Bringing Bad Grund Back to Life

Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. This entry, submitted in 2021 from Germany, shows how a community rallied to create placemaking activities that enhance their town’s touristic appeal and stem outmigration.

Bad Grund town center. [Photo Courtesy of Bad Grund]

Submitted by Nikolai Simon-Hallensleben, Project Manager, Innenentwicklung der Bergstadt Bad Grund (Harz) 

Community Collaboration in Bad Grund, Germany, Revives the Destination 

Over the past few decades Bad Grund (Harz), a remote destination in the rugged Harz highlands of Lower Saxony, Germany, has been suffering from decreasing population levels. Officially recognised as a spa town since 1855, it lies in an open valley surrounded by deciduous and coniferous forests.The local economy had historically relied on the mining industry and on spa tourism, but when those industries collapsed, young generations started moving away. Between 1973 and 2021, Bad Grund (Harz) lost almost 40% of its population. Amongst other things, the decline in population meant that external investors were reluctant to provide much-needed capital to develop the destination.

In response, a group of Bad Grundners came together to tackle the decline of their mountain town. In autumn 2018, the group created the initiative ZukunftsBergstadt – ‘Future Mountain Town’. Over the past few years, the group has organised meetings and events for the local community to share their concerns and develop new ideas. 

Direct results of this collaboration include:

Cleaning day. [Photo Courtesy of Bad Grund]

  • Creating a maintenance group to regularly maintain the flower beds around the town, sow wildflower meadows, and ensure the town centre is clean.
  • Increasing the frequency of the Begegnungsmarkt – ‘Encounter Market’ – which now takes place once a month. The market features regional products and is a great place to gather and eat while listening to local music. 
  • Opening the Grundnerwohnzimmer  – ‘Grundner Living Room’ – every day, which has made it a place where locals can meet, talk, share ideas, swap books, and buy tableware, wool, and more. 
  • Planning to establish a cooperative which would operate out of a repurposed dilapidated vacant property in the center of Bad Grund. The plan is to renovate it this year and create a new gastronomic offering that features regional foods, which is greatly needed. 

Begegnungsmarkt – ‘Encounter Market’, [Photo courtesy of Bad Grund]

The success of the ZukunftsBergstadt has depended on the linkages between politics, the local administration, and the citizens of Bad Grund. The essential point is that the Bad Grunders have drafted the ideas for themselves. Thanks to the commitment of the ZukunftsBergstadt, it has been possible to draw attention to the potential of the mountain city, the region, and beyond. Through collaboration, this community has managed to re-create a sense of place, generate a strong sense of community, organize regular events, and essentially bring Bad Grund (Harz) back to life. 

Find the complete Good Practice Story from Bad Grund here


Vanuatu Tourism Gets a Reboot

Naluandance, Malekula culture. All photos Courtesy of the Vanuatu Department of Tourism

The pandemic has caused massive disruption to the tourism industry around the world. But it has also created an opportunity for destinations to reboot the sector to move forward in a more thoughtful and sustainable way. Here, Geoff Hyde shares how Vanuatu is doing just that. 

Living its Ni-Vanuatu Values: Vanuatu Plans for Resilience, Agritourism, and Cruise Reform

“I rely on volcano tours for my livelihood but I also want to protect my family and community from getting sick from Covid,” said a local guide at a recent tourism workshop in Ambrym, Vanuatu. Indeed, Vanuatu’s Department of Tourism (DoT), in conjunction with public health officials, has been conducting workshops around the country to deliver the twin messages of business survival through financial grants while following health protocols, including vaccinations, to provide safe business and community environments when borders reopen. 

Located in the South Pacific, Vanuatu has a strong and authentic Melanesian culture and an abundance of natural assets within its 83 islands. Closure of international borders has plunged the economy into a serious socio-economic crisis. Like most small island states, Vanuatu has been heavily dependent on its tourism sector.

Gaua Beach, Torba Province.

Economic Reliance on Tourism

According to World Bank data, from 2016-18, Vanuatu had the eighth highest proportion of tourism receipts and the seventh-highest direct contribution of tourism to GDP. More recent pre-Covid 2019 tourism statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council, show the direct and indirect contributions of tourism in Vanuatu accounted for 48% of GDP (Vt 46.8 billion). This data, combined with over 135,000 cruise ship arrivals in 2019 add another Vt 2.1 billion to Vanuatu’s economy (DoT Sustainable Cruise Tourism Plan, 2020.) All totalled, these statistics reveal a high level of reliance on the tourism sector.  

Tam-Tams in the Nasara sacred Rom Dance Ground.

Such a dependency was recognised by the Vanuatu DoT well before the pandemic hit. From 2016, the DoT had been planning for and implementing a more sustainable and diversified approach to tourism development. Funded through NZAid, the Vanuatu Strategic Tourism Action Plan produced the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy 2019-2030, a key initial project informed by nationwide stakeholder consultation. A vital piece of this policy included its Vision, which states, “To protect and celebrate Vanuatu’s unique environment, culture, kastom [traditional, authentic culture], and people through sustainable and responsible tourism” with its goals and objectives based on a set of these shared values:

“Tourism in Vanuatu embraces the traditional and formal economies; it provides sustainable growth by strengthening national and community resilience with the ultimate goal of delivering equitable economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits for Vanuatu and its people.”

Vanuatu’s Crisis Response in Action

In response to the international border closure, the DoT quickly established the Tourism Crisis Response and Recovery Advisory Committee comprising government representatives, including the Director of Public Health, and private sector stakeholders. Tourism sector policy advice and information was then fed into the National Disaster Management Committee

This resulted in two planning documents with action plans: 

  • The Immediate Safety, Response and Economic Recovery Plan, May to December 2020 for short term responses delivered under the five pillars of health, access, product, marketing, and communications; and 
  • the Tourism Crises Response and Recovery Plan, 2020 to 2023 which became part of – and is now – being implemented through the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Strategy 2021 to 2025Following four themes, the VSTS is more aligned to the GSTC Destination Criteria, the National Sustainable Development Plan, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals:
    • Wellbeing: through High Value, Low Impact Tourism 
    • Resilience: through Niche Tourism Product Development
    • Diversification: through Agritourism
    • Sustainability: through Certification, Investment and Ni-Vanuatu Entrepreneurship

Despite the setbacks from the pandemic, the DoT has been further encouraged and inspired to implement this sustainable tourism strategy and program as part of the recovery process. This will help diversify the product and create resilience within the tourism sector. Under the VSTS, DoT and its partners are now implementing sustainable tourism programs, utilising one or more of the above themes. 

The programs are:

Tourism Business Support Program (TBSP) launched in March 2021 and managed by DoT through a representative Steering Committee. The TBSP provides financial support and technical assistance for eligible tourism businesses to survive the pandemic’s impacts and have them ready to receive tourists when borders reopen. The eligibility criteria encourage tourism businesses to follow the principles of sustainable and responsible tourism by signing a code of conduct promoting product diversification and increasing local benefits. Financial assistance is available in these categories:

  • Tourism Business Survival Grants: for costs associated with cleaning, maintenance, gardening, security, safety, and utility bills.
  • Renewable Energy Subsidy Scheme: for equipment and appliance purchasing through the National Green Energy Fund.
  • Agritourism Support Program: assistance for selected projects that have integrated the tourism and agriculture sectors into their products. For example, the famed Jungle Zipline attraction is now diversifying into cacao and macadamia nut production to supply local chocolate manufacturers and develop tours when borders reopen.

Safe Business Operations (SBO) Training Program – commenced in October 2020, SBO is mandatory industry training across all sectors to ensure workplace compliance with the health and safety protocols for Covid-19. To date, training workshops and awareness sessions have been delivered to over 2,000 participants in 1,323 businesses across all provinces. SBO is managed by DoT in partnership with the Department of Public Health, the Australia Pacific Training Coalition, the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, World Vision Vanuatu, Vanuatu Institute of Technology, and Vanuatu Skills Partnership.

Agritourism Support Program – encourages diversification and resilience by integrating agriculture and tourism products. It attempts to create a point of difference with Vanuatu’s local cuisine through the ‘Traditional Cuisine Revival Program’ and the ‘Slow Food Educational Program.’ The latter aims to increase the use of local,

Sign at a handicraft market.

sustainable, and organic produce within the tourism industry and raise the nutritional quality of food served to tourists. The DoT is implementing a business mentoring program for 27 local businesses who have now formed the Vanuatu Agritourism Association. This includes business planning, management and digital marketing, as well as presentations on the SBO and TBSP. 

Cruise Tourism Product Development Program – has been implementing the Vanuatu Sustainable Cruise Tourism Plan adopted in March 2020. The Government of Vanuatu is adopting a stronger presence in the  management and control of the cruise tourism segment under ‘high value–low impact’ sustainable tourism principles. The DoT has also recently commissioned independent local consultants to undertake a feasibility study for an Expedition ship to be based in Vanuatu to develop a ‘fly-cruise’ product more conducive to sustainable tourism principles and increased Ni-Vanuatu benefits. A more representative management committee, chaired by DoT, has been established to implement a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the two main cruise companies, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. This MOA was independently reviewed by Sustainable Seas Ltd (UK) and includes references to the GSTC Destination Criteria.

Geoff HydeMr. Geoff Hyde M.Sc. (Tourism Planning/Development Economics), B.A. (Leisure Planning) is the Managing Director and Principal Consultant of Sustainable Tourism International Ltd. (STIL), a tourism consultancy company dedicated to the principles of sustainable tourism as a tool for socio-economic development. He has spent 30 years as a Tourism Sector Adviser and the last five years as the Technical Adviser to the Vanuatu Department of Tourism.

Measuring Destination Happiness

A massive webinar to mark last month’s “International Day of Happiness” yielded some serious pointers for destinations seeking a broader measure of successful tourism recovery than counting revenue and arrivals.“Covid has shown us we can’t be happy on an unhappy planet” was one message for destinations around the world, report DSC associates Marta Mills and Chi Lo – the point being that local contentment should be part of the tourism equation: “A good place to live is a good place to visit.” 

The Happiness Agenda – Happy People Mean Happy Destinations
In celebration of the International Day of Happiness, on Saturday 20th March 2021, Planet Happiness, the World Tourism Network, International Institute for Peace through Tourism, and SUNx convened a global webinar. With over 400 registrants, 150 live participants for nearly 3.5 hours, and over 13,000 people joining at various times through social media, it was a success and left many of the participants inspired and, one hopes, happy. You can watch the recording here:

Here are some of the topics discussed during the webinar, summarising what the Happiness Agenda is all about.

Happiness in action. Photo: Marta Mills

Residents First
The consensus is clear – that “a good place to live is a good place to visit”; that tourism sustainability conversations must include happiness and wellbeing at the outset, and, importantly, the happiness of the residents comes first, and then that of the visitors.

“Tourism is about residents,” said Taleb Rifai, the former UNWTO Secretary General, pointing out the importance of promoting tourism to the destination’s residents, a concept that still does not exist in many developing countries. This is important now in the Covid and post-Covid reality with domestic tourism on the rise.

Key Takeaways from the webinar

    • “Covid has shown us we can’t be happy on an unhappy planet.”
    • “A good place to live is a good place to visit.” For a successful destination local people should enjoy their own place.
    • A change in systems is needed whereby tourism provides meaning to both residents and tourists to enhance the quality of life and enable a destination to flourish.
    • The global policy agenda should include happiness and wellbeing as an indicator of growth “beyond GDP.”
    • A clear narrative of why this is important is needed to convince decision makers to take up this agenda.

Destinations can do better by not focusing solely on economic policy, but by also paying attention to its societies. Explicitly showing that they are concerned about citizen happiness helps people trust governments to do the right thing. Jon Hall, Policy Specialist, National Human Development Reports for the UNDP, said it eloquently: “Policies that promote happiness are often much more gentle on the environment than those that promote economic growth.” He added that governments should pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people as an overarching goal.

Measuring Tourism Success
Staying true to the “Beyond GDP” movement, there was an overwhelming consensus that measurements for tourism success should not be based on IVAs (international visitor arrivals) or tourism receipts. Measuring the happiness of host populations as well as guests is a good idea. If happy, hosts are more welcoming, willing to share their lives, and give excellent service. Happy guests are the best PR. As some of the speakers pointed out, the Happiness Policy Handbook should be on the desk of every local politician.

The Happiness Index survey, used by Planet Happiness (a tourism and big data project) is available on line in 25 languages and counting. An OECD-recognised best-practice measure of well-being, it suggests:

  • Spark conversations between families, friends, and work colleagues about the strengths and deficiencies of their scores;
  • Introduce survey-takers to a definition of well-being and how to measure it;
  • Provide traction for grass-roots understanding of, and engagement with, the tourism and destination well-being agenda.

You can read more about the Happiness Index and the Agenda in the blog by Dr. Paul Rogers, co-founder of Planet Happiness, a project of the Happiness Alliance.

Geoffrey Lipman of SUNx spoke on the need for climate-friendly travel, given that continued climate change will make for rather considerable unhappiness around the world.

From Sustainability to Regeneration
We should be moving beyond sustainable tourism (meant as minimising the negative and maximising the positive social, economic, and environmental impacts of tourism) and aiming for regenerative tourism to see how we can creatively improve the condition of a destination, through systems change. Regeneration is about creating the conditions for the destination to renew itself, to transcend into new forms, and to flourish, as mentioned by Elke Dens from Visit Flanders and by Anna Pollock, Conscious Travel.

The Flanders approach, for example, recognises flourishing destinations as ones where tourism nurtures the locale and sense of place, and where meaningful connections are made between visitor and host, thereby improving the quality of life for both. Tourism, therefore, should be about building local pride of place, facilitating intercultural peace and understanding, and promoting what is unique to a destination while enhancing residents’ wellbeing. If destinations can do this, they can thrive and flourish.

Going Forward -– Calls for Action
Participants called for systems change, for further research, and for more publications on the intersection of sustainability in tourism with destination competitiveness in terms of community quality of life. Larry Dwyer, Professor of Travel and Tourism Economics, University of New South Wales, said that “Tourism researchers need to address gaps in tourism literature as it pertains to happiness, wellbeing, and quality of life in order to make a genuine contribution to SDGs” – the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As iterated by Dr. Paul Rogers, measuring the happiness of host populations (as well as guests) will start a conversation amongst stakeholders on how they would like to see their own destination develop and flourish. For this change to happen, he said that we need a clear narrative to interest and encourage government decision makers to take up the Happiness/Well-being agenda. This will advance us beyond measuring destination success solely in terms of visitor arrivals and contribution to GDP.

Short video illustrating what Planet Happiness does
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