Why Tourism Will and Must Change Its Operating Model

Marketers and managers of destinations have long absorbed the concept that places go through a cycle of development from the initial discovery of a place, through its early development, growth, consolidation and then stagnation phases.  Yet, this same cycle has not been applied to the macro pattern of mass tourism. This is strange because virtually every other aspect of human society is in the midst of a radical re-think and is starting to examine, question and evaluate the deep assumptions and beliefs that have sustained human progress and economic growth over the past 100-150 years.

Illustration by Antonello Silverini

We’ve outlined why we think Tourism will and must change its operating model on the home page of this site. What is Conscious Travel? and explore it more in a Whitepaper Can Tourism Change Its Operating Model: The Necessity and Inevitability, obtainable from slideshare here. In short, survival and prosperity depend not just on becoming green but waking up to a whole new way of doing business that addresses the need to be environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling.

We’re not bucking a trend here – as outlined in an earlier post, Screw Tourism As Usual, there is a fundamental shift going on in the world of business. Capitalism is not being jettisoned – business remains the most efficient wealth generation agency on the planet – but is being re-tweaked to address some of its flaws. Not all tourism operators will agree with these changes but many will.  The evidence from outside tourism suggests that, those who do re-think the way they operate, will fare better in a world in which the only constant is uncertainty and change.

It’s premature to specify what the emerging model will look like and how it will work but we can speculate and, more importantly we can come together to create it.

In my paper titled,  I have started to explore its features in more detail. All we can do here is outline some key characteristics:

  1. In the old model, the starting point is the Product, an object that is assembled, packaged, produced and priced according to the rules of manufacturing. In the new model, the starting point is a Place that is recognized as qualitatively unique and therefore scarce. While products become commodities and lose value as they become more alike, “Places” that are celebrated for their unique geography, history and culture, gain value and are acknowledged as the primary motivator of travel.
  2. In the old model, guest and hosts act in an adversarial role, playing an “I win-you lose” game in which each party tries to win at the cost of the other. In the new model, that puts relationship building ahead of transactions, guest and host co-create experiences of meaning, benefit and value to both parties.
  3. In the old model, Hosts are producers who focus on the attributes of their product in order to persuade a target market to purchase. In the new model, hosts orchestrate unique experiences of places that are perceived of value and as transformative by guests Guest are attracted to a host for his or her personal, subjective qualities  – what they value; their sense of purpose; contribution to community; their integrity and authenticity over and above the physical artefacts and amenities
  4. In the old model, Producers PUSHED their products in front of potential buyers through various promotional techniques and, when that failed, they dropped their prices. The cost cutting methods deployed to maintain profit margins (standardisation, homogenisation and automation) further devalued the experience and guest satisfaction while suggesting that cheap travel was a right.
    In the new model, producers focus on protecting, rejuvenating and expressing the elements of a place that make it unique, attractive and worth paying for.
    Hosts who can communicate a strong signal about their values and their appreciation of the uniqueness of their place and corporate culture, PULL towards them customers whose values are aligned with theirs.
  5. In the old model, producers assumed that their first priority was to maximise profit for their shareholders. In the new model, producers understand that profit is an outcome that occurs when the enterprise has a higher purpose and when it works to generate net benefit for all its stakeholders (guests, employees, suppliers, and the host community). In the old model, tourism entrepreneurs were followers – applying models and values developed in manufacturing. In the new model. They will be active change agents in their communities and on the forefront of innovation.

It was John Lennon who said:

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality” 

Now is the time for all of us working towards a better tourism – be it green, sustainable, responsible, eco, local, slow, philanthropic – to come together and co-create a new vision and a new operating model that unifies and inspires rather than fragments and dilutes. We do have to change our dream (the mindset or paradigm through which we view the world) and ironically, to do that we have to wake up and become aware of the assumptions that underpin our current model and determine whether they still work for us.

10 Responses to “Why Tourism Will and Must Change Its Operating Model”

  1. Love this summary & look forward to reading all 16 pages. Points 2 & 3 are particularly close to Cup of Local Sugar’s heart or should we say strategy. And not only does this way of operating seem to make customers happier but our Locals too. And we are nothing without them.


  2. In the new, new model the starting point is the customer. It was ever thus.


    • Hi Terry – it’s been a long time since we saw each other and thanks for your comment.
      The reason I created this blog and the thoughts behind it was I know the industry would and should follow customer demand and started researching how the recession had affected consumer values and behaviours. In many respects the consumer is ahead of most companies but since consumers, company owners, entrepreneurs, employees, managers, supervisors, investors, politicians an even some bankers are human, it’s not surprising that change is occurring everywhere!1


  3. Agreed 100%.

    Are you available to record a skype conversation to articulate your thoughts and the next steps forward?


  4. Great summary Anna and very much in line with the work that Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa is doing in relation to the creation of Fair Trade Tourism holiday packages with European tour operators. All of the FTTSA certified business owners could be considered Conscious Hosts and are committed to distinguishing themselves as truly committed to their Place.
    The challenge is to get tour operators to package a Fair Trade holiday which involves a Trade audit that looks at the flow of money in the value chain. Some tour operators are rising to the challenge. These tour operators acknowledge their role in changing the face of tourism, are willing to create demand for responsible tourism rather than hide behind the argument that consumers are not asking for it, they show real commitment to South Africa as a destination and are prepared to be transparent and pioneer with FTTSA and the many Hosts it represents. Although it is still early days and many more tour operators should follow their example, FTT packages may just prove that our holidays can make a real difference to people in the places we love to visit.



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