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Interesting perspectives on sustainable experiences and Swedish tourism

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 What is a sustainable experience? This was the focus of a digital workshop that recently gathered key actors with deep knowledge of sustainability and tourism from the business community, the public sector and the academic world. Four researchers from the Centre for Tourism participated in the discussion.

Visit Sweden hosted the workshop. Jenny Jonevret from Visit Sweden opened the workshop and gave some background to the meeting: “Today’s workshop connects to Visit Sweden’s work on developing a sustainability promise for Swedish tourism; a promise that is based on sustainable experiences that can inspire the tourism industry to develop more sustainable products. The intention is also that this sustainability promise can promote sustainable development, create faith in the future and show that solutions exist here and now. It is also about creating a stronger position for Sweden as a destination and about creating a platform for learning, collaboration and cultural exchange.”

A central ambition of the workshop was to discuss and concretise what a sustainable experience is. Emma Björner from the Centre for Tourism facilitated the discussion that focused on what a sustainable experience is from an environmental, social, cultural and economic perspective. The discussion was also lively when it came to a more holistic approach and a focus on how to offer an experience that is sustainable in all dimensions. Marcus Eldh from Wild Sweden emphasized that it can be hard to arrive at an experience that is sustainable in all dimensions, since positive impact on one sustainability dimension often has negative impact on another.

In many ways, the discussion was about creating and moving towards a more sustainable society as well as how sustainable experiences can contribute. Marie Linde from West Sweden Tourist Board highlighted this, and emphasized that it is largely about how we get companies, public organisations and individuals to actually take steps towards a more sustainable society with the help of tourism.

To achieve this, knowledge and learning is central. Eva Maria Jernsand and Maria Persson, from the Centre for Tourism, shared experiences from a project of theirs, which is based on transformative (Mezirow, 2009; Reisinger, 2013, 2015) and experience-based learning (Kolb, 1984). This is largely about the knowledge that visitors, through their experiences, bring with them back home, which can be anything from respect for nature to human rights. The tourism sector can, through their offer, contribute greatly to this learning process.

Several participants emphasized Sweden’s advantage when it comes to environmental and social sustainability. “We have incorporated it into the way we highlight our advantages and in how we promote Sweden abroad”, Cecilia Cassinger from Lund University said. Christina Rådelius from The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth also stressed that Sweden has done and is doing much good that can influence visitors to think and act more sustainably. Other participants accentuated that we, in Sweden, can be more courageous and proactive in highlighting our sustainability work and our sustainable experiences; and that we can focus more on how one can contribute positively. Vanessa Butani from Scandic Hotels spoke on this theme when she suggested that we should talk more about what a sustainable experience is rather than what it is not.

A key word in the discussion was transformative experiences (Pine & Gilmore, 2011), which may be even more relevant in the current Corona pandemic and in its wake. Other keywords were co-creation and participation, which for example includes involving the local community and various stakeholders in tourism development. ‘Offer’ was suggested as an alternative to the concept of experience, and received positive response. The ‘experience’ concept was questioned by some, partly due to it being hard to grasp and also due to its subjective character; an experience is often a unique event and it is the tourist or consumer who experiences. The tourism industry can create the conditions for sustainable experiences by creating a sustainable offer and inspire people to become more conscious and aware.

Towards the end of the workshop, Katarina Thorstensson from Göteborg & Co raised some questions that will be important in the work ahead: What is the purpose and what do we want to achieve; who do we address and engage in the discussion? These questions along with the other valuable reflections that surfaced in the workshop, will be important for Visit Sweden in their continued work on developing a sustainability promise for the Swedish tourism sector. The ambition is also to continue the dialogue on sustainable experiences and related topics together with the public sector, the business community and the academic world.

Workshop participants
• Christina Rådelius, Project Manager, Sustainable Tourism and Nature Tourism, The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth
• Marie Linde, Deputy CEO, West Sweden Tourist Board
• Katarina Thorstensson, Smart Tourism and Sustainability Strategist, Göteborg & Co.
• Lena Gunnerhed, Travel Insight, Visit Sweden
• Michael Persson-Gripkow, Brand & Strategic Marketing Officer, Visit Sweden
• Jenny Jonevret, Senior Project Manager, Visit Sweden
• Åsa Egrelius, Public Affairs, Visit Sweden
• Vanessa Butani, Director of Sustainable Business, Scandic Hotels
• Marcus Eldh, Owner, Wild Sweden
• Eva Maria Jernsand, Researcher and Lecturer, the Department of Business Administration, the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg
• Kristina Lindström, Researcher and Lecturer, the Department of Economy and Society, University of Gothenburg
• Maria Persson, Researcher, the Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg
• Cecilia Cassinger, Associate Professor, the Department of Strategic Communication, Lund University
• Jörgen Eksell, Researcher and Lecturer, the Department of Strategic Communication, Lund University
• Maria Månsson, Researcher and Lecturer, the Department of Strategic Communication, Lund University
• Emma Björner, Researcher and Lecturer, Gothenburg Research Institute, the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg; the Department of Strategic Communication, Lund University

Overview: Sustainable experiences in research and practice
Prior to the workshop, the participants were encouraged to take part of Visit Sweden’s ideas on what a sustainable experience could be, as well as an overview including definitions and examples of sustainable experiences in research and practice. 

References
Kolb, D. (1984), Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Englewood CliÚs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mezirow, J. (2009), “An Overview of Transformative Learning”. In Illeris, K. (Ed.), Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists … In Their Own Words (pp. 90–105), New York: Routledge.
Pine, B. J., and Gilmore, J. H. (2011), The Experience Economy, Harvard Business Press.
Reisinger, Y. (2013), Transformational Tourism: Tourist Perspectives, Wallingford, UK: CABI.
Reisinger, Y. (2015), Transformational Tourism: Host Perspectives, Wallingford, UK: CABI.

The overview can be found below