GSTC Stockholm conference notes tourism’s vital role in driving respect and tolerance around the world

by: Felicity Cousins | May 2, 2024

SWEDEN: The GSTC2024 Global Sustainable Tourism Conference, which took place in Stockholm last week brought together 500 delegates from more than 50 countries.

Hundreds of viewers from around the world also watched the live broadcasting of the conference. 

Participants included international and regional tourism stakeholders involved in the development and promotion of sustainable tourism, including the public sector, hotels, tour operators, academia, development agencies, NGOs, consultants, and more. 

Europe has led the recovery of the tourism sector post pandemic, and some destinations are registering record numbers of visitors – and it was acknowledged that this was not always managed in a positive way.

As with previous GSTC Conferences, the carbon footprint of the event and the travel of all attendees have been calculated, and offset by Visit Sweden. 

Other sustainable event practices were carried out, such as reducing paper and plastic usage to a minimum: printing to the minimum, badges made of recyclable paper, and no single-use plastic used during the conference. 

Meals were strictly vegetarian, with many dishes fully vegan. Public transport was encouraged as well as walking distance venues for the event were provided.

The Conference themes were: Environment – Climate and Smart Management; Social – Welcoming and Inclusive; Governance – Thriving and Innovative; Credible Assurance. 

Delegates gathered on the first evening for a meal and speeches in Stockholm City Hall, well known world wide as the venue for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies and prize-givings (pictured above, the Golden Hall).

The Royal Highness of Sweden, Crown Princess Victoria, attended the conference’s opening ceremony, and former Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeld gave the Keynote speech.

Opening speeches were also made by Visit Sweden’s CEO Susanne Andersson, Elisabeth Backteman, general secretary of the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, and GSTC chair, Luigi Cabrini.

Reinfeld explained the importance of tourism and travel bringing understanding and tolerance to each other across the world. He said when he travels: “I’m seeking some answers to see and hear or smell and taste – I’m prepared that I will move out of my comfort zone – I’m actually going somewhere else and preparing to meet something. That could be big city or nature but the purpose means we are going to learn and expand our horizon.”

GSTC’s chair Cabrini said: “Tourism has regained its potential as an essential economic activity, a creator of jobs, and a tool for development.”

At a time when international tensions are high and wars are raging in different regions of the world, Cabrini added: “Tourism from its very beginnings has been defined as a way of promoting mutual understanding, respect, and tolerance. But its full potential as an instrument for peace clearly remains to be realised.” 

Reinfeld also noted the potential for travel and tourism to unite people in his speech: “We need to create tolerance in the world and tourism and sustainable travel helps this happen. Should we stop doing things or do it differently? If we stop and don’t fly to each other then it’s the train. That will take us to Copenhagen – what about Australia, Asia – the world needs people meeting each other and it needs the travel and hospitality sector.”

Speakers from across the world shared insights and discussed Biodiversity through Nature Positive and Rewilding, Food Waste Reduction, Data-based Innovation in Tourism, Destination Stewardship and Guest Experience, Accessibility and Inclusion in Tourism, among many others. 

Prior to the conference, four onsite GSTC Trainings took place in Stockholm: in cluding the GSTC Criteria, GSTC Accessibility and Social Impact in Tourism Course, designed to empower participants with essential knowledge and skills to tap into the thriving accessible and inclusive travel and provide best practices in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and GSTC Auditor Training, which covered the GSTC Industry Criteria.

The II GSTC Academic Symposium was also held in conjunction with the Global Sustainable Tourism Conference providing a forum for researchers and academics to share and discuss current issues in sustainable tourism.

The next GSTC Global Sustainable Tourism Conference will be held in Sentosa, Singapore, 13-16 November.

On the final evening at a meal held in the same room as the Vasa ship which sank in 1628 GSTC’s CEO Randy Durband revealed future conference locations as Fiji in August 2025 and Phuket, Thailand in early 2026.

As a media partner for the event Sustainable Hotel News has connected with some inspiring people to talk to further and bring you a deeper insight into interesting topics and debate around travel and tourism and sustainability. We look forward to sharing these pieces with you in our news and features sections.

Image: Boodle McDougall, Stockholm City Hall