Letizia Elia, Head of Business Development at Switzerland Tourism

Letizia Elia, Head of Business Development at Switzerland Tourism

Making Switzerland a more sustainable travel destination
‘Swisstainable’ is an initiative that helps tourism service providers become more sustainable. Letizia Elia, Head of Business Development at Switzerland Tourism, tells us more
1 Apr 2022

Can you tell us a little about ‘Swisstainable’ and what it means for the visitor’s experience of Switzerland?

Swisstainable is an initiative — well, we like to describe it as a movement — launched by Switzerland Tourism (ST) with the support of the whole Swiss tourism industry last spring. It’s a global strategy for the sustainable development of Switzerland as a travel destination, which aims at helping our country’s tourism industry in the implementation of sustainable solutions, while at the same time showing our guests what suppliers have put into place in terms of sustainability, helping them make informed travel decisions. Swisstainable is, and will be in the years to come, at the core of all ST’s promotional campaigns and activities worldwide, with the objective to inspire and motivate tourists to travel sustainably.

But Swisstainable cannot exist without the commitment of the whole tourism industry, since its core idea is to help tourism providers to constantly challenge their approach to sustainability, whether they are active in accommodation, gastronomy, or any other aspect of tourism, and whether they have already or not yet been granted existing sustainability certification labels. Swisstainable is thus materialized by a label, which serves to identify the level of commitment of tourism providers.

How does the initiative benefit tourism service providers, local producers, etc.? How does the certification system work?

The Swisstainable label can be used by all providers. It is not a certification but a guidance label with three levels: 1. Committed, 2. Engaged, and 3. Leading. All three levels of the program are based on international criteria. Businesses accepted to participate in levels two and three have already obtained certifications. Any business can be accepted in level one, providing that they commit to go through a sustainability check created by researchers at the University of Lucerne, and define measures to be carried out over the next 24 months.

For providers, joining the Swisstainable movement brings many positive effects: we help them look at their business; using tools created with the University of Lucerne, they get the keys to know where and how to act. In addition, committing themselves to improve their sustainability also has positive effects, not only on the attractiveness of their offers for potential guests, but also, for instance, on the recruitment of talent.

Switzerland enjoys a reputation for leading in sustainability initiatives, energy efficiency, etc. How are you marketing the ‘Swisstainable’ aspects of the country as a blueprint for other countries to follow?

Indeed, commitment to more sustainability is already a key aspect of the brand ‘Switzerland’, whether it’s in technology, transportation, or energy. So, with this initiative we are building upon this strong image to market sustainable travel in Switzerland based on facts and a nationwide approach to bringing all providers on board. Many of the 660 tourism providers who are already participating in the movement are already extremely innovative in various areas. For instance, most youth hostels in Switzerland have the level three label, given that they have been — among other commitments to sustainability — at the forefront of energy efficiency for many years now.

Other ‘smaller’ initiatives are also very interesting, like the Julen Hotels in the Valais, where the owners use the bioorganic waste produced by their own sheep and cows to feed a biogas plant, which then produces CO2-neutral electricity. Part of the initiative’s marketing will be dedicated to present such examples worldwide and inspire not only guests to come to Switzerland, but also to foster creativity among tourism providers.

Has the introduction of the ‘Swisstainable’ model helped Switzerland to further improve its approach to sustainability? If so, in what ways?

The most positive effect that I see with the movement is that it is becoming an inspiration for many tourism providers and serves to foster innovation. As a marketing organization, including ‘Swisstainable’ in all our current and future campaigns helps us to better focus our content and offers on various aspects of sustainability. This year, for instance, we will launch a national initiative in food sustainability.

Finally, what does the movement mean for you, personally? This initiative has garnered lots of attention, so where do you see the future leading to?

For me, it stands for a holistic initiative that takes all dimensions of sustainability into account. It will have an impact beyond tourism, since tourism has an impact on many aspects of the environment, the society, and the economy. I believe that the movement will also contribute to making tourist experiences more authentic and give guests the opportunity to immerse themselves more deeply in the culture and nature of Switzerland, to better understand how we live, what we eat, our traditions, and what we cherish. As a young mom, I can only hope that my son will grow up in a more ‘Swisstainable’ country.

* Richard Turner is an Editor at UN Today.
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