Net zero emissions, Labour challenges, Artificial Intelligence… CityDNA International Conference in Sofia addressed pressing issues facing Tourism Industry

City Destinations Alliance held its International Conference in Sofia, bringing together European DMOs leaders, partners and tourism experts to discuss the “Elephant in the Room” – a reference to the industry’s most pressing and hidden issues that demand urgent attention. From net zero to labour shortage and challenges, passing by artificial intelligence and the shifting sphere of influence, 180 members from DMOs all over Europe and beyond got a new approach on existing elephants that have changed over time.

Achieving net zero emissions in tourism

The event kicked off by tackling the challenges and implications of transitioning towards a net zero emissions economy, and the role of destinations in this transition.

Several experts in the field, including Rodney Payne from Destination Think!, Mat Woods from Destination Queenstown, Michelle Morss from Queenstown Lakes District Council, Elke Dens from The Travel Foundation, Ljubica Kneževic Cvelbar from University of Ljubljana, Bernadett Papp from European Tourism Futures Institute, Ewout Versloot from NBTC Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions and Janie Neumann from the GDS-Movement shared their insights and experiences on the road towards net zero with the same conclusion: the importance of real action as the best marketing strategy.

Consequently, this opens up new role for DMOs to develop products, new markets and new places. And new solutions too, as the system changes so that low carbon travel options are increasingly the default, the cheapest and the easiest.

The tourism industry has the power to drive cultural change, foster collaboration, and lead innovation globally. The solutions to these challenges exist, and we are committed to discovering and enabling communities to adopt them.

CityDNA, in its newly adopted strategy titled “Welcoming Wegeneration” clearly supports DMOs shifting from visitor economy to visitor ecosystem, calling for value over volume, from cities delivering what visitors want to cities sharing what they have and what they stand for. DMOs makes the case for better urban tourism with thriving communities and sustainable tourism practices as guiding principles.

The citizen shift in tourism

In an effort to understand the role of citizens in the tourism industry, Jon Alexander, co-founder of the New Citizenship Project and author of “Citizens,” addressed the role of DMOs and CVBs in the Era of the Citizen and how empowering citizens can lead to positive change. In particular, he explored the need for DMOs and CVBs to move away from thinking of tourists as mere consumers and instead focus on engagement and empowerment.

Sharing insights on the impact of Generative AI and ChatGPT on travel and tourism

Experts discussed the growing significance of generative AI and ChatGPT in the travel and tourism industry. They highlighted how major travel brands are already developing plug-ins and new services based on this technology.

Jeroen Baert, Computer Scientist and Podcaster, kicked off the Generative AI session with an entertaining explanation of how NLP systems work that made it all clearer for attendees.

Janette Roush from New York City Tourism + Conventions shared her experience of how ChatGPT has become an integrated part of her daily work as a destination marketer and tourism professional, inviting the room to (re)think just how they have been using and approaching these new tools in their everyday work and everyday lives.

The experts agreed that generative AI and ChatGPT are already changing how we work and play in the travel and tourism industry, and how it is essential to stay ahead of the curve by embracing this technology.

The future of work in the tourism sector

The event highlighted the need for change from within the industry and how DMOs and CVBs are adapting to the needs and requirements of an appealing, inclusive, and flexible place of work.

Philip Mondor from Tourism HR Canada shared insights on the future of work within the tourism and destination sector, drawing on over 25 years of experience in tracking trends in the tourism workforce. Sophia Hyder Hock from Destinations International focused on the efforts of DMOs and CVBs to grow inclusive, equitable, and diverse EDI workforces and workplaces.

A panel discussion with four DMO & CVB executives, Sam Johnston from Dublin Convention Bureau, Synne Myhre from VisitOSLO, Janette Roush from New York City Tourism + Conventions, and Patrik Romano from Bologna Welcome, centered around the challenges and opportunities facing DMOs as they lead change from within. The panellists discussed the need to address issues such as the “Big Quit”, “Quiet Quitting”, “Remote Work”, “4-Day Work Week”, “Company Culture”, and “Belonging”, as well as the importance of creating an appealing, inclusive, and flexible place of work.

These sessions highlighted the need for change from within the tourism and destination sector and the efforts of DMOs and CVBs to adapt to the fluctuating needs of the workforce. The experts agreed that creating an inclusive, equitable, and diverse workplace is essential to attract and retain talent in the industry.


Participants also got the chance to hear from other members and destinations (Amsterdam, Bilbao, Catalonia, Dublin, Dubrovnik, Flanders, Glasgow, Hamburg, Ljubljana, Netherlands, Tel Aviv, Veluwe Arnhem Nijmegen) as well as CityDNA partners and collaborators (European Tourism Association (ETOA), European Tourism Futures Institute (ETFI), ForwardKeys, GDS-Movement, Mabrian, Modul University, Simpleview, TCI Research, The Data Appeal Company) and other companies and universities (BeSMART, Glasgow Caledonian University, House of Hospitality, The Other Half, Toponaut, University of the West of Scotland).

“Speakers as well as members, participating in our conference, shared their valuable insights and experiences on achieving net zero emissions in tourism and establishing balanced ecosystems. It is clear that meaningful discussions and collaborative efforts are necessary for the industry to move forward towards a sustainable future, it is also clear now is time for actions. Actions should also always include the importance of creating an inclusive and diverse workplace in the tourism sector to attract and retain talent. Furthermore, it is evident that generative AI and ChatGPT are transforming the way we work and play in the travel industry, and it is essential for us to embrace available technology to stay ahead of the game.” concluded Petra Stušek, President of City Destinations Alliance.


The next CityDNA Conference will be held on October 3-7,  2023 in Valencia. The Call for Speakers will be sent in May 2023.



About City Destinations Alliance
We are a knowledge sharing network for cities and urban regions working to unfold the potential of the visitor economy. Our vision is for all cities in Europe to flourish as great places to live, work, meet and explore. As a community of professionals, our promise to each other is to always be curious and forward thinking, share our inspiration and never stop learning.

For more information and pictures, please contact:
Bénédicte Lack,, +33 380 56 02 03