The topic may (still) sound unfamiliar to the meetings industry: SDG6, the future of water and wetlands as an example of meaningful engagement. We focused on it during a lively panel discussion at IMEX in Frankfurt.
The goal was to show how a single sustainability goal, namely SDG6 (Sustainable Development Goal), can be used to find a practical and effective approach to sustainability that is both comprehensible and exciting. And, to identify an example for application of purposeful engagement in wetlands.
Aren’t we all worried about how things will continue with our water reserves? But on the other hand we travel with large groups to beautiful destinations, preferably with lots of sun, shower whenever we feel like it and don’t think for a second about how it looks like for the water situation in the surrounding villages? And what about water supplies in 5 or 10 years? Already some of the most popular destinations for MICE events in the South, such as Spain and Italy, have major and ominous water problems – either too little or too much of it. Neither really helps.
So let us put our mind on Water for a bit – in the discussion I raised 3 questions:
- What are main threats to water
- How can we address these challenges with sustainable tourism development, and
- What are necessary steps to develop solutions
How does Water and SDG6 relate to the way we promote destinations and collaborate across stakeholders in the global meetings industry?
The panelists had different takes on it and represented different areas.
Dr. Evangelos Tziritis, Senior Research Scientist, Soil and Water Resources Institute, Thessaloniki, Greece
Gemmeke de Jongh, International Association Expert for Flanders and Brussels, VISITFLANDERS Convention Bureau
Tordis á Rógvi Biskopstø, Director at Visit Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
Adem Braco Suljic, Co-founder & Director of MEETEX, Zagreb, Croatia
1- Main threats to water:
The threat to our water is very concrete, as was shown by the example of a large-scale research project around the Mediterranean directed by Dr. Tziritis about coastal groundwater salination, which is increasing and, once it occurs, is irreversible. So what then? In areas that depend on tourism and MICE and have all their beautiful infrastructure lined up along the coasts? But it’s not only in Europe’s South that things are getting hot – the North of Europe has happily drained wetlands for agriculture and livestock for so long that now entire slopes are sliding away in rocky and steep areas. CO2, that was previously safely stored in the soil is now released and the most valuable biospheres are irretrievably lost. But also a lack of legislation, political ignorance, reckless waste and lack of data on wetlands and biospheres were identified to be urgently addressed to prevent further losses of soil and water. VisitFlanders has based its Promotional Strategy altogether on the Innovation Helix model, which sees environmental concerns ALWAYS as a key element for any innovation.
2- How do we address these challenges and create solutions?
In Croatia, Meetex has started to put the finger on the pain points of water in the country and works on motivating the local stakeholders to engage with a project to regenerate wetlands and create educational opportunities for delegates at conferences. In Flanders the Convention Bureau was actively lobbying with politicians and industry and got them supporting their cases and involving in collaboration. Visit Torshavn works on raising general awareness among locals and visitors together with Visit Faroe Islands and takes the huge success of the annual Closed-for-maintenance Project to show how strongly the work on a good purpose resonates with people from around the world. Visits of and restoring Wetlands will be a key opportunity for delegates in upcoming conferences.
Dr. Tziritis suggests to look – in collaboration with local scientists – into projects like observatories and living labs and thus create a better understanding for how and why data are collected and what they help with.
3- What are necessary steps to develop solutions
Data are key to prove the value of soil and the capacity of mitigating climate impacts. But the data also need to be applied and “used” by the tourism industry to understand and demonstrate what happens and to build experiences. We all need to be open to new learnings and to understanding new subjects. Cross-sector collaboration is the magic word – permission and budgets for trial and error are needed as well. It is worth to go an extra mile and move beyond comfort zones, that is agreed by all panelists. It can be mind-blowing, inspiring, enriching. To make sure that new scientific discoveries are communicated and solutions materialized, the exchange with researchers and institutes is essential. Also, it is important to establish new forums for exchanges – between municipalities, communities, landowners, industry and us.
As super valuable bio- and water spheres, wetlands are a concrete example how to direct measures towards already recognized purposes. Many local initiatives work with wetlands. Experiences can be mixed up creatively, legacy projects and funding can be established, and by the way we learn to be more aware when it comes to water.
Everything for the future of water and for achieving SDG6 by 2030.
With FrauBlau we create the narratives and communicate relevant topics to both meeting planners as well as to water and subject related business communities. The purpose is to attract meetings to destinations through relevance and good examples. We build networks and develop concepts for destinations, stakeholders and event organisers and collaborate with a big network of water experts.
Contact Johanna Fischer for more information – on LinkedIn or email: email@example.com