Archive | August, 2012

Deja Vue or Clairvoyance – You Be the Judge

It was November 2001 at WTM and we were reeling from the impact of 9/11 and the aftermath of the dotcom crash. Thousands of IT specialists were out of work; CRM was the latest “new thing” as were XML, “web services” and “interoperability.” I’d just had to let go my involvement in a software company and formed DestiCorp Consulting and did this interview with a former colleague.

How might this image be a metaphor for international tourism?

Fast forward 11 years and I have just spent the past 8 days producing three webinar/videos on Conscious Travel which I will upload this week. To be honest I am not quite sure how to react to this DestiCorp interview – the content is remarkably consistent; the passion hasn’t waned but the wrinkles have certainly deepened! Eleven years have passed and I still feel compelled to be putting out the same message. It seems like yesterday.  Where did the past eleven years go? How much has changed or not changed? Will we get to the year 2023 just as quickly and how will we have handled the extra 600 million international trips that are forecast to take place?

They say that timing is everything. My timing wasn’t right in 2001. The tourism industry wasn’t ready then to hear anyone suggest that it should take time out to re-think. Many operators were holding on to the bucking bronco of demand after the attack on the World Trade Centre. What wasn’t clear either was just how quickly (relatively speaking) the economy would bounce back – especially in the US and UK where hedge funds were just beginning to scout for real estate in Mayfair; house prices were still to soar and ordinary Britons were to start taking advantage of Easyjet and Ryanair’s crazily low fares to Europe and speculate in real estate. The next six years (2001-2007) were about to see a few people get very rich and cause an even larger number of people to think were because of the extra zeros on their net worth statements. We lurched from one bust in 2001 (when the dot in dotcom punctured the bubble) to another one in 2007 when the financial house of cards came down – only this time its impact cut deeper and is lasting longer.

So is the timing right now?  Will the message be better received now than then? The simple answer is yes – I do sense a sea change. When a former senior executive of the UNWTO now describes himself as a Chief Disruption Architect, then something is shifting. When Michael Porter declares it’s time to “re-think capitalism” and companies like KPMG state that the current approach to business is non-sustainable and Deloitte support Elkington’s Zero Impact concept, then people like me can take heart.   It’s become disturbingly fashionable now to talk about sustainability, higher purpose, doing good, going green.  The good news is that  the number of initiatives (for want of a better word) in the sustainable, eco, ethical, fair trade, geo, local, responsible and good tourism arena is already significant and gaining momentum every day  – albeit in a very fragmented way. The challenge now is unifying the multiplicity of weak signals and diluting the semantic confusion as the sustainable Tower of Babel gets larger – but that’s another topic.

The more truthful answer is “I simply don’t care whether it’s right timing or not.” Conveying this message is simply my destiny. I can’t escape it. I feel as if I am an instrument being played. The words of Jean Paul Sartre keep echoing in my head.  Thanks to my role in tourism – that of quasi futurist and  sense maker I have to expose myself to information many others would prefer to ignore. I now simply know too much to mute or modify the message.

My circumstances over the past 18 months – when I have been travelling and staying with a host of friends and supporters – have provided an opportunity to test out my ideas. I am even more convinced that change is necessary and  encouraged to see it happening spontaneously. I’m also more convinced that the only effective  approach is to work not with the traditional sources of power and influence (the centralized associations and agencies) but with groups of hosts in small communities. They are the ones that must develop their creativity, ingenuity, self-confidence and resilience if they are to survive let alone thrive over the years ahead. This is how change occurs in the natural world and nature has had over 13.5 years of practice! We are trained to think that the itelligence of a cell is centred in its nucleus – the command centre but current biology has learned that the real smarts lie in the cell membrane where the edges of the cell interact with the environment. This applies to tourism – tt’s the hosts and their employees who know what’s really going on and have the most leverage to effect change.

As I have been saying for over 15 years, the role of Destination Marketing Organizations going forward should be to do less and enable more. They need to use the resources they have been allocated from the public purse to create the conditions whereby innovation and creativity can emerge and erupt naturally – just the way that it occurs in the natural world. Two of those conditions are trust and confidence – trusting in their capacity to adapt and providing the support and recognition. Conscious Travel is designed to provide a support structure for collaborative learning, experimentation and adaptation in the membrane.

Next week I’ll be launching three beta videos (beta is a fancy way to say they are home made and draft) that describe what we mean by conscious travel. The interesting thing is that this 11 year old interview is as good a sneak preview as any!

Changing the Dream – Why Mindsets Really, Really Matter

The failure of Rio + 20 provides the strongest evidence to suggest that despite hundred of conferences, inquiries, studies, policy tweaks,  and investigations, the global and national agencies have not yet grasped the deep nature of change required if humanity is to avert a catastrophic interruption to “business as usual”.

Over the coming months I guarantee that the words “paradigm”, worldview,  mindset will be used with increasing frequency as we realise that “tinkering around the edges” of the challenges will do little good, will likely delay any progress and make matters worse. Let me share four examples.

Example 1: In a recent interview with Dr. David Suzuki, the eminent Canadian scientist, who has done so much to raise awareness of ecology, expressed his exasperation:

Dr. David Suzuki….

….If we don’t see that we are utterly embedded in the natural world and dependent on nature, not technology, not economics, not science—we’re dependent on Mother Nature for our very well-being and survival. If we don’t see that, then our priorities will continue to be driven by man-made constructs like national borders, economies, corporations, markets.

And the leaders in that should be the indigenous people, who still have that sense, that the earth is truly our mother, that it gives birth to us. You don’t treat your mother the way we treat the planet or the biosphere today. If we don’t make that fundamental shift, then we’ll just go on: “Oh, we got to be more efficient. We got to have a green economy,” and all that stuff. But we haven’t fundamentally changed our relationship with the biosphere.

A link to the video interview is included at the end of this post and  it’s well worth a watch for two reasons – Suzuki doesn’t mince his words and refers us to the recent article published by over 20 internationally recognised scientists in the journal,  Nature,  whose data suggest we’re very close to a major phase change or tipping point and, secondly, because he is joined by his daughter Severin who rendered the United nations speechless back in 1992.

Example 2: Another environmental expert who laments the lack of progress is the Swedish environmental scientist  Johan Rockstrom of the Swedish Resilience Institute.  Dr. Rockstrom points out that  modern humans have just experienced “10,000 years of grace,” an interglacial period capable of supporting human development. He tells us we’re currently putting the planet into a “quadruple squeeze” through pressures of human growth and inequality, climate change, biodiversity  loss, and the problem of surprise as natural systems can collapse with remarkable speed when a tipping point is reached.

Rockstrom and his colleagues have identified nine planetary boundaries that can be monitored to ensure that we don’t slip into collapse and of the nine, we’re already transgressing three. Again, I  leave you to watch the lecture – Rockstrom’s lively, extremely informative and, despite the content, so entertaining he’ll sustain your attention through a mind blowing 15 minutes. But note: towards the end he declares – surprise, surprise:

So there is — no doubt — opportunity here, and we can list many, many examples of transformative opportunities around the planet. The key though in all of these, the red thread, is the shift in mindset, moving away from a situation where we simply are pushing ourselves into a dark future, where we instead backcast our future, and we say, “What is the playing field on the planet? What are the planetary boundaries within which we can safely operate?” and then backtrack innovations within that. But of course, the drama clearly shows that incremental change is not an option.

Example 3: in a recent newsletter, Shaping Tomorrow,  from the British futurist, Michael Jackson comes the following observation:

Although the shift towards new purpose in business builds on the triple bottom line, it goes far beyond. First, it is about transformation i.e., deep systemic change rather than reformation, trying to make current outdated systems work better; and second, it will involve significant changes in our own personal beliefs, mindsets and behaviours. What is happening in the world today may turn out to be no less than a paradigm change.

Having staked my career and livelihood on a belief that Suzuki, Rostrom, Jackson and a growing number of others are right, I take comfort from his observation. Conscious Travel is the only program that addresses the need to change mindsets first. It’s also based on a belief that tourism providers are the ones who will make the shift – provided that they commit to learn together. These are the change agents – the yeast in the dough called the tourism ecosystem. They don’t need some distant agency telling them what to do; they need support to access the information, tools and each other.  And finally, let me respond to those so-called “hard-nosed” entrepreneurs who dismiss this talk of paradigms as academic. We’re clear about our reason for structuring the program in this way – our objectives are about as  practical as you can get – to increase hosts’ profit; increased net benefit to the host community, reduce erosive volatility and increase resilience. Why else would we bother?

Example 4: while it’s taken western analysts, thinkers and doers a few hundred years to

“get it,” most indigenous people understand instinctively the power of mind and mindset to affect our world. If I am committed to Conscious Travel it is partly because of a tribe of people living in the upper Amazon – the Achuar – whom I have never met. Having asked and received help from some Americans to fight the oil rigs encroaching their territory, they had no qualms about extending what we might think to be an impossible challenge – to return home and “change the dream of the north”. These so called primitive people, who had lived in harmony with their environment for thousands of years, knew that we, in the north had lost our way and our ability to see the reality the way it is. We need to change our dream – our way of seeing. The Americans – John Perkins, Bill and Lynne Twist co-founders of the Pachamama Alliance –  didn’t flinch and went on to develop The Symposium – a one day program that has now reached thousands of  people in 60 countries and which I am a facilitator. Conscious Travel is my contribution to changing the dream of the north by helping the tourism community respond to the Achuar challenge. 

Dr. Suzuki’s Interview with Democracy Now

The Legend, Prophesy of the Eagle and the Condor

In celebration of Indigenous People’s Week, I would like to share the inspirational story of the Eagle and the Condor. I first heard this story when participating in the Symposium developed by the Pachamama Alliance and which is the root source of inspiration for Conscious Travel.

It’s a powerful metaphor for what happens when two worldviews can learn to fly together – taking the best from each perspective to create something new.

It’s a major source of hope and, if you have eyes to see, you’ll recognise the thousands of initiatives around the world that express what this flight in the sky looks like. As is being discussed all this week, the role that indigenous people can play in developing conscious travel is one such example of the Eagle and Condor in full flight.

The video is only 2 minutes long – take a quick break and I guarantee you’ll be lifted up and forward!! The video is sourced from The Pachamama Alliance whose site will direct you information about the Symposium.

Conscious Tourism, Conscious Travel or Turismo Consciente?

After years of travelling, I shall be stepping on the South American continent for the first time on or around September 9th, 2012 when I am privileged to have the opportunity to speak at the  UNWTO’s Ethics and Tourism Congress. The provisional program can be downloaded here. The Congress precedes OAS’ XXth Inter American Congress of Ministers and High Authorities.

I am triply excited because not only will it be my first experience of South America but the host country is Ecuador – a country I have long admired for being the first country on the planet to recognise the Rights of Nature in its 2008 Constitution

Rights of Nature recognize the Earth and all its ecosystems as a living being with inalienable rights: to exist, to live free of cruel treatment, to maintain vital processes necessary for the harmonious balance that supports all life. (excellent history of this movement here)

This bold step by the Government of Ecuador was encouraged and supported by the Fundación Pachamama, the Ecuadorian arm of The Pachamama Alliance whose achievements I applaud and with whom I work – Conscious Travel communities will help introduce the innovative one-day,  awareness-raising Symposium developed by The Pachamama Alliance and we share their mission which is to bring about an environmentally, sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling presence (tourism) on this earth.

Thirdly – and I could hardly believe my eyes when I read the email of invitation, the theme of this important event is “Conscious Tourism For a New Era” – a concept proposed to the OAS and developed in June 2011 by Ecuador’s  Minister of Tourism, Freddie Ehlers,  and his colleagues. I’d like to think I might have had some input into this exciting vision but,  as there was no conscious conversation beforehand, it’s likely one of those serendipitous eruptions of a concept whose time has come.

Either way, I can’t wait to meet the participants at the august meeting and share in some very important and exciting discussions.

Here’s how the Ecuadorians defined Conscious Tourism after one of their brain storming sessions:


Conscious tourism is a life-changing experience that brings about personal growth and makes one a better human being. 

This new concept is based on principles of sustainability and ethics and promotes the values of peace, friendship, respect and love for life as the essence and practice of tourism. 

Conscious tourism is a covenant in which travel agents in communities of origin and destination and tourists pledge to co-exist with, have a sense of responsibility and mutual respect for, and commune with the natural and cultural heritage. 

Conscious tourism is a living, dynamic, and constantly evolving concept. It is an experience in giving and receiving.

Source: Concept paper presented to the Organisation of American States  by the delegation from Ecuador, download here

I am speaking on a panel with Gloria Guevara, Secretary of Tourism of Mexico.

I only have 20 minutes so I shall have to be focussed on what I think are some key points that are likely to encompass the the following:

1. It’s not conscious tourism but Conscious Travel. And this isn’t splitting hairs. Language is important. We’re not looking at incremental improvements to the stays quo but a fundamental, radical evolutionary shift  in how we live and travel on this planet. The word tourism keeps us mentally tied to the root of mass tourism – the tour, the package, the object, the thing, as opposed to the experience enjoyed by and supported by people. Conscious Travel is, as the Ecuadorians recognise, all about people – human beings not human doings. Language reflects our mindset and to change that mindset we need to converse in another language – a simpler, more gentle, less technical,  ostentatious language that speaks to the heart and soul as well as the cerebral calculations of a left brain.

That’s why I am not surprised that the term Conscious Tourism has emerged first from South America where a more youthful tourism economy is developing at the same time that the continent’s enormously rich population of indigenous peoples are taking a stand for Pachamama in so many ways. Between now and the OAS meeting, and especially during Indigenous Peoples Week (#ipw2012) I’ll be blogging frequently about the critically important role that Indigenous peoples have in developing Conscious Hosts and accelerating the BIG Tourism Shift.

Achuar Host

Achuar Host

2. Conscious Travel constitutes a completely different way of seeing – it involves casting off of outdated, inaccurate, distorted lenses that don’t enable us to make our way in this world.  Until a critical mass of us (and that doesn’t have to be a majority) have made that shift ; understood the implications;  and can create opportunities from this new way of seeing then we’ll always be tinkering at the edges and identified as fringe.There’ll be endless conferences, declarations, great initiatives and projects but no real ground-breaking change.

3. Conscious Travel is about a new set of  “Ps.”  Travel is, of course the movement of PEOPLE (who come with bodies, minds, spirits and souls)  between PLACES  – from one space to another. The old mindset focussed on products but they can be standardised, homogenised, automated and substituted – quickly becoming commodities that lose their value. Places on the other hand, cannot be reproduced – unless you have 13.5 billion years to wait – as each place is both geographically and historically unique.  By celebrating the uniqueness and, therefore scarcity, of places, we might recoup a higher and more appropriate yield and return greater net benefits to the host community.

The next key “P” stands for PURPOSE – a community of conscious guests and hosts are shifting from an obsession with “a cheap deal” or “quick return” to a sense of meaning, a desire to personally expand, to leave the world a better place. We know that more and more travellers want to return home transformed in some way and that conscious businesses (of which there are a growing number) are discovering that when they focus on generating value to all stakeholders (of which the environment is one), they thrive.

When a guest, who is seeking to connect with the people of a very different place to the one they call home,  meets a host whose PASSION  for the unique attributes of his place is infections and who has the capacity to re-create a sense of wonder and awe, then magic happens.  A trip is turned into a transformative experience taken home as a memory that can last a lifetime.  And the “passion” comes out when we “PLAY ” – when it’s safe for the host to experiment and be herself (authentic)  while “ad libbing” and when the guest feels fully alive, yet comfortable and at ease while ready to be stretched.

4. The shift from one decaying, mechanical  model of tourism (the industrial model) is replaced by its holistic, organic, juicy ecological version will occur not thanks to any more conferences and, God forbid sterile declarations of populated by pompous phrases but when, individual by individual, and community by community, hosts wake up to the opportunities and responsibilities; when hosts step up and commit to becoming change agents in their communities; and when they meet up with each other and the broader community and engage in spirited dialogue that leads to action that is right for the place and time they find themselves in.

So I am excited because this meeting in Quito might create the space in which we can drop our masks and defences and figure out out to birth a new operating system and make that shift from product to place.

This is a meeting of leaders (ministers and top authorities) who have traditionally been tasked with leading the people out of one troubled place to a promised land. With no disrespect intended towards the participants, I don’t think they can do that by declaration, policy statement,  international agreement, or even by pulling in the big consulting guns. But what they can do is create the conditions that support communities of tourism providers embark on a journey of discovery and action together.

It’s as if we’ll be journeying up a river through a dense forest pregnant with possibilities and the strangeness and richness of the surrounding environment will be eased if we are guided through this landscape by a scout who knows the territory. That’s why developing real conversations with our indigenous brothers and sisters is crucial. Their understanding that all  land is sacred  is the key  to shedding the materialistic lenses that have spawned so much greed, destruction, unnecessary competitiveness and sense of scarcity that plague modern society and that is so evident in mass tourism.

Source: Survival International

Machu Picchu (Wikipedia)

Ironically, in making this journey, we’ll be coming home. All tourism has its deepest roots in the soil of pilgrimage. Many of our most popular tourist “hot spots” are ancient sacred sites – Stonehenge, Machu Pichu, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Angkor Wat, Borabador, Varanasi..Sadly, many tourists, don’t know what to do when they get there because, thanks to the dominance of a materialistic, reductionist worldview,  we have lost that spiritual connection that depends on a genuine sense of wonder and awe.

Over the next month, we’ll look at the key values common to an indigenous worldview that could nourish and shape new roles played by conscious hosts.

Readers – of all persuasions – do please feel welcomed and encouraged to add to this discussion.

Next: Changing the Dream: Why Mindsets, Really, Really Matter

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