Visit Belfast takes home Top Innovation Award for its pioneering social impact initiative Changing the Menu. For Good.

Collaborative efforts of Belfast’s tourism and events industry to become more sustainable has helped the city secure the position of 8th in the world in the 2022 Global Destinations Sustainability Index (GDS-Index). 

The annual GDS Index is a world-leading sustainability benchmarking and performance improvement programme for destinations and their visitor economies, announced the 2022 results today (Wednesday 9th November) that sees the Northern Ireland capital climb eleven places since last year to take the 8th spot; placing Belfast as the most sustainable destination in the Island of Ireland.

Clearly demonstrating a focus to build the sector back from the impacts of the Covid pandemic and bringing sustainability to the forefront of tourism growth and development, Belfast achieved a score of 84.01% up 13 percentage points from last year when Belfast ranked 19th out of 73 destinations.

Recognising sustainable leaders within the global leisure and business tourism sector at the 61st International Congress and Convention Association conference in Poland, the GDS-Index assesses destination performance across 73 criteria over four key areas: environmental strategy and infrastructure, social sustainability, industry sustainability and destination management performance by Visit Belfast.

Comparing data submitted by 65 destinations, the results offer insights into the trends and progress of the global destinations’ commitment to transforming their social, environmental and destination management practices. Other leading cities to make the Top 10 include Gothenburg, Bordeaux, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Glasgow.

Belfast’s ranking represents a significant milestone for the city, underpinning Belfast City Council’s vision set out in the Belfast Resilience Strategy that aims to see the Belfast City Region transition to an inclusive, zero-emissions climate resilient economy within a generation.

A major part of this strategy includes Belfast’s One Million Trees project. This initiative is a joint pledge between Belfast City Council, private and voluntary sectors to plant one million native trees across the city by 2035.

Improving Belfast’s tourism and hospitality industry’s sustainability credentials has been key to the city’s success, helping it to climb from 47th position to a top ten position in just two years.  In June 2021, Visit Belfast and Belfast City Council launched the world’s largest-ever green tourism city partnership – over two-thirds of the city’s hotel stock is now sustainability certified. Belfast has also achieved several ‘green tourism’ firsts in the process: ICC Belfast became the first Green Meeting certified venue on the island of Ireland, Queens University Belfast became the first organisation on the island of Ireland to be given a Green Meetings Gold Award and Titanic Belfast was recognised as a leader in sustainability by receiving Silver Awards for the Green Tourism and Green Meetings accreditations.

Reflecting on just how far Belfast has come and congratulating the combined efforts of those involved in tourism, conference and events sales, promotion and development, the Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Tina Black said:

It’s hugely important to see Belfast rank among the greenest and most sustainable destinations in the world. Global research has highlighted the need for to protect our built and natural environment and provide destination stewardship. By aligning these and the needs of our community we can lay the foundations for building a stronger, more resilient tourism sector in the coming decades.

I’m extremely proud that our combined efforts with key businesses and organisations across the city, from the public, private and civic sectors are keeping our city on the global stage, clearly setting out our qualities as an appealing, attractive, responsible tourism destination.  I think this success demonstrates what can be achieved when we work together; this is a really good news story for Belfast.”

The GDS-Index focusses on much more than environmental sustainability, challenging destinations to collectively rethink what successful tourism destinations should look like, and as a sector, demonstrate how tourism can and is a force for good, contributing not just economically but societally and environmentally to its host city-place.

Visit Belfast fended off global competition to take home the 2022 GDS-Movement’s Innovation Award for its pioneering social impact project Changing the Menu. For Good. beating a short-list of five destinations that included the Faroe Islands, Helsingborg in Sweden, Valencia in Spain and Washington DC.

Spearheaded by Visit Belfast, the initiative that launched earlier this year, enlisted the help and support of the city’s venues, caterers, and events’ organisers to help tackle food poverty by directly raising funds and supplies for local food banks and charities.  Founding partners include Hastings Hotels, Queen’s University Belfast, Conference Partners International, Crowne Plaza Belfast, Hospitality Belfast, Eventful, ICC Belfast and Titanic Belfast.

The judges felt that Belfast’s Changing the Menu. For Good. was the most scalable, modifiable, and maximally impactful of the top five finalist’s projects.

Visit Belfast Chief Executive Gerry Lennon said: “Tourism has played a pivotal role in Belfast’s growth, vibrancy and economic wellbeing in recent years. By working collaboratively and creatively, Visit Belfast and our partners and stakeholders have identified a way where the sector can continue to contribute positively to the city’s wellbeing, at a time when pressures from rising costs of living are impacting so profoundly on people’s lives.

Changing the Menu. For Good. is part of our long-term commitment to deliver more sustainable events and drive a regenerative tourism sector which leaves a lasting legacy and that has our people and their needs at its heart.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see that our collective efforts in this area have been recognised globally by the GDS Movement; and to be ranked alongside some of the most pioneering cities in the world for tourism sustainability is an immensely positive statement for our sector. It truly underpins our ambitions to transition to a more regenerative tourism model as we rebuild our visitor economy.”

Congratulating Belfast on receiving the GDS Innovation Award, Chief Change-Maker at GDS-Index, Guy Bigwood, said:

Our mission is to co-create sustainable and circular strategies, mindsets and skill sets that will enable tourism and events destinations of the future to thrive, and society and nature to regenerate. 

“What is clear at these awards is the sheer enormity of creativity, commitment and compassion the sector has in wanting to make the right impact and tackle some of the challenges our societies are facing today. The Changing the Menu. For Good. initiative demonstrates that to the full, providing best practice and ideas for other destinations to adopt. Well done Belfast!