Circular economy in tourism: a transnational cooperation project

Short Description

The tourism sector has been identified as one of the most significant contributors to global emissions and waste. To address this issue, the CEnTOUR project aims to promote circular economy solutions in the tourism sector through transnational cooperation and knowledge transfer.

The project focuses on SMEs and their local value chains and has several objectives, including building capacity and transferring knowledge about sustainability and circularity in the tourism sector, accelerating the transition process of SMEs, running pilot tests to implement circular solutions, bridging circular action plans with environmental certification schemes, creating a network of practitioners, and promoting the exchange of good practices and results at the EU level. It targets SME owners/managers of tourism provider organizations, including accommodation providers, tour operators, and local tourism operators.

A structured coaching methodology to be replicated in local contexts

A key part of the project is the development of a training manual whose purpose is to provide a hands-on guide for facilitators to run a coaching program that focuses on circular economy in the tourism sector. This coaching program consists of four ½-day collective sessions, each with a specific focus. Before each collective session, individual work is expected from the SME (through the e-learning platform) to enrich the interactions between the facilitator and the SMEs. The first day of the program focuses on introducing the objective of the project, the coaching approach, and the available resources. It also provides a common understanding of circular economy in general and of the context of the tourism sector. Day 2 and Day 3 offer introductory explanations to the different phases of the transition journey (Explore, Assess, Plan, Implement and Communicate) and provide a set of activities to implement the journey. Day 4 offers a deep dive into specific topics of interest for the SMEs, tailored to individual needs and decided collectively with the SMEs.

After the 4 ½-day sessions, additional sessions are to take place to brainstorm with SMEs on specific circular activities that eventually lead to implementation.

The manual details each phase of the coaching sessions and provides a set of slides and tools to run collective sessions, including the objectives, learning outcomes, and timing of each individual collective session.

The key role of Circular economy facilitators

The coaching program is facilitated by eight facilitators, six at national level and two at transversal level, to support local SMEs from the tourism industry willing to engage in a circular transition process.

National facilitators act as the national reference and first point of contact for the selected SMEs in their country. They lead the group of SMEs during the sessions and throughout the process, make sure that information exchanges between the partnership and SMEs are smooth and effective, provide support to implement actions with ease of access, and follow up on the SMEs’ progress in their country.

Transversal facilitators have two roles depending on their respective skills, i.e., answering more technical questions and managing the online platform. They facilitate the meetings between the local facilitators, centralize the feedbacks from all the facilitators following the group sessions with the SMEs, manage the interactions between the national facilitators and their input on the platform, and help the national facilitators resolve the issues they might encounter during the coaching process.

The facilitators use group interaction techniques, as well as skills and tools in leadership, group management, active listening, empathy, verbal skills, time management, and organizing skills, to keep the group thinking and on the right track.

Considering part of the project took place in the middle of the pandemic and that some SMEs are more distant than others, the project used MIRO, an online collaborative whiteboard platform that enables teams to work together and share ideas in real-time. MIRO provided a digital workspace that could be accessed from anywhere, making it ideal for online sessions and remote work.

To ensure the coaching program is effective, the project held a facilitator brainstorming session to gather and share feedback received from local brainstorming sessions and reflect on how to support SMEs in their implementation process. The objectives of the session were to analyse the feedback from the local brainstorming sessions and identify common issues and challenges faced by SMEs in their CE implementation process, share good practices and solutions identified during the local brainstorming sessions, reflect on how to provide support to SMEs in the implementation of their CE strategies, and develop a roadmap for the next steps to be taken to help SMEs overcome the remaining obstacles and successfully implement their CE strategies. The facilitator brainstorming session was divided into three parts: presentation of feedback from the local brainstorming sessions, group work to identify common issues and challenges faced by SMEs and develop solutions to overcome them, and development of a roadmap for the next steps to be taken to help SMEs overcome the remaining obstacles and successfully implement their CE strategies.

The CEnTOUR project is an excellent example of transnational cooperation to promote circular economy solutions in the tourism sector. With the coaching program and the use of MIRO, the project offers a comprehensive approach to support SMEs in their circular transition process. The project has the potential to create a significant impact on the tourism sector by promoting sustainability and circularity and reducing waste and emissions.