New Destination Sustainability Ranking Announced 

Skift Take

Cities from around the world demonstrate their commitment to social and environmental change as they compete against each other to top this coveted destination sustainability ranking.

Edit: An earlier version of this story stated that Gothenburg, Sweden, held the top spot for seven consecutive years. This has been corrected to seven wins in total.

The 2023 Global Destination Sustainability Index results were announced on Wednesday at the eighth annual 2023 GDS-Forum in Valencia, Spain. The GDS-Index benchmark ranks global destinations based on their efforts in sustainability within the tourism and events industry. The results offer insights into how destinations are transforming their social, environmental, supplier, and destination management offerings.

“The evolution and results of the GDS-Index unequivocally demonstrate that destination management organizations and national tourism organizations can and do drive accelerated economic, social, and environmental transformation within their tourism and events ecosystems,” said Guy Bigwood, CEO, GDS-Movement. 

This year’s GDS-Index applicants featured over 100 destinations, including 42 new destinations from 11 countries around the world. The new applicants challenged the GDS-Index rankings, intensifying the competition between index applicants.

The Winners

For the seventh time, Gothenburg, Sweden, took the top spot, also winning the GDS Leadership Award. The city achieved an impressive index score of 94.64% and scored high in all areas. It was followed by Oslo, Norway, which lept to the number two position from holding the tenth slot the previous year. Copenhagen completed a Scandinavian top three. Nordic cities dominate the top 10, with only Glasgow, UK, and Bordeaux, France, as outliers.

  1. Gothenburg, Sweden (Göteborg & Co) – 94.64%
  2. Oslo, Norway (VisitOSLO / Oslo Convention Bureau) – 92.46%
  3. Copenhagen, Denmark (Wonderful Copenhagen) – 91.73%
  4. Helsinki, Finland (City of Helsinki) – 90.49%
  5. Bergen, Norway (Visit Bergen / Bergen Convention Bureau) – 90.15%
  6. Aarhus, Denmark (VisitAarhus) – 88.64%
  7. Aalborg, Denmark (Destination Nord) – 87.70%
  8. Glasgow, United Kingdom (Glasgow Convention Bureau) – 87.47%
  9. Bordeaux, France (Bordeaux Tourism & Conventions) – 87.10%
  10. Stockholm, Sweden (Visit Stockholm) – 84.74%

The top 40 is made up of 17 cities from Western Europe, one city from North America (Montreal, Canada), and seven cities from Asia Pacific (Goyang, South Korean; Singapore, Singapore; Songkhla, Thailand; Melbourne, Australia; Sydney, Australia; Bangkok, Thailand; and Brisbane, Australia).

The GDS-Index also awards the Most Improved Destination by measuring an overall increase, regardless of previous ranking. Liverpool, UK, took the award as the destination with the largest score increase in 2023.

Rewarding Innovation in Destination Sustainability

Washington, D.C., represented by Destination DC, received the GDS-Award for Innovation for its DEI Business Fellowship. This sustainable tourism initiative is an innovative way of supporting small local businesses owned by people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities. The fellowship provides yearly cohorts with access to marketing resources, networking opportunities, education, and mentoring with the specific goal of engaging with leisure and business travelers.

Among the runners-up in the category of Innovation was Banff, Canada, recognized for its community impact program, which allows visitors to enjoy Banff National Park while generating contributions for local charitable organizations. Edmonton, Canada’s Responsible Events Program, which focuses on corporate social responsibility, also earned it a runner-up spot. Likewise, Bordeaux, France, made the shortlist for its Bordeaux Solid’AIR program, as did Gothenburg for its Second Hand Safari Program and Tampere, Finland for its Outdoor Express program.

Sustainable Destinations Commit to Legacy and Impact

Business Events Sydney (BESydney) was the recipient of the inaugural GDS-Movement and #MEET4IMPACT Impact Award. The award recognized its commitment to legacy and impact through business events.

“We committed more than a decade ago to identifying and measuring the ‘Beyond Tourism Benefits’ of business events for local and global communities,” said BESydney CEO Lyn Lewis-Smith. “Now we are collaborating with those communities to reduce our environmental footprint and to co-create and measure long-term social impact as well as economic outcomes from the business events we attract to our city.” 

In 2019, Sydney’s Sustainable Destination Partnership received the inaugural GDS Innovation Award for ‘Innovation in Sustainability’ for outstanding collaboration.   

Emerging Destinations Sustainability Trends

The 2023 GDS-Index also revealed a number of promising destination sustainability trends. Among the trends was an 85% increase in participating destinations in implementing strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy. Also, DEI initiatives saw a spike in participation this year, with 75% of the top 40 destinations implementing DEI-supporting efforts. 

One clear trend is how more destinations are sharing their sustainability success stories to inspire and motivate business travelers. Over half of participating destinations (53%) are using their websites to spread awareness of their sustainability initiatives.

Photo credit: GDS-Index / Göteborg & Co