It’s said that where flowers bloom, so does hope — a saying that’s certainly applicable to last April’s City Destinations Alliance (CityDNA) International Conference in Sofia, where CityDNA and Simpleview announced the launch of the VivaCITY Challenge. Created to give two European DMOs the chance to implement a strategy to transform the future of their destinations, one of the benefits of this coveted prize includes the receipt of expert consulting, funded by Simpleview, for three years. The winners of this challenge were finally announced during the CityDNA Autumn Conference in Valencia last month.

Helsinki and Torino were unveiled by Simpleview and CityDNA as the successful candidates of the challenge and upon winning, both destinations took the time to offer insight into their respective motivations for participating. Helsinki Tourism and Destination Management explained that it was currently “sitting on a mountain of data” and wanted to apply this information to becoming the world’s most sustainable city. As for Turismo Torino e Provincia, it said that it held the strong belief that “those who work in tourism must first and foremost seek to make the local people happy.”

Offering her comments on the winning destinations in a statement, Petra Stušek, CityDNA President, said, “Nearly seven months since the initial announcement, and after hearing about all the exciting destination applications, we stand here with our two winners. I would like to highlight their courage and give them credit for committing to this 3-year challenging process. Their role extends beyond their respective cities, encompassing a global impact on the tourism sector, fostering positive change.”

Simpleview CEO Ryan George also offered his comments, saying, “The VivaCITY Challenge has been such an exciting process for all involved. This challenge was created as a way to show our commitment to the tourism industry with something substantive and long-lasting. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about how the winning destinations transform over the next three years.”

Working with insight from Professor Frank Cuypers, an International Leader in Destination Development, Elke Dens, a Specialist in Regenerative Placemaking, and David Peacock, Senior Strategist and Advisor for the Future Tourism Group at Simpleview, the two chosen DMOs will not only have the opportunity to implement strategies to future-proof their destinations, but the chance to make a positive impact on the global tourism sector. Despite their variations in size and geography, there was a common theme among the nine entrants, all grappling with some similar issues and themes. Here we take a look at some of the shared concerns, some of which may be familiar to you in your own destination.

Redefining Sustainability

It would be an understatement to say that sustainability is the key challenge facing the global tourism industry. Indeed, all nine of the VivaCITY Challenge finalists — Gdansk, Salzburg, Helsinki, Lausanne, Kyiv, British Columbia, Torino, Copenhagen and Valencia — conveyed that sustainability is already woven into their current destination strategies and, most importantly, that it’s a concept that must continue to be built upon in order to guarantee their future success.

For many of these destinations, there is and will continue to be an emphasis on environmental sustainability — especially in terms of encouraging visitors to use lower emission modes of transport to arrive into and when travelling around a given place, along with strategies for mitigating the impact of overtourism in certain areas. Some destinations among the challenge finalists — Valencia and Copenhagen, for example — are well-known for the environmentally sustainable initiatives that they have already implemented. But in addition to the conventional idea of environmental sustainability, many destinations are now considering sustainability from both an economic and a social standpoint. What’s more, these DMOs are — in their own individual ways — trying to build these concepts into the future of their destination strategies to ensure that they positively contribute in the long-term sense to both the economic and social well-being of the places (and the people) they represent.

Residents and Visitors: Striking a Balance

Feeding naturally into this idea of economic, social and environmental sustainability, the VivaCITY Challenge participants also highlighted a deep-seated need to strike a true sense of balance between the needs of a destination’s residents and its inbound visitors. In some destinations, this means that representatives of DMOs are actively listening to residents’ concerns regarding the challenges and opportunities posed by inbound tourism and working to build future strategies that successfully take these into account. In other places, it may mean convincing residents of the need to invest in and expand upon local infrastructure to offer up a more cohesive experience for both parties. Still, in some destinations, this equilibrium may be better struck by working alongside locals to co-create strategies that enhance the experiences of residents and tourists alike. The common goal here is to ensure that residents recognise not just the immediate monetary value that tourism brings to their city or destination, but to ensure that tourism is seen as something that can add positive and long-term benefits — both tangible and intangible — to a place.

An Emphasis on Visitor Quality

And on that last point, many of the entrants see their onward success as destinations as being inexorably linked to the quality of visitor they attract. No longer a simple game of pulling in the crowds, these DMOs are all looking to attract visitors of a certain mindset — even a certain worldview. Of primary interest to these DMOs are the visitors that are open to exploring these destinations even as they actively evolve into the future; in essence, many want their visitors to accompany them as they move along on their journey, all while playing a crucial role in developing that particular place.

The blooms of spring may have given way to the leaves of autumn, but for these nine unique and distinct VivaCITY Challenge finalists, the hope for the future of their destinations remains strong. The next update from winners Helsinki and Torino will be at the CityDNA Spring Conference in Bologna 24 - 27 April 2024, where the VivaCITY learning lab for the CityDNA members and peer cities will take shape, offering delegates the opportunity to discuss these and other common issues, enabling participants to benefit from all that they have learned so far.