Archive | November, 2011

Can Conscious Travellers Help Protect China’s Heritage?

China’s rich cultural heritage is under threat of either neglect or rapid commercial development. The long-term viability of its own future as a tourism destination depends more on protecting its rich cultural heritage than on building chains of hotels. Now is the time to do all we can to safeguard, protect and rejuvenate heritage sites and indigenous cultures.

The China Chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association together with Sunny Conventions & Exhibitions is holding a one day Responsible Tourism Forum to explore the ways in which tourism can make a positive contribution. I have been asked to speak about the Conscious Traveller.

There’s a great line up of speakers as you can see from the program and much we can learn from each other. I’ll be reporting back progress made by organizinations likeWild China, Red House China, the China Wall Group, the schoolhouse at Mutlanyou, and the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.

Why Conscious Hosts Will Help Their Guests Fall in Love

The most popular post in this young Conscious Travel web site is the one titled: Tourism What’s the Point?  Its popularity reflects the fact that:

  • travel and hospitality enterprises need to attract and engage a diverse and intelligent workforce;
  • there’s widespread recognition that money is no longer a sufficient motivator.  As companies describing themselves as “Conscious Capitalists” have discovered,  it pays to put a sense of higher purpose first, if you wish to increase profitability;
  • there’s a growing need to align the members of a company around a common set of values and principles that can shape and guide behaviour on a day-to-day basis. A company’s culture (the sum total of its mission and values)  – even though it may be invisible and hard to measure or articulate – is often its key point of advantage or disadvantage as it most directly affects the level of engagement, productivity and creativity.

In that post we started to explore three deeper motivators:

Picture from Hubble Space Telescope

  1. Tourism as a healing agent that rejuvenates guests ‘ well-beiing,  regenerates despoiled landscapes and resuscitates indigenous/local cultures;
  2. Tourism as a connecting agent that helps guests encounter people from different culture and settings to both widen and deepen their mindsets and cause them to face the unexamined assumptions that underpin their behaviour;  and
  3. Tourism as a “wonder and awe making” agent that helps guests not only appreciate the beauty of our Planet but also find deeper levels of meaning, purpose and contentment from their experience.

While clearly these motivators offer a greater sense of purpose than the act of “making money,” they still sound a little dry.  Perhaps our language should be more inspiring, colorful and clear so may I suggest this:

The purpose of travel is help people fall in love with a place, with each other
and with the miracle we call Life. 

This concept came to me after watching Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg  summarize 40 years of work studying flowers and the critters that pollinate them. This is what Louie had to say at his TED talk:

To watch them move is a dance that I’m never going to tire of.  It fills me with wonder, and it opens my heart. Beauty and seduction, I believe, is nature’s tool for survival, because we will protect what we fall in love with. Their relationship is a love story that feeds the Earth. It reminds us that we are a part of nature, and we’re not separate from it……

The concept that “Nothing lasts forever. Everything in the universe wears out “ blew my mind. Because I realized that nature had invented reproduction as a mechanism for life to move forward, as a life force that passes right through us and makes us a link in the evolution of life. Rarely seen by the naked eye, this intersection between the animal world and the plant world is truly a magic moment. It’s the mystical moment where life regenerates itself, over and over again.

So in this context, the purpose of a conscious host is to help their guests become mindful, awake, alert and aware of the beauty, magic and mystery of life on this planet — in short to fall in love with it.

For when you are in love you are utterly present and when you are in love you will do whatever you can to protect the object of your love.

When you are in love, you slow down, you have no desire to rush away and seek another object for your affection.

When you are in love, you are most attentive and observant and take pleasure in the smallness of things.

When you are in love, you also experience peak health and vitality.

When you are in love, you are most awake, aware and alert – in short most conscious. You don’t need to be told how or  why to behave in a way that respects and reveres. It comes naturally because that’s your  real uncensored nature.

And there’s a reason it’s called falling in love and not climbing into love. It’s because it involves a spontaneous shift in consciousness – an “aha” moment when you “see” differently.

When you fall in love you are changed – albeit sometime temporarily and you experience a sense of infinite possibility. Isn’t that what latent or actual Conscious Travellers are seeking?

And when you are in love, all you want to talk about is your beloved. Isn’t that the source of the infectious spark that makes us share?

So dear Conscious Host, by helping your guests fall in love you will be playing a conscious role in the evolution of life itself – and surely that’s a good reason to come into work on Monday?


Pachamama: The Source of Inspiration

I have been privileged to spend a little time with indigenous people over the course of my life. Growing up in rural Sussex in England, I was attracted to the Druidic, pagan or Wiccan tradition; then in my late teens during a year spent on VSO in northern Labrador, Canada, I was introduced to some of the Inuit culture; then on my travels through Asia in the very early 70s was exposed to many different cultural perspectives. But I regret that I have not yet been to South America. Nevertheless the Achuar people in Ecuador and their partner-collaborators, The Pachamama Alliance, can be credited as the source of inspiration for Conscious Travel.

I became a facilitator of the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium a few years ago and have incorporated the concepts and some of the brilliant audio-visual materal into my presentations ever since. So I am very excited to be co-delivering the symposium with the Be the Change Earth Alliance and host, Joe Kelly, at Capilano College on November 22nd – see here.

Aware that humanity does not have time on its side, the creators of the Symposium have also invested in the development of a 170 minute DVD which is available here and the Pachamama Alliance just held an annual fund raising luncheon in San Francisco which attracted 1500 participants “in the flesh” accompanied by another 400 or so online. John Perkins is right, there is a power and a magic to the Awakening The Dreamer program. And as activist Paul Hawken, author of the seminal work, Natural Capitalism back in the 70s (long before sustainability became trendy), said in 2008, Pachamama is the most powerful NGO out there because it understands it’s all about mindsets:

I cannot say enough good things about the integrity, dedication and professionalism of the Pachamama team and urge you to have a look at their new web site:

At the luncheon, two senior representatives of the Achuar people, German Freire and Patricia Gualinga spoke briefly, passionately and eloquently about their fight to prevent their sacred land being destroyed by oil exploration. Click the images below to view their presentations.

German Freire

Patricia Gualinga

They and the Pachamama Alliance have achieved wonders in the Amazon basin – not only protecting their lands but by creating history. Ecuador is now one of two countries that has successfully recognized the rights of the environment in the nation’s  constitution.

As many of my readers will be unfamiliar with this great program I am providing a link to a 15 minute video describing the amazing journey of the Pachamama Alliance and, if you are moved, encourage you to visit their web site and make a donation. I guarantee your contribution will be put to very good use.

Conscious Leaders Aren’t Better – They Are Different

Although we’ve tried to explain why we think the Conscious Travel movement is different in an earlier post here; the following image and the Primes’ animation sum it up perfectly.

“A butterfly is a transformation, not a better caterpillar.”  

Humanity is being called to transform itself, not simply change.

Transformation At Work

We don’t think that the future of tourism is about being more of the same (as expressed by the forecasters at UNWTO); or even just about being better (delivering a higher yield or net benefit); but really about a completely different vision altogether. The problem is that that a new “vision” has not yet been articulated or shared by enough people to become an alternative reality. So the movement part of Conscious Travel is really about the shift in consciousness needed to create a new vision that transforms our sense of self and our understanding of what is possible.

The Primes – a change management consulting company  – provides a concise yet dynamic explanation of the distinction between  Change Vs. Transformation here.

After watching this video distinction, it’s not hard to see that the tourism community is dominated by managers all beavering away with the admirable intention of making matters bigger and desirably better but, in so doing,  are  stuck in a form of time warp as the future can be nothing but an extension of the past.

True leaders – people we call Conscious Leaders – are free of the past. Their vision creates an imaginary future that has no ties to a past and is free, like a balloon that has escaped a child’s grasp,  to drift over the rooftops in search of a new home.

According to Chris McGoff, the purpose of leaders is to create visions that followers will  fall in love with.

Change, which is about fixing the past, is done by managers.

Transformation, which is about creating a new future, is done by leaders.

Are you ready for leadership?

Introducing Conscious Travel TV

We’re slowly building the Conscious Travel Channel on Youtube with a combination of short conversational videos in which Anna (that’s me) talks about  Conscious Travel instead of writing about it. We’ll also include videos we think are relevant to the Conscious Travel movement – so if you have any to share, please email me:

The Introduction, as its title suggests, provides a brief highlight of the key issues affecting tourism.

Why Conscious Travel – looks at both the need for an alternative vision and why the term “conscious” has been used.

In the Challenge of Industrial Tourism I talk about  the need for industry to “wake up” and “grow up” so the most relevant posts to this conversation are: Good Morning Tourism Time For Your Wake-up Call, Parts One & Part Two.

The video What is  a Conscious Host highlights those attributes that an operator could develop in order to attract travellers that are also awake, aware and alert.

What is a Conscious Host?

Tourism: What’s the Point? Part 2 – Join the Conversation

This week my blogging experience confirmed an intuition.There exists “out there” a real hunger for meaning and purpose and, unless we as businesses, bloggers, associations and governments acknowledge this, we will fail to serve our customers, readers, members or constituents. I am at an early stage with this movement called Conscious Travel and testing the waters. Interest is building steadily. I am finding out which topics “move” people to comment, subscribe or share and this week we found a “hot button.”  The Tourism: What’s the Point? post was read and shared more than any other and also suggests a preference for positive messages. This experience is as thrilling as it is encouraging – there is a demand and need for a positive vision and most of us want tourism to “to good” as well as help us make a living. I am now on the search for practical examples, real life stories from the frontline as to how this Higher Purpose for tourism is fulfilled and how Conscious Hosts might better serve their customers.

Image @jessofarabia

A skilled travel writer, photographer and former guide working in the Middle East, Jessica Lee,  was one of many bloggers who  engaged in this conversation and kindly agreed to become my first guest contributor. Author of five guidebooks to the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, Jess tells us in the intro to her blog that she:

“loves searching out the quirky and odd little details that lie under the surface of a place. She aims to help inspire travellers to go beyond the highlights and venture out off the-beaten-track to discover the soul of their destination for themselves.”

Jess’ thoughtful contribution to the discussion is presented in its entirety below. I have highlighted in purple some of the key points that Jess made. The beautifully written essay is illustrated with Jess’ own images. _______________________________________________________________________________

The Purpose of Tourism: from the frontline of the industry

Jess Lee 

One of my favourite places for leading tours was always Damascus. With the slumping architecture bearing down upon us amid the labyrinth alleyways, I would begin my group’s introduction to the Old City by taking the winding path that leads to the Shi’a pilgrimage site of Saida Ruqqiyeh Mosque. Invariably, as we threaded our way through the medieval streets, we’d become caught up in the great tide of Iranian pilgrims who were all heading that way as well.

Image @jessarabia

For many in my group it was an uncomfortable situation where we would end up separated from each other; thrown to the mercy of the crowd as it surged forwards, and backwards, and to either side in relentless waves of people. When we finally washed up at the end of the street outside the mosque my group would be sweating, slightly frazzled and usually all looking a bit dazed after this very Damascene version of crowd surfing. What they didn’t know was that I could have avoided the crowds quite easily by taking another route but had deliberately guided them into the chaos. I didn’t want my clients just to see pretty monuments and nice museums. I didn’t want to keep them swaddled from reality in cotton wool but rather I wanted them to be able to get in there and smell the sweat of the crowds; to become part of a place, if only for an instant.

Image @jessofarabia

Like most people who’ve worked on the frontline of tourism as a tour leader or guide, I have developed a healthy disrespect for the industry’s marketing jargon. For years there has been a very obvious disconnect between the tourism industry’s love affair with hyperbole and how it actually operates on the ground. The fluffy throwaway phrases in the glossy brochures offering clients ‘once in a lifetime adventures’, ‘off the beaten track experiences’ and the ubiquitous ‘responsible travel’ become hard to swallow when every year you see the trips get cheaper, more ‘extras’ squeezed out, and the itineraries grow ever more homogenized in the quest for competitive pricing.

image @jessarabia

The industry has been feeding the same line of cheaper, faster, now, for so long that we seem to have bred a style of tick-list tourism where clients demand more but pay less and see everything but experience nothing. On returning home a tourist may be able to reel off an impressively long list of sights they saw but did they stick around long enough to be able to describe to you the uncomfortable sensation of the layer of gritty sand that sandpapered their sun-parched skin in the desert. They can walk through an ancient, bustling souq but are so busy documenting their visit so that they can remember it later – their camera permanently glued to their face – that they fail to see the stall-vendor in the corner beckoning to them to come drink syrupy tea. Is this the style of tourism we want to be involved in? And more importantly, is this what clients want? I seriously don’t believe so.

Image @jessarabia

As those involved at the top of the tourism tree become more and more focussed on pricing and marketing it’s now more important than ever for those down at the roots of the industry to realise the role we can each play in promoting a different ideal; an approach that, for me, is the true purpose of tourism. Seeking connections between people, places and cultures so that the tourist is no longer just a spectator peeping through the window into an exotic ‘other’ land but part of that world, if only for a minute, themselves. By their very nature of packing in as much as possible in the least amount of time, it is difficult to do little more than scratch the surface of a destination on a tour. But a good guide or leader can make all the difference in helping to lift the lid off a place and allow tourists to travel not just further but deeper. We need to foster a sense of inclusion where it’s not ‘us’ against ‘them’. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve overheard guides tell their clients to not talk to anyone in markets and at sights and on the street. If you dive into the market and are comfortable chatting to the vendors, your clients will feel that they can do this too. If you just walk through simply giving a spiel on the history along the way and ignoring everyone, that’s the way your passengers will act as well. For our groups we are the benchmark for how to behave and by using this responsibility wisely we can inspire our clients to go out and make local connections themselves.

Image @jessofarabia

There was this one time trapped amid the flow of pilgrims in Damascus, when a car insanely tried to navigate down the road and caused the crowd to suddenly tip madly to the side. An elderly Iranian woman, shielding her face from view by clutching the corner of her black shroud in her teeth, lost her footing and grabbed the wrist of one of my female clients in an attempt to regain her balance. This then caused my client to stumble and she in turn reached out and grabbed the shoulder of the tiny Iranian lady in front of her until it looked like it could turn into a domino effect of tourists and pilgrims tumbling endlessly down the street. I heaved them all onto the narrow ledge of a shop front where I’d managed to shelter the rest of my group until the car to blame for all this chaos finished manoeuvring through the street. We all looked at each other and burst out laughing. There was no ‘us’ and ‘them’. No strange line drawn by different clothing or eye colour, religion or politics. We were simply some people who’d all nearly ended up face-down on the ground. When the car finally managed to grumble past the Iranian ladies patted my client’s hand to say thank you. Then some young men pushed towards us through the crowd. The ladies waved excitedly back and beckoned them over and suddenly we were all waving madly into their video camera and shouting ‘Hello Iran!’ with the Iranian ladies beside us grinning broadly. We were no longer observers. Just fellow actors in this crazy carnival called the world. _________________________________________________________________________________

If you work on the frontline as a guide, at the front desk, or helping a visitor enjoy an activity, you have likely a practical perspective and can share ways of tapping into Tourism’s real purpose: to heal, connect, and invoke wonder. This experience needs to be shared so we can all get better at it and restore tourism to an activity we can all be proud off. Please comment or email me:  

Do UNWTO Figures Mislead?

The UNWTO recently published its latest set of forecasts for the future of tourism between 2010 to 2030.  On the surface, there is plenty of reason for satisfaction provided that you are charged with producing the appearance of growth. The reality underneath the superficial glee that tourism will be growing again is very different.

According to the UNWTO, international arrivals increased by 412 million trips per year between 1995 and 2010 such that in 2010 940 million overnight trips across international borders were made. Even though the rate of growth is projected to slow to a mere 3.3% per annum over the next 20 years, the effect in terms of people on the move is staggering. By 2030, the present volume will have doubled to 1.8 billion – that’s an extra 1.8 billion feet walking over and through precious attractions in 2030 than now.

Despite having spent an entire career serving the travel and tourism sector, I find the numbers and the way they are presented just prove the need for the tourism community to wake up.

If tourism wants to be taken seriously and,  by that,  I mean if people who work in the tourism sector want to be taken seriously by people working outside of it, it has to demand more of its leadership and engage one another in a more honest, reflective debate.

We have to give thought to what these numbers actually mean in terms of impact on the quality of people’s lives in either the receiving or the generating countries where an expansion in terms of supportive infrastructure (hotels, airports, parking lots, rail-lines, shopping malls, cruise ship terminals) will be essential if the quality of a visitor experience is not to plummet. How many local people will be displaced by the development of more tourism ghettos or priced out of their own housing market due to the influx of second home buyers from wealthier urban centres?

Has anyone calculated the net benefit of this growth and the cost of providing and maintaining the supportive infrastructure or estimated the opportunity cost of investing funds into this activity versus other forms of economic development?

I have to wonder whether words have finally lost all meaning when the Secretary General of the UNWTO can look at these figures and say “This growth offers enormous possibilities as these can be years of leadership with tourism leading economic growth, social progress, and environmental sustainability.”

Tourism does not lead tourism growth – it depends on surplus wealth being created in the country of origin. At best it distributes that wealth but not as effectively as it might. A significant portion of the growth forecast for the next 20 years will originate from the emerging economies of Asia where tourists will travel on packaged vacations delivered by vertically integrated companies able to achieve economies of scale. Based on current patterns, less than $5 out of every $ 100 spent by vacationers on packaged holidays stays  in the receiving nation.

Why should it be assumed that more visitors to a place leads to “social progress.” when the opposite effect is normally the result – locals are displaced to make room in pristine locations for visitor-related facilities; visitor spending has an inflationary effect on housing, transportation and food costs; residents are encouraged to move from rural to urban centres in search of cash employment; and many of the social-cultural customs that evolved over thousands of years to produce social cohesion are eroded.  The UK-based NGO, Tourism Concern, offers many examples of displacement and social cost It’s not that tourism can’t be a force for good – it’s just that it most certainly is not inevitable and care needs to be taken.

And finally to describe a doubling of tourism volume as providing “opportunities for tourism to lead environmental sustainability” confirms to me that our leaders are walking their long corridors in some form of trance. Every year the UNWTO spins its econometric model and spews out more numbers offering no sign that they have any idea as to their impact or desirability. As recently as two weeks ago, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), warned that emissions from the global tourism industry will double in the next 25 years unless new sustainable policies are developed.  What kind of “leadership” is that? If Titanic-style corporations like Walmart can turn themselves on a relative dime and commit to a sustainable path, couldn’t our leaders even acknowledge that a debate might be necessary when they issue these forecasts? Shouldn’t they exercise leadership by stimulating that debate – not resisting it or pretending that the problem might simply go away?

What is also worrying is that no mention was made of the other feature of tourism growth that can cause so much personal havoc and hardship and that is the volatility of demand. The gently rising slope of the demand curves as shown in this slide provides a false sense of security and comfort – there’s an aura of stability and certainty conveyed that bears no relation to reality.

When we tell it like it is and provide data on what has happened in the past, we get a different picture. The headline to the next  chart is moderately reassuring “growth in tourism will continue but at a more moderate pace” but distracts from the reality of wild gyrations in tourism demand experienced over the past 40 years.

As tourism is the tail on the end of many economic dogs, it is subject to huge whip saw effects from specific events – be they natural hazards, terrorist acts, epidemics, or financial meltdowns and they are impossible to predict.  It is this volatility that undermines any benefit that could accrue from the growth in demand and causes the greatest hardship in so many destinations.  Given the convergence of such forces as climate change, resource depletion, population growth, water shortages, national and personal debt levels we can expect that demand will continue to oscillate with increasing frequency and intensity. Given that 95-99% of businesses engaged in tourism are small and independently owned, the real issue of the next decade for them won’t be growth but survival.

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

I am not anti tourism; only anti thoughtless, careless tourism whose proponents avoid counting and minimizing its costs. That’s what Conscious Travel is all about – not the end of tourism but the shift to the kind of tourism we can all be proud of; the kind of tourism that sustains decent livelihoods year after year while enriching and enlivening local cultures and restoring local ecosystems.

It’s the kind of tourism that is driven by a Higher Purpose than simply making money. So what is the point of tourism? Here are some thoughts a deeper purpose of tourism that give it meaning and that attract people to do extraordinary things:

This kind of tourism can only be created  if we develop a degree of honesty and self-criticism that George Orwell would have recognized as being revolutionary.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If I did, I’d be rich and famous. But I am prepared to ask some of the right questions simply because I KNOW the answers lie within our own community (not industry). If you CARE at all – and I believe THE issue is all about caring (see here) then you’ll comment, subscribe and encourage others to join the discussion…

See also:

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

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

Conscious Host @ Work

Project Change

First Conscious Travel Event in Canada

AWAKENING THE DREAMER SYMPOSIUM – Nov. 22nd – 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. 

 (Capilano University Library 322 — 2055 Purcell Way, N. Vancouver)
For information, please contact: Joe Kelly by email:

Conscious Travel is  a movement and an e-learning community designed to help travel suppliers become Conscious Hosts so that they can can attract, engage and support Conscious Travelers and develop a viable alternative to mass industrialized tourism. The end goal is to create and enact a vision for a tourism economy that doesn’t cost the earth.

Who better then to inspire and recruit but the next generation of leaders – those energetic, connected and free-thinking members of Gen Y and Gen Z who will be responsible for stewarding tourism towards a more prosperous and stable future?

To raise awareness of the issues affecting humanity and to encourage future hosts to become active change agents in their community, the founder of Conscious Travel, Anna Pollock, is teaming up with Capilano University’s Project Change initiative, LinkBC and the  Be The Change Earth Alliance to host the symposium known as Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream. The symposium is a transformative educational experience that empowers participants to respond to humanity’s current situation with action and informed, grounded optimism about our future.

Through dynamic group interactions, leading edge information, and inspiring multimedia, participants in this half-day event are inspired to reconnect with their deep concern for our world, and are empowered to make a difference.

The Symposium was developed by The Pachamama Allliance.  Designed with the collaboration of some of the finest scientific, indigenous and activist minds in the world, the Symposium explores the current state of our planet from a new perspective, and connects participants with a powerful global movement to reclaim our future.

It is an exploration of four questions:

  • Where Are We?
An examination of the state of environmental, social and personal well-being
  • How did We Get Here?
Tracing the root causes that lead to our current imbalance
  • What’s Possible for the Future?
Discovering new ways of relating with each other, with the Earth and looking at the emerging Movement for change
  • Where Do We Go from Here?
Considering the stand we want to be in the world and our personal and collective impact
What to Expect – here’s the trailer:

Awakening the Dreamer Symposium Trailer from Pachamama Alliance on Vimeo.

A youth version of the Symposium – Generation Waking Up – is currently being developed.  We hope one outcome would be for tourism students in British Columbia to take this version back into their communities. The individuals behind this project, Valerie Love and Esteban Duarte,  recently raised over $20,000 in crowdsourced funding to complete the development of materials that will make this symposium partucularly appealing and relevant to the younger generation. You can see their appeal on Kickstarter here. With commitment and creativity like this, humanity is  in good hands. Breakthrough rather than breakdown might just be possible.

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