Archive | December, 2012

Here’s to a Disruptive, Transformative 2013!

Well dear friends I hope you had a restful, merry holiday break with those you love.

The good news is that we survived the end of the world that some had predicted!

The great wheel of time turned

We’re moving on – we’re sensing a big shift

We’re moving on – but there’s no worn path ahead.

We’re moving on  – but there’s no-one to show us the way

We are the wayfinders  we’ve been waiting for

Wise men say that unless we change our perspective, we won’t know what course to set.

So my wish for 2013 is for us to see the world the way our space pioneers saw it. They were headed for the moon but when they gazed back at planet earth, they fell in love with her.

If travel is transformative, then surely space travel will deliver the peak of transformative experiences.

But we cannot afford the time or cost of having us all make such a journey. We must travel using our “mind’s eye” and, as
I write this, the crew of the International Space Station is sharing what they see – the Commander’s tweet account is

Another group of talented film makers at The Planetary has made it possible not just to see the earth as astronauts do, but to appreciate the transformative effect of such “earth gazing.”   These film makers are making a feature film called Continuum that explores what happens when we see the Earth as “a single dynamic system that’s alive and humanity as forming its nervous system’. The brief 15 minute film below is just one section that I hope will inspire you – as it did me –  for 2013.

Thank you for all your support and encouragement in 2012 and for the subscriptions, page views and, especially for the comments. My goal for 2013 is to have the learning program developed and book published and a sustainable entity formed to create a network of Conscious Hosts.

I wish you health and happiness for the year ahead but also hope that you’ll join me in being creatively disruptive and transformative in 2013!!  Enjoy the Overview!

Wishing You All a Conscious and Happy Christmas!

Who says people can’t and don’t change?  The proportion of people smoking has more or less halved since the 1950s; most of us have learned to respect the limits associated with alcohol and driving; and in no more than five years our attitudes towards consumption have altered significantly. Mindless is out, conscious and careful is in.

The way we celebrate this special time of the year is changing too – either forced on us by economic necessity or because we’ve begun to stop and think what will make for a truly happiness-inducing event on “the Day” and in the weeks following. I’ve heard more and more people say that they’re not sending Christmas cards but donating to a charity and, instead of buying “stuff” as presents, they are wrapping up offers to spend time with a cherished recipient doing something together or sharing a skill.

wishing you a conscious christmasIt’s no coincidence that we share Christmas with a more ancient practice of celebrating the Winter Solstice – that time of the year when light and life seem to have retreated for good and when, just at that moment of despair there are fragile signs that the cycle of life will continue to turn; Spring will follow winter. I think that’s what the Mayans understood but they had a much grander view of time, possessing an ability to look at cycles measured in thousands of years. Their calendar wasn’t about endings; but all about new beginnings.

So I simply want to say thank you to all of you who have supported me over the past couple of years – especially those who hosted me on my travels; but also my readers of this blog who have justified my effort, and especially those of you who have commented or subscribed.

I hope you are warm and safe this week and about to spend time with those you love. I hope too that , in the months ahead,  we can explore ways of making tourism better for all of its participants.

I am not able to send cards this year but am taking the liberty of recycling an image created by an organisation in New Zealand I very much admire – I am sure they will not mind my sharing their Christmas tree image , especially if you take a peak at their web site and see what good work they are doing!

Merry Christmas!

wishing you a conscious christmas

A licence to grow or get better – which do you choose?

I am grateful to the folks at Coast – One Planet Tourist Network for pointing me to the Dec 11th article in Travel Mole that was published two days before UNWTO launched its campaign celebrating the recording of 1 Billion international trips – see previous post.

My curiosity was piqued and my optimism encouraged by this statement from the Secretary General: “We have an opportunity right now to move away from business as usual policies and to put the right strategies in place to significantly reduce  our emissions.

But after continuing to read the UNWTO press releases officially launching the publication Tourism in the Green Economy, my concerns returned.

The publication builds on the tourism chapter of the 2011 UNWTO/UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Green Economy Report, which finds that an investment of just 0.2% of global GDP per year between now and 2050 would allow the tourism sector to grow steadily over the coming decades, contributing to much-needed economic growth, employment and development while ensuring significant environmental benefits such as reductions in water consumption (18%), energy use (44%) and CO2 emissions (52%), as compared to a business as usual scenario. (Source: UNWTO press release, Dec11th, 2012)

So I took the time to read – well try to read – the tourism chapter which comprises 40+ pages of a 613 report titled Towards a Green Economy published in 2011 but found it impossible to follow the logic or identify a rationale for allowing the tourism sector to grow steadily.

The authors of the chapter do acknowledge that tourism produces waste and uses resources and the text includes all kinds of empirical evidence from various regions that show how variable the intensity of this resource use can be. While the report appears to be well referenced, it contains a number of major statements whose source is unclear including:

In a BAU scenario up to 2050, tourism growth will imply increases in:

  • energy consumption up 111%
  • greenhouse gas emissions up 105%
  • water consumption up 150% and
  • solid waste disposal up 252%

Unfortunately, there’s no way to compare these figures for increased resource use and waste production with forecast increases in arrivals as there is no explanation of what the BAU (business as usual) scaenrio is and whose figures are being applied nor is there a time frame stated for which these percentage increases apply. We know the end date is 2050 but we don’t know the start date.

But what the report does do is fantasise what would happen if a $248 billion annual investment  in energy & water effiiciency, carbon mitigation and solid waste management were made (again start date unclear and the implication is that this investment would apply every year until 2050). On page 442, the report states that a green tourism economy would undercut the corresponding BAU scenario by:

  • 18% for water consumption
  • 44% for water supply
  • 52% for carbon emissions
  • No figure was provided for solid waste!

I wasn’t sure how to interpret and apply the term undercut – was it to be applied to the rate of overall increase or could it possibly have been applied to intensity of use/production? I took the obvious route (one also applied by the UNWTO in their press release) and assumed it mean a reduction in the rate of increase  so that, thanks to this annual investment of a quarter-trillion dollars (yes, really!),  a green tourism economy would result in:

  • water consumption only increasing by 138% (150%-18%)
  • energy consumption only increasing by 67% (111%-44%)
  • Co2 emissions rising by only 53% (105%-52%)
  • again, no figure is provided for solid waste but there will clearly be lots to deal with.
What Typhoon Bopha left behind - will increasing frequency & intensity of winter hurricanes affect seasonal demand?

What Typhoon Bopha left behind – will increasing frequency & intensity of winter hurricanes affect seasonal demand?

You’ll have noted that I used the word “fantasise” regarding the green investment because this number appears to have been picked out of thin air and is based on an investment of some $248 billion equivalent to 0.2% of “total GDP”. There is no discussion, however, of:

  • where this money would be raised
  • where and how it would be spent (although it is somewhat arbitrarily allocated between energy, water, emissions, solid waste, employee training and biodiversity)
  • how we would be sure it resulted in efficiencies necessary to guarantee the “undercut”
  • who would oversee and report on the actual results of such an investment.
  • whether any funds would be made available to tourism facilities damaged by the effects of climate change or to help adapt to future damage. Note; as I write this Fiji and Samoa are just assessing the damage of Cyclone Evan which local meteorologists describe as unusual in behaviour and severity; the Philippines is reeling from the severity of a first ever  “super typhoon” whose Cat-5 ferocity claimed some 1000 lives; not to mention Hurricane Sandy on America’s northeast coast.

Nor is any mention made of recent reports from the World Bank, NOAA, the International Energy Authority and Price Waterhouse Coopers, and the Global carbon Project all replete with evidence that global warming is accelerating in pace and scope. (Watch this space for a link to those updates here within a couple of days)

I can’t help but conclude that macro reports such as the one UNWTO is using simply build a false sense of security that the right and sufficient action is being taken. As a consequence, this approach serves to disempower the people whose lives and livelihoods are most likely to be affected by these environmental forces.

A fundamental principle and assumption underpinning conscious travel is that it’s time for the global tourism economy to shift from its obsession with growth – as in more arrivals, more facilities, more consumption –  to prosperity in the fullest sense of the word – as in better, higher value, deeper levels of satisfaction, stability, vitality and resilience.

If we – the global tourism economy –  sought a licence to improve and to contribute as opposed to seeking a licence simply to grow in size we might find we’d be taken more seriously.

Can 1 billion tourists create one billion opportunities or 1 billion headaches?

As I am an optimist by necessity and an altruist by choice, I’ve no desire to criticize the sentiment behind UNWTO’s campaign Hopefully it will also get the millions of hosts – many of whom are struggling right now – thinking more deeply about their future.

Source: UNWTO

Source: UNWTO

The campaign serves two objectives: first to remind the world just how big international tourism has become – transporting a billion people across international borders every year, and second to suggest that this literal mass movement could be a huge force for good. Implicit in the UNWTO’s visionary statement is the notion that if one billion tourists do so much good then more is better.

 “Imagine if every one of these tourists made a conscious decision to protect the people and environments they visited. Imagine how much water and energy we could save if one billion tourists simply used their towels for more than a day. Imagine how many people would benefit if one billion tourists bought locally.”Source: UNWTO web site

The altruist in me shares the view that one billion people on the move connecting with hosts from other cultures, sensing the world through a different perspective and experiencing their interdependence has the potential to be a “good thing.” But – and it’s a very big BUT – realizing that lofty vision will take an awful lot more than a trendy campaign and marketing spin. Unless there is a robust and well thought out vision as to how to convert one billion wanderers from being what some perceive as a plague of greedy locusts into positive agents for change, this campaign will attract either ridicule or slip quickly into obscurity.

Given that we live in an age of transparency in which citizens are better educated and informed than ever before, it behooves global bodies as well as corporations to be very careful about what they say and how they say it.  In the corporate world, reputation for integrity, authenticity and responsibility now accounts for much of a company’s market value. And this celebration might just be premature as I am believe that when the tinsel and pine cones are finally swept up in January we’ll be reminded just how fragile we are environmentally, financially and socially.

In today’s Age of Transparency, a most important first step towards building trust with any constituency is to be truthful (as in honest); the second is to be inclusive /interactive (i.e, involve other parties in your ecosystem) the third is to be practical (by complimenting the aspiration with practical steps for its realization) and the fourth is to be logical (ensure that the aspiration makes sense and is internally consistent).

Proponents of international tourism such as UNWTO and WTTC have had years of practice promoting tourism’s ability to generate investment, create jobs, enable money to be exchanged between rich and poor nations, and support the preservation of some precious spaces, places and artefacts. But it has been left to NGOs such as Tourism Concern in the UK; journalists such as the Guardian’s Leo Hickman, author of The Last Call and a growing number of bloggers and writers in the responsible, sustainable, fair trade movement to draw our attention to the costs and transgressions associated with this global juggernaut.

There can be no denying the evidence that mass tourism also produces vast amounts of waste (garbage and carbon); uses disproportionate amounts of scarce resources of water and land; displaces local and established populations; creates congestion and often does not leave much wealth behind for local populations to enjoy.

Until the UNWTO and its member governments start publicly acknowledging tourism’s dark underbelly, and take steps to account for the costs in order to measure “net benefit,” then campaigns such as these may generate skepticism at best and, worse, disdain.

Having said that, One Billion Tourists; One Billion Opportunities is a great vision so don’t let’s dismiss it out of hand. It’s crazily ambitious and noble but an aspiration worthy of serious, creative attention. If tourism realizes the UNWTO’s own growth forecasts, then there’ll be an additional 400 million more international tourists every year by 2020 (a mere 7 years away) and, given that we cannot expand a finite earth by 40% at any point in time, then the negative aspects of tourism – as it is currently practiced in many places – will soon become impossible to ignore and much harder to manage.

So here’s my take on the action necessary to attain this aspiration:

The opportunities that UNWTO describe will only be realized if there is a mammoth waking up to the realities of growing tourism on a finite planet. We need tourism leaders, policy makers, hosts and travellers who are conscious in the sense of being awake – capable of mindful, informed decisions; aware of the impact of their actions and alert both to the options open to them and the business environment in which they operate. This requires the same degree of ruthless self-honesty asked of addicts prior to commencing a recovery program. It also requires more humility and curiosity and engagement than many central bodies have been famous for in the past.

In short, the billion opportunities will only materialize if those same tourists know how to make conscious, informed choices and can be persuaded and enabled to select places and hosts who can prove that they care and are responsible.

That will require a lot more than wishful thinking  – nothing less than a huge social transformation – so I earnestly hope that UNWTO won’t treat this as just another smooth campaign but as a huge invitation to all its member governments, private sector partners and NGOs to come together to plan just how 1.6 billion tourists in 2020 will have become 1.6 billion opportunities for good. The alternative is a headache too big to contemplate and the challenge is simply too good to waste!

Note: as far as I can see, the UNWTO revised its forecasts down from 1.6 billion in 2020 to 1.4 billion and their forecast for the number of international arrivals in 2030 still stands at 1.8 billion. 

Ethan Gelber has written a quality post on this subject here:      and


Sustainability: A Matter of Perception

joshua bellI have “lifted” this fascinating story from GreenTeam Australia’s excellent blog, because it is speaks so clearly to the power of perception – a theme that runs through so much of my thinking and speaking.

The story takes place in Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later: the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes: The musician played continuously.  Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.  The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. Suppose, for a minute, that this was a story about a place and not a famous musician:

  • what determines beauty and value?
  • why travel if have we lost the childlike wonder that would enable us to appreciate the everyday?
  • how come the same experience can generate just $32 to the provider in one context and thousands in another?
  • how can we possibly live in harmony with nature, if we see it merely as vibrations to be measured and not something sacred to be revered?

If I had to design a sustainable tourism curriculum from scratch – on a blank piece of paper – I would not start with climate change and carbon emissions; or even how ecological footprints vary and are calculated; or the ROI on alternative energy etc etc. No, I think I would start with the poetry of Wordsworth, Thoreau or Walt Whitman, or to be more contemporary, Drew Dillinger; or the cosmology of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. I would  leave my students alone in an old growth forest long enough that the blinkers fell from their eyes and they could begin to see what lay hidden from those determined to do doing over being; I would encourage them to become tortoises rather than hares and ask them to devise rituals that honoured the passing of the seasons…..

Until we are prepared to slow down, stop and drink in the magical tones of Joshua Bell’s violin when the music emerges unexpectedly  from the pavement of an underpass on a drizzly November day, we will continue to gallop towards sustainability and it will recede further to the horizon. Until we have switched our perception of earth as lumberyard or ever giving ATM machine to earth as our sacred home that nurtures us; until we have mastered Wonder 101 and can articulate how a place pulses to its own unique beat; until we can feel “her” and feel one with her, why travel at all?

Place-based cultural tourism: a new planning paradigm

We’re very pleased to post this Guest Post by Steven Thorne who is one of our fellow “place proponents” as listed in the previous article, Place Is Back…” . The original post was published in Canada’s  Economic Development News & Insight. Thank you Steven. 

For the past decade, my work has focused on destination planning for cultural tourism. Using principles and practices of cultural planning pioneered by my friend and colleague Greg Baeker of  Millier Dickinson Blais, combined with an inclusive, holistic framework for identifying a community’s cultural tourism assets, I’ve attempted to move communities beyond inserting their cultural icons – their flagship museums and galleries, arts events and festivals, historic sites and heritage attractions – into their leisure travel campaigns and calling the result, “cultural tourism”.

We know the market for cultural tourism is enormous. It’s documented in the new Canadian publication, Cultural & Heritage Tourism: A Handbook for Community Champions, to which I was pleased to contribute and serve as an editorial advisor. Elsewhere, the 2009 Cultural & Heritage Traveler Study, documents that 14 percent of all U.S. domestic leisure travelers are “Passionate Cultural Travelers” who actively seek out cultural tourism experiences. Total trip spending by these “Passionates” is estimated at $43 billion per year. Small wonder that, a decade ago, the Travel Industry Association of America’s Bill Norman observed, “The sheer volume of travelers interested in arts and heritage as well as their spending habits, their travel patterns and demographics leaves no doubt that history and culture are now a significant part of the U.S. travel experience.”

The challenge for communities wanting to capitalize on cultural tourism is simple: the current planning paradigm is obsolete. Effective tourism marketing is marketing by segment. To this end, destination marketing organizations cannot rely on generic leisure travel campaigns to reach cultural travelers. Cultural travelers must be targeted using purpose-built marketing platforms and targeted cultural campaigns.

But before we take a cultural tourism product to market, we first need to engage in a much more sophisticated process of identifying a community’s cultural tourism asset base, uncovering its cultural identity, and crafting a visitor experience that will capitalize on any community’s most strategic asset: its sense of place.

Source: Whistler Centre for Sustainability

Whistler, BC, recognizes this fact. In the wake of the 2010 Winter Olympics, North America’s pre-eminent ski destination realized it could not build the future of its tourism industry around skiing and snowboarding alone. Seeing the potential of cultural tourism to diversify its tourism offering, yet understanding it could not compete culturally with Vancouver on Vancouver’s terms, Whistler contracted my firm to develop Canada’s first place-based cultural tourism strategy, entitled A Tapestry of Place.

I call my approach, “place-based cultural tourism”, because it eschews the notion that cultural attractions are the heart of the visitor experience. Research tells us otherwise: Cultural travelers want to explore what makes a destination distinctive, authentic, and memorable. They want to experience the essence of the destination – its “cultural terroir”. They want to experience “place”. Through experiencing “place”, they are enriched – intellectually and emotionally. Of course, attractions are more than essential; they are critical. That said, attractions are expressions of a destination’s culture; they are not its embodiment.

It’s ironic. Richard Florida has opined that, “Place is becoming the central organizing unit of our economy and society”. And yet, while we see Florida’s understanding reflected in the emerging fields of place-based agriculture, place-based urban planning, place-based economic development and a host of others fields, tourism is oddly “behind the curve” on the application of place-based thinking to destination planning. It’s a head-scratcher – more so given that tourism’s product is place, or that, at the very least, tourism experiences are located in a particular place.

In North America, perhaps the best example of a place-based approach to cultural tourism is found in Stratford, Ontario – home to the internationally renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Stratford Helps Visitors Meet Locals

Under the inspired leadership of Eugene Zakreski, the Executive Director of the Stratford Tourism Alliance, Stratford’s marketing campaign – along with its many initiatives in product development – is anchored in place-based thinking. Rather than focusing on the Shakespeare Festival as Stratford’s primary draw, Zakreski has positioned the Festival as the “jewel in the crown” of a destination brimming with other human heritage, arts, culinary, agritourism, and natural history experiences. At the same time, Zakreski uses Stratford’s history and heritage, its narratives and stories, its landscape, its townscape and people to “frame” the cultural experiences that are encountered on the ground. Where yesteryear’s Stratford was the Festival – full stop – the allure of today’s Stratford is all about, “what makes Stratford Stratford”.

The result? Because Stratford’s sense of place is front-and-centre, business has never been better. To quote Zakreski, “The results of our efforts have been significant, with triple-digit growth in visitors to our various websites over the past few years, double-digit growth to Stratford in the fall, winter and spring seasons, and noticeably younger adult couples enjoying the Stratford Experience.”


Steven Thorne is a specialist in “place-based cultural tourism” – a phrase that Steven coined. He helps cities, towns, and regions to realize their potential for cultural tourism by using his company’s holistic, place-based planning approach. The approach weaves together heritage, arts, culinary, agritourism, and natural history experiences to form a “cultural tapestry” that reveals a destination’s unique cultural character and sense of place.

In Steven’s words, “For cultural travelers, the visitor experience is about much more than a destination’s cultural ‘attractions’. It’s about discovering what makes a city, town, or region distinctive, authentic, and memorable. It’s about the experience of ‘place’. Simply put, ‘the place is the product.'” Steven’s clients have included Tourism BC, Parks Canada, Tourism PEI, and cities, towns, and institutions from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Committed to cultural tourism education as well as its practice, Steven teaches the course, “Cultural Tourism: Realizing the Opportunity”, offered through the Cultural Resource Management Program at the University of Victoria. He is also a regular guest lecturer in the Graduate Program in Tourism Policy and Planning at the University of Waterloo. Steven can be reached at:

Conscious Travel Addendum
Here’s a link to another relevant and content-rich post by Steven Thorne comparing Canada’s approach to marketing culture to visitors to that applied by their American neighbours. The post is rich with references that could inform global readers. 

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