Archive | November, 2012

Place is back – how did we ever lose it?

A consistent theme of this blog, that will persist until The Shift/The Transition/The Great Turning/The Great Disruption is over, relates to the power of paradigms to shape behaviour.

A perceptive reader will notice that I haven’t used the word paradigm much because I was told a few years ago that it was too “high falutin” for my audience and it would cause their ears to close down, and eyes to roll or glaze over.

But I am encouraged. A couple of weeks ago,  there was a seminar at the World Travel Market of all places on just this subject:

“The Paradigm Shift in Travel and Tourism – New Rules for

Competitive Success”

South Gallery 19; 12:30-13:30.

And it was lead by a tourism professional with all the right credentials – Dr. Auliana Poon, CEO of Tourism Intelligence International, whose text turned a few heads some 20 years ago,  was subsequently largely ignored simply because she was too ahead of her time. Sadly, an unplanned for accident on the way to the seminar prevented my attendance and a long overdue catch up with Dr. Poon to find out her interpretation of the current paradigm shift.

Emboldened that there might be a growing audience for this topic, I’ll continue.

An industrial mindset (a.k.a.paradigm) causes many of us to view the world through a lens that separates subject from object; that pits buyers against sellers as adversaries; and consistently focuses on things and transactions rather than invisible stimuli and emotional states.

This same worldview fuels our obsession with definitions, with labels, with breaking down a topic into its component parts before trying how to make the pieces of the puzzle fit back together again.

Consider our tendency in tourism to:

1. Separate product development (engineering) from marketing (see an earlier post on Branding – If branding were left to engineers);

2. Separate markets by activity (adventure, cultural, heritage, agro, eco, culinary tourism)

3. Focus on artefacts and facilities,  “attractions” and venues rather than the experience, the emotions aroused and memories created; and

4. Divorce the “product” from the setting – the place – which is properly the biggest force shaping the visitor experience

5. Have the message shaped and controlled by centralised bodies often with the help of external agencies.

Well for someone who has felt like a displaced person for much of my career in tourism, I’m delighted to find I am in very good company and that THE SHIFT that I keep describing is real and not a figment of my imagination. The waves of change are even washing up on the long sandy beaches of Australia’s Gold Coast where the chief reporter for the Gold Coast Bulletin  declared in a recent article:

We need a sense of place. A lot of global tourism destinations are starting to look the same. Place tourism is growing.

While I am having real difficulty with the completely redundant term “place tourism” which is as about as useful as “experiential tourism” I do see cause for optimism.

And to celebrate the return of PLACE in our consciousness, I’d like to honour other “soldiers in the thought trenches” who have been trying to lure place back into the centre of all tourism conversations:

  1. Steven Thorne, From Waterloo Canada, who has been consistently writing about the power of place along with his colleague Greg Baeker, author of Rediscovering the Wealth of Places: A Municipal Cultural Planning Handbook for Canadian Communities published in 2010 by Municipal World.
  2. Joe Pine, author of the seminal work The Experience Economy
  3. Robin Barden, a Briton based in Barcelona who writes a very perceptive, intelligent blog called SenseOurway
  4. Simon Anholt,founder of the National Brand Index and author of “Places: Identity, Image and Reputation
  5. Ethan Gelber, editor of The TravelWord, co-founder of the Local Travel Movement and Chief Communicator for the WHL Group
  6. Marin Schobert of Tourismus Design
  7. Dr Dan Shilling, former Executive Director of the Arizona Humanities Council, and author of the wonderful 2007 book, “Civic Tourism, The Poetry and Politics of Place”. His website is http://www.civictourism.org/ – Clearly Dr Shilling is a skilled proponent of place. I hope we will be able to embed the video that is on his site here. I thoroughly recommend a view.
  8. Dr. Susan Guyette – a cultural anthropologist in Sanata Fe with considerable experience working with indigenous people in the US and author several books has recently conducted a webinar on Sustainable Cultural Tourism with/for Sustainable Tourism International that has lots of practical advice and examples concerning ways of maintaining cultural integrity and ensuring that the culture of a host community is respected.
  9. Ron Mader, creator of the magnificent resource Planeta Wiki moderated an important seminar on Media, Tourism and the Environment in which there was considerable focus on place. Ron’s summary posted by the South Africa’s Rhodes University titled The Coverage of Place. is here http://www.rjr.ru.ac.za/rjrpdf/RJR_no21/coverage_of_place.pdf

I am aware that this initial list will have only scratched the surface of specific tourism-place talent out there so I would welcome suggestions as to other “Place Proponents” – individuals, hosts, planners who are making a stand for PLACE to replace product.

Over the next few weeks, some of these place rescuers have agreed to contribute their insights on this blog. They’ll all be categorized under Place and further links given here as we compile their insights and point our readers to useful sources.

10 Reasons Why Airbnb is an awesome Conscious Travel Enterprise

Some hoteliers hate them, many consumers and cash strapped property owners love them – and so do I. There’s no doubt that Airbnb is proving to be a highly creative and gutsy source of disruptive innovation and,  what’s really exciting,  is that it’s not the technology but the daring application of technology that’s the cause.

Back in 2008, three young men found themselves broke but living in a city temporarily full to overflowing with visitors – mostly delegates at the Democratic National Convention. They turned a problem into an opportunity by realising that their challenge was likely being faced by countless others and by asking the right question: “what if you could book space in anyone’s home the way you could book a hotel?” Four years later, they have over 250,000 homes on their site across 30,000 cities and 190 countries; have done over $4.5 million room nights in business and the company is valued in excess of US$1 billion and climbing.

At first only the technology community took notice even though Airbnb isn’t really a technology company at all. But it did make use of peer to peer technologies that underpinned the success of companies like E-bay, Craigslist, e-lance etc. According to Triple Pundit, its success is due to the fact that it overcame the two main obstacles associated with “peer to peer” marketplaces – fear and inventory.

Now here are 10 reasons why I consider Airbnb not just the poster child of the phenomenon known as “collaborative consumption” but for Conscious Travel as a whole.

1.CRAZINESS – they faced the fear and did it anyway; always finding practical and often contrarian solutions to the problems that many investors turned away from – to their cost.

Source: Steve Jobs, Apple

They didn’t think it crazy or stupid to do the unthinkable or seriously consider what others thought impossible or even stupid. They were NOT engineers looking for a market to showcase their clever algorithms but ordinary guys looking to pay their rent and solve a problem in a way that could benefit others.

They used both sides of their brain (early on potential investors couldn’t understand why designers out numbered engineers) and were often contrarian in their views taking a common sense approach to seemingly intractable problems.

They are obsessive about customer satisfaction, ease of use and creating something of beauty – just as well because the majority of travel is booked by women and if you make the tool nice to look at as well as easy to use you’ll get and keep our attention. (I still avoid Craigslist simply because it’s so geekily ugly). They constitute what Steve Jobs called “The Crazy Ones” and it’s these kinds of people who will be the first to become conscious hosts.

2. PEOPLE:  Airbnb acknowledges that hospitality is first and foremost about people meeting people and when people are staying in other people’s home trust and confidence are needed to overcome fear. Sure there’s a transaction and all three parties (host, guest & Airbnb) benefit financially from that but their motivation was enabling both parties to do something they hadn’t thought was possible before. For the guest it meant not only accessing an affordable bed and place to stay using searches of homeowner/renters’ room inventory in real time but the chance to experience a destination in a much more meaningful, personal, human way.

 ”When someone steps foot in your door, or you step foot in someone else’s door, something powerful is happening – we are breaking down cultural barriers and connecting people in a real way.” Christopher Lukesic, Airbnb employee

When you listen to any of the AirBnB principals speak, the word that you’ll hear over and over again is “community.” Here’s the presentation Disruptions in Brand Building that Christopher Lukesic made to Sustainable Brands last year that highlights the people  and place focus, core principals of Conscious Travel. And if you want further proof that transactions will only occur when trust between people has been established then look at their safety video.

3. PURPOSE: AirBnB’s primary purpose as stated on their web site:

The Golden rules listed on their website for travelers and hosts alike all encompass values identified as core to Conscious Travel – respect, reciprocity, reliability, commitment, and transparency.

4. PLENTY: a founding principal of Airbnb and Conscious Travel is that everyone wins – guests get personable hospitality at an affordable price; hosts get extra income; communities get more spending in less congested commercial areas and more of the money stays in the community.

Airbnb provides an income to hosts from an asset they would otherwise not be able to access. Note 90% of hosts rent out space in their own home and 50% depend on the income to pay rent, mortgages or other household expenses like medical bills etc. In challenging financial times, this additional income has been a lifesaver for many and, furthermore as over 60% of properties are located outside the downtown cores where hotels are generally located, the tourism benefits are dispersed more widely.

Airbnb provides a large and very diverse range of properties from sofa beds and single rooms at less than $30 a night through to shared mansions and castles and very quirky spaces (tree houses, airstream caravans). It thereby meets a social need for affordable accommodation that benefits host as well as guest.

Airbnb recently commissioned a study to measure its impact in the San Francisco area. A more complete description of its findings is presented in an article in Forbes magazine here and I recommend a read. Some headlines from the Forbes article are presented below:

5. PLACE: While Airbnb doesn’t promote destinations as such, its appreciation of community means that it does try to ensure guests can really get to experience the place like a local and not miss experiencing local attractions, amenities and food etc.

Research with their own guests showed the principals at Airbnb that these travellers were going to exceptional lengths to research locations and neighborhoods before booking, and by giving those potential customers more information the company would be solving a piece of the puzzle and potentially extending stays.

As recently as 10 days ago, the  company launched “Airbnb Neighborhoods,” a feature designed to  help users decide which neighborhoods within a city they would enjoy most. For example, you can filter by museums, restaurants, and transit options when exploring a city on Airbnb. This feature will initially be rolled out in 300 neighbourhoods in seven cities around the world.

The company is also launching a “Local Lounges” product, which will include local partnerships with coffee shops in city neighborhoods as places for travelers to find free wifi, travel guidebooks, and a friendly face. San Franciscois the test case for this service.

The following 14 minute video presents the launch of these two features.

So with this foray into the travel guide business, expect further disruption – especially if the hosts are solicited to curate and adjudicate local content and more deals are done with local providers of “local” services.

6. PULL: Airbnb makes really effective use of social media to harness the power of the social graph as a way of  mitigating the risks that both guests and hosts associate with renting a part of their homes to strangers.  When the potential guest does a search, the system identifies properties where there is a connection to the person doing the search ( a Facebook friend might “know”  – as in be connected to the owner)

Another attractive feature is the Wishlist which enables browsers to create a short list while browsing to create a themed list for sharing.

Airbnb understand that unless they are active n the mobile space they’ll lose a lot of business. Some 26% of all bookings are now made on mobile devices and they are completed more quickly as illustrated in the following info graphic. The large, high definition professional images also present very well on the newer high resolution smart phones and tablets making the app an attractive to browse through and send time on,

7. PROTECTION: While Airbnb does not overtly claim to be particularly “green” or sustainable in practice – it can be argued that, by making better more efficient use of existing housing assets, it places less demand on resources. The potential exists through the neighbourhood program to inform guests of ways in which they can support local businesses,  assist local sustainable and rejuvenation efforts, make better use of alternative forms of transport and support other tourism providers that have committed to environmental protection and cultural rejuvenation.

8. PACE: Airbnb guests do tend to stay longer than hotel guests and, because of the dispersed location of many Airbnb properties, they are likely exposed to less well known parts of a city that could cause them to slow down and explore. Admittedly, there is more potential for the realisation of this Conscious Travel principal, than practice right now.

9. EXPERIENCE: the entire Airbnb experience for both guests and hosts is designed to be aesthetically attractive (nothing could look less like Craigslist), simple but functional and reassuring. A striking feature of the service is the use of high quality, professional images that have been know to help significantly with booking rates. Airbnb understand that travel is an emotional purchase based on dreams and fantasies and “eye candy” sells.

10. MINDSET: I’ve saved one the best reasons for claiming that AirBnb is a Conscious Travel Enterprise till last and that’s their mindset and approach to business which are so refreshing. The founders claim that travel is the social network in motion; they subscribe to the values underpinning what as been described as the sharing, collaborative economy; they refuse to be drawn into zero-sum games and do not see themselves as stealing from the hotel sector but as meeting a need of people that no one else has addressed.  CEO, Rob Chesky spoke eloquently and passionately at the end of his presentation to Phocuswright (see here) that travel is still undervalued and implied that there were enormous opportunities in overcoming the problem called “youth unemployment.” If this mindset does hold firm then I hope we’ll lots of creative and collaborative partnerships going forward.

In fact when it comes to disruption and the democratisation of travel, I think this company has barely scratched the surface. Imagine links to other P2P providers such as Tripbod and Hostme (local tourist guides); or helping to find an activity companion via a servce such as Uniiverse: fancy a sail this afternoon with a local sailing enthusiast; need to rent some snorkeling equipment that’s sitting in someone’s closet unused;  or a want a lesson in preparing a local delicacy while staying at your Airbnb?

Admittedly, my somewhat rosey and self serving post doesn’t address all challenges (eg the health and safety issue, taxation issues etc.) Nor does it mean to imply that the majority of hosts can be described as “conscious hosts” or that the majority of guests live up to the desireable practices of a conscious traveller, but here’s a company seeing & doing tourism differently (as a network not a fragemented industry) while meeting a market opportunity without the need to pour more concrete or erect more buildings that will never be fully used.

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POSTSCRIPT

Amsterdam takes a positive approach to the Sharinf Economy & AirBnB

http://tnw.co/19bSDMb

 

Forget branding – let people, place & personality shine through

I’ve always had a huge problem with destination branding.This problem, this “dis-ease’ always flares up when I attend World Travel Market where the end result of millions of dollars spent on branding is experienced as an homogenous, coma inducing mass of impressions that blur into sameness.

Treating places with their complex geography and history the same way you would treat a box of corn flakes, cars,  or a range  of hair products  always seemed part of the cheapening process that turned places into commodities.

In 2005,  I joined the Canadian Tourism Commission towards the end of a very long branding exercise conducted by a former mentor and friend, Jean Chretien who, after touring this vast country, declared that distilling Canada’s complexity into a brand was impossible. He realised that it’s the visitor and resident who express the essence or personality of a place through their own experience and it is this approach that allows that personality to breathe. Canada’s “brand” is less of a statement about Canada as it is an invitation to the visitor. “Keep Exploring” has worked well because it affirms Canada’s intrinsic “explorability” and subtly suggests that the visitor will find no ends of ways to do just that in such a vast and diverse place as Canada. The guest and host jointly define the brand for themselves out of their encounters with each other.

Simon Anholt rose to fame with the notion of place branding but even seven years ago, when I met him briefly in Ottawa, I sensed he feared he may have let a genie out the bottle and his ideas would be misinterpreted. In the introduction to Places Identity & Reputation, written in 2009, Anholt has this to say:

Nations may have brands – in the sense that they have reputations, and those reputations are every bit as important to their progress and prosperity in the modern world as brand images are to corporations and their products – but the idea that it is possible to ‘do branding’ to a country (or to a city or region) in the same way that companies ‘do branding’ to their products, is both vain and foolish. In the 15 years since I first started working in this field I have not seen a shred of evidence, a single properly researched case study, to show that marketing communications programmes, slogans or logos, have ever succeeded, or could ever succeed, in directly altering international perceptions of places……

It is public opinion which brands countries – in other words, reduces them to the weak, simplistic, outdated, unfair stereotypes that so damage their prospects in a globalised world – and most countries need to fight against the tendency of international public opinion to brand them, not encourage it. Governments need to help the world understand the real, complex, rich, diverse nature of their people and landscapes, their history and heritage, their products and their resources: to prevent them from becoming mere brands.

Quite an irony isn’t it, then,  that one of the world’s foremost brand experts/proponents should, when it comes to places, be suggesting that brands – developed in the traditional way – don’t work?  If a country or region wishes to be understood it is advised to encourage their visitors to experience the “real, complex, rich diverse nature of their people and landscapes, their history and resources, to prevent them from becoming brands. ” So if it is about personality and reputation, then the best thing would be to encourage both visitor experiences and visitor-host encounters to take place in different settings and then let participants in those encounters tell their story.

That’s why this post lingered in the draft box few a few days. I was positively distracted by a link to StoryMap and, ecstatic to have found another example of peer to peer marketing,  I penned my last post Tourism By the People, Of the People, For the People  etc which proved to be the most popular I’ve written so far.

It’s also why I love Air New Zealand‘s series of videos that express the human side of New Zealand and its personality so much more effectively than any standard branding exercise. Have a look at the series called “The Kiwi Sceptics” – I’ve found 4 Episodes so far, here’s the first.  Not only is it great to see an airline generating interest in a place as a means of selling seats and aligning its self image and personality with that of the country, but also great to see that “sense of place” as  expressed through the eyes of hosts, visitors and hobbits alike.

As more DMOs wean themselves off a command & control mindset,  the telling of stories that reflect the personality of a place as experienced by the story teller will become the preferred medium and everyone can engage with that.

With over 10 million views & rising, Air New Zealand’s humorous new safety video made with cast, crew and producer of the Lord of the Rings conveys the humour and imagination of Kiwis and offers a more compelling invitation than any branding exercise. It’s time to let the creativity of the people in the host community rip; get up front and personal; and like Paul Hogan in the famous “shrimp on the barbie” ads actually invite us to come down and experience the place for ourselves and then use the latest technology and channels to share our experiences.

Quick postscript before you check out the antics of Air New Zealand’s zany crew – if you want another example of what happens when people are enabled to extend the invitation in their own way, then keep a close eye on what I consider to be the most innovative, disruptive company in the travel space today – Airbnb whose new “Neighbourhoods” program has enormous implications for the role and future of DMOs – but more on that later.

Other Relevant Posts

Tourism Of the People, By the People, For the People

How Vancouver’s Community Rescued its Brand

If branding were left to  engineers

Whose Place is it Anyway?

It’s Not Social Media, It’s Social Business

Tourism of the people, by the people, for the people – the story of StoryMap

Thanks to a sharing in Facebook’s Responsible Networking Group – thank you Jeremy Smith and Ethical Traveller, Catherine Mack – I was introduced to StoryMap.ie and heard myself (there was no one else to hear) let out an almighty YEEEEES!

I wasn’t planning to write a post today but felt compelled to share this development from Dublin with readers of Conscious.Travel who are proving to be such a loyal supportive group despite the  fact that most of you are invisible.

This initiative proves why the focus on place and people can be so powerful. Two unemployed Dubliners served themselves and their community by providing the means whereby Dubliners could tell their stories and invite others to share what what makes Dublin unique. It’s an innovation that simply emerged from the grassroots, required no top-down planning or feasibility studies and, once you start watching is guaranteed to distract you and make you want more – perhaps even to visit Dublin. Simple, Brilliant and in its execution, utterly Irish!

It ticks all seven of Conscious Travel’s working Principles – creative people, with a sense of purpose talking about their place, using social media and story telling to pull customers towards their community; offering opportunities to tell stories about the culture and nature that is or needs to be protected; and suggesting that if visitors simply slowed their pace, they too could create stories of their own. The end result: Plenty – plenty of delight for the viewer, fulfillment for creators, a reason to stay long and savour more for guests and a highly cost effective way of expressing the kind of quirky experience and warm welcome you might expect from Dubliners.

Here’s the Story Map story in the creators’ own words – they don’t need me to be a intermediary……

Storymap is the brainchild of two Dublin filmmakers, Andy Flaherty and Tom Rowley. Just back from working abroad, unemployed and in between film projects, the lads became annoyed with all the negative press the city was receiving. The bleak tales of recession, the gloomy accounts of unemployment and the notion that Ireland’s best and brightest had emigrated was completely at odds with what the lads were experiencing being back in their hometown.

“We wanted to do something to get people as excited about the city as we were. While loads of great people have left the country, you only have to walk into any gallery, gig or any of the fantastic spoken word or comedy nights to see that Dublin is a ridiculously fun and vibrant city with wonderful characters and a flourishing art scene. We wanted to bring the charm and character that had been pushed aside by the Celtic Tiger and bring it centre stage” – Andy

The lads came up with Storymap, a web based multimedia project that revives Ireland’s age-old tradition of storytelling and tries to capture the personality of Dublin city through its stories and storytellers. These stories are filmed being told where they happened and integrated into a live map to create a charming and layered collective vision of Dublin city made by the people of the city.

“Walking around the city – everyone has their own stories that they remember on certain streets, stories that flavour their personal experience of the city, that they tell on to friends. We thought it’d be exciting to pool those stories in one place, like one big pub where everyone shares their stories, creating a sense of what the city means to Dubliners. It’s a simple idea, but with complex possibilities, and we’re only just at the beginning of it.” – Tom

The site is expanded by a story a week to create a ‘Storymap’ of the entire city – a vision of the city as lived across nationalities, generations and centuries. The site is developed by Tercet, and was built through funding by DCEB.

OK, now for a bit of healthy interaction and dialogue so that I don’t have to talk to myself all morning. Which stories did you enjoy the most?  Why don’t you take a small step and fill in the comment box or, just as good,  share this post with friends.

Samoa’s tourism is at a fork in the road

The tourism sector (Samoa’s primary source of foreign exchange that contributes around 30% of GDP) could be prospering and thriving and, in just a few years, could become a destination envied by many in the developing and developed world.

The fact that tourism IS struggling is not due to lack of hard work, a big enough airport run way, lack of investment, aid or even commercial attractions and shopping malls. The deeper problem is a lack of a unified vision, focus and confidence – in short, a lack of a shared clarity of purpose, combined perhaps with a rather naïve belief that if you build it they will come. This article is NOT about pointing blame, or finding cause. The causes stem from a pace of change that resembles a new kind of tsunami and one for which there are few coping  handbooks or preparedness committees. It’s about creating awareness of the challenges and choices facing all idyllic, small and vulnerable islands in the sun.

Let’s start by looking at the way things really are.

Tourism is under performing because the dynamics controlling demand out of source markets along with the profile, needs and wants of visitors are changing. Samoan tourism sits at a crossroads and decisions made individually and collectively over the next year or two will determine whether Samoa realizes the full net benefit of this pervasive economic force.

Mass Industrial Tourism 

any attractive beach accessible to large affluent populations can look like this

Across the globe, tourism demand is splitting. The majority of consumers see places and resorts as commodities and the objective is to get the best amenities at the lowest price. These guests buy through large wholesalers, show relatively little interest in the culture, landscape and economy outside the walls of the resort. Places are “to be done” and it doesn’t matter that one resort may look like another. They travel to escape, to be pampered, or to brag about their exploits, to party, gamble, golf, jet ski, soak up the sun, read cheap novels, snooze & schmooze etc. before taking home hundreds of digital memories and a few inexpensive souvenirs. They are courted by destinations because the channels to market – a relatively small number of international wholesalers and their network of retailers — can be identified and lured as partners. Marketing involves the development of mass media “campaigns” and participation in trade shows and exhibitions. But while all destinations count the numbers of arrivals, very few know what real net benefit accrues to the host community because the costs of entertaining these guests in terms of their production of waste (carbon and garbage), or use of scarce resources (land, water, fuel, food) have not been systematically measured.  Nor has the leakage –  i.e., the amount of income that leaves the country – been properly tracked. These consumers are the fuel that has grown a mass industrial tourism engine 1000 fold  from one million to one billion international trips in just sixty years but which is now manifesting a range of social, environmental and economic problems.

The Conscious Traveller

The good news for Samoa is that another market is rising – the conscious traveler – people of all ages who live in every country in the world and whose travel patterns and preferences are not only different but are considerably more beneficial to a host community. We’ve identified ten general characteristics that can be listed as follows:

Characteristics of conscious travelers

They seek to experience what they consider to be authentic and want to meet and learn from locals

  • They don’t like to be treated as “targets” but as individual persons and prefer customized experiences.
  • They wish to step out the tour bus and immerse themselves in a place – they ask endless questions.
  • They come from fast paced cultures but can be persuaded to slow down and savour their experiences – in Samoa every sense can be stimulated and satiated.
  • They travel not to consume but to be transformed. They want to go home having seen the world through a different set of lenses. Samoans have much to share and teach.
  • They are aware of the challenges facing humanity and the fragility of the planet’s ecosystems. They try to act responsibly and expect suppliers to show they care in similar ways by reducing pollution, waste and use of non-renewable resources etc. Samoan providers could show what it means to be truly green!
  • Many want to give back and share their skills and resources through volunteering or supporting local causes.
  • They tend to avoid the mass tourism wholesalers and use niche, “kindred spirit” intermediaries – most do their own research, book online and prefer to book direct. They are active and often purse an interest or activity while on holiday.
  • Conscious travelers are connected and influential. They are three times more likely to tell friends and peers if they have a good experience and can become your advocates.

What are the benefits?
Destinations can benefit from this group because conscious travelers have the potential to stay longer, spend more, disperse themselves more widely, buy and interact with locals, and become very positive influences/advocates to their peers if their experience has engaged and delighted them. Because they are more aware, they do prefer to buy from providers that are minimizing their environmental impact, treating their staff fairly and contributing more to the local economy.  Most important of all, these travelers value the uniqueness of each place in terms of its landscape, history and culture. They seek “authenticity” and the chance to be changed by experiencing another perspective. They are more willing to respect the values of the hosts and ensure their visit generates a positive net benefit.

The challenge in attracting the “conscious traveler” stems from the fact that the tactics needed to attract, engage and support this type of guest are quite different from the tactics deployed by mass tourism. It means learning new techniques and engaging a much broader spectrum of participants. A destination can only be successful pursuing this market

  1. it ensures that all aspects of the host community have had a say in the type and scale of tourism they wish to develop and are aware of their options. External developers can be welcomed on the understanding that they contribute to achievement of goals already established by the village and country.
  2. it has done its home work (i.e., really knows how to listen and converse with these curious but demanding visitors and reach them using the media of their choice);
  3. all hosts (tourism businesses & their suppliers) not only actively participate in that activity but have learned to work together and help one another.

The problem is that this task cannot be delegated to central agencies or farmed out to consultants. You cannot throw money at the problem (although some funds spent wisely could go a long way), but you do have to apply rigour & discipline laced with irrepressible curiosity, a willingness to experiment, possibly fail, learn and try again. It involves hard work and continuous learning and participation at the community level – that’s why sharing and collaboration are essential. As the appropriately named “fautasi” race proves, Samoans can be good at ‘building as one’.

Choices to be made

For the current state of affairs in Samoa, no one in particular is to blame. Nothing will be gained by finger pointing, panic, or despair.  The good news is that the situation can be turned around by waking up, stepping up and opening up.

By waking up I mean becoming conscious, aware and alert to reality as it is. By stepping up I mean for a larger cross section of the community to get directly involved in ensuring tourism generates the highest and best return on your invaluable resource of land (place) and culture (people) By opening up, I mean approaching the challenges with fresh, curious and open minds because, while change is sometimes frightening, hidden within it are huge opportunities to thrive.

So the good news is this. The people of Samoa do still have a choice. Do you want to follow in the footsteps of another island – Bali – that now admits they have become overrun by inappropriate development and their traditional way of life is at risk? If you are not sure, then watch this ABC report:

http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2012/s3503493.htm

Do you want to share the fate of the citizens of Venice who declared their community now “dead” largely as a result of becoming a world heritage tourism “site”. Or might you follow the lead of Bhutan – a land island in a sea of mountains – who valued their unique culture and way of life enough to impose a minimum tariff and initially even a quota. Two years ago, Bhutan had the same number of international visitors as Samoa but derived an economic benefit several times greater. By 2015 tourism will have grown to 100,000 visitors simply because its appeal and cachet reflects the way it has been valued and stewarded.

As I am a palagi visitor to your beautiful country, who has enjoyed some of the most generous hospitality ever over four long visits, I know it is not my place to tell you what to do. My purpose, based on 40 years of experience working in tourism and a knowledge of the marketplace outside Samoa, is simply to outline the choices as I see them, that you can make choices for yourselves and identify the questions that only you as Samoans should answer. I think the four key opening questions are:

•What kind of future do you wish to create?

•What will it take to thrive in times of turbulent change?

•Whom do you want to benefit from tourism?

•What kind of tourist do you wish to attract?

What Kind of Future Do You Wish to Create?

It’s a truism that the present we enjoy is a result of the choices made by our forefathers. The youth of Bali are protesting at the despoliation of their country now and in-debted Spanish citizens walk through fields of empty and decaying condos built for non-residents unable to turn them into homes for their citizens.  The good news is you can still influence your future. But like your wayfinder ancestors, when you set sail towards the eastern horizon, you need to “see” in your mind’s eye the kinds of island you wish to find.

What Will It Take To Thrive In Times of Turbulent Change?
As Samoans you are all too aware of Mother Nature’s power. The winds of change are reaching cyclonic proportions. The deadliest aspect of tourism demand is its volatility and unpredictability. Yet every destination under the sun tends to expand capacity in good times and reduce prices in bad time – so no wonder we have turned paradise into a commodity.  Again Samoans used to design fales that withstood nature’s violent excesses. In tourism, that means balancing supply to demand so that existing businesses are thriving and healthy before new developments are introduced.

Whom Do You Want to Benefit from Tourism?
There are a host of interests outside Samoa who see your country as a piece of real estate to exploit: international developers, financiers (public & private), realtors, marketing agencies.  They tend to leave once projects are finished and the profit is banked. They have a vested interest in “more” but not always better and tend to speak loquaciously about benefits but not the costs that will be born by tax payers for generations to come. Should Samoa’s precious yet stunning beauty and rich culture become nothing more than an asset on a foreigner’s balance sheet?  Surely the real beneficiaries of tourism should be the people of Samoa and their grand children and, for that to happen, they need to be aware of the short and long run options.

What Kind of Visitor Do You Wish To Attract?

Some conscious travellers enjoying the mangroves

Because Samoa tourism is struggling right now with over capacity, there’s a tendency to grab any customer available and respond positively to any development proposal – as if building more rooms would mysteriously result in more occupants.

Contrary to perception there is not a shortage of customers out “there”, across the horizon. The water, in terms of visitor arrivals, is draining out the lagoon! And as wise mariners, you know why that could be. A market shift of tectonic proportions is already happening!  Samoa sits mid way between two of the largest emerging outbound tourism markets in the world – Asia and Latin America – whose potential for growth is barely touched. A human tsunami could overrun Samoa in the same way that it has changed Bali’s human and physical landscape forever.

You can chose the relatively simple route – to allow the forces of mass industrial tourism to sweep in and drain the culture and distinctiveness of this sacred earth or you could welcome visitors whose values match those of yours and wish to enrich not despoil, tread lightly not storm through, and personally leave transformed and inspired to take better care of the only planet we all have to call home.

Fa’afetai and Fa soi fua to all my dear friends in Samoa who have shared your beautiful country and its lessons with me in so many kind and gracious ways. I have had the privilege of spending over 20 weeks in your island over the course of three years and made some of my deepest friendships there. I submit these ideas only out of a deep sense of gratitude and love for Fa’a Samoa.

If branding were left to engineers

As someone who has flown on Fiji Airways a few times and knows how important this airline is for the region,  I am delighted to learn that the company is moving into profit  – from a $2.6 million loss in 2010-2011 to an operating profit of $11.5 million in 2012. I am also delighted that the company has chosen to re-invest its good fortune in a new fleet of planes to express and celebrate its re-branding as Fiji Airways in 2013.

But I urge you to read this post from Skift from whom I have shared some pictures….


While I was initially dazzled by the sleek, super clean (almost antiseptic interiors); excited by the prospect of a modern HD entertainment system;  and slightly charmed by the use of Fijian design motives on the wings, tail and underbody; my emotional reaction wasn’t the one the carrier intended.

My feeling resembled those experienced staying at the faceless, equally sterile enclave  of four and five  star resorts that appeal to so many visitors: sadness; a sense of disappointment,  sort of like being cheated.

  • Where’s the soul, the spirit of the Pacific?
  • Where is the crew, the “hosts and hostesses” with their spontaneous, infectious smiles as warm and inviting as the blue waters over which they fly?
  • Why did they select utterly drab and impersonal soulless music to accompany their hymn to modern engineering when the melodies of the Pacific simultaneously relax you will filling you with joy?
  • Why didn’t any of these pictures show passengers – real human beings who will generate next years’s profits. Perhaps because real people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; some pretty; others not so and their inclusion would have interrupted the stream of cool efficiency
  • Why no indication of the food that might be served that could provide  visitors with some pre-taste of a Pacific culinary experience?
  • Why was there no reference to Fiji (other than the clever paint job on the underbelly) – absolutely no reference to place or people?

I originally wrote a post critical of Air Pacific because I experienced this video as the creation of proud engineers and a reflection of an industrial mindset. I am quite happy to see such a worldview applied to the plane – efficiency, safety, cool design all work for me given that they ensure the plane stays airborne when it’s supposed to. But I or my fellow passengers are not freight. If we were, then a more efficient way to transport us would be to anaesthetise us, wrap us in cellophane and pack in crates. We’re living, breathing, organic, sometimes smelly, sweaty human beings expressing a huge range of emotions and reasons for making our trip – excitement, anticipation, dread, fear, indifference, boredom…and we’re either going home or visiting. Either way, we’re going to amazingly beautiful place located among a staggeringly diverse set of islands populated by people whose identity expresses their specific place in the most colourful and exotic of ways.

But fortunately, this is only part of the story. The company does “get it” as shown on an earlier video released when they announced the name change. View this second  video launched earlier in August to announce and promote the new name. Compare  your  emotional reaction with how you felt when watching the video launching the new fleet. Which one would make you wish to travel to Fiji?

Aircraft, airports, hotels don’t make a tourism economy thrive. It’s the people who express the essence of a place that do.

Airlines exist to make a profit – that’s true – but they can only do that by serving the community on which they depend and exchanging value with other members of the tourism system of which they are a part. Michael Porter calls this piece of common sense “creating shared value.”

There are two huge connecting forces in our world that have changed the physical, social and psychological landscape of the entire planet: travel and information technology. Information Technology isn’t really about the platforms, software and networks but the people who use this infrastructure to create messages, applications and information. Tourism isn’t about products but the people who host other people when visiting places.

So it will be interesting to see which of these two videos is used in the New Year to launch the new brand  – hopefully a creative blend of the two.

Shiny new aircraft can help the firm lift off and take its profits sky high but only if the airline remembers it will always need to come down to ground, to sea level in this case, and to the shores of the Pacific Ocean where its passengers live and thrive and create the living cultures and vibrant landscapes that visitors wish to experience.

Fiji Airways – you’ve come a long way and have a right to be proud of your history. Now let’s see where you are going to go!

Conscious Travel has an eye-catching new look

Thanks to the generosity of Lynne Gray of ThatsPR and Jenni Jackson of JayMac Graphics, we are pleased to unveil our new custom built logo.

Not only is it eye catching (pun intended) but it communicates the essence of our focus.

Conscious Travel is about a fundamental shift in perception – seeing our world differently.

But, by seeing, we don’t just refer to our physical and visual senses. Modern science informs us that 94% of the world is effectively invisible so we have to develop other ways of knowing.

Each person’s mindset or worldview is formed from personal experience and strongly influenced by the culture and physical setting  in which we grow up and live. So in that sense it’s shaped by “place” – a key principle of the Conscious Travel model. By travelling to other places we have a chance to experience another perspective (way of seeing) that can cause us to become more aware of the values, beliefs and assumptions that colour our own lenses (mindsets/worldviews).

Consciousness is universal. Perspective is personal. Deepak Chopra

Source: Thatspr

We find ourselves truly appreciating the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all forms of life – our “oneness” – when we recognise that we only have “one earth” while simultaneously recognising and respecting the uniqueness of each “place” and the unique gifts of each individual.

Tourism’s future depends on our ability to stop the force that converts diverse cultures and ecosystems into sterile and highly vulnerable monocultures. When all places seem the same and become mere objects for consumption,  they quickly degenerate into substitutable commodities and the value potential – built up over 13.5 billion years of evolution – is lost. Only when we see with fresh lenses,  will we have a chance of generating the highest and best return from the diverse places and people upon which we depend.

We have deliberately chosen the domain http://www.conscious.travel (not live just yet) because the dot separating these two words expresses a punctuation point – a moment when our perception experiences a quantum leap or phase change after which reality is never quite the same. After an “AHA moment,” an old way of seeing and being is discarded so that new possibilities can be embraced. Once that shift has occurred we are then able to turn endless possibilities into tangible probabilities.

That’s where we’re at as humanity and that’s where we’re at as the community engaged in welcoming and serving guests.

And that’s why our last post summarizes conscious travel in 3 words: value, mindset and place.


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