Don’t copy, be inspired: How Copenhagen became a green beacon of hope

David Archer

30 April 2024

“There are many routes to the future. There’s not just one. Copenhagen is fantastic. It’s a miracle. Don’t copy. Be inspired.” – Jens Kramer Mikkelsen


How did Copenhagen become one of the world’s greenest cities, and what can today’s changemakers learn from the journey? Informed by insights from Wonderful Copenhagen CEO Mikkel Aarø-Hansen, Copenhagen’s former mayor Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, and others, this season immerses us into the Danish capital’s transformation through long-term visionary planning backed up by action. 


The city’s harbourfront is a prime example. Over the span of a few decades, Copenhageners transformed their once-polluted industrial harbour into a popular spot where locals and visitors now enjoy swimming in clean water. The harbour cleanup, alongside other major infrastructure projects like the metro system, have had an enormous impact on local life and the city’s growing international reputation. 

“I think the clean water today is a symbol of Copenhagen.”

In our first episode, we get a rare glimpse at what it was like to lead a decades-long, collective vision and then see it become reality. Copenhagen’s longest-serving mayor, Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, tells us about the challenges and sacrifices made along the way, and what he hopes for the future of travel and its impact on Copenhagen. Like many leaders in tourism, he emphasizes the value of forging alliances across various sectors and political lines.


Coming up later this season:

  • Mikkel Aarø-Hansen, CEO at Wonderful Copenhagen, who shares the two biggest jobs ahead for travel destinations.
  • Anders Lendager, an influential architect using design to show locals and travellers that sustainability solutions already exist, and aren’t as unreachable as they may think.
  • Helene Hjortlund and Tobias Weber-Andersen, whose tourism organizations give locals the chance to make a difference when they visit and learn about taking better care of nature.
  • Dorthe Barsøe, Director of the Danish Architecture Center, where the power of travel to show people new ways of living is on full display. 


Subscribe to Travel Beyond through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast player.

Show notes


Episode transcript

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Don’t copy what we did. You cannot copy, but be inspired of what we did. And I think bipartisan decisions and a vision is the essential thing. There are many routes to the future. There’s not just one. Don’t copy. Be inspired.

David Archer: Hello and welcome to Travel Beyond. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, recording from the coastal village of Daajing Giids, British Columbia in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

Sara Raymond de Booy: And I’m Sara Raymond de Booy, Associate Creative Director at Destination Think. I’m recording from Seattle, Washington, which is on Coast Salish land, specifically that of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stilaguamish, and Muckleshoot people.

David Archer: On this show, we partner with leading destinations to bring you inspiring solutions to the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet. And we talk to the change makers who are addressing regenerative travel through action, and often from the bottom up.

Sara Raymond de Booy: We’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems, so be sure to reach out if you have a story to share with us.

David Archer: And speaking of great stories and examples of actions and leadership, we’ve got a fascinating place to explore this season. So welcome to Copenhagen, Sara. Here we are. This city often earns a high ranking among the most sustainable cities in the world. So sustainability is a big part of its reputation. And many of our listeners might be familiar with that. There are lots of examples of both leadership and action that stood out to us and our team this season and even more so as we got to know the stories a bit further. 

We’re also familiar with Copenhagen a little bit through our work at Destination Think. Our strategists worked on a strategy called the End of Tourism As We Know It, which is from 2017, released by Wonderful Copenhagen. We’ve both been with Destination Think since that era. So we’ve seen the city at the forefront of destination management for quite some time. 

And Sara, I know you’ve been researching Copenhagen for a few months now. What can you tell us about the city and this season?

Sara Raymond de Booy: Well, as you mentioned, Copenhagen is always looked up to as one of the greenest cities in the world. But what we really wanted to explore was, how did it get that way? And the reason we really wanted to explore this is, what can it teach other cities? Especially related to that leadership and long-term vision, and that long term vision and, and leadership to really change a place is something that we’re going to focus on on this episode.

We also wanted to learn, what’s Copenhagen still challenged by? I know that it’s, it’s held up as a great example of sustainable living, but there’s still other things that they struggle with and, and what are those things? 

Before I visited Copenhagen about five years ago, I didn’t really know much about it. And this season has taught me a lot more about its journey to get to where it is today.

My first impressions back then were, you know, I, I knew about Copenhill, which is a ski hill on top of a heat and power waste-to-energy plant. I know that they were famous for some sustainable projects. Such as the green energy via offshore wind turbines, which you see quite clearly when you’re flying into the airport and looking out the window. Electric transport, including buses and the a hundred percent electric harbor ferry system.

I also knew that it was quite bicycle friendly at the time. I couldn’t really ride a bike very confidently, so I could not enjoy that, but, um, I know that it’s quite well known for its infrastructure there. I have since learned how to ride a bike.

David Archer: That’s good. That’s good news. You’ll have to go back and practice those skills again over there.

Sara Raymond de Booy: Yeah. And have you had the chance to ride a bike in Copenhagen, David?

David Archer: Unfortunately not, um, although I too can ride a bike. The closest I’ve been to Copenhagen is Oslo and parts of Sweden. So, I haven’t made it there yet, but it’s on my list. And I’ve been learning a few things about the city through this podcast and this project. 

 Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark. It’s got 1.4 million people in its metro area, which is about a quarter of the country’s population. And, at least across North America, I’d say Copenhagen or Denmark and Scandinavia writ large are known for social democracy. Copenhagen is an important business hub in Europe too, and especially in Scandinavia. It’s a harbour city and is connected to Malmö, Sweden by bridge. 

Its main draws as a travel destination include things like architecture, urban cycling, royal and naval history back to the Viking Age, and also the Tivoli Gardens amusement park is the top attraction, and that, that park dates back to the mid-1800s.

So there’s a lot going on in Copenhagen. And Sara, did you know that you can actually swim in the harbour there? It’s been completely transformed over the last few decades.

Sara Raymond de Booy: Well, David, that actually ties in quite well with today. I do love, love, love swimming and saunas, and was a bit bummed that I didn’t get the chance to for the short time when I was in Copenhagen. And actually, I don’t even think I knew that it was an option at the time. But the summer after I visited, I started to hear more and more about how it was such a great place for swimming.

I really started to regret not looking into that more when I was there. And at the time, I didn’t really think much about, like, when I was hearing these stories about swimming in Copenhagen, I didn’t really think much about what efforts might have had to happen in the background to make a city like this have a harbour that’s clean enough to swim in.

And in a way, water has become a symbol of Copenhagen’s transformation that’s been decades in the making.

David Archer: Yeah, the decades in the making part is pretty interesting to me. It’s a longterm story that we’re going to go into and, and it must be the case for a lot of places that the best stories are often hidden under the surface, pun intended. It might not be so obvious how places became the way they are.

Even if you’ve been there, even if you’ve been there multiple times, it can be hard to get the full story of the solutions and the progress, unless you know where to look.

Sara Raymond de Booy: Yeah.

David Archer: And producing the podcast has definitely changed how I think about Copenhagen. And that’s because of the inspiring people that we were able to interview for this season.

So the voices that we have coming up include Mikkel Aarø-Hansen. He’s the CEO at Wonderful Copenhagen, the local destination management organization.

Sara Raymond de Booy: We’re also speaking with architect and CEO Anders Lendager, who’s made some incredible innovations that are making construction and urban design more sustainable.

David Archer: Tobias Weber Andersen, whose NGO, Green Kayak, is helping keep the waters clean across many cities.

Sara Raymond de Booy: And Helena Jortlund, Managing Director and Owner at Green Bike Tours and Green Learning Programs, who’s helping visitors take some sustainable ideas home with them.

David Archer: And Dorthe Barsøe is the director of the Danish Architecture Center, which promotes sustainable urban development. We have quite a lot to look forward to, quite a lot to learn over the next few episodes.

Sara Raymond de Booy: Yeah, the city has gone through remarkable changes over the past few decades, and that’s led in part by today’s guest, Jens Kramer Mikkelsen. Jens is Copenhagen’s longest-serving mayor. He served from 1989 to 2004. And during that time, he led the city toward a vision that included cleaning up the polluted industrial harbour, and also invested in a new metro system.

Jens oversaw some of that transformation and assembled a broad coalition of support for major infrastructure projects that have helped make Copenhagen the vibrant global capital it is today. So that’s really why we wanted to chat with him. And Rodney had the chance to recently.

David Archer: And in this conversation with Destination Think CEO Rodney Payne, Jens tells us about Copenhagen’s journey and what it was like to lead the long-term vision. So let’s go there now.

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: My name is, uh, Jens Kramer Mikkelsen. I’m the previous mayor of Copenhagen. Mayor of Copenhagen for 16 years. That’s four terms. And then after that I was, uh, Director of Development in the Ørestad company, which constructed the, the, the metro system. And after that, the, the City & Port Development Corporation, and today I am, um, Director of Development in the biggest development company in, in Northern Europe, Nordic Real Estate Partners, or Urban Partners.

Rodney Payne: What’s your favorite part of Copenhagen?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: The Port of Copenhagen. I grew up here. It’s a part of me. The Port of Copenhagen, and the development in Copenhagen, it’s in my DNA.

Rodney Payne: Do you swim in the harbour? 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Yeah. I prefer to swim in the north part of Copenhagen where I have a summer house, but I often swim in the harbour of Copenhagen, because the water is clean. It’s totally clean. Where can you find, in a city with several million inhabitants, that you can, you can swim in the water? The water is, it’s, clean. Totally clean. You can eat the fish. 

I think the clean water is a symbol of the development of Copenhagen.

Rodney Payne: What was it like when you grew up here, what was the water like as a kid? 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: The water was, uh, polluted. It was yellow or green. We were not allowed to swim in the water. We were not allowed to because of problems with our eyes, our ears, and, and, uh, our stomach. So it was very polluted. So we spent billions and billions of Danish Kroners in, in cleaning up the water.

Rodney Payne: Do you think people are proud to live in Copenhagen?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Yeah, I think people are proud.

I think that, if you know the story, the history of Copenhagen, Like, people at my age, and I’m born in Copenhagen, I was raised in Copenhagen, I’ve lived in Copenhagen for all my life. Then I’m proud of living in Copenhagen. 

But I think that people decide to move to Copenhagen. And of course it’s not all perfect, but I think that people are proud of living in Copenhagen. It’s a clean city. It’s a social city. It is an inclusive city. Yeah. 

Rodney Payne: Was it always like that?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I think so. My, my parents were proud. They were proud of living in Copenhagen. But there’s a transformation, a huge transformation of Copenhagen.

You could say 50 years ago Copenhagen was attractive because of its problems. Today it’s attractive because of what’s going on in Copenhagen. It’s very attractive to live in Copenhagen and prices have gone up and all that. But Copenhagen is not a museum. It’s place where you live. The cities I visited I that I’m most attracted to, it’s the cities where you can feel the people that live there.

I think that’s the, the strength of Copenhagen. That people live in the, in the city.

Rodney Payne: Do you still remember what it was like campaigning for the first time, and how you felt when you were elected as mayor?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: It was fantastic. I was very young. it was not by mistake. I think I would be much better today, being mayor of Copenhagen, than I was, uh, 30, 35 years ago. It was fantastic and it grew more and more fantastic to, to be mayor of Copenhagen. That’s why it took 16 years before I decided to not to run for next office.

Rodney Payne: Why did you want to lead the city?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: In fact, it was not decided when I was born and grew up in Copenhagen in a working class area of Copenhagen, that I should be the, the longest sitting mayor of, of Copenhagen. So it was not by accident, but, but I was, I didn’t really decide to be the mayor of Copenhagen, but I was a member of the Social Democratic Youth Movement and became a part of the, the campaign in ’89. And then they asked me to, to be the front runner of the campaign. Being a mayor of a city is not a one-man show. It’s a partnership between lots of people, lots of engaged people. Unions and trade unions and companies. It was a joint venture. 

And at the time, the unemployment in Copenhagen was 15, 16 percent. Today it’s 3 percent. So the journey of Copenhagen and my journey in Copenhagen has been fantastic. So I didn’t decide to go for mayor, but I was engaged in, engaged in the development of Copenhagen. And fortunately, many others was engaged in it. So many, many, many people today pay credit to me for the development of Copenhagen. Don’t do that. I was just a part of it. A small part of it.

Rodney Payne: If you think back to the level of unemployment and the industrial harbour, and it wasn’t an international city 30 years ago. 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I think it was a pity. The shipyard went down, the, uh, Royal Navy shipyard went, went down, and it was a disaster for Copenhagen at that time in the 80s and the 90s. I don’t want to go back to that time, but I think we should pay tribute to the ones that, that was before us. 

Rodney Payne: What was the vision for the city and how did it come about? 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: We had many projects. We had many strategies. We had a vision. But we didn’t have a plan. I used to say, today we had one plan that fits all. But, but we had a vision. I think it’s more the vision of, uh, of Copenhagen because we had our back to the, to the wall. So we didn’t know what would be successful. 

I think the main things of it was the vision to look not just two years, not just one year, ten years, but thirty, forty years ahead. And see, that’s the vision of Copenhagen. So the metro system, the development of the harbour areas, the development of the deprived areas of Copenhagen, the project of having more families to stay in Copenhagen, just moving to the suburbs was essential. But infrastructure, the metro, was essential of the development of Copenhagen.

Rodney Payne: How would you summarize, if you think back and think 30 or 40 years ahead, and now you get to see the culmination of all of that work that so many people were involved in, how would you summarize what the vision was for the city across all the different projects that you described?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: There’s one major project that was essential for this. That was the belief in Copenhagen, that we love Copenhagen, the belief in Copenhagen. But I think it’s all about infrastructure. I think it’s the harbourfront, cleaning up the water. It’s a metro system, which is fantastic. It’s driverless. The process was not driverless, but the metro is driverless. The harbourfront, Strandpark, continuing support to the great Copenhagen International Airport.

So I think the main thing is the collaboration between public and private sector. It’s not a public sector thing. It’s not a private sector thing. It’s all about collaboration.

Rodney Payne: When you worked with the team to conceptualize various projects that sort of all laddered up into this fantastic international city that has grown and continues to grow, was sustainability – environmentally, and socially, economically – important and talked about back then?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I would like to say that sustainability and, and all that was a part of it, but I think cleaning up the water was the most essential thing. Clean air in Copenhagen was essential part of it. We didn’t talk so much about sustainability. We just did it. 

It was, how did we make the future city? How did you make the future Copenhagen? That was a theme of our development. Then we had the metro system.

The combination of bike and the metro, which is world class, is fantastic in Copenhagen. We had many plans back then in the 90s, many plans. But we had one vision, and the vision was to develop Copenhagen into the future city. Not for tourists, but if people would like to visit Copenhagen, they should do it because they think that people are proud of living here. People are proud of living in Copenhagen. I’m proud of being in Copenhagen. 

Rodney Payne: Why do you think Copenhagen and the people who live here care so much about sustainability now? 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: That’s because of the basic welfare in Denmark. So it’s the next level of feeling secure as a citizen in a society. It’s not about yourself. It’s about your kids. It’s about what’s next generation.

So my kids are secure. They feel safe in the society that they live in, the social welfare society. That’s basic. And that was my parents, my father and my mother worked for, and many os us for. I think it’s part of the DNA. It’s not a question. And investors in Copenhagen that don’t take it serious about investment in housing or offices, then it will be bad business for them within a few years.

Rodney Payne: I really want to talk a lot more about the canals.

And I had no idea about the story of the canals here, and I’ve heard it from so many people. And it’s one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you, because I think it’s so symbolic in so many ways of what humanity needs to do in so many different ecosystems around the world. And I think there’s very few examples in the world where it’s been such a priority to invest so much, where it’s had such a drastic impact. So I want to spend quite a bit of time talking to you about that. 

What role does water play in the urban lifestyle of Copenhagen?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Water is essential part of the lifestyle of Copenhagen. It’s a harbour city. The wealth of the city was created next to the water. And the quality of the water, the recent 20, 30 years. You can live in a big city, and you can live where the water is clean. You can bathe in the water, you can eat the fish from the water, you can swim in the water, you can do whatever you want. So I think the clean water is a symbol of the new Copenhagen.

Rodney Payne: What did it take to clean up an industrial harbour?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: 30 years. It took 30 years to clean up the water of Copenhagen. It’s not so visible. People that lived here 50 years ago, they know that the harbour was very polluted. But today, my kids, I tell them it was heavily polluted 40, 50 years ago. It was insane. Today they just jump into the water, because it’s clean. So the clean water for me is a symbol of the new Copenhagen. Not only the new Copenhagen, but the Copenhagen which connects the present and the future with the past. Copenhagen is water, clean water. 

Rodney Payne: Did people think that you were crazy when everybody was talking about cleaning up the harbours? 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Many people thought it was quite insane to spend so many billions of Danish Kroners in the project. 

Rodney Payne: How did you convince them to support –

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: The same way with the metro, we just have to prove it, just to decide it. So I think much of it is a question of decisiveness, to decide and hope that people think that’s okay. And It’s still a question about making decisions, also some hard decisions, and it’s much about confidence.

Rodney Payne: Do you see a lack of confidence and a lack of big vision when you look around the world and other places?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I think many cities and many governments and many countries around the world have to to make very hard decisions and believe in them, and hope that the future generations would approve it. 

Rodney Payne: Do you believe in the power of big visions to unleash human –

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I believe in the, um, in the combination of big visions and execution. And confidence. When we started the turnaround process of Copenhagen in the late 80s and the beginning of the 90s, it was not a beauty contest.

We cut down on social services. Cut down on the elderly. Cut down on the schools. Cut down on the, uh, me being a social democrat, starting cutting down services instead of expanding them. So, um, it what was we needed.

And, but we had a vision. And I think it was what was the major force of it for me was it was not a three week, it was not a four year, it was a 20 year project. It was a 50 year vision that we tried to create, and that the thing that we told, frankly people, what we did. We cut down services, you know, so the future would be lighter, but we continued and I was reelected telling people the truth. Of course it was very tough to do what we did with the services, the schools and kindergartens. Today it’s a world class standard we have in Copenhagen. World class.

So I think that the essential thing is that you have a very broad coalition, not only politically, but that you work together with people from different sectors. That’s the same today. It’s another combination, but it’s the same today. You have to make an alliance. You have to make an alliance of sanity. 

Rodney Payne: In my limited experience, I’ve seen where big vision can create that alliance, and cross political boundaries, and cross silos between organizations.

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Sometimes I think that, that being under huge pressure, that gives you the courage to establish or to develop the vision and the coalition.

I often think back of what we did, because all of it was not especially wise, but I think we had a coalition of the willing between, uh, social democrats, centre-left people in, Copenhagen, which is a strong part of Copenhagen, and conservatives and liberals in Copenhagen.

I think that was essential, and this coalition still exists. They know the value of what we started in the beginning of the 90s.

Rodney Payne: How did you attract the resources to make such massive long-term investments?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I think one of the main thing was the coalition between the local government of Copenhagen and the, at that time, conservative government of Denmark.

So it was cross political, bipartisan coalition. That bipartisan coalition still exists. So it’s not left wing, right wing. It’s a joint project.

And then the stable political situation in Copenhagen was essential for big pension funds, foreign and domestic pension funds, that they could believe in what we said. And then the commitment to heavy infrastructure projects, the harbourfront development and the metro development, was essential in creating and maintaining the confidence in what is going on in Copenhagen. And the long-term perspective. 

Rodney Payne: You quickly referenced big problems in the world earlier in our discussion. And when you think about those big interrelated problems that we’re seeing and look around at way much of our infrastructure is built, whether it’s a social or public infrastructure, private infrastructure, a lot of it was built for a world that we’re leaving behind. We’re going to have to remake a lot of the things in our lives and see them. And the public-private model that you saw work so successfully here between the national government, the major city in a country, and investment. Is that a model that can be replicated?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: You can’t just copy the model, but I think you can be inspired of what we did in Copenhagen. 

You should be elected of your visions instead of being afraid of your visions. I could give up the metro decision in Copenhagen. I could give up the, uh, the cleaning of the harbour, because it was anonymous. But I think that you have to have a coalition of people that dares to take decisions, not only for themselves, but for your children and the future generations. 

I don’t have a fixed model, but I hope that Copenhagen could be an inspiration for other cities. Don’t copy what we did. You cannot copy. But be inspired of what we did. And I think bipartisan decisions and a vision is the essential thing of it. 

There are many routes to the future. There’s not just one. But Copenhagen is fantastic. It’s a miracle. Don’t copy. Be inspired.

Rodney Payne: Do you think people come here to be inspired?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I think people come here to be inspired. And I think many people think, okay, that’s a fairytale story we show and tell about Copenhagen. Because of faults here, there are problems in, in Copenhagen. But I think we have learnings that could inspire people in different cities.

Whatever it’s in South America or in South Africa or in Asia and North America. Many North American cities could learn from what’s going on in Copenhagen. But don’t copy. Be inspired.

Rodney Payne: I’ve spent my whole career talking to and learning from different places around the world, and this is the first time I’ve really had a chance to spend time in Copenhagen and I’ve definitely been inspired. What would you do differently if you could go back and do it all again?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: A lot. Thousands of things. But you have to understand the, the basis of the decisions. But I think the direction, I think the vision was right. Was right. But many plans, we change plans all the time.

Rodney Payne: Yeah, but having a consistent vision to be a future city –

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Yeah, I have to. Yeah. When I dream, there’s a lot of, thousands of things that I would’ve done differently. But more than 50% was right.

Rodney Payne: The transformation across so many parts of the city, do you think it would have been possible if Copenhagen didn’t become an international city? 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: If we didn’t dare to make decisions at the right time, if we didn’t invest in the, cleaning of the harbour, the harbourfront, in deciding not that Copenhagen should be a city for only rich people, but for normal people with normal incomes, also people with very low incomes. Investments in the metro, in the Copenhagen International Airport, but we could have made the, the wrong decisions and fortunately we didn’t do that.

Rodney Payne: How does Copenhagen look after people who aren’t wealthy? How does the city make sure that they can stay here?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: 45% of housing in, uh, in Copenhagen, are neighborhoods social housing. 

Rodney Payne: Simple and easy.

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: No, it’s not easy, it’s not, it’s, but I think it’s essential. We need, don’t want to develop a city where there’s you and us and rich people living in the center of Copenhagen and poor people living outside. And so, so we want that, that the people engaged in the, the health sector and school teachers and, uh, they can live in Copenhagen, they can afford a housing. 25% of common houses in Copenhagen, common housing will be social housing. It’s very good.

Rodney Payne: Throughout the transition that’s happened in the past three decades, Copenhagen has built a reputation around the world in parallel, right, and more people come here. Do you think Copenhagen could be what it is today without the success of the airport?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: No. Copenhagen International Airport is essential for the success of Copenhagen. I think the, the tourist sector, that’s one of the reasons why unemployment in Copenhagen today is low compared to what it was in the late 80s and beginning of the 90s.

There’s not much production in Copenhagen. It’s a service city, So it’s essential to understand what gives the strength of Copenhagen also in future.

Rodney Payne: What has tourism brought to the city? What has it enabled?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I hope that it enables people from the US, from China, from whatever they, wherever they come from in Europe to experience a city that is not just a city, it’s not just a tourist production product. It’s, people live here. 

So they have to, to experience the way of life in Copenhagen. Tivoli is essential for Copenhagen, but Tivoli is not all of it. 

Rodney Payne: Tivoli is an interesting example as well, because it’s a theme park right in the middle of the city. But I, when I go there, I can feel it’s for locals too. 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: You can just go in there, stroll around the park. When I have meetings in the city centre and before I go back, then I pass through Nyhavn or pass through Tivoli Gardens. So it’s a, it’s a part of it. It’s a part of the DNA of Copenhagen. And when people visit Copenhagen, they should feel that it’s a livable city. It’s a clean and livable city. 

Rodney Payne: How does tourism have to evolve and adapt to be successful in the future?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Even more of the same, in fact. That you show that if you visit a city, you can feel it yourself. Are you a part of it? Do they have a good life? Good life there. So tourism is not a theater. So you have to be a part. You, you should feel that you are a part of it. 

So Copenhagen is an international city, but you have to feel that, what you visit is a city where people live and they enjoy living there. 

Rodney Payne: Do you think aviation and sectors like cruise that use a lot of energy, how are they going to change in the coming years? What’s the, the pressure that you see or feel amongst people and travellers?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I think the industry will change. I think that SAAS and other aviation companies are investing a lot of it. So, so I’ve, I think there will be, um, many people will transport themselves with trains. Many people, but, but, but the aviation industry, I think, will develop and, and, uh, I hope to get back to Melbourne. I hope to get back to, uh, Sao Paolo.

Uh, so, so we will still travel, um, and Copenhagen is an international city and the huge, uh, Copenhagen International Airport is essential for the industry. And for the tourism sector in Copenhagen and aviation companies and will adjust, adjust to, to, uh, to the new situation. So I think we’ll look into the greener future.

Rodney Payne: Yeah, my hope is that although we’ve been slow as a sector, I said we because I work in travel as well, that we can do something with aviation like we did with the vaccine. 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Exactly.

Rodney Payne: I think that’s what’s needed to protect –

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: That’s, that’s, that’s what’s needed. And uh, I think you have to have, the, the big players, they have to, invest in, new technology. And I think it’s, I think it’s coming. Because I couldn’t stand that I couldn’t visit Melbourne. I have family in Melbourne. It would be a disaster for me. It would be a disaster that my kids couldn’t do it. It would be a disaster for people from Brazil, in Wisconsin, couldn’t visit us in, in Copenhagen, and my friends in Sao Paulo.

So, I, I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid at all.

Rodney Payne: I like that confidence. I think that if we said that we were going to decarbonize aviation… 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: We’d succeed.

Rodney Payne: You set a vision for Copenhagen with the people around you. If we set a vision for the travel industry that said in 10 years, we’re going to be flying clean. Would we do it?

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Would I think we would do it. I think it’s essential that we do it. A strong political leadership is essential.

Rodney Payne: What do you want the future to look like for your kids? 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: I hope that they will have the same possibilities as I have. So I think, uh, I hope that my kids will have a life with a lot of choices. But I think the idea of next generation to succeed more than the previous, I have to, we have to reconsider, we have to redefine what is the success of the next generation.

I think they will live in Copenhagen through the rest of their days. And I hope they will be happy. Make their own choices. Have the possibility of making choices.

So it’s all about making choices. Not on the account of other people, but fulfill their dreams. As I did, my father did. And that’s my dream for my kids. 

Rodney Payne: Last question. What brings you the most joy? 

Jens Kramer Mikkelsen: Seeing my kids growing up. But what gives me most joy is, a Sunday morning early to take my father’s bike from 1965 and drive it to the harbour. Visit the harbourfront. And sit and look at the birds, and look at the water, and that’s where I grew up. That’s the best thing. 

Rodney Payne: Thank you. 

David Archer: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think, and you just heard from Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, former mayor of Copenhagen. We’ll include links to more resources on the blog for this episode at 

My co-host and co-producer is Sara Raymond de Booy. This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. Lindsay Payne and Annika Rautiola provided production support. We would like to thank Wonderful Copenhagen for their support in creating this podcast season with us and for their willingness to be bold. And a special shout-out to my friend, Benedicte Hansen from Haida Gwaii, whose first language is Danish. She helped us with pronunciation. 

You can help more people find this show by subscribing, and by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Next time we’ll speak with Mikkel Aarø Hansen, the CEO at Wonderful Copenhagen. See you then. 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You’ve found your partner for destination marketing

We work with the most innovative tourism boards in the world to create a vision for each of their destinations, solve business challenges and execute brilliant, integrated campaigns. The expertise we apply to that work is shared in the articles published here and in our DMO Matters newsletter.

Get must-read updates delivered weekly!

Sign up to have our must-read weekly digest of leading destination marketing trends and innovation delivered directly to your inbox.

Fields marked with an * are required.


Thank you! You will receive an email to confirm your subscription.

Share This