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

8 Responses to “Conscious Tourism, Conscious Travel or Turismo Consciente?”

  1. An experienced and knowledgeable travel agent will usually have the necessary skills to plan a great holiday for their client, and this makes them very popular within this industry. The next time you find yourself searching for the right Peru travel agent to assist you in putting together your travel plans, you might want to consider all of these benefits before you make a firm decision concerning the finer details of your trip and the professional that will be assisting you in planning everything from your transportation to your accommodations.;

    Stop by our new blog too


  2. Dear Anne!

    Happy to see that once again that the world of tourism has managed to create another buzz word to describe tourism. How much more can we slice that pie before we create total confusion with the travelers. There are already, I believe, 120 different eco-tourism certification. Now I am never sure if I am sustainable, responsible, or conscious to be any of those or a combination of many other descriptive of the exponentially increasing dictionary of hyphenated tourism.

    Don’t get me wrong…I am extremely happy about any efforts that helps make tourism more hummmm responsible, conscious, fair, sustainable, etc!

    When you put tourism in the perspective and context of increasing transparency, we see a lot of conflicting messages in the data that UNWTO publishes. Tourism is about number right now, they compare success by the increasing amount of people that travel not necessarily on their potential positive impact. More travelers – more income but as the world lobby and advocate for triple or quadruple bottom line – how many efforts has the UNWTO invested to release data that paints the real cost of tourism? i.e. tourism arrivals, revenues generated, and YES the famous missing data on the real cost to host these travelers (economic. social, and environmental). We see the income but not much about the other factors that are a burden on communities and destinations.

    I have been fortunate to travel most of all Latin America and a few more continents. I have seen the perceived positive impact of tourism as well as the cost to host travelers….or missed opportunities to engage the traveler in the equation…. but as Einstein once said “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”

    Paying more doesn’t really makes it more sustainable, more taxes doesn’t necessarily mean that the money collected will be spent for the reason it is collected for (i.e. the environment). It normally falls into general revenues and gets used for other purposes.

    This is probably the best website I have seen about climate change and how we deal with it right now …take a look at it if you have a chance.

    This link provides some tips but at the end of the day…can you really calculate if you have been conscious enough

    Since you only have 20 minutes to present I would use that precious time to ask the audience to take a few minutes during the conference and ask them to calculate their impact and how they are mitigating that impact while in Ecuador! What have you done lately?

    Just like the late RIO+20 event…It would have been great if the organizers would have had 2 BIG barometers…one that calculates the impact of the 50,000 delegates that travel to Rio and one about their action to mitigate that impact …be it…social, environmental, and economic.. For those who are asking for the rest of the world to pay more…invest and donate I sincerely believe that should come with self disclosure about their own efforts… Walk the talk!

    I was surprised to see that the Canadian Ambassador will be there …they walked away from the UNWTO.

    Good luck with the event….and hope that the world will realize that quite often…consciousness has a cost…people do not travel to harm the environment but the choice of taking a well deserved holiday and the cost of making it more sustainable is a GREY zone that is hard to measure.

    Tourism is what it is …there is no …UN-conscious tourism — just ill-informed tourism and the traveler shouldn’t be blame for this….the industry is the culprit (better data and transparency)!


  3. @TurismoEC has replied to @RonMader that it’s early days yet in Quito to supply examples but I’ll happily bet there are likely quite a few “Conscious Hosts” already in Ecuador – they just haven’t been identified as such or linked up. Most of what it takes to be a Conscious Hosts is a mindset and there are thousands of conscious hosts on the planet already – they just go by a variety of names and each has chosen to express their values and awakening in their own individual way – thank goodness. There can be no Conscious Travel “franchise”!!


    And breaking news – Minister Freddie Ehlers has just invited all the ambassadors from South American countries to support the concept at the up coming OAS meeting. His press release in Spanish is here
    and the Google English translation reads as follows

    From 11 to 13 September, representatives of member countries of the World Tourism Organization (WTO), Organization of American States (OAS) and senior officials of world tourism will meet in Quito to attend the 54th Meeting of WTO for the Americas and the II International Congress on Ethics and Tourism in conjunction with the XX Interamerican Congress of Ministers and High Authorities of Tourism of the OAS.
    The Minister Freddy Ehlers accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration, Marco Albuja, told diplomats the dynamics of the events to be concluded between actions to strengthen tourism in the region.
    These events will be crucial to address space issues related to protecting children from exploitation in tourism generated, gender equality, protection of intangible cultural heritage, social responsibility and affordable transit, among other issues of global significance.
    He also gave an overview of the Conscious Tourism, whom he described as a “tourism to live well.” He added that this new concept is the proposal of Ecuador to the world, “a concept living, dynamic and in constant construction that is based on the principles of sustainability, ethics and responsibility,” and is aimed at promoting the values ​​of peace, friendship, respect and love for life, as the essence of the practice of tourism.
    The ambassadors of Honduras, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Canada, Guatemala, Bolivia, El Salvador, USA, Brazil and Argentina, welcomed the invitation to participate in these three international conferences with the intention to strengthen the bonds of Latin America through tourism.
    The events are organized jointly and in coordination between the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador, the World Tourism Organization and the Organization of American States.


  4. Excellent! Question for Ecuador is … how do we translate ‘conscious travel’ in Spanish and Quecha? And then … what does it look like?



  1. How an Ashuar Shaman, whom I’ve never met, brought me to Ecuador | Conscious.Travel - September 11, 2012

    […] I am enjoying the delights of Quito at the invitation of the Minister of Tourism for Ecuador (see earlier post) it is ultimately the result of the request made of some American colleagues by an Ashuar elder […]


  2. Where Do You Stand? | Conscious.Travel - September 9, 2012

    […] I too am about to embark on an adventure – leaving for South America (my first visit) in six hours time and becoming the guest of my gracious hosts in Ecuador where I am sharing my thoughts on Conscious Travel at the UNWTO’s second conference on Ethics and Tourism. […]


  3. The Legend, Prophesy of the Eagle and the Condor | Conscious.Travel - August 8, 2012

    […] participating in the Symposium developed by the Pachamama Alliance and which, as discussed in my previous post, is the root source of inspiration for Conscious […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: