Archive | July, 2012

Affirmations from a Serial & Iconic Entrepreneur

You don’t often have the opportunity to meet and talk with individuals who have created not one but three business that sold for over £1 billion each. And should that happen, it would be even rarer to be talked to as an equal.

Mike Harris of Iconic Shift

Last night I was privileged to join about 50 others at an event organised by Start Up Leadership at a presentation by Mike Harris, creator of First Direct (the world’s first telephone bank); Mercury Communications ( a successful consumer business purchased by Virgin Media) and Egg, the word’s first internet bank.

I know I am not Mike’s equal in terms of material accomplishment but his skill at listening and his genuine interest in the ideas of his conversation partner left me feeling that one day I just might be. And it’s that skill that proved to be the secret of his success – Mike  discovered early on in his career how to liberate the creative capacity of his co-workers; to make their soul’s sing and leap out of bed each morning eager to apply their gifts to whatever the task at hand.

That’s why discussion around purpose and passion are themes that I revisit over and over again here  (see previous post: Tourism What’s the Point – Part 3 ) because I have always been a believer that the order in which you place those three Ps determine success. And that’s also likely why any posts on this subject prove the most popular with my readers.

Mike confessed that when he first started presenting his business ideas to potential funders he would keep his thoughts about higher purpose to himself for fear he was perceived as insufficiently “hard-nosed”, practical and realistic. But as his reputation for producing results grew, he felt he could jettison such caution and be true to himself. And the previous evening, when he sat down with a table of venture capitalists, virtually all agreed with him – further proof of a value shift that also is a theme pursued on this blog.

And that’s why the Conscious Travel program has the potential to be an industry game changer.

We want to be known for putting the value, the wonder and the magic back into the business of travel by  enabling hosts in becoming effective agents for good in their community. We want both guests and hosts to feel – as I did last night – inspired and empowered to participate in an activity that doesn’t cost the earth.

The new five “P’s that can make or break a travel-related business are place, people, purpose, and passion that create profits for all.

So, what do you want to be known for and what feelings do you wish your guests to have when they experience your particular place? *

This question formed an exercise Mike gave us around branding that I am finding a really useful thought stimulant.For more great ideas and inspiration see:

Why Tourism’s Impact is Hardly Noticed – a response

When it comes to social marketing and common sense as it applies to destinations, Martyn Collins iVisitor blog is one of the best in the UK. This is guy is committed and no one works harder or is more generous of his time and expertise.

The following post  titled Tourism’s Huge Impact Hardly Noticed caught my attention recently and stimulated me to pose a contrarian view. Martyn re-posted an article in support of Rob Gialloreto, CEO of Tourism Victoria (BC, Canada) about declining public funding and lack of action by presumably (it’s not clear) government agencies. Best to read Gailloreto’s article here first although I have paraphrased the key points.

Having spent over 25 years working towards building a vibrant tourism economy in western Canada, I might be expected to agree with the sentiments in the article but I don’t. I’m not saying tourism shouldn’t receive more support but the approach taken by Rob is one pursued for decades and it’s not working.

One of the reasons  – and there are many – why tourism is not perceived as popular with the Treasury Boards of the western world is that they also get tired of this form of whining and rarely does tourism have all its data act together to justify its position. Leaders are loquacious about benefits (employment, foreign exchange, peace etc) but pretty quiet about costs, net return and productivity. Another is that public spending on tourism is shared across all levels of government as well as to different sub sectors so the precise total investment is often not appreciated.

Tourism is not different from other sectors in its complexity and diversity. Healthcare, education, and food production affect everyone’s lives even more cogently than tourism and are also comprised of heterogenous agencies (SMEs. Independent professionals, small numbers of large enterprises large pharmaceutical or grocery retailers, large numbers of micro enterprises (doctors, dentists, physiotherpapists, home care helpers, farmers, vets etc).

Tourism is an export business but so are software, mining, animation graphics, fashion, manufacturing, education and some forms of healthcare.

Rob says we treat tourism like a test that we didn’t study for and we cross our fingers and  …..”we hope that the airport runway will be extended to bring in direct flights from the UK.”

It’s true that international destinations need planes and the airports to enable them to land but it’s also true that trees have to be cut down to export lumber or furniture; open pit mines are gouged out of the earth to sell off coal, pipelines are needed to oil shale and quotas placed on fishing boats. As populations and consumer demand for goods increase, the decisions about what infrastructure the public sector needs to build when and where will, I hope, come under increasing scrutiny as the consequences become more complex, intense and diverse. Tourism isn’t being singled out here – it’s just being asked to think and act responsibly and play by the new rules…

Rob observes “we hope that marketing will be enough to bring visitors here despite rising ferry fares, order issues and economic hardship in the US and Europe.” Well again, the truth is that most factors affecting the ebb and flow of tourism are, in reality, out of our control (in the short run) whether they be currency exchange rates, terrorism, ash from volcanoes or other natural hazards, epidemics and financial collapse. Some of these factors are place specific and others affect the majority. Again it’s the way things are based on our core model of production and consumption. Tourism isn’t being singled out or victimised.

If tourism is going to survive in this chaotic and uncertain world we have created for ourselves, its hosts will have to be relentlessly nimble, adaptable and irrepressibly creative and curious. More money spent in the UK on more direct flights will be of no help given that most of us in the UK can barely afford the train fare to Heathrow.

No one doubts that folks in tourism don’t work any less hard than people in other sectors but sometimes it seems as if they are emulating the reputation that farmers used to have for being chronic complainers.

Of course tourism is vital to the economies of developed and developing countries. In fact in many ways it is now a victim of its own success. Having boasted for years about its resilience and its ability to bounce back, many government personnel took notice and realised what a potential cash cow tourism could become.  In the UK, for example, the Treasury now appears to consider the Airport Passenger Duty on the same level as the so called “sin taxes” applied to liquor, wine and cigarettes because they know their imposition won’t stop people either drinking, smoking or travelling in sufficient numbers despite the moans of industry.

So what I am suggesting is that it’s time to stop behaving like the adolescent boy pouting because he’s spent his pocket money; his Dad won’t lend him the family car which is out of fuel to go on a hot date and his Mum is imposing a curfew.

Perhaps I am being as harsh as I belive Rob was being indulgent but I honestly believe that tourism – as a sector – would be taken more seriously by policy makers and might get the kind of political attention it craves, if it (i.e. the people making a loving from tourism):

1. Wakes up to the changes occurring in the world at large;

2. Grows Up and stops repeating the same old complaints or expecting special treatment;

3. Lives up to its true potential and generates a higher net return from its environmental and cultural resources;

4. Opens up to be more inclusive in its approach – by attracting people to places not selling destinations;

5. Steps up and takes responsibility for addressing the problems of our time – ecological destruction, social injustice and a growing sense of spiritual/psychological despair among affluent and poor alike; and

6.Meets up – forms small but powerful groups of committed conscious hosts in destination who decide to stop complaining and think differently.

If any of the above prescriptions for success are of interest, read on. If not – find a bar and tell your woes to the bartender. he’ll likely be an attentive listener but he won’t be able to do much about it either.

  1. Wakes Up  as in became conscious of the fact that the world is changingand the next 60 years will be both different and a lot harder than the past 60. Public treasuries pretty well everywhere are running on empty and incurring huge debts; all kinds of pubic costs are rising; populations are aging, incomes in real terms are declining in most households. Public funding for tourism – especially in established western economies – will continue plummet and we’ll have to make do and depend on each other and not the state for a change.The tourism community has to wake up to the fact that a drop in funding is not the end of the world considering that we are living through one of the most environmentally, financially, politically and socially hazardous yet potentially the most creative, exciting period of history. When some of the world’s most reputable scientists suggest we only have a 50-50 chance of surviving the century, then tourism should stop sweating the small stuff.
  2. Grows Up – if tourism wants to be taken seriously, it needs to show what it’s doing to address the  solutions to the key challenges of our time. The question proposed by J.F. Kennedy is pertinent

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

A sign of personal maturity occurs when an individual starts to recognize that being part of a family brings with it responsibilities as well as rights and there is awareness that it’s not all about me or I but “we. ” That’s something that Millennials or Gen Y seem to understand intuitively but they are not running tourism just yet. This generation wants to be working for companies that have a real sense of purpose higher than just making money – the latter is taken as a given.

The venues run by people in travel and hospitality are the hubs in any community and their operators can be the true connectors. It’s through connections that places and people become smart and create the conditions for innovation and creativity. It’s through being exposed to worldviews or ways of perceiving that differ from their own that help us wake up to the fact that our worldview is one of many and likely needs to change, There is no reason for tourism hosts to be nothing more than the writers of invitations and the silent pourers of coffee. Travels hosts (i.e., tourism providers) can become agents of change and find greater meaning and purpose in their work by actively protecting, preserving and rejuvenating the preciously unique ecosystems and cultures that make up their home – their unique place.

3. Lives Up – to its  potential. The real definition of the word sin is to miss the mark – not to be all we can be. Travel isn’t a sin in the traditional sense as the Bishop of London once implied from his pulpit – although denying our responsibility for reducing our share of waste and and over use of scarce resources such as water, land and energy might be. No, the sin comes from not delivering the highest and best return on the gift of a unique place and culture we call the destination. That’s the sin and it’s committed every time when we panic and sell ourselves short through sales, discounting and excessive couponing and suggest to our customers that cheap travel is their right and no one has to pay for the hidden costs of our fun & pleasure.

4. Opens Up – tourism has kept a tight rein on its domain for too long. It’s no longer just about marketing destinations but ensuring that “places” can attract visitors, students, residents, investors, talent and capital to thrive. It’s time to break down the invisible walls that deny our own interdependence with all sector of society and the economy and acknowledge our utter dependence on a healthy biosphere. We need to break down the walls that separate tourism from economic development , inward investment and cut our costs and pool our resources .

5. Steps up. Tourism’s ubiquity, pervasiveness  and size,  combined with its embeddedness in all aspects of what is now a global economy (“tourism is everybody’s business”), could enable its hosts to become effective agents of change, in the communities.  Our purpose (the higher purpose of tourism) is to heal, to connect and to revitalize that deep sense of wonder and awe of Nature that re-connects human beings with their source.  People – yes the human beings working in the travel community – are in the best position to inspire our guests to take better care of their planetary home but only if we shed our tendency to see sacred places as products (objects) and our customers as walking wallets (more objects)

6. Meets up.  99% of enterprises in tourism are small and most operate in relative isolation – that’s our source of weakness. But across the globe, there’s growing recognition that we cannot depend on “top down” solutions from old-style command and control organizations to fix global problems by policy or diktat. Change will not occur because self or institution-made leaders with titles write declarations but because ordinary men and women, in community, decide to do things differently.

The fastest most effective change occurs at the grassroot community level when individuals come together and decide to take back responsibility. Within any tourism community it does not take ALL hosts – simply a minority of brave, highly committed, open minded, collaborative, curious sometime heretical individuals willing to experiment, innovate, try, fail, learn and try again as we implement  a vision for tourism that does more harm than good.

That’s what Conscious Travel is all about – working with small groups of committed hosts in places where tourism providers want to make change happen.

Tourism – What’s the Point? Part 3 AFAR readers answer the question

The business literature is full of articles on the importance of differentiating your business by – showing you care; making a difference and having a deeper or higher purpose than simply maximising profit to a few shareholders each quarter.

In fact the three most popular posts on this blog have been those that addressed this topic.

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

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

Why Conscious Hosts Will Help Their Guests Fall in Love

So we were delighted to see that AFAR, the great magazine and web site that focuses more or less exclusively on what we would describe as the Conscious Traveller,  is asking their readers why they travel and using Pinterest to spread the word.

As I haven’t yet received permission to reprint their entire blog post yet, please check it out now

I Travel Therefore I…?

but here’s  the other responses that stood out for me. Why not pop over to AFAR’s blog  and add some of yours.

As I wrote nearly a decade ago: Profit = Passion  + Purpose. Focus on all three but just make sure you get the order right and it’s not as it appears…

Why Costa Rica Could Become another Loser and Not a Winner

Why Costa Rica Could Become another Loser and Not a Winner and how YOU can help….

As discussed in a previous post, friends Marco and Eytan of ISeeiTravel are trying to raise money to finish a documentary about the choices facing one of Costa Rica’s last standing areas of pristine rainforest on the Pacific Coast of Latin America – The Osa Peninsula, home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and  50% of Costa Rica’s native species. The National Geographic has called the region “the most biologically intense place on earth.”

Costa Rica has worked hard to develop a reputation for being one of the most powerful eco tourism brands in all of South America. In terms of brand strength and appeal,  Future Brands placed Costa Rica in 24th position globally and ahead of all other South American countries. According to FutureBrand, they assess the strength of a country brand in terms of:

awareness, familiarity, preference, consideration, advocacy and active decisions to visit or interact with a place. But the most important factors—the aspects that truly differentiate a country brand—are its associations and attributes across five key dimensions: Value System, Quality of Life, Good for Business, Heritage and Culture and Tourism….A strong country brand is more than the sum of its attributes: in total, it must make people’s lives better.

Sunset in Corcovado National Park

But that last ambitious statement begs the question “whose lives?” The lives of the 4 million or so people who call Costa Rica home or the million wealthy middle class Americans and Canadians who make up half the visitor arrivals at present?

As far as I can understand, ISeeiTravel are not suggesting any form of moratorium. They are simply trying to  help the people of Costa Rica make conscious decisions that work for the people of the country as a whole. That means making sure that mistakes made in the past are not repeated in the future.

As illustrated in a video they made earlier, the locals to the north of the country,  where development first started,  haven’t benefited from tourism as much as they had hoped or been promised.

But history looks doomed to be forgotten and, without careful planning and yes some controls, it will take less than 30 years to create the same set of problems. And here’s why….. it’s not that the leaders of Costa Rica are deliberately destructive, or that the existing industry is necessarily more greedy than most, it’s simply that this is what happens when you embrace a model of development without being conscious of the consequences and allow the industrial model to run its course. It’s simply because so so many of us could benefit from making the wrong decisions.

Frankly, I am at that stage in my life where I would love to retire and live near a pristine beach and rainforest with a few historic ruins thrown in for good measure.  And it looks like that I might even be able to afford it – if I go to Costa Rica’s South Pacific. A mere US$40,000 would buy me beachfront property adjacent to one of the world’s richest natural areas of biodiversity on the planet. (Right now that wouldn’t buy me a garage in a suburban town in the UK).

But let me quote form the enticing sales blog that wasn’t written by environmentalists but by real estate developers and retailers.  You can read the entire blog here and I have paraphrased:

“Costa Rica’s South Pacific rates as our most popular chill weekend destination. Trips here book up quickly, and sell out months in advance. Now, that demand is partly down to the beauty of this area. It’s a rich, lush wonderland of dizzying mountain peaks, virgin forest, and a sandy coastline. But there’s another reason why this place is becoming so popular. This location is poised…on the edge of a major boom. 

Corcovado Beach

The Boom is Just Beginning – You see, until 2010, this place was almost impossible to get to…unless you were adventurous (some would say foolhardy). It’s not that you didn’t have a choice of route. You did…but none of them classed as even vaguely comfortable or easy. …But thankfully, that’s all changing. A new coastal road opened in January 2010. It’s a joy…smooth, easy to drive, nicely surfaced…and it cuts the drive time from San Jose (Costa Rica’s capital) to the South Pacific in half…to just over three hours.

So getting to the South Pacific is now quicker, and more relaxed. And government plans call for an international airport. And we know what that means for property values…

History Repeats Itself – Back in the 1980s, Guanacaste was a tough five-hour drive from San Jose on rough, potholed roads. Backpackers and surfers braved those roads, but mainstream tourists, retirees and second-home buyers stayed away. The local airport at Liberia only offered occasional international flights. Then, the road was re-paved…and Delta started regular international flights to Liberia in 2002. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. In 2003, 50,000 visitors used Liberia airport. In January alone this year, more than 31,000 visitors used Liberia airport.

More tourists traveling here meant that more tourists fell in love with the area…and wanted to rent or own a piece of it. Resort and residential developers snapped up land for hotels and private communities. The inevitable happened. Prime property in Guanacaste quadrupled in value in the three years after the direct flights started. Today, an ocean-view condo can set you back $1.4 million dollars…and an ocean view lot $550,000.

Costa Rica’s South Pacific is following the same path to success. It’s now open to mainstream tourism. More tourists means:

  • More demand for accommodation.
  • Business opportunities to cater to growing tourist numbers. Today, new commercial plazas are springing up in the Southern Zone to cater to increased tourist traffic and the growing number of expats, retirees and second-home owners.
  • Resort and residential developers chasing beachfront and ocean-view land to build hotels, tourist amenities and subdivisions. This is exactly the reason why property prices rose quickly in Guanacaste.
  • This is like turning the clock back ten years. If you missed out on your chance in Guanacaste, you need to pay attention to the South Pacific.”

Dear reader, it is not my intent to point an accusing finger when four are pointing back at me. I’ll be honest, I am sorely tempted to sell my one remaining asset here in cool and rain soaked Britain and get in quick. I love the South Pacific ……. but I cannot see that I would be benfitting anyone other than myself; some land developers, construction companies, and other “ex pats” who can afford the investment and potentially reap a 400% return.

Conscious tourism is not anti tourism or anti the economic benefits associated with sharing places with people from afar. On the contrary – all we’re working towards is a form of tourism that benefits all stakeholders and is developed by and for communities who are fully awake, aware and alert and making decisions that deliver the highest and best return over the long run. As recently as January of 2011, the Huffington Post in article titled Why Costa Rica is a Winning Brand urged leaders there to guard against “too much of a good thing” and pointed to water shortages in Guanacaste where the intense developments, complete with their normal share of “water sucking championship golf courses” could experience problems.All we want, as do the founders of Iseeitravel is to encourage Costa Ricans to develop a tourism economy that is “environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling” as we know that will bring the greatest net benefit.

If Costa Rica wants to live up to its brand image and not forfeit any of its hard-earned Brand equity, it will work with these young film makers to ensure all the issues are investigated and discussed – consciously. There are somewhere between 300 and 800 accommodation properties in Costa Rica all benefitting from the annual 2.1 million visitors. These are the hosts whom we believe have the greatest responsibility for being caretakers of the natural resource on which they depend. A mere $25 donation from each property would be enough to fund the film – a small price to pay, don’t you think?

Please support ISeeitravel  – one of the first film making companies to actively support conscious travel by visiting their fund raising site and at least buying a t-shirt.They are short $11,000 of their $25,000 goal….Here’s their video:

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