Developing a Sustainability Toolkit for the Destination Zuid-Limburg (NL) together with 4 Master Students of CBS


In cooperation with one of our clients VVV Zuid-Limburg and our partner Cologne Business School (CBS) we arranged and steered an innovative student project. Four CBS Master students from the “Master of Arts in Sustainable Tourism Management” participated in this project as part of their course “Applied Sustainable Tourism Management”. The aim of this project was to developed a Sustainability Toolkit, especially for Small-to-Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

The region Zuid-Limburg is the most southern region of the Nederlands and belongs to the Province of Limburg with the capital Maastricht. Tourism in this region generates around 1 Bn. EUR direct revenue and employs around 20.000 people which make it the most important economic activity. The destination management organization (DMO) “VVV Zuid-Limburg” was founded in 1885 and is therefore the oldest DMOs of the Netherlands, likely also of Europe. VVV Zuid-Limburg is a private foundation with partly public responsibilities. With over 1.000 members it is the largest foundation in the Netherlands. The VVV Zuid-Limburg generates around 7 Mio. EUR revenue, of which only around 1.2 Mio EUR derive from public sources. The diverse fields of action include: managing tourist information offices (35 in total), operating reservation & booking department, product development, event management, destination marketing and project coordination.

Sustainable tourism is for director Anya Niewierra not only a phenomenon of recent years but more a matter that is very close to her heart. Preserving natural resources and operating in harmony with the local population is understood to be the basis for a healthy, prosperous and long-running tourism industry. VVV Zuid-Limburg aims at becoming a leading and sustainable tourist destination. VVV Zuid-Limburg plans to take a mindful and conscious approach to managing this region so that future generations can enjoy it as well. One example of the DMO’s efforts regarding sustainable tourism development is “Park Gravenrode”. In 2009 the park won the European EDEN Award (European Destination of ExcelleNce) due to its successful transformation from having been a former coal mining area to today’s blooming landscape.

Park Gravenrode (Limburg, NL) Then & Now

Park Gravenrode (Limburg, NL) Then & Now

In addition to this, the VVV Zuid-Limburg followed closely the developments on the European level with regards to sustainable tourism development. One major milestone herein was the launch of a comprehensive indicator system last year. The so called European Tourism Indicator System (ETIS) was officially launched in Brussels last February and has already been subject of an earlier article which can be read here. VVV Zuid-Limburg registered for the first ETIS testing phase in July last year, but is probably starting in April this year within the second testing phase of the EU. There is no Dutch region so far participating at ETIS.

So much said for the background of the overall project as well as the motivation of VVV Zuid-Limburg. Furthermore, it was the initiative of the CBS lecturer Prof. Dr. Dirk Reiser and me to design a cooperative, real-life project for the CBS students. Together with the students and all project partners we formulated the problem statement: There are currently no sustainability standards and guidelines for smaller accommodations, such as B&Bs, small-scale hotels (<10 rooms), hostels and holiday homes. The project objectives therefore were: (1) The development of a toolkit that delivers sustainability standards to smaller accommodations, such as B&Bs, small-scale hotels (<10 rooms), hostels and holiday homes. And (2) the toolkit should furthermore provide procedural guidance to the business about its application.

The project run over a 12 weeks period and was mainly managed by the students themselves as well as Prof. Reiser and me as support. Moreover, I also fulfilled an intermediary role by being the contact interface of the VVV Zuid-Limburg and the students. In order to enable the students to self-sufficiently manage the project, a clear project scope with concrete project work packages and deliverables as well as clear deadlines was prepared together with the students at the beginning of the project. The first deliverable was a research report one by every student on existing certifications: Travelife, Green Key, Green Globe and Ecotourism Australia. This included an analysis and an evaluation regarding: Reliability of certification (content, transparency and credibility), functionality of certification (feasibility, marketing and finance) and others aspects such as baselines and applicability to small accommodations. The next deliverable was a stakeholder survey, face-to-face as well as via telephone aiming to answer questions like: How do their perceive sustainability? What would they be willing to contribute? What challenges do they see? What support would they need? The third deliverable then was a beta-version of the toolkit with a list of indicators and procedural guidance. The subsequent work package included an onsite testing of the toolkit with four different businesses: a B&B, a small-scale hotel (<10 rooms), a hostel and a holiday home. The resulting feedback was then incorporated by the students and the amended version was firstly presented in class to Prof. Reiser.

Mid of December the students then had the chance to present the toolkit to representatives of VVV Zuid-Limburg as well as a representative of the well-known hotel certification system Green Key that is currently working on a new certification, especially for small-scale accommodations. The presentation can be watched here:

At the time being the VVV Zuid-Limburg is translating the toolkit into Dutch before making it available for their members. Potential next steps that are in discussion right now are workshops or trainings for entrepreneurs for improving the sustainability of their operations.

If you are interested in developing a sustainability toolkit for your destination with or without the support of students from Cologne Business School – or any other project that you might be interested in – get in contact with me. We are always looking for new real life challenges for the students, and ourselves, of course!



Project Team "Toolkit of Sustainability Indicators for Small Accommodations in South Limburg"

Back row, left to right: Iris Darley (VVV Zuid-Limburg), Erik van Dijk (Green Key), Isabell Wulfsberg (CBS), Dirk Reiser (CBS), Benjamin Kapitel (CBS)
Front row, left to right: Anya Niewierra (VVV Zuid-Limburg), Agshin Nematov (CBS), Nicole Bosquet (CBS), Henriette Stieger (COMPASS)

Author: Henriette Stieger

I hold a Masters degree MSc. in Public Policy and Human Development, major: Sustainable Development (Maastricht University). Furthermore, I am a certified Project Manager for European Sustainable Development 'PM4ESD' (APMG certified july 2013) and I am a certified Innovation Trainer (july 2014 by motiv® Gesellschaft für Innovation/ Society for Innovation). I hold a B.A. (august 2008) in International Business, major: Tourism Management (CBS Cologne) as well as a certificate in hotel management from the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (july 2005). My consulting focus lies in marketing, training and sustainable tourism as well as in integrated regional development. Contact:, tel. +49 (0)221 9499201

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