Archive | October, 2011

Tourism: What’s the Point? Why Should These Graduates Work for You?

I’ve recently been given a deliciously interesting assignment:  – answer, in one page, “what is the cause of tourism?”

Perhaps the questioner has read Simon Sinek’s great book Start with Why? which can be summarised in one ket phrase: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Perhaps the questioner is a conscious capitalist in the making and understands the power of having a Higher Purpose.

Regardless of the motivation underpinning the assignment, I’m pleased and excited that someone has been thoughtful enough to ask.

Having just spent the past two days in the company of some of British Columbia’s brightest and best tourism students, I am fully aware of just how important it is that we have an meaningful answer. This bright, connected, plugged in generation deserves and expects to be fulfilled and inspired when it goes to work.

I could, of course, trot out all the normal but often empty sounding benefits of tourism put forth as a justification for its existence – the creation of jobs, the preservation of cultures, tourism as a force for peace, tourism as the most effective method of transferring wealth from rich to poor etc.. etc. but I won’t. I won’t because the tourism establishment has failed to identify and measure the costs associated with these outcomes and therefore might just be deluding itself.

I would, however, like to test out a three  concepts with my readers and hear your views.

1. Tourism as “wholesome”  healing agent. The deeper cause or purpose of travel and hospitality is to heal, or to make whole, or to enliven. It’s no coincidence that the words hospice, hospital and hospitality have the same etymological root – i.e., to make whole. The word recreation is virtually synonymous with the concept of rejuvenation meaning to recreate some sense of balance and order that had disappeared. The word holiday comes from “holy day” and the notion that, if balance was to be restored in the human psyche, there needed to be a day (the Sabbath or Sunday) or days (festivals) when the spiritual aspect of one’s being was honoured and nurtured. Even the word vacation, which comes from the Latin verb vacare – to empty – suggests the need to empty oneself to make room for fresh ideas. And isn’t this what most operators know is their role in life – especially those operating a resort or boutique hotel or B & B within driving distance of a bustling metropolis? Their guests arrive late on a Friday, stressed from the demands of their working week in the “rat race,” exhausted by the struggle to fight through the traffic to reach their “get away escape”. The hosts’ task is to restore mood and body and ready the guest for another round of relentless production and consumption after they have left!

But it could be bigger than this. Tourism could (and often does) become an agent for change in a community stimulating and encouraging the renewal and revitalisation of its landscapes, infrastructure, amenities, culture and environment. There are, of course, countless tales of places being transformed by the vision and efforts of one or two individuals. The European EDEN project is an excellent example replete with case studies of regeneration. The potential for Conscious Hosts and Conscious Travellers to become positive community change activists knows no limits.

2. Tourism as Human Connecting Agent. Tourism’s second purpose is to connect people with each other and with places – preferably people and places whose perspective is different from that of the visitor. Conscious travellers are those most keen to have authentic experiences that reveal the unique sense of place as interpreted by locals.

Digital technology is now enabling us to “meet” and make friends of hundreds of people in an instant and this only accentuates our desire for there to be a human interaction that involves all the senses. I once learned that, when two people are talking, their cells start to dance and become entrained such that 80% of what’s being communicated is going on at the cellular level and goes unnoticed by the participants – unless, of course, romance is involved! It’s hardly surprising in this context that e-mails can cause so many communications breakdowns. The purpose of real live connections and the joy of “breaking bread” with another (sharing a meal; visiting a home; participating in an activity) with someone from a completely different culture is that it reminds us that our perspective/paradigm/mindset is just one of many.

At a time when, according to ethno-botanist, Wade Davies we are losing one foreign language every fortnight, the maintenance of cultural diversity has never been so important. An earlier DestiCorp post called On Homecoming and Wayfinding – re-thinking sustainable tourism introduces the critical thinking of this British Columbian adventurer, explorer and ethno-botanist.

Simon Milne from NZTRI talked yesterday at the BC Tourism Industry Conference (#TIC2011) how all the residents of rural communities in Southeast New Zealand were being encouraged to interact with guests through podcasts, personal tours and story telling. In other words, the art of connection and engagement was being taken to a whole new level and, by slowing down the tourist, yield rose as a by-product.

3. Tourism that Inspires Wonder & Awe: I’ve left what I think is the real, most ennobling, most important, most inspiring cause of travel to last and that is to re-kindle a sense of wonder and awe at the mystery of the universe and the miracle of evolution. The biggest tragedy associated with the application of an industrial model and mindset to tourism has been the objectification of guests who have become wallets; of unique places that have become points on a checklist that need to be “done” and of residents who become objects of curiosity to be captured on film or digital memory card. Thanks to customers’ belief that they have a right to cheap travel and suppliers’ tendency to drop prices when demand ebbs, the tourist economy is on a “race to the bottom.” Standardisation and automation have lead to a “sea of sameness” and the sheer congestion and toil associated form getting from one place to another cause numbness to replace wonder.

It has taken 13.7 billion years to evolve the magic and mystery that exist in each destination and that are often missed as we rush to fill a room, cater to an impatient diner, or meet a departure schedule. Most tourists are so numbed out by the very act of getting there, that it can take days before they slow down enough to really appreciate the wonder that’s all about them.

The critical first step towards dealing with the challenges facing humanity is learning how to care and to live in harmonious relationship with the Nature of which we are a part. That comes when we realise that we are all one family travelling on what Buckminster Fuller called “spaceship earth.” It happens when we realise that we are not helpless specks in an unfeeling universe but central characters in an evolving drama. It happens when we look at the miraculous results of 13.7 billion years of evolution and stop dismissing it as “nothing but.” It happens when we slow down enough to observe the miracle of germination, sprout, growth, fruition and harvest that centers us back to the earth. It is mindfully feeling our steps on the grass and appreciating weeds that help us understand our place. There is something praiseworthy in the symphonic chorus of pre-dawn birds, the melody of barking dogs and the final notes of dusk’s insects. Until we remember that the dirt we plow is where we originate and where we will finally rest it will remain a meaningless obstruction to progress.(Source: Shekinah Glory)

So please I beg you to SLOW DOWN this weekend and reflect on why you really work so hard in tourism. Are you really supporting “the cause?” In the endless promotion of “products” to targets are you losing the point and does that loss account for the feeling of emptiness and a reluctance to jump out of bed on Monday mornings and say “Yippee!!”

Perhaps the real cause of Conscious Travel is to help people LIVE consciously and compassionately?  To follow in the footsteps of Thoreau who wrote of his year by Walden Pond:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Or to come to understand as Tomas Berry noted:

The universe is not a collection of objects but a communion of subjects

The following short photographic essay by Caroline Webb and the words of one of the greatest cosmologist/philosophers of our time, Thomas Berry might help and inspire:

For the sequel post:

The Beauty, Sensuality and Transformative Power of Bread

Bread: the stuff of life.

Millions of people daily ask their God to “give them this day their daily bread.”

Millions also consume something akin to cardboard sold erroneously in the name of bread. It is stuffed hurriedly and unconsciously into millions of mouths as people rush to start their day.

Supposing we could change the way people think about, savour and consume this most staple of foodstuffs in the temperate regions of western world?

Perhaps the act of making and eating hand crafted bread – which has to be locally sourced – could help us slow down and in so doing reflect on the important stuff of life? Bread as a tool for consciousness raising.

Far fetched?  Not at all.  Here’s the inspiring story of Dan Lewis, a bread maker in New York, who is doing just that – changing the way we approach the making and eating of what would otherwise be a commodity.By teaching us to savour a staple like bread we might learn to savour our travel experiences, and rekindle a sense of place and wonder?

Let Dan tell you his story in this video and then read David Sampler’s inspiring account here.

Handmade Portraits: Wild Hive Farm from Etsy on Vimeo.

(P.S. the source of this tale was actor Edward Norton who just happened to be at the S.L.O.W. Life Symposium on an alternative form of travel held in the Maldives a week or so ago and that is another inspiring source of change stories. Catch his conversation with Mark Lynas on why tourism has to recognize that it is an extractive industry that must pay the full cost of the services it uses here.We’ll be adding some of the videos to The Conscious Travel Channel soon.)

Create a Culture that Inspires Employees and Transforms Guests

In an earlier post, Conscious Hoteliers Show They Care,  we described an example of Conscious Host, Chip Conley, who has has experienced enormous success in the hotel industry by creating places where employees LOVE to work and,  as a result, customers LOVE their experiences.

Chip Conley knows that the culture of a business can be its key competitive business advantage. If you get this right, you’re well on the way to seeing your profits rise and your costs decrease. Turnover will plummet; retention and engagement will improve and you’ll see more positive Trip Advisor reviews.

Chip Conley is as generous as he is proficient. There’s no need to procrastinate further as he is holding a FREE online event called the Enlightened Business Summit available here  from November 7-11.

And if you can’t wait, view his TED Talk on Conscious Travel TV here.

It’s Simple – Conscious Hosts Create “Places That Care”

An English Bluebell Wood Evokes a Feeling of Being Cared For

We don’t use the word sustainability that often on this web site for the simple reason that it is failing to either communicate or inspire.

At its root, the verb “to sustain” means to prolong or endure and, as such, it could means business as usual. We simply don’t believe it’s possible to continue to think or act the way we’ve become accustomed without reaping negative consequences down the road or reducing the choices open to the generations that follow ours. To become sustainable, as in to be able to live within the means imposed by the natural world,  we have to change the way we do things.  Thus the word sustainability should be synonymous with innovation and change.

As a result, our language has to change too – become so much clearer and more direct. That’s why we like the concept of “Places That Care”.

Once you’ve shifted from an outdated industrial to an ecological mindset that focuses on:

“We” versus “I”

Collaboration versus Competition

Interdependence versus Independence

Values & quality of life  over Material wealth

you realise that the primary guiding principal going forward is the same as the Golden Rule: “to treat others as you would be treated. ” That’s why we think the word CARE needs to dominate our thinking, our vocabulary and inform our actions.

Conscious leaders are,  like the Knight Gawain in the Fischer Tale, the ones who ask the Wounded King “what ails thee” and “how may I serve?”

That’s why we suggest that Conscious Hosts create “Places That Care” be they their own place of business or the resort, village, town, region or country  in which they operate. Because Conscious Hosts think in wholes not pieces, they consider the impact of their actions on all stakeholders as well as their guests and investors. That means:

  • living in harmony with the natural environment and taking specific actions to minimize waste and conserve or, where possible, revitalize, the local natural environment;
  • respecting, sustaining and revitalizing local cultures and contributing to developing and conveying a unique sense of place;
  • providing a positive, flourishing work environment in which employees are appropriately rewarded and recognized; enjoy a fair wage; and have the opportunity to grow and develop.
  • Using and supporting local suppliers  who can demonstrate that they act responsibly;
  • Returning an above average and sustainable financial return to their investors
  • Being viewed as a positive force for good in their local community.
Places That Care are destinations where there is a conscious, considered  effort to maximise value and benefit in these six domains in addition to the benefit enjoyed by guests. To see blog posts relevant to each of these topics, click the headings below:
Local Culture & Social Cohesion
Supporting Local, Responsible  Suppliers
Creating sustainable, positive returns to investors
Being viewed as a positive force for good in the community

How Vancouver’s Community Rescued Its Brand

This post is a follow up to my previous post on It’s Not Social Media, It’s Social Business – Do you Care?  and the thoughts expressed by Troy Thompson in his post titled DMO Strategy: Technology or Inspiration?  in which he muses:

…in our subconscious quest to grab at anything and everything possibly related to destination visitation, have we gone too far? Have we stretched beyond our goals and mission to become more technology company than inspiration company.

Eventually, those in the destination vertical will have to make a choice due to the simple pressures of time, budget, staff and goals.

What is my area of  focus?
Are you a technology company with inspirational tourism content?
Or are you a tourism inspiration company with a measured approach to technology?

If we stay stuck in the mindset of traditional marketing, there’s a tendency to view Facebook, Twitter, blogging etc as nothing more than additional distribution channels for a carefully crafted brand message or specific product offering pitched to targeted market segments.

Conscious marketers understand that it’s about creating relationships first and encouraging the emergence of communities of interest and support. Social media is not so much a channel as a powerful platform or engine that can be deployed by all members of the “tourism ecosystem.” Social media provides both a listening post and a mirror into which one can see how your community is really perceived.

This different mindset was much in evidence in Vancouver this past year – an exciting year for a young City that successfully hosted the Winter Olympics and then experienced some of the worst public riots in its entire history. Social media played a critically important role in both events.

This morning Paul Vallee, Candice Gibson and Stephen Pearce of Tourism Vancouver shared with me just how powerful social media can be and the critical importance of building community first and allowing its members to co-create authentic responses to the negative actions of a minority. They have given me permission to share the 20 minute Pecha Kucha presentation (20 slides, 20 minutes, 20 notes pages too!) that speaks for itself.

The real takeaway from this was the role that ordinary community members played in rescuing the brand. Tourism Vancouver didn’t respond in a traditional manner by pushing out a stiff formal message minimizing, covering up or even apologizing for the behaviour of a small irresponsible minority. They simply, but effectively, enabled and allowed.

They enabled the community to express their dismay by creating ThisisOurVancouver and allowed the voice of Vancouver’s responsible residents to leave a more authentic, enduringly positive impression. It can take courage for a DMO to do less and enable more but the end result is nearly always more effective.

Random Screen Grab From This is Our Vancouver

DMOs are not the hosts of a community. Its residents are. The more they can be enabled to extend the invitation in their own and by definition, authentic way, the more the cliché “tourism is everybody’s business” will assume real meaning and clout.

As DMOs become more conscious of the power of social media and the way it is radically changing how marketing gets done, expect to see less doing (as in leading and controlling) and more enabling and supporting in the years to come.

Patagonia Shows How To Future Proof Your Brand While Being Contrarian

I am pleased to announce that in this blog I have acted sustainably – I have reused, recycled and reduced two excellent blog posts by Marc Stoiber. The first is titled  Business in a Post-Green World  and the second Patagonia Building a Strong Brand Out of Old Clothes.

In the first post. Marc draws from Ogilvy’s research Mainstream Green to identify the reasons why some 82% of Americans have good green intentions but only 16% act on them. Too many years of zealous, finger wagging environmentalists telling everyone what they couldn’t or shouldn’t do has caused the associations pictured below (stolen from Marc’s page, btw).  More recent attempts at suggesting Green is Cool or Chic (a.k.a. Green is the New Black) haven’t yet managed to overcome the emotions of guilt that each of us associate with not living up to our green aspirations.

Six Reasons To Reject Green courtesy of @marcstoiber

Marc wisely suggests that we stop thinking about sustainability and more about future proofing  and to do the latter we must focus on resilience – i.e., the ability to adapt to unforeseen external shocks as it’s likely in this chaotic world that there’ll be no shortage of those. He suggests there are five ways to future proof your brand which I think tie in well with what it takes to be a conscious host (and I’ve paraphrased and taken liberties with the language):

1. Internalise Green – resilient companies won’t brag about being green, they’ll simply get on wit the task of showing they care by respecting the laws of nature and living in harmony with it. . Companies like Nike and Patagonia incorporate sustainability into every business decision but not into the brand. In Conscious Travel, we call this creating places that care.

2. Insight – resilient companies will invest in understanding how the market and context is changing and, more importantly, why it’s changing. Unless you have some understanding of the dynamics and change drivers, you might as well be playing at the roulette table. Companies like Sixth Sense and Virgin, who have been hosting the SLOW Life event in the Maldives understood where the market was going several years ago .

3. Design – Marc suggests: “Good design creates a visceral reaction in people. It conveys beauty while aiding function. It generates
feelings of wonder and drives desire.”  Apple’s products are cool not because Apple promotes them as such – they attract the loyal followers because they are beautiful as well as functional objects that make you want to spend time with your “device.”  Conscious Hosts focus their attention on the customer’s unique experience and endeavour to ensure all aspects of what it means to be human are stimulated and fulfilled showing that they care about the body (sensual pleasure), mind (mental/intellectual curiosity), soul (emotional response) and spirit (meaning). These experiences are sufficiently impactful and meaningful as to be transformative.  There are still few destinations thinking seriously about Experience Design, exceptions being Finland (LEO) and Canada (GMIST & Tourism Cafe).

4. Social Interaction – as pointed out in a previous post, this means more than using various Social Media but designing your entire business and business planning process around interaction between all stakeholders – guests, employees, suppliers and destination hosts. BBMG, the agency that first coined the term “Conscious Consumer” call this the Age of Creativity. The boundaries between guest and hosts, consumer and producer are blurring fast.

5.  Innovation – resilient companies will never sit on their laurels but will be constantly scanning the horizon for the opportunity to stand out or stand for something that differentiates and attracts, By interacting with all their stakeholders and creating cultures in which it is safe to play &  experiment while obsessing about customer delight, they create the conditions for innovative ideas to emerge.

If that wasn’t enough food for thought, Marc’s next post,  on the other hand, Patagonia Building a Strong Brand Out of Old Clothes.suggests that sixth way to futureproof your brand might simply to be contrarian.

Decades before businesses embraced the green movement, Patagonia spearheaded campaigns to use eco-friendly materials and fabrics in its clothing and pioneered sustainable manufacturing practices, turning the outerwear industry on its head.  The result? While most of the world was grappling with the Great Recession, Patagonia had its two best years ever. Sales at the 1,265-person company stood at $315 million in 2009, and Chouinard–still the sole owner–says they’re still growing. This year they’re expected to be near $340 million.

The reason for their success?

  1. A commitment to quality gave Patagonia the courage to resist the call of the herd and drop prices when frugality was the buzz word of the time. Instead they became the Rolls-Royce of their product category.  Chouinard didn’t sell out, lower prices and dilute the brand because, to quote: “sometimes, the less you do, the more provocative and true of a leader you are.”
  2. An association of quality with durability. Patagonia builds clothes to last. In their most recent initiative, Patagonia has actually asked its customers to reduce unnecessary consumption of its own products. Called the Common Threads Initiative it first asks customers to not buy something if they don’t need it. If they do need it, Patagonia asks that they buy what will last a long time – and to repair what breaks, reuse or resell whatever they don’t wear any more, and, finally, recycle whatever’s truly worn out. Patagonia in turn commits to make products that last, help repair quickly anything that breaks, and recycle the company’s entire product line. To help customers put used clothes back in circulation, Patagonia and eBay Inc. have joined forces to launch a new marketplace for customers to buy and sell used Patagonia gear.

Patagonia saw the deeper shifts that the recession accelerated – in an era of uncertainty and distrust, consumers realized that it made practical sense to become more self sufficient; to take responsibility; to truly value homemade things made with care. They are attracted to companies that can show they share these values.

Marc is right in saying that sustainability needs to be built into the product but not the brand especially when you consider that the word sustain means to prolong or endure. Sustainable products, like Patagonia’s clothes appeal because of their design, quality and durability not because they are green.  Men don’t feel “girly”, the value proposition is easy to understand; their message doesn’t confuse; it’s an easy straightforward purchase; you trust the brand and don’t feel guilty – if anything, the opposite – and that’s worth paying for!

Lessons for Tourism Operators

  1. Quality in tourism is directly related to uniqueness and authenticity. The best way to “stand out” is to offer an experience that reflects and celebrates the essence of the place in which you’re situated –  as it is unique, and the end result of 13.5 billion years of evolution, why sell your place as if it were a commodity?  Take the time to research local history, culture and geography so that you can impress that uniqueness on your guests. When a guest wakes up in your hotel, she should know where she is; over the course of her visit all her senses should be engaged in shaping an enduring memory of what made that trip different, memorable, and special. Quality doesn’t have to mean expensive – it  requires imagination and taste not money. Quality in this sense is inextricably tied to authenticity – BE who you ARE. Don’t try to manufacture something bland that emerges from a focus group. Be true to your values.
  2. Create memories that last! Travel providers are in the fantasy fulfillment business! Our guests start their trip with a fantasy, a dream of somewhere different; then enjoy an experience and take home memories. The more vivid and positive the memory, the more it will last and be shared. Engage your customers in the kind of conversation that encourages them to share their expectations and personal interests so that you can direct them to events and places most likely to generate the “wow” or OMG (O My God) response that leads to referrals.
  3. Make it easy for your guests to share those memories. Every visitor goes home with a collection of photos and videos that they expect to edit and package in order to impress the folks back home. Within days of being back in their routine, they find they haven’t the time and the memory fades. Create and brand slide shows, videos, e-books complete with appropriate music, professional images and short video clips, in which all the guest has to do is insert some of their own pictures to have an immediate but personal memory of their experience. If it looks good and entertains and informs, it will be shared.
Those are my first thoughts about what it means to be contrarian but not my last. What do you think BEING CONTRARIAN might look like in the travel & hospitality sector?
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It’s Not Social Media, It’s Social Business – Do you Care?

Conscious Hosts conduct what we call Conscious Marketing based on an understanding that all business is now Social. There’s a good blog post and discussion from Edelman on what makes a Social Business here and from IBM here. Before we look more closely at what Social Business means, here are five reasons why Social Business is emerging as a concept and practice:

1. Customers now have the power to talk back, to talk with each other; and to attract enormous attention simply through the power of their own creativity. The value of a company is now directly related to the subject and quality of the conversations that take take place about it and determine a reputation. Between 60-80% of all market capitalisation of companies is tied up in intangibles such as brand equity, reputation, human capital,and  intellectual property. Never has it been so important, or, for that matter, so easy to LISTEN.

source: Marketing Works

2. There’s finally a recognition that companies aren’t things – corporate entities only with legal rights and no responsibilities – but collections of human beings keeping company with each other and working to a common purpose. As Simon Sinek has said: 100% of employees are people; 100% of customers are people; 100% of investors are people; 100% of supliers are people etc. So it’s not surprising to see that companies behave like the people who work in them.

Some companies seem to be super cheerful, energetic, happy, passionate and devoted to serve; others are rigid, buraucratic, stiff, slow, and affect a bored disinterest. We still talk about them as “brands” but what we mean is personality.

This trend, by the way, is sometimes described as “the humanisation of business” – as if there ever was a time when companies were run by robots. (That’s in the future not in the past). So instead of companies fretting about transactions; we have collections of people focused on relationships. It’s all soft & fuzzy; about feelings not product atttributes; and behaviours are harder to measure; highy subjective and utterly intrinsically SOCIAL. Hence the title of the post. So congrats if you have a Facebook page, a twitter account and your company President blogs. But that won’t be enough. Unless you’ve opened up every business process (in human terms – every human task; item of communication; element of service) and looked at ways it WOWs the customer; while enabling the employee who are doing the wowing to feel that they are growing and developing too.

3. Slide30Because companies are human and because humans are in such a fix right now, there’s a growing desire on the part of both employees to want to find meaning in their work and for customers to find fulfullment or feel good about their relationship with it. No longer can companies afford to be nothing but lean and mean transaction machines focussed on quarterly profits. Edeleman’s Good Purpose 2010 report found that 86% of global consumers believe that companies should place at least equal weight on societies interest as in business’ interest.
In fact, there’s now growing evidence that companies whose culture expresses a “higher purpose” are significantly more profitable than those that place return on investment as highest priority. If you want proof, read Firms of Endearment, a more inspiring book than Jim Collins’ Good to Great, that highlights the spectacular results achieved by 30 companies run by CEOs who are happy to call themselves Conscious Capitalists. There’s even an institute that is promoting an alternative to the kind of capitalism that has got western economies into the trouble we’re in now. So when you think ROI, remember that it stands for Return on Involvement (see Interaction Associates) and, as importantly, start to think of who is involved.

4. Customers are changing too. The recession accelerated a change that emerged in the late 90s when a growing proportion began to tire of the endless cycle of consumption, obsolescence and waste. As boomers aged, it was inevitable that they would be driven less by Maslow’s deficiency needs (security, belonging, esteem) and more by a need to develop, to serve, to find meaning and purpose. Perhaps as a result of watching their parents and deciding that they didn’t want to be like them, we find that GenY and the Millennials want more than a pay check. Some 61% of GenY employees say they feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world.

There’s a huge body of research that has been conducted since the recession that suggests anywhere from a low of 30% to a high of just over 50% of consumers could now be described as “conscious” – awake, alert and aware. They are taking more responsibility for their own decisions as their trust in traditional, authoritative “command and control” style organisations like Government, the Church, big companies is at an all time low. At DestiCorp we’re so convinced that this trend will provide a means for tourism to get off the mass, industrialised bandwagon that we think is so destructive, that we’ll be focussing all our work on ushering in a Conscious Travel movement.

5. The role of women. Women have already shown their proclivity for use of social media. See an earlier post The Web is Female. We simply love communicating. But it’s not all talk. Women also have the financial clout. According to Businessweek, American women make more than 80% of buying decisions in all homes.Their buying power  has soared 63% over past three decades. Some 30% of working women now outearn their husbands

While they are still hitting their head against the glass ceiling of senior management, it’s women who undertake the majority of tasks that involve face to face or voice to voice contact with employees and, thereby, are directly reponsible for a firm’s reputation.

In summary. the decade beginning 2010 will be one in which companies thrive or wane on their ability to show they care; to create working environments in which human beings flourish and are active contributors to the healing, well-being and prosperity of their communities.

Examples of travel-related Companies that Care include the Roger Smith Hotel in New York, where social media is derived from an inherent belief of its CEO and President, James Knowles. He believes in and encourages “the miracle of human growth.” The hotel’s connection to a community of people is based on story telling, off-line connections, and relationships built on passion, says the company. The team is always interested in telling stories that engage people while building relationships and relevant communities. The hotel says it is selling hotel rooms and events via the strength of its networking and content. To find out how Kimpton Hotels and the Joie de Vivre Group are showing they care, review this summary here.

So How Do You become a Social Business?

Becoming a truly social business requires some form of transformative shift in mindset at the top of an organization. First it means appreciating that a company, like a community, is a dynamic, living breathing system made up of living breathing systems who happen to be human beings. The distinctions between what is internal and external are artificial – the boundaries are highly permeable. And in these systems, the intelligence does not lie in the nucleus, the brain or the HQ of an organization but is distributed throughout with highest concentrations on the edges (or in the case of tourism, on the frontline where customers interacts with hosts).
A conscious business acknowledges that all value resides in the nature of the relationship between supplier and buyer and the quality of those relationships is determined by the amount of self respect and mutual respect that exists in those relationships. Employees that are kept in the dark, not trusted by management, treated as children not adults, required to adhere to rigid “inhumane” policies and procedures etc. will pass on this antisocial culture to customers with disastrous consequences. The business might have a very active social strategy but implementation will fail if it hasn’t addressed what it means to be a social business.

Sadly most businesses are jumping on the social media bandwagon by trying to master the tools without any consideration of the deeper change in mindset that’s required. This is where I find Simon Sinek’s observations helpful – treat the business as if it were a person not a thing because every interaction with customers, suppliers, other employees and other stakeholders will always be personal.

Here’s Simon Sinek speaking plain common sense about Social Business. Pour yourself a coffee and take 25 minutes to remind yourself how the world really works!

Empowering the Conscious Traveller

We’re pleased to discover a web site devoted to “Empowering the Conscious Traveller” that was created independently of us – see our thoughts on the Conscious Traveller

Their site iSeeiTravel  was founded by Marc Bollinger and Eytan Eltermann, filmmakers and storytellers currently creating a documentary about Conscious Hosts and Conscious Travel in Costa Rica.

Good Morning Tourism: Time For Your Wake Up Call – Part Two

99% of Tourism are Small Independent Operators.

In the first part of this post “Good Morning Tourism: Time for Your Wake Up Call – Part One” I suggested that tourism needs to wake up and grow up.

Tourism is a relatively young industry – having grown from a few hundred million international passengers a year to just under a billion and is expected to experience another growth spurt over the next 8 years.

If tourism were a person and the general economy a family, then tourism could be likened to an adolescence. We want recognition for our emerging identity; we want freedom but we also still want to borrow the family car for a Saturday night out. Throughout its growth, tourism leaders – be they heads of multi-national private sector or government associations; Ministers or executives of trade associations – have been complaining that tourism is not recognized, taxed unfairly and embedded in too much red tape. At the same time, hundreds of millions are spent by governments from the municipal to national global levels on tourism marketing and, occasionally, on infrastructure improvements that make a tourism economy possible. Given the projected population increase and its ageing, the reduction in resource availability, the increase in climatic volatility, the debt and uncertainty associated with failing economic systems, and the pressure in public sector budgets, tourism cannot assume it will continue to be supported in the future. We’ll have to earn our own pocket money.

A sign of personal maturity occurs when the individual starts to recognize that he or she is part of a family and that with rights comes responsibility. There is an awareness that it’s not just about me or I but “we” and that instead of asking what the family can do for me, I should be asking what can I do for the family.

So for tourism to be considered mature, it needs to ask the same question.

“Ask not what the community needs to do for tourism, ask what tourism can do for your community”

Conscious Travel is about helping the 99% of the tourism community – all the operators of the small businesses that contribute to a visitor’s experience of a place — to wake up and assume responsibility for their own destiny and for contributing to the community in which they live and work.

The act of waking up and growing up go hand in hand.

It’s also time to recognize that growth cannot continue indefinitely. In nature, there comes a time when more is replaced with better. Once a point of maturity is reached, change is about qualitative development – we become more balanced; more efficient, more wise.

The industrial model which fuelled our growth for the past 60 years needs now to switch gears and focus from quantitative growth to qualitative development – from more to better. But that won’t happen unless we come together to realize the need for such a shift and to share ideas and dreams about how to make that shift.

That’s what’s happening in virtually every other sector of society right now. A few years ago, Paul Hawken could talk to the Bioneers and suggest that the great transition is taking place under the radar (see his inspiring and encouraging 9 minute video here)


That was then. TODAY, such revolutionary talk of change is being openly discussed in the hallowed halls of the World Economic Forum, no less!!  If you look at the Storify summary of tweets from the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday (October 10th) you’ll see that the 1% might,  in fact,  getting the message. Klaus Schwab opened the #WEF agenda by talking about the need for new taxation and lifestyle models that reduce ecological harm: a focus beyond growth to quality of growth; a more holistic approach and new models to cope with the speed of technological change.

It’s time for tourism to be showing such willingness to put on fresh lenses and think new brave thoughts based on a different way of seeing and believing. 

It’s based on a belief that to change our own personal behaviour we need to make small but consistent changes every day; so then in the tourism community, a critical mass of enterprises and individuals will need to change the way they operate by thinking and acting differently.

Individual hosts and guests are more likely to do this when they are presented with a very attractive, positive image of a better future.

Unfortunately, acting responsibly is still associated with suffering and loss – it comes across as having to give up pleasure and enjoyment or to go backwards rather than forwards. The argument is often reduced to simple concepts – the economy versus the environment  – and the perishable nature of the “product” encourages short-termism.  What we need is a dynamic, expanded vision of a better, more profitable, more durable, more appealing, alternative to mass industrialized tourism.

It’s not that we haven’t got hundreds of thousands of people dedicated to leading change. Ron Mader has helpfully inventoried here all the different ways that proponents of an alternative to mass industrialised tourism label themselves. While great work IS being done by many, the Tower of Babel that dominates the change landscape is in danger of fragmenting and diluting both our focus and resources.

Furthermore, what we haven’t yet done either as a sector or as a community, is address the root cause of the current problem – which is our mindset, our paradigm and our worldview.

And that’s why we’re developing a conversation around the notion of Conscious Travel.

So why Conscious? Simply because “conscious” is to be awake, aware and alert.

  • First we need to wake from the trance of an old paradigm that no longer works when there are about to be 7 billion people living on one finite planet.
  • Second, we need to become fully aware of the impact that our behaviour has on others and the impact of being embedded in multiple other systems that will determine our future prosperity and even our survival. As individuals, businesses, communities we’re all interdependent now.
  • Thirdly, we need to become infinitely more adaptable and creative if we are to thrive during what will be a period of intense upheaval and uncertainty.
  • Fourthly, we need to grow up and assume our responsibilities as adults. Tourism operators can be the agents of change and renewal in communities

In other words we have to address our “inner world” of values, beliefs and assumptions that underpin our choices and behaviour. Many of us have never examined those assumptions and understood why they might no longer be helpful or relevant.

So Conscious Travel isn’t another association, or agency. It’s a unifying approach that integrates the good work done in eco, responsible, geo, and sustainable tourism and which starts with the values and mindset of the tourism operator as an individual human being. You can read more about what we are and what we’re not here.

Our aim is to attract a critical mass of operators in communities everywhere who want create durable, healthy businesses that “don’t cost the earth, are “worthy of the human beings that serve in them, ” deliver a richer more meaningful experience for guests while revitalizing the culture and biophysical environment of the host community.

We’re inspired by people like Seth Godin who understands how to create movements and Steve Jobs who believed that Apple’s success was based on its core belief that “passion & people can change the world”.

“Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.” Seth Godin

We don’t expect to attract people happy with or benefitting from the status quo. We’re looking for the heretics, misfits, and innovators who exist in virtually every community – the kind of people that inspired Steve Jobs – to co-create a better alternative and ensure that tourism lives up to its potential to be a positive agent of renewal and regeneration.

If any of this is appealing or frightening, then please explore, engage and comment.
It’s a conversation that’s just beginning and will be richer for your participation.

Good Morning Tourism: Time for Your Wake Up Call – Part One

Memo graphic
During my 40 year career in travel and tourism, the number of people crossing international borders has grown from 100 million a year to just under a billion. At the same time, I have watched distinctly different, magical and remote communities with cultures whose unique worldview had so much to teach us, be engulfed, usurped, diluted, and become endangered. As lamented in a previous post called On Homecoming and Wayfinding – Re-thinking Sustainable Tourism, present generations simply don’t know what they have been deprived of experiencing.

According to the UNWTO, the current volume of international trips is confidentially forecast to double over an 8 year period – in other words at rate 5 times that of the past growth I have witnessed. What alarms me is the lack of serious, considered debate as to whether such growth is possible or even desirable and what the costs of trying to meet those forecasts might be let alone the probability that they could be achieved or sustained.  What does the doubling of tourism really mean? Who will benefit and who will suffer?

There is no doubt that tourism has become a powerful economic and social force with both positive and negative effects. It has provided entry jobs that have enabled hundreds of thousands of people to lift themselves out of poverty and helped spread wealth from what were once called “have nots” to the “haves”. Tourism has preserved some cultures and provided an economic justification for protecting some natural landscapes but at an enormous cultural, social and environmental cost that has never really been systematically inventoried or assessed.

The Tidal Flow of Tourism
The returns from each incremental visitor are now diminishing year by year due the very nature of how the industrialized model works. In the same way that the ocean tide is controlled by the phases of the moon, the tide of tourism is driven by forces outside the control of the receiving community.  Changes in exchange rates and the economic vitality of source countries account for over 90% of tourism traffic.  So when the tide comes in and volume surges more capacity is increased (more hotels are built, roads are widened, and runways extended or increased.)   When the tide flows out due to external factors that can range from terrorist attacks, epidemics, natural hazards to the collapse of stock markets, then prices are discounted and suppliers attempt to fill their time-based perishable products of rooms, airline seats and restaurant covers at whatever price consider necessary to meet an internal revenue target. Tourism demand is a roller coaster and its frequent and often unpredictable boom and bust cycles can cause untold hardship experienced mostly by vulnerable workers located at the bottom of its wage pyramid.

With each passing year the vitality of the sector is sapped. Consumers’ ability to make instant price comparisons increases the downward pressure on prices and converts what were once scarce, magical, mysterious retreats into commodities. Cost cutting follows. Processes and procurement are standardized and unique places lose their distinctiveness as services and places start to look the same. Automation strips the cost out of many services but deprives the traveler of human and humane care.

Tourism as Time Bomb 
Tourism has become a time bomb, according to Accenture’s Paul Newman and Mark Spelman in this Havard Business Review Paper of the same name.

They suggest that a doubling of demand will have serious impact on the cost of living in key attractive cities where local businesses will have to compete with tourists for many services and, presumably, taxpayers in the host city will have to pay extra infrastructure costs (water, waste management, transportation, policing etc)

While vulnerable places like England’s Stonehenge, Ecuador’s Galapagos and Peru’s Machu Pichuu are having to limit visitation, it’s Venice that is probably the most obvious  “canary in the mine”. We publicly may mourn “the death in and of Venice”  – see previous post on this blog but fail to address the real problem: there is only one Venice and its capacity to absorb more and more visitors every year is limited.

USA today recently published an article on the tourism hotspot, observing:

Venice is “under siege” by tourists and faces “irreversible” catastrophe if limits aren’t imposed on visitor numbers, warns a report released Monday by Italy’s leading heritage group.

Italia Nostra (Our Italy) accused the Italian government of ” underestimating the devastating effects of past and future development projects and tourism policy,” Reuters reports.

The group will ask UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural organization to place the city on its endangered list and consider removing it from its list of World Heritage Sites. The lagoon city is besieged by 60,000 tourists a day, including many from an increasing number of cruise ships that come to call, says Reuter

How can we as a tourism community be proud to say “we destroyed Venice?” Furthermore,  if sustainability is all about acting now to provide subsequent generations with the same choices and opportunities we enjoy, then how could our actions of the past 50 years be considered even remotely sustainable.

Disappointment with Leadership From Above who avoid “The Elephant in the Room”
I am disappointed with the leadership shown from both governments and the private sector. The UN-related organisations send out mixed signals. They talk a good talk about sustainability – even issuing Green Passports- but get positively gleeful when volume projections bounce back to “near normal” and growth gets back on track.

They talk about tourism being resilient and a force for good but continue to demand more recognition and influence. Despite the fact that their demands for recognition have been made year after year on every Tourism Day with boring monotony, they have to admit that their approach is not working. In March 2011, Taleb Rifai, Secretaru General of the UNWTO was reported saying that tourism ministers around the world lack authority.

Even the WTTC, an exclusive club comprised mostly of the large vertically integrated corporations that have benefited most from the industrialization of tourism, continues to put out a begging hand and, every World Tourism Day, plead for more marketing support, less taxes, less red tape etc. None of these so called leader organizations puts serious pressure on the airline sector to raise prices necessary to cover the “externality” cost associated with spewing carbon into the upper atmosphere. In this Linked In Discussion Valere Tolle is right in part – the “big fat elephant in the room” is carbon but Valere is right only in part though. The real elephant is bigger. Until all the costs – social, cultural, economic and environmental – associated with international travel and tourism are completely and accurately measured and paid for, the elephant we’re trying to avoid is the one with the banner –

Can we Afford the Cost of More Cheap Travel?

We know that polarized arguments between environmentalists and industrialists doesn’t work; we know that finger wagging and making people feel guilty for their sins doesn’t work. We also know that dictats from global and national agencies don’t work.  Until recently there were no market mechanisms in place to provide the sticks and carrots that might change behaviour and when they were introduced (as in the Carbon Trading Scheme), they meet fierce opposition from vested interests…

In short, we think it’s time we all woke up – which is why we are talking up Conscious Travel.

To be “conscious” is the be awake, aware and alert. It means taking a fearless inventory of where we’re at, where we’re going, our strengths and our weaknesses. It means facing reality and speaking the truth.

“In times of universal deceit, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act” George Orwell.

So in an Orwellian sense is is a revolutionary act. But it’s not about blaming or shaming. It is  about coming together and supporting one another in envisioning and then creating a viable alternative that doesn’t cost the earth.

In addition to waking up,  we think it’s time we grew up.

Conscious Travel is about responding to the general question that JFK posed half a century ago.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”

Until members of the tourism community – be they operators of small businesses or leaders of global associations – address that question with sincerity; unless we start to engage in the same level of debate and soul searching that virtually every other economic sector is now embracing; unless the tourism community is willing to step forward and say this is what we can do to change and how we can help make the  transition, we’ll continue to be considered superfluous and trivial. Our ministers – even if we can keep them – will continue to be considered lightweight and lacking authority; and our corporate leaders will continue to whine and complain.

We’ve not started this to compete with all the other good people and projects that have been trying to minimise the negative effects of tourism.  We are trying to integrate and support.  Our only point of difference is a firm belief that tourism is about people and places and that change must start in the hearts and minds of the individual tourism operator.  It is this the operator of the small, unique, boutique style operations that make up 99% of enterprises associated with travel and hospitality that can collectively make the transition. For more on how, who and why, read

Good Morning Tourism: Time for Your Wake Up Call, Part Two (coming shortly)

So if any of these thoughts resonate with you – either positively or negatively – please join the conversation and make a comment.

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