partnership with Green Tourism, to position Belfast as a leader in sustainable tourism and support our partners to recover and grow.

List five things that your business had to adapt to become more sustainable.

1)The role of a DMO

Right at the start when writing our business plan, it became clear that the role of a DMO was changing and if Visit Belfast wanted to be a next generation DMO, we would need to put sustainability and inclusive growth at the heart of the organization and its outputs and support our industry partners to improve their sustainability credentials also.

2) Rethink what success looks like

Like many, we previously focused on economic impact as our main KPI. When we launched our sustainability plan we needed to rethink what success looked like. Now, we have environmental, societal and economic targets across all key areas of Visit Belfast.

3) Staff education and empowerment

In order to drive sustainability across all aspects of our business we needed to bring all our staff on the journey with us and to empower them to make more sustainable choices. This started with all company staff training, we then created a smaller dedicated Sustainability team who meet monthly to discuss ways we can continue to drive sustainability within Visit Belfast.

4) Our procurement policy

Improving sustainability within Visit Belfast wasn’t enough. It we really wanted to champion sustainability we needed to change how we procured goods and services from outside the organization to make sure that the third parties sustainability was factored into these decisions.

5) Engage with leaders in Sustainability

Things are changing quickly in this space, so an important part of our journey has been the engagement and idea sharing we have had with other companies and organisations who are also striving to put sustainability at the heart of what they do. Sharing best practice and learning from other companies has helped accelerate our journey towards sustainability.

Have you received an international recognised accreditation or are you working towards this and how do you think this will benefit the organisation in the future?

Visit Belfast was awarded a bronze accreditation from Green Tourism in June this year in recognition of its focus on developing sustainable practices within the organisation and driving the city’s tourism ambitions to deliver key sustainable tourism initiatives.

In October 2021, Belfast ranked #19 out of 73 destinations worldwide by the Global Destination Sustainability, Index, confirming the city’s tourism ambitions to be a sustainable destination of the future. The GDS Index evaluated Belfast on four key areas: environmental strategy and infrastructure, social sustainability performance, industry supplier support and the strategy and initiatives of the city’s destination marketing and management organisation (DMMO) Visit Belfast.

What is your advice to a business aiming to improve their sustainability performance and work towards accreditation?

Choose an accreditation programme that offers help and support and start the process. An accreditation programme will force you to ask the right questions of the right people within your organization. This will likely identify your areas of weakness, but also you may find another team have initiatives in place you didn’t know about. Either way it will give you a starting point. For Visit Belfast the Green Tourism accreditation was a really useful audit of how we performed in relation to sustainability. It clearly showed the areas where we doing well, the areas we needed to implement change immediately and the areas where we needed more time to make significant changes. Off the back of our Green Tourism accreditation we have a detailed plan of focus areas and a clear idea of where we want to be in 12 months’ time.