Archive | October, 2012

Conscious Travel in Three Words, 17 Characters & 3 spaces

If I had to summarize what Conscious Travel is all about in just three words I’d use: Value, Mindset, Place


The biggest tragedy associated with mass, industrial tourism is that it is selling itself, the rest of humanity and the planet short. Ironically, this is a “no no” in the commercial world of which it is so proud and keen to be a part. Thousands of speeches have been made and words written about the contribution of tourism to economies (developed and developing).  The other most frequently used buzzword is “value added” when the reality is often so very different.

Cheap Travel is Viewed as Right By Many

Yet, other than technology (especially information-related technology), I can’t think of another industrial sector that has seen the real cost of its products  (as expressed as a percentage of disposable income) plummet as much as tourism.

A billion people are travelling internationally and many are doing so frequently because they can afford to.

Travel is no longer a privilege that one saves up for, anticipates and savours, it’s considered a universal right, expected to be cheap and has become an itch that can be instantly gratified – not because it’s highly valued but because it is not.

If the reduction in the real cost of travel was due to brilliant innovation that supported huge productivity gains and vast increases in consumer satisfaction, we’d have reason to be proud. But that isn’t the case either. Obviously we can’t overlook the infusion and diffusion of technology – our boarding passes come out of kiosks instead of being accompanied by the warm smile of a contented airline “hostess”; our planes have become bigger, slightly more energy efficient and cramped; travel information is universal, ubiquitous, and sometimes instant  – but, generally speaking, we move and house people the same way we have done for 60 years using the same, fragmented organizational structures by using fewer people but more machines and efficient processes.

As tourism has grown as both a domestic and international phenomenon, the net returns to tourism provider and host community have diminished and are on a downward trajectory. That means we are failing to generate the highest and best return from the “resources” (land, water, landscape, culture, people) on which we depend – despite the fact that the occurrence of such resources, in terms of sought after places (often called hot spots) is incredibly rare. There is only one Venice, Machu Pichu, Galapagos, Angkor Wat, Bali. Uluru…Yet you can “consume” the travel products built around such unique places almost as cheaply today as my grand parents would have consumed a weekend away on the beach in Blackpool.

Value isn’t an ingredient that can be added by a supplier. Value is a belief, a perception or attitude expressed by the buyer that can be realized. When we value a person, place, or object we behave differently – we rearrange our own personal resources of time, attention or money to sustain and enjoy that value. In a world dominated by money, we show our sense of value by being willing to pay more for what we consider more valuable. Somehow, 50 years of continuous tourism growth has resulted in a situation whereby tourism is more accessible to more people than ever before but less valued and generates less net value per trip.

 Conscious Travel is about realizing a higher value for and from all participants in the tourism system – hosts, guests, host communities and the other members of the biosphere on which we depend.

For the host, Conscious Travel  about achieving a higher, more stable and consistent profit margin that enables the business to endure, to adapt, weather crises and provide a decent living for employees and suppliers.

For the guest, it’s about returning home feeling better, more optimistic & hopeful, physically refreshed, mentally stimulated, emotionally alive and spiritually fulfilled.

For the host community, it’s about realizing a net income that not only covers the cost of supporting the visitor but generates tangible improvements to local culture and ecology.

For the planet, conscious travel has the potential to become a major force for change and renewal – for helping humanity make the “Big Leap” required of it, if it is to cope with the converging challenges of its own making.


Change your Lens, Change Your World

Because value is a perception and, like beauty, is held in the eye of the beholder, real, radical and systemic change will not occur until a critical mass of hosts and guests change their perception; their mindsets and way of thinking. If you change the lenses through which you see your world, then your world does indeed change.

I have written extensively on this topic so won’t repeat myself too much here and encourage interested readers to check out:

Why Mindsets Really Really Matter

Why Tourism Will and Must Change Its Operating Model

Screw Tourism As Usual  

We’ve used the word “conscious” because it means to “become awake, aware and alert;”  and acknowledge that there is no objective reality that isn’t filtered by our mindsets – a set of values, beliefs, assumptions that form a basis for the agreements we make with each other.

Conscious travel as a movement is about participating in and accelerating a huge value shift that is taking place as growing numbers of people from all walks of life and all countries consciously question and re-frame their values with enormous implications for every aspect of society and economy. The emergence of conscious consumers and conscious capitalists, even, is described elsewhere on this web site.

Conscious travel as a learning program is about helping hosts and guests see their world through another set of lenses – ones that are more suited to ensuring their survival and prosperity than the ones they have been consciously or unconsciously wearing in the past.

Conscious travel as an economic phenomenon and Conscious Destinations are about businesses and places able to attract conscious travelers who truly value the act of travel as a privilege, the opportunity to become a better human being, and who value and honour the unique attributes of the places they visit and the hosts who extend hospitality in their own unique way.

Conscious Hosts are business owners and managers who will have consciously examined and defined their own mindsets; who base their business on their own set of values and purpose; reflect the uniqueness of their place; and work collaboratively in a community of hosts. They will generate a higher net return to their communities; enjoy more stability, prosperity and personal meaning; and be recognized as positive change agents and custodians of local ecologies and cultures.  Some might use the term “eco”, other responsible, sustainable, fair trade, good or green.


Absolutely core to the concept and practice of Conscious Travel is acknowledging  “the sanctity of place.” We take for granted that travel and tourism are about moving from one place to another yet, in our enthusiastic adoption of the lenses called “rational, scientific materialism,” we have turned unique and sacred places into sterile, often uniform, sometimes mechanized, products that, in turn, have been cheapened (discounted), replicated and become commodities – with anyplace being substituted for another providing it’s “a good deal.”

One of the reasons for the rise of the “local travel movement” stems from a disdain for the homogenized, standardized approach to product development. Conscious travelers want variety, authenticity, engagement etc. They want to go home changed. Truly embracing the uniqueness of each place – however small – and expressing that uniqueness is the antidote to “commodification” and the key to realizing true value for host, guest and host community. But such an embrace cannot take place without a change of heart; a shift of mindset.

The best way to understand just how different mindsets can be is to spend time with indigenous people who, by definition, have never lost their sense of place and who define their personal identity with the place they and their people occupy and care for.

Ben Sherman, co-founder of WINTA speaking on indigenous values

That’s why I believe that so called mainstream tourism has more to learn from indigenous communities than the latter have to learn from mainstream tourism. That’s why Conscious Travel is profoundly and deeply influenced by an indigenous way of thinking and being and will support all efforts that ensure their worldview gains voice and attention in the tourism community.

At one point I became enamoured with the term “place makers” until I realized that it showed how much grip the old western mindset still has on my thinking. It implies that places can be made as in manufactured or constructed in the same way that a brand can be created and applied.

Authentic and real destinations or experiences cannot be created. They can be allowed (possibly encouraged) to emerge as an expression of the essence, personality or spirit of a place that is always alive. Once you have stopped thinking of separate subjects and objects, of people, places and things that can be observed objectively but as one constantly interacting whole, this will be understood. You will experience a place as real – for what it is – and know that in your heart. When the knowing takes place there, you will be changed in some way and the act of travel will have realized its true purpose.

When a sufficient number of hosts know their place as sacred, they will enable their guests to experience its unique vitality – an experience whose value is truly priceless. Because as Wendell Berry understood:

You can’t know who you are until you know where you are. 

When we know that, we will have found our way back to what it means to be human


Postscript  – external article on indigenous objections to carbon trading mechanisms 

Why all Travel is Local

The Role of Indigenous Tourism in Developing Conscious Hosts

Link to new Wold Indigenous Tourism Alliance

Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) recognise the importance of indigenous participation

Presentation Slide deck WINTA Forum

Linked in Group on Indigenous Tourism

Definition of Indigenous Peoples – WINTA

On Honouring Time as a Sacred Gift

At WINTA’s Indigenous Tourism Forum held as the concluding day of the Adventure Travel World Summit 2012,  my role was to explain why Indigenous Tourism is an approach whose time has most definitely come (slide deck here). When guests are received and hosted by indigenous peoples they have an opportunity to look at life through perceptual “lenses” that are not only different to the prevailing western worldview but are more likely to ensure our survival and prosperity as a species.

It’s my belief that only when a critical mass of people become aware of the lenses through which they perceive the world (ie their unexamined assumptions, values and beliefs ) and  wake up and become conscious will a real shift in collective human behaviour occur and we’ll start to live in harmony with Mother Earth. Travel and tourism can play its part in achieving this Shift. It was exciting to hear the Secretary General of the UNWTO position the 1 billion travellers as providing a huge opportunity to accelerate the shift in consciousness provided that the tourism community woke up themselves and assumed a role as guides along this adventurous journey!

The good news is that “waking up” is exactly what is happening on virtually every continent of this beautiful Planet Earth as you can see from this post by the Pachamama Alliance – an organization that has had a direct and, I think, very positive influence not just on my personal worldview but on my commitment to supporting “the Big Shift.”

In order to achieve their core mission of empowering the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture its leaders have understood that their success depends on the extent to which they can convince the western world  of the relevance and power of a worldview that has sustained these first inhabitants for thousands of years.

Ben Sherman Addressing WINTA Indigenous Tourism Forum

The article titled New Moon Action: Honor Time As a Sacred Gift expresses and affirms the values that Ben Sherman (from Lakota Territory in the USA) spoke so eloquently about at the WINTA Forum – values of love, respect, reciprocity, and gratitude.

The Pachamama Alliance author points out that one of the most precious gifts of all is time – it is not a commodity that should be spent or even saved but a gift that should be consciously received (by stopping rushing and being still); shared (by focusing attention) and celebrated through acts of being rather than doing..

I’ll keep this article short because I know most of my readers consider themselves time pressed so rather than read my words please read the Pachamama post. When you start to think about time as a gift it puts the concepts of “voluntourism” and “slow travel” in a much deeper context with powerful implications for how tourism is practiced. As the indigenous worldview sees both time and space as a sacred gift, it’s less about spending time than investing time. People help each other using what has been described as “currencies of caring” i.e., “the mutual respect, relationships built on trust and the joy of sharing your gifts and talents” that Ben Sherman described as central to the indigenous world view.

“We’ve all been given a gift, the gift of life.

What we do with our lives, is our gift back”

And if you find these ideas inspiring, then I am sure you will be similarly encouraged by the concepts that a very bright young man, Charles Eisenstein, has presented in his latest book, Sacred Economics  as summarized in the short video positioned at the end of the article. Right at the beginning, Eisenstein distills in a few profound words how the old stories, which we have been telling about ourselves in our world for the past 300 + years,  have shaped our actions and our institutions:

Every culture has a story of self and answers the question “who are you” “what does it mean to be human?” Our current story says that you are a separate being among other separate beings living in a universe that is separate from us as well. You are not me; that plant is not me; we are each something separate. This story of self creates our world.

If you are a separate self and there are other separate selves out here and the universe is fundamentally indifferent to you or even hostile then you definitely  want to control and have power of these beings and those whimsical forces of nature that could extinguish you at any time. This story is becoming obsolete. It is no longer true and we don’t resonate with it any more. It is generating crises that are insoluble from these methods of control. That’s what is clearing space for us to step into a new story of self. Transcribed from video

The values articulated in the Pachamama article form a key part of the Conscious Travel model as simplified in this expression of the 7 new Ps of tourism.

Conscious Travel Operating Model

Each guest experiences the gift of a unique place (space) at a unique time as seen through their own unique set of lenses. Conscious Hosts are encouraged and enabled to slow their guests down so that they can use all their senses to experience their surroundings (Pace). Even time can stretch when we are so immersed and captivated that we lose track of it and enter “the zone”, or “flow” and another state of consciousness. In other words, instead of needing to discount products as commodities, we have the opportunity to realize and release true value associated with enabling our guests to expand their consciousness through their travel experience. To quote the Mastercard advertisement – the travel experience that transforms- priceless. This is the essence of Conscious Travel.

Some More Relevant Reading From This Blog

The Role of Indigenous Tourism in Creating Conscious Hosts

Where Do You Stand?

Changing the Dream – Why Mindsets Really, Really Matter

The Legend, Prophesy of the Eagle and the Condor

Tourism – Whats the Point Part 3 & links to Parts 1 & 2

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