Take 5: VisitAarhus' MD reports on Jutland's leading sustainable meetings destination

with Peer Heldgaard Kristensen, Managing Director of VisitAarhus
VisitDenmark met up with Peer Heldgaard Kristensen, Managing Director of VisitAarhus and one of the driving forces behind the ICCA Scandinavian Sustainability Chapter, to get his view on Aarhus/Denmark as a leading sustainable meetings destination.
Monday, September 9, 2013

Here is what Peer said:

VisitDenmark: Aarhus is strengthening its position as a destination advocating and staging sustainable meetings and responsible thinking, how and when did this journey begin?

Peer H. Kristensen: Some years ago, VisitAarhus began looking at our business from a different perspective. What was our place in the (meetings) world? We realised that our business' destination and our clients were very much on the forefront, when it came to sustainability. That made the step towards showcasing and further developing Aarhus as a sustainable meetings destination self-evident. Since then we have worked on promoting sustainability within our local businesses and participated in various projects developing a sustainable business in Denmark and (more recently) in the Nordic region via the ICCA Scandinavia Sustainable Destination Index, which we sponsored in 2013 and hosted the annual workshop.

VisitDenmark: On creating sustainable destinations; what does it take to create a sustainable destination? What is the key ingredient (-s) needed to succeed?

Peer H. Kristensen: If I had to point to one unavoidable ingredient in developing a sustainable destination, it would have to be the collaboration between different sectors. I would argue that one cannot create a sufficiently sustainable destination by only looking at the tourism supply chain. There is a strong need to incorporate the destination as a whole. Not just the tourism sector.

VisitDenmark: The Scandinavian Sustainability Index, created by the ICCA Scandinavian Chapter in 2012, what to you is so unique about the project?

Peer H. Kristensen: Several things are remarkable about this project; where else in the world do you see four countries voluntarily agreeing on a common index from which to benchmark against each other? To me, that cross country collaboration is amazing and shows how well the Nordic region works. It also shows the Nordic Region's great commitment towards sustainability – a matter that is deeply rooted in our culture. Collaboration, innovation and optimizing the resources available are key elements in this respect.

VisitDenmark: What are the biggest challenges and/or obstacles for creating more sustainable meetings?

Peer H. Kristensen: My take is that there is a misconception of what sustainability is and what it means to our industry to become sustainable and deliver concepts based on sustainability - both from businesses within our industry and clients. Staging sustainable meetings and conferences is often seen as creating additional costs or as having to compromise on quality. That is a major obstacle and it needs to change. To me, it is quite to opposite. True sustainability delivers efficiency, innovation and high quality. It allows you to look at how to make you product more competitive. The Danish EU presidency, for example, saved more than €40 mio at the same time as choosing environmental sustainability. We can change this by learning from each other. Share experiences across borders. Let clients and businesses meet to find common ground instead of speaking in different languages, which sometimes seem to be the case.

VisitDenmark: Do you see Denmark as a frontrunner when it comes to staging sustainable meetings? Why/why not?

Peer H. Kristensen: Yes – and the first ever sustainable EU presidency in 2012 just proved it once more! However, the world is, thankfully, catching up. It means that we, as all front runners and first movers, need to take the next step and lead the way. Our Danish and Nordic society structure really drives us forward towards a sustainable sustainability, so to speak. The combination of social, environmental and economic sustainability in the Nordic region is very unique and initiatives such as the ICCA Scandinavian Sustainability Index and last year's 'Danish Sustainable Events Initiative' during the EU Presidency help ensure a continued focus on creating sustainable solutions - including sustainable meetings - and through that, innovation!

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