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Why tourism needs more meerkats and fewer ostriches

This post was written in the days following Rio 2016, infused, as a Brit,  with the euphoria emanating from Team GB’s remarkable and inspirational achievement. Two excellent articles circulating at the time also triggered these reflections:

1. The latest post from Carolyn Childs of MyTravelResearch,  Does Tourism Suffer from the Innovator’s Dilemma?  in which Carolyn concludes her thought provoking and substantive discussion of how to increase innovationmeerkat3 raptorfoundation co uk within the tourism industry, with this prescient observation:

Meerkats are the ideal example here… They are always working together to scan the horizon and work in teams to do so. In the harsh environment of the desert or savannah that has given them a distinct survival advantage.

2. Skift’s insightful but long overdue piece on “overtourism” Iceland and the Trial’s of 21st Century Tourism  in which Skift’s author, Andrew Scheivachman, draws our attention what is now emerging as tourism’s own “wicked problem” – how to manage run away success when no one is or can be in control? Skift describes Iceland as

…a mirror to the larger changes that happen in a destination when the democratization of global travel meets the willingness of destinations to make tourism as the growth engine of their region.

The Skift investigation explores the problems: beginning with gateway problems at its primary airport, to hotel infrastructure, to Airbnb running rampant, to too many tourists with too little understanding of the ecological fragility of the country, to climate change and tourism’s effect on it, to too few trained tourism professionals in the country, to tour operators feeling the burden, to pressure on understaffed local police, to hollowing out of Reykjavik’s downtown, to early signs of locals resenting tourists, and more.

If a first-world country like Iceland is having trouble with figuring out the solutions, what hope do countries like Cuba or Burma have?

Skift report cover

Skift report cover

I am thrilled that Skift is using its reach and influence to highlight the deep issues associated with unchecked tourism growth even though the question posed in the last paragraph of their quote strikes me as somewhat patronising and possibly inaccurate. Countries like Cuba and Burma, where pre-western traditions have a louder voice and where community is alive and well, may have a greater chance of avoiding the perils delivered by so called “success”, as the western world has defined it.

Despite being a highly dynamic, fluid human-system of self organizing agents with virtually no leaders sufficiently empowered to mould it to their will, post war tourism has applied an organizational structure (hierarchies and siloes) and processes (command and control by those with power and budgets) derived from industrial models. Since the emergence of agriculture and later industry, humanity has embraced hierarchies as an effective way of allocating resources, defining roles and enabling organisations to operate. But, as we’re seeing in tourism, hierarchies have serious limitations, especially in a period of rapid technological, social, political and ecological change.

murmations time

As Don Tapscott observes in the foreword to Smart Swarms,

“Communication from the bottom up is often limited, except through formal labour-management relations. Hierarchies are typically bureaucratic, and employees lack motivation. Increasingly, they are insufficient as a way of organizing for a past paced economy where human capital needs to be unleashed for innovation, value creation and customer relationships”

They certainly don’t work when those those few organisations with sufficient power and budget to face the need for radical change decide to sustain “business as usual” and behave like ostriches.

The Skift article attributes “overtourism” euphemistically to the “democratization of travel” – both words code for sustained, compounded volume growth. If you buy that such growth might, in fact, be a wicked problem especially as we really don’t know how to modulate it, then you must also accept that traditional fixes proposed from the same mindset that created the problem, won’t work either. Nothing less than systemic transformation is needed in which case, according to W Edward Deming, the father of Total Quality Management (TQM);

Long-term commitment to new learning and a new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation

MyTravelResearch rightly intuits what science is now discovering and explaining. The answers lie in nature where mounting evidence suggests that self-organisation, diversity, two-way communication, collaboration, information sharing and adaptive mimicking are more likely to enable sustained success. Meerkats also intuitively, well instinctively, get that.

And if you want highly contemporary evidence that working in teams comprising highly diverse sets of perspective and skills with the freedom to experiment, fail and learn then look at Team GB. Everyone of the 67 medals that GB’s athletes brought back home this week represents the efforts of a hoard of invisible others (scientists, coaches, nutritionists, therapists, designers, drivers, psychologists, mums and dads) all focused on developing the athlete as a whole person. Just imagine what could happen if we applied a similar approach to how we run companies and whole sectors i.e., create the conditions for individuals to stretch, grow and flourish by giving them an inspiring reason  to do so. Interestingly, athletes, interviewed post-Olympics, often state that while achieving a medal was a personal goal, they were spurred on and inspired by the higher purpose of giving back to their country. Group i.e. collective euphoria played an important role too. In a post-Brexit Britain, two weeks of optimism, collective hope and joy were a welcome tonic.

Team GB evidence that collective, collaborative effort pays!

Team GB evidence that collective, collaborative effort pays!

Over the next series of posts, I’ll examine what makes a problem “wicked,” why new forms of leadership are needed; what that leadership might look like and the relevance and effectiveness of setting “flourishing” as a goal.

Magic or Common Sense? Deep caring produces a better tourism

A fundamental premise underpinning Conscious Travel is that change will come from the grassroots, led by caring hosts passionately committed to ensuring tourism delivers on its promise as a force for good.

Two great examples have emerged from Siem Reap, Cambodia in recent weeks to make me wonder if there’s something special in the water there. Could Siem Riep become the locus of pilgrimage for impoverished hoteliers?

shintaMy first source of inspiration is the Shinta Mani Club and Resort where Abe Chrisitian Baer and his Khmer team are proving conclusively that the application of responsible practices in both the environmental and social sphere can pay dividends both literally and metaphorically.

The two properties offer 102 rooms of accommodation in total. Consistently ranked 1, 2, and 3 on Trip Advisor (in the world!), they enjoy the highest year round occupancy of all properties in the area (71%), almost total staff retention, the highest Average Daily Rate (KPIs any investor would drool over) and highest general operating profit.

So what’s the magic? Well according to Abe, there isn’t any but, instead, lots of common sense and a belief that by deeply caring about the people and the place first, profits will follow.

I encourage you to listen to this webinar,  one of an excellent series developed by Alexandre Tsuk, of BookGreener. You’ll have the added benefit of learning from Peter Richards’s experience with community tourism in Thailand and the success enjoyed by Mark Dieler, owner of Red Monkey Lodge in Zanzibar.

 

The Key Elements of the Shinta Mani Experience
Abe credits his success to the fact that he focuses on two things: ensuring his staff are employed well, year round and looking after their welfare.

staff welfare achievementsAs the tourism season is limited to a few months of the year, most hotels lay off their staff during the off-peak period. Abe was determined to retain his people (275 staff in total and 6 in management) throughout the year but knew it would be costly – $375,000 per year in fact, and the money would have to be taken out of the operating budget. So the first things to go were expensive sales trips and participation in other out of town meetings, followed by expensive glossy brochures, supplemented by a very effective and different approach to the use of social media that certainly works if numbers of likes, referrals and returns are a measure. The sole goal of 275 passionate, committed and caring team members is to “wow” the guest. About half of Abe’s time is focused on the health and welfare of his staff and their families. You can see the range of activities in these slide.

community achievementsGood community relations naturally follow – thanks to a close and generous relationship with the surrounding temples. For example, Shinta Mani attracted 900 monks during one festival to chant in unison for his guests. They have developed a weekly Made in Khmer Market that is another method of ensuring visitor’s spending spreads throughout the community and further promotes the area. When you watch the webinar – and you must – you’ll learn about the environmental initiatives too.

Be inspired! Take a visit to the Shinta Mani Foundation page here

Footprint Cafes
coffeeWhat started as a local café founded three years ago could, thanks to the vision, energy and passion of the young founders of this social enterprise, become a global business model that again can demonstrate the true power of tourism as a force for good.

The Footprint team met in 2013 as part of the founding team of New Leaf Book Café in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  In its first year, New Leaf employed 17 local staff, became sustainable as a business, started its own rural schools book donation programme and made over $20,000 in net profits which it donated to 8 different local organisations.

New Leaf was established with private money and was intended to be a one off but as the founders have seen the business model work, they want to scale it up, globally!

Again I urge you to visit their web site and follow them on Facebook and Twitter, but here’s their vision:

Footprint Cafés will harness the financial power of tourism for the benefit of host communities. We hope to be at the forefront of a new generation of globally conscious brands by:

  • establishing our cafés in countries where there are barriers to education and high volumes of tourists
  • donating 100% of net profits as educational grants back to the local community
  • investing in our local teams by providing training and career progression, paying a living wage, paid parental leave and health insurance
  • using environmentally sustainable practices throughout our cafés

Footprint Cafés aspires to become a world famous brand with an ethos that resonates with tourists who care, who want an authentic local experience and who love great cafés. Footprint Cafés will connect the global to the local, giving its patrons world class service and cuisine while empowering local communities. These aren’t pipe dreams – following their success in Siem Riep, their next project is is Battambang, Cambodia and they have started raising funds for a coffee shop in Cambridge, UK.

I have every confidence these young people will do well – especially if we give them our support. And I bet the coffee lacks a bitter taste too! No doubt the established coffee chains will object to this disruptive business model – as all the profits go back into the community they serve – but well, “all’s fair in love and love.”

The tourism and hospitality community is indeed making the world a better place – just wake up and smell the coffee!

Spring shoots of a New Economy gives ground for hope – see the Next System Project

It was Maggie Thatcher, Britain’s most ardent booster of globalisation who coined the acronym TINA for “There is No Alternative” to justify her political love affair with Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan.  The good news is that the Honourable Lady MP for Finchley and Britain’s first PM may not have been for turning but she was mistaken nevertheless. To misquote Gershwin – “You say it’s TINA but I say it’s TARA – There are Real Alternatives and here’s some cogent evidence. The Next System Project, launched today by Gar Alperovitz, James Gustave Speth, and Joe Guinan, founder and fellows of the Democracy Collaborative is out to show just how many individuals, agencies and parties have been quietly experimenting and refining an array of very attractive alternatives that could help usher in much needed systemic change. (Video at foot of this post) The mainstream press haven’t yet caught on either. Acting more like deer mesmerized by the headlights of elections either side of the Atlantic and, obsessed with the dramas in Washington and London, they seem to have to have caught some of Maggie’s TINA fever. Which is all very well since it buys more time for the thousands of on-the-ground efforts to gather more momentum. Having spent half my adult life just a few miles north of the American border, I have considered the USA both a pioneer and a canary in the proverbial mine. If cracks were ever to appear in the dominant and dominating economic model that has created and shaped our global economy, they would appear in its heartland. As expressed by the founders of the Next System Project, growing numbers of Americans are waking up to the fact that tinkering at the edges, playing party politics, or even using war to boost GDP won’t work because “it’s a system problem” as evidenced by this summation at the outset of the Next System paper:

The United States faces a systemic crisis, not simply political and economic difficulties. The economy is stagnating. The political system is stalemated. Communities are in decay. The lives of millions are compromised by economic and social pain. Violence is endemic among individuals, communities, and nations. Civil liberties are eroding. Near-record numbers of citizens remain incarcerated. Underemployment, inequality and environmental despoliation deepen day by day. The planet itself is threatened by climate change (* see footnote). A generation of young people expects to be worse off than their parents. The very idea of building a cooperative community of caring responsibility has faded from common understanding.

As someone who believes that climate change, resource scarcity, casino financing, income and wealth disparity, and geopolitical instability are not causes but symptoms of a much deeper malaise, news from this project gives cause for “active hope.” I believe, along with the 350+ thought leaders who originally put their names behind this initiative that we humans who occupy a living planet deserve a living democracy and an economy that affirms and respects all life. The crisis is too big for party politics or even between the jaded failing ideologies of capitalism and socialism. We have to dig deep into our hearts to tap our highest aspirations for a:

co-operative, caring and community-nurturing economy that is ecologically sustainable, equitable, and socially responsible – one that is based on rethinking and democratizing the nature of ownership at every level and challenges the growth paradigm that is the underlying assumption of all conventional policies.

One sign of the flux is the emergence of a host of new adjectives in front of the word economy as various groups and constituencies feel their way toward more productive alternatives: sharing (**), caring, provisioning, restorative, regenerative, collaborative, gift, solidarity, stated state and, of course, new.  The Next System paper describes a variety of alternative ways of generating and sharing wealth – with a focus on well-being and flourishing:

  • Worker ownership and self-management
  • Localism and Bioregionalism that point to the all important task of understanding and re-connecting with “Places”
  • The rise of Cooperatives, Not for Profits and Social Enterprise
  • Re-invigorated Social Democracy
  • Participatory Economic Planning
  • Ecological Economics and workable low, de- and no growth scenarios suitable for developed economies

The paper refers to the work of thought leaders in these areas. While links to projects is sadly thin in this paper, I am confident they will be forthcoming. If you are sick and tired of the TINA message and want to catch a glimpse of a “more beautiful world” fighting its way through the asphalt, this is a good Easter read. Our task now – whichever side of the Atlantic – is to persuade the political classes to “get real” and focus on what really matters and join, support or emulate one or more of the many groups and initiatives described by The Next System project. My professional focus is tourism and helping to envision and create a cooperative, caring and community-nurturing visitor economy that is is ecologically sustainable, equitable, and socially responsible. But until those of us engaged in that subset of the broader socio-political economy get with the bigger picture, we’re likely tilting at the wrong windmill. It’s time for tourism innovators and creatives to join hands with each other and reach out to the the literally thousands of kindred spirits working for similar goals but in different sectors. it's time   There’s an old saying that when America sneezes we all catch a cold. America’s systemic failure is our failure. Their crisis is an opportunity for all of us to finally acknowledge that it’s going to take more than one tick in a ballot box to turn things around but at least there are signs that effort in communities are addressing the real problem even if our politicians are not.

* I disagree with this sentence – the planet will manage fine without us. The intelligence abundant throughout the Universe may regret our passing but it has nearly 14 billion years (as far as we know) practising the art of self creation, I believe it will cope.

** IT’s encouraging to read of the mature way in which established companies such as Accor are viewing what has scared some members of the hospitality industry i.e. the rise of Airbnb and other members of the sharing economy – see today’s Hospitality Net article: http://www.hospitalitynet.org/news/global/154000320/4069734.html

HowOnEarth_FinalCover_Render-cropped

TRAILER: Sequel and forthcoming attraction: HOW ON EARTH! Can’t wait till Donnie McLurcan and Jennifer Hinton of the Post Growth Institute publish their first  book on the not-for-profit economy. Here’s what to expect: http://postgrowth.org/learn/how-on-earth/       https://youtu.be/d6z4yDu3gco

There’s More Than One “P” That Matters in Business

I admit I have recycled, with glee, the title of this blog from a section heading on page 19 of the B Team’s new report, New Ways of Working. As I am almost half way through writing my own book on Conscious Travel, reading B Team’s report supplied that extra boost of encouragement I needed. Thank you B Team!

Those of you have followed and supported me in developing Conscious Travel over the past few months know that I have a penchant for alliteration and have also been using “P” words to organize and express the elements of the Conscious Travel model for a while now.

So I am in complete agreement with the statement that there’s more than one “P” that matters in business. In fact, in the domain called tourism and hospitality there are nine, all in support of the crucial 10th, which stands for Profit.

Conscious Travel is a way of thinking about the travel, tourism and hospitality that reflects a new paradigm, perspective or worldview that is rapidly emerging throughout humanity across the globe. It is a conceptual model designed to empower communities who want to welcome and serve guests in a manner that enables all parties to flourish.

INDUSTRIAL MODEL GRAPHIC REV JAN 31Our global $6+ trillion industry, which caters to the needs of over 1 billion international visitors and 6-8 times that number of domestic travellers, grew up on an industrial model of production and consumption that is showing serious signs of wear and tear. The operating model, which underpinned the activities and efforts of literally millions of hosts, was distilled by marketer Philip Kotler into the five famous “Ps” of product, price, placement, promotion and profit – as illustrated to the left.

The elements were deliberately placed against the background of a six-sided box or door-less room to remind us that the industrial model references neat mechanical metaphors in which the linear connections and edges can be precisely delineated and measured.

In the proposed alternative model, I applied the P initials partly as an aide memoire and to help compare old and new. Note: the new set is not designed to replace but enhance the old.

compass model revised 26th JanSo in the new model, I deployed a different metaphor, envisioning its “Ps” as pointers on a compass with each of the points acting as signposts towards a topic. The centre of the compass acts like an axle on a wheel or hub in a community pulling the eight points into a coherent whole and can be named either Perspective or Paradigm. It contains the assumptions or perceptual filters on which the model is based. The compass was depicted against the organic background of a rain forest ecosystem to remind us that Nature is a system and has much to teach us.

Every conceptual model is based on a set of assumptions, values and beliefs but few creators bother to articulate them. The assumptions underpinning Conscious Travel are listed as follows. (Readers who seek a deeper account, may go here: Perspectives Underpinning Conscious Travel)

  1. The old industrial model of production and consumption deployed by mass industrial tourism is past its sell-by-date and in danger of inflicting more harm than good on host communities.
  2. root cause 4The multiple problems being experienced today are symptoms of a deeper root cause; an erroneous and obsolete way of seeing the world and humans’ place in it.
  3. A global shift in human awareness has begun, is accelerating and will affect the evolutionary trajectory of all life on the planet.
  4. We have the capacity to shift from an extractive to a regenerative economy geared towards the flourishing of all its stakeholders.
  5. The  shift is from a focus on growth, as in more, to a more qualitative development, as in better, and from generating benefits to a few to  more equitable distribution to the many.
  6. The work starts within each individual as they self-reflect and chose to change the values, beliefs and assumptions that have consciously and unconsciously shaped their behaviour. It is then sustained in collaborative learning communities that shape hosts into agents of change.

Based on those assumptions, the model simply organises emergent thinking into eight inter-related, inter-dependent compass points relevant to travel and hospitality as an aid for deeper reflection and inquiry.

The goal is to co-create, community by community, “an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling tourism economy” that enables all its stakeholders to thrive and flourish.

Bearing those assumptions in mind, let’s look briefly at what each of the compass points to:

Purpose – Of the eight key Principles and Practices in the Conscious Travel Compass, the Antique CompassPurpose Principle provides the primary point of orientation, pulling the other seven principles together into a coherent whole. Purpose is the glue that holds an organization or community together, the amniotic fluid that nourishes its life force, and is the juice that helps everyone flow and animates activity (1). Evidence is accumulating that companies committed to serving a higher purpose actually generate more profit than those who focus exclusively on maximizing profits to shareholders.

Humans are meaning seeking beings whose full potential is expressed when we apply ourselves to an aspiration that stretches and expands our sense of self. When a company can tap into and align its community around a shared sense of purpose, it unleashes unparalleled levels of effort and creativity. This observation, made by the founder of Tom’s Shoes, summarizes the value to be had by having a clear purpose:

“the greatest competitive advantage is to allow your employees to be part of something. Something bigger than what you are doing.”

The visitor economy has so many ways in which it can change lives and circumstances for the better. It is for each enterprise and destination community to identify, resonate and express why it stands for.

People – tourism is essentially about human beings having an encounter with other human beings who live in other places. Despite the fact that tourism is really all about relationships and feelings, the industrial emphasis on product, productivity, price and turnover has, in many cases, automated, standardized and thereby de-humanized those encounters. Corporations spend millions measuring and trying to improve “engagement” – a sterile, mechanical word for passion and enthusiasm. Gallup tells us that only 13% of employees world-wide are engaged at work – does that mean then that we are being served by zombies most of the time? No wonder margins are thin and thinning!See my previous post on this topic.

 

passionate peopleThe biggest challenge and opportunity for revitalizing tourism is to “breath some life back in to it” i.e. “inspire” the people, the human beings  who serve and inspire their guests. But that will take more than words. You have to create the conditions whereby employees feel valued, respected and cared for and have a deep sense of meaning and purpose. Hardly the track record that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) associates with tourism!But now just read this observation from Raj Sisodia and John Mackey, co-authors of Conscious Capitalism and observe the shift in your energy.

“Imagine a business that is born out of a dream about how the world could be and should be. The founders are on fire to create something of relevance, resonance and permanence – a business that will far outlive them, that delivers real value of multiple kinds to everyone it touches.”

Passion and caring are both attractive and infectious. A real sense of purpose combined with an aligned, passionate workforce is an unstoppable force.

Place – this is one of three key Ps in the whole Conscious Travel model. The essence of tourism is to have an encounter in another PLACE, one different to the place called home, and one full of magic and surprise simply because your experience of it is unique to you in time and in space. The experience can never be repeated only remembered. Its mystery exists to be unveiled and known through all your senses.Your deepest knowing tells you that each place is sacred if approached the right way.

But so often the tourism industry treats it as just another product, a piece of background for the all-important transaction and you the guest are simply a PAX or ADR on legs.  A critically important part of the Conscious Travel model involves awakening hosts’ sensibilities to the uniqueness of the place they depend on, to fully experience wonder and awe and, in particular, to heal and enliven our connection with Nature.Unless hosts are still in love with the place they call home, on fire with genuine enthusiasm, how can they spark the imagination of their guests? That’s also why we work very closely with and are learning much from our indigenous colleagues at the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance. These brief words of Luther Standing Bear, an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief explain why:

Lakota people know that a man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; we know that lack of respect for living, growing things soon lead to a lack of respect for humans too. So we keep our children close to nature’s softening influence.

Power – to effect change, and to accelerate the shift to a better way of living on this planet requires agency – the ability to influence, inspire and engage others. In the Conscious Travel context, we’re not talking about power over or the power to exploit but power as in the energy, drive, and infectious enthusiasm that wells up when you know you are living on purpose; when you are serving something bigger than you; when you are in the flow.

empowerment wave with link to postThe Internet has been a transformative force shifting power – first, from companies to customers in the marketplace, second, from employers to employees in the workplace and now empowering individuals to affect their community.

Today, people can combine their power at a speed and scale unimaginable just a few years ago. Bottom-up Movements and business models are giving agency to people and challenging existing institutions http://www.purpose.com

Another key objective of Conscious Travel is to attract, nurture and empower hosts to become community change agents who protect and regenerate culture and nature at home. In many cases that involves taking a stand on issues and attracting support. It also means tapping into a wealth of creativity and ingenuity that all communities possess but which they have traditionally been persuaded to devalue. The opening page of the B-team’s report summarizes this call perfectly:

Create thriving communities
Listen to the needs of your employees
And create an environment
That helps them
Thrive

The remaining four principles are:

Protection encompasses the activities necessary to protect and, where necessary, heal and rejuvenate the nature and culture of a place and ensure that the operations of the business generate minimum waste, zero carbon, and use earth’s resources sparingly. Many of the activities associated with this principle (energy, water and waste management) are described as sustainable activities and left to specific departments and specialists. They are put in a conceptual box called CSR.But now is the time to move way beyond compliance and obligation to a positive, joyful partnership with Nature that enlivens and nourishes.

I have avoided the use of the dreaded “S” word partly because perception and attitude are as important as techniques. The model encourages host communities to frame the challenges in terms that are relevant to their situation and to trust in their ability as stewards of Nature to take guidance from Her and tap into the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the community.

Proximity – this is a P word for Local. I believe that all travel is local (once the guest has arrived) and needs to benefit the host community in ways that the community wishes and needs. Sadly this is not the norm. Ideally, as many of the resources consumed by tourists should have been grown and or made in the locality or as close to the point of consumption as possible.

a taste of slowPace is the P word for slow. Conscious Hosts will learn how to gently slow down their guests to be able to apply all their senses to the savouring of a place such they discover endless reasons why they should stay longer and not need to rush all over the place. The goal is not just deep satisfaction but highly subjective, personal transformation. Hosts master the art of design deep experiences that touch all the senses and intelligences of a guest.

Pull – having journeyed around the eight points of the compass a Conscious Host will know who she is; what she stands for; will be able to inspire meaning and purpose in her team and extend hospitality in a way that expresses a unique sense of the place; and develop the vision and confidence to step out as an agent of change to protect the culture and nature that supports her endeavour. By acting with authenticity and integrity,  conscious hosts will beam forth their uniqueness to the marketplace and, skilled in current methods, attract (pull) the right customer who will value what the host can offer, and the right employee or fellow host (employee, staff member or supplier) who can best represent and express the host culture when taking care of the guest.

This is just a taster of how my thinking is developing and to express my appreciation to the B-team and many of the authors they refer to in the report who are acting as my mentors and tutors.

As I have said many times before, Conscious Travel is not offered as a competitor to responsible, sustainable, geo, green approaches but simply as an integrating philosophy; a mode of seeing, being and doing that is more “fit for our times” than fragmented, discrete actions and policies that focus on one point of the compass and remain unaware of the impact of and on the others. We look forward to working with and in support of the many brilliant operational specialists working tirelessly to create a better tourism and hope you respond positively to this contribution and be interested in collaborating.

(1) The error is described beautifully here: http://eprints.brighton.ac.uk/7178/1/Epistemological_Error_-_May_2010.pdf

On Being, Seeing, Then Doing – time to join up!

leading the way titleI recently spoke at the Adventure Travel World Summit 2013 in Namibia urging the members to respond to the acknowledgment made by the Secretary General of the UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, a year prior, that adventure travel was the future of tourism. I suggested that the adventure travel community faced the opportunity to lead all of tourism into a better future. I had 30 minutes to explain why mainstream, mass tourism, as currently practiced, was failing and how the adventure travel community could, through closer links with the indigenous tourism community, bring their clients closer to Nature and regenerate rather then harm local cultures and ecosystems. The last third of the talk was heart-felt and emotional and the audience responded enthusiastically. (The complete, annotated transcript for Leading the Way: The Adventure of Travel is here and slides here).

In response to the comment – “inspiring talk but short on practical solutions, ” I shall now try to explain how Conscious Travel differs from the multiplicity of complementary & supportive initiatives that already exist, that I applaud, that I don’t wish to duplicate or compete with and that are generating practical suggestions (carbon reduction, fair trade, sustainable building, culinary, tour practices etc.) based on expert knowledge.

(Ironically, after I had written this post but not yet published it, Jo Confino, editor of the Guardian Sustainable Business Section suggested that the sustainability movement was failing not for a lack for things to do but for the lack of a  compelling Story or vision: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainability-movement-fail-future. I recommend you check out the article and readers’  comments. )

The Motivation to ACT
Whether we’re motivated to change from fear of the negative consequences of inaction or by a positive desire to create something better, humans are conditioned to believe that we must “do something” and do it either quicker or faster than a perceived competitor. It’s the flight or fight response and since we can’t jump off the planet, the only action of choice is to “fight” the perceived problem and declare war on it. Panic is one state of being that seems to produce the greatest activity with often the least effect. Many of us are feeling a rising sense of panic.

In such a context, being given action plans, goals, and checklists is always attractive and reassuring. Posts and articles titled 10 top ways to ….get rich, get a date, find a great job, or get promoted etc. attract the most traffic.  They give us a sense of being in control and dull the pain associated with anxiety, confusion and a rising sense of inadequacy during a period of radical change.  That’s why we want our experts to sound confident. It’s scary when they say the present & future is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) and are honest enough to say they don’t know exactly what is going to happen next.

Nevertheless,  dishing out prescriptions was neither my intent nor focus at this time and here’s why:

  1. Humanity has all the resources (money, technology and innovative capacity) to address the environmental and social issues of our time but is failing to deploy. We’ve known what needs to be done for a quarter century.  The more important question is – why aren’t we getting on with doing? The tourism sector as a whole (with many great local exceptions of course) has been more resistant to structural and systemic change than most.
  2. Often what we’ve done in the past has often aggravated if not caused our present problems – especially when we’ve declared war on a problem. Or put another way “if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  Even if we were to throw all the resources at our disposal to the problem, it’s very possible we’ll just create more complications from unanticipated consequences simply because we haven’t understood the root cause of our predicament. Until we do, history will continue to repeat itself. That’s why we need to “wake up.”
  3. In short there’s no point wasting precious time and resources developing the right answers to the wrong questions. The challenge we face as a species is framing the questions that matter – questions that “busyness,” political correctness, laziness and, sometimes, willful blindness, enable and encourage us to avoid.

bf quoteConscious Travel is not about blaming and shaming in an attempt to accelerate the demise of an operating model that no longer serves life on this planet. It doesn’t need to waste time pointing the finger as the old model is obsolete and in decay.

“This narrative of normal is crumbling on a systemic level too. We live today at a moment of transition between worlds. The institutions that have borne us through the centuries have lost their vitality; only with increasing self-delusion can we pretend they are sustainable. Our systems of money, politics, energy, medicine, education, and more are no longer delivering the benefits they once did (or seemed to). Their Utopian promise, so inspiring a century ago, recedes further every year. Millions of us know this; more and more, we hardly bother to pretend otherwise. Yet we seem helpless to change, helpless even to stop participating in industrial civilization’s rush over the cliff.” Charles Eisenstein (see http://www.realitysandwich.com/separation)

Nor is Conscious Travel  about more band aids, techno fixes, euphemistic yet deceitful phrases like “sustainable growth ” that are deployed to maintain business as usual.

active role quoteConscious Travel IS about encouraging and enabling participants in the visitor economy (the biggest economy on the planet to connect people face to face), to wake up and play an active role in the greatest drama of our time – namely the transition from an Old to new Story.

By “Story” we mean the amalgam of deeply embedded assumptions and beliefs that any culture uses to make sense of its world, frame its identity and shape its behavour.  Our Stories – sometimes called our worldview, paradigm, consciousness, and mindset – shape our relationships; how we spend our resources of time and money; and what we pay attention to.

For many years in a stable society, these stories were invisible, rarely analysed, dissected, described or questioned as a whole simply because they worked for most people and therefore, enjoyed majority participation and assent. Considered to be obvious and widely held, they needed no discussion. The Story and its subplots constituted the threads that held society together, the glue that bound individual to family to community; and both the lingua franca and protocols that enabled communication and transaction.

The old Story is now unraveling. We’re living in the space between two Stories. A new Story is emerging from within the cocoon called chaos.  That’s why it’s such an exciting and terrifying time to be alive. That’s why I refuse to discuss weight loss plans for an engorged caterpillar when it’s about to morph into a beautiful life form that’s able to defy gravity.

The Signposts of Yearning
In my ATWS presentation, I also quoted the French philospher-writer, Antoine St. Expury.

St Expury quote

The implication being that somehow yearning had to be aroused. But based on the enthusiastic response to my presentation and observations of what’s happening all around me, I now think the task is less one of arousal (ie evoking the desire to move on) and more to help people better envision where to move to.When our understanding of root cause is accurate and when our vision is clear and compelling we’ll take the right actions and bounce back faster should failures occur.

Signs of yearning are oozing from the cracks and crevices of the crumbling walls that hold up “business as usual”. We yearn for what’s missing in our lives – whether that is a state of being we once knew or a state of being we intuit could and should be known.  But our traditional ways of placating, fixing or avoiding those uncomfortable feelings of loss – such as drugs, drink, depression, exercise, eating, working, protesting and even adrenaline-infused adventures – no longer work.

Charles Eisenstein, a contemporary philosopher, raconteur, and author, articulates the many ways in which contemporary society fails us all, rich and poor.  Future opportunities lie in seeing those yearning as signposts towards a more beautiful world – and a more meaningful, healthy valuable visitor economy  – “that our hearts tell us is possible”.

Conscious Travel IS about doing – don’t get me wrong. We plan to create a form of travel and hospitality that provides sustainable livelihoods as well as deep levels of meaning and fulfillment for host and guest alike without chewing up and spitting out places and cultures. We also know you cannot create a new tourism from the same mindset that created the old. Task # 1 is to wake up and become aware of the filters of perception in order to complete Task # 2 the act of replacing them so that we can get on with Task # 3 building something better.

Being-Seeing-Doing4BEING (getting ready), precedes SEEING (aim) which must precede DOING (fire)

Conscious Travel is about working with hosts and places from the inside out.

It’s about turning off the auto-pilot – which enables us to wander in a trance – so we can make  mindful, aware, informed choices about who we are, what we yearn for, what matters to us, what’s worth preserving and what future is worth creating.

It’s about seeing – envisioning a better way of being hosts and guests. It’s about making visible what has been hidden (the assumptions that underpin our actions), making sure they still work for us and changing them if they don’t.

Then, and only then is Conscious Travel  about doing and  building new capacities – not to win an obsolete game (more of the same) but to create a new and different game altogether and then to excel at that. Our 12-Step Transformation Program is designed to take convert small groups of hosts in communities from passive participants in an obsolete economy into pro-active change agents capable of leading the way to a truly sustainable, flourishing local economy in which welcoming guests plays a key part.

Conscious Travel is designed to create a lifetime commitment to action learning and change leadership at the community level and develop the appetite for all the “how to” programs being developed by subject experts.

weight loss quoteWhat I am proposing isn’t for everybody – in fact it is likely to appeal to a minority – dreamers, thinkers, agitators who are the unreasonable and crazy ones among us.

Conscious Travel is for leaders, architects and builder – but builders of whole communities not those who specialise in bathroom renovations!

And these leaders will come from all parts of tourism. They are unlikely to carry a business card that says leader though. Individuals of modest or low status initiated all previous revolutions and major social shifts in our “his-story”.   That pattern prevails today. What’s different is that each of us is being asked to step into the role of revolutionary by contributing our unique talents, insights and gifts. What’s different is that our technology now supports the connection of individuals, the sharing of new ideas and their cross-fertilisation regardless of geography in seconds not years. We may feel alone – but we are not. Conscious Travel is a collaborative community of individuals holding hands while we step courageously into a better future of our own making.

Final Metaphor For Today
In my presentation to ATTA I agreed with Buckminster Fuller about not fighting existing reality but to focus on creating something new.The same wise man also said, There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”


caterpillar to butterflyBut in this case, I’m not sure  Mr. Fuller had access to the same information as our generation. Science has, in fact, since discovered that within the caterpillar are cells that behave as if they know they are going to become the butterfly. They are called “imaginal cells” which exist in small number within the caterpillar for much its life and, while the caterpillar is healthy and active, are isolated from each other. Once the caterpillar enters its slumber in the cocoon, these cells start to multiply, and as their numbers grow, join up and merge and start to feed on the body mass of the caterpillar that turns into some form of nutritive soup. When the last of the soup has been absorbed by the new life form emerging from joined-up imaginal cells, it’s time for them to press open the confines of the cocoon and appear as a butterfly. It’s no coincidence that they are called imaginal cells because half the task is imagining the better world and dreaming it into existence.

Throughout this planet right now human imaginal cells are waking up and realizing that their time has come; they are not alone and it’s time to join up and get ready for a new life. Those of us involved in the travel and tourism community play a very important role in helping these human imaginal cells find and meet each other no matter where they might be on the planet. That’s a pretty meaningful role and a damm good reason to get up in the morning, don’t you think? And from where I sit, enough doing to last a lifetime if done consciously and to the best of one’s ability.

Conscious Travel is seeking associations, communities and small groups of hosts willing to explore road testing our transformation program. A one-day workshop is being prepared to initiate the “wake up” process that is specifically designed for hosts. For more information, please email theconscioushost@gmail.com reference WakeUp Call.

Charles Eisenstein is an author of three books: The Ascent of Humanity; Sacred Economics and The Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. He has admirably articulated how our Story emerged to shape the values & behaviour that underpin the western world; its current dissolution and the opportunity to support the emergence of a new Story. The video above has been clipped from a longer video 4:20 minutes created by Ian McKenzie called Occupy Wall Street: The Revolution is Love. 

Why John Mackey and Richard Branson should break bread together

Richard Branson launches the Bteam on June 14th

Richard Branson launches the Bteam on June 14th

Most of the public,  in the UK especially, has heard of Richard Branson – the flamboyant, fun loving, self-made, successful, philanthropic, provocative, charming entrepreneur;  Head of the Virgin Group, and sporting a well deserved reputation for generating publicity, supporting the underdog and championing good causes. In short, Richard Branson is an influential business celebrity and heads turn when he walks down the street.

John Mackey launches Conscious Capitalism in London June 12th

John Mackey launches Conscious Capitalism in London June 12th

John Mackey, on the other hand, is a shy, serious, but passionate Texan who happens to have developed the most successful grocery business worldwide – Whole Foods. He comes across as an intensely curious, philosophic, serious entrepreneur whose experience has shaped some strong convictions.  John Mackey proudly takes his personal rice cooker everywhere so he can start his day with a highly nutritious but cheap (30cents) breakfast. He considers himself a committed capitalist but one fully aware of its deficiencies and on a mission to correct them. Very few heads would turn even if he were to walk down Sunset Boulevard. And yet he and his colleagues, as initially identified by Professor Raj Sisodia in Firms of Endearment, are having a considerable impact on the business community in US, Australia and now parts of Europe.

While, in terms of surface appearances and style, they seem poles apart, Branson and Mackey are united on the things that matter so I can’t help but think what magic could happen if they were to meet and work actively together. They have more in common than you think. Addressing their differences would move both of their agendas forward.

It would certainly make for a fascinating dinner party:

  1. Both share a belief that the narrative associated with business and capitalism needs changing. Branson in his own colourful style thinks that business as usual should be screwed – see Screw Business as Usual – and focus more on doing good. Mackey, co-author of Conscious Capitalism,  wants to “liberate the heroic spirit of business” by helping business leaders become conscious.
  2. Both believe that profit isn’t the end, it’s a means to achieving a higher purpose.  In fact, it is the passionate pursuit of a purpose designed to benefit both society and individuals that creates profit. Both – consciously or not – build on the work of such luminaries as Willis Harman, John Renesch (see my brief acknowledgment here ) and Paul Hawken, who suggested back in the late 1970s that business was the only institution with the capacity to address the problems facing humanity.
  3. Both have recently committed to proselytizing this message. Richard Branson has formed a number of major initiatives such as Virgin Unite, The Elders and Carbon War Room that have all shaped his latest initiative – www.bteam.org.  John Mackey has teamed up with a number of other brands and created the Conscious Capitalist Institute and recently launched a book, called Conscious Capitalism. They both launched these initiatives in the same week but sadly their paths didn’t cross.
  4. Both believe very strongly in empowering the people who work in their companies to take responsibility, experiment, and lead at whatever level in the company they work and take any and every opportunity to grow personally and professionally. They know the power of a nurturing corporate culture to unleash passion, creativity and innovation. As a consequence, they each embody many of the characteristics of a Conscious Leader and each endeavours to “walk the values talk.”
  5. Richard Branson strikes me as more of a conventional motivator who prefers to delegate the details of execution to his team. John Mackey is also a great delegator and motivator but perhaps has a clearer, deeper idea of the “how” as well as the “why”.  The Conscious Capitalism text is rich in practical advice and applications that show how capitalism can be tweaked to become a true wealth generator as opposed to wealth spinner. Screw Business As Usual is more of an autobiographical tale, more anecdotal than prescriptive.
  6. Both men have created enormous financial value for themselves and all their stakeholders. They enjoy high levels of staff loyalty and engagement from employees, suppliers and the communities in which they operate.  As illustrated in Conscious Capitalism, there is no doubt that the approach promoted by both men works – conscious companies are proven to outperform their non-conscious peers financial by several factors to one (See Appendix A to Conscious Capitalism).

So why do I hope these two men will have a private dinner soon to explore ways of collaborating – a virtue each claims to value highly?

The opportunity lies in exploring their different approaches.

The Conscious Capitalists, as described in Mackey and Sisodia’s book seem more focused on “the business of business” and ways to improve it than the context in which business operates. They recognize the environment as a key stakeholder but only one of several stakeholders and, as such, “conscious businesses refuse to accept trade-offs for the environment, just as they do for other stakeholders.”

Out of a total 300+ pages, only 12 are devoted to the environment as stakeholder and, of these, four are devoted to the Whole Foods approach to sustainable livestock production, animal welfare and seafood sustainability.  This view seems to ignore the fact that Nature is not another human stakeholder whose needs must be met – albeit after some trade-offs  – but an autonomous, self-regulating system of which humans are a part and that Nature operates according to its own laws regardless of whether you believe it to be conscious or not. Two paragraphs from the book distill the Conscious Capitalist (Whole Foods) approach:

conscious capitalismWe will save our environmental challenges in the same way we solve all challenges: by raising consciousness, encouraging creativity and innovation, and recognizing and rewarding virtuous behavior… (Conscious Capitalism, page 151)

 Conscious capitalism recognizes that our natural resources are ultimately finite and must be protected and conserved. But it also recognizes that our inner creativity and inner resources are infinite, provided we can learn how to activate and deploy them. As emphasized earlier, the most powerful form of human energy on the planet is a turned-on, fully alive and awake human being.” (Conscious Capitalism page 292)

While it is impossible to resist this noble aspiration, it has a similar ring to Adam Smith’s invisible hand that has remained far too invisible to have really helped. The big IF in this case being whether we can produce fully turned-on, fully alive and awake human beings fast enough.

The participants in the Bteam – many of whom, consciously or not, practice the four tenets of conscious capitalism (higher purpose, stakeholder alignment; servant leadership and development of empowering cultures) appear much more aware of and focused on the challenges of the environmental and social context in which they operate. I can’t say with certainty but I suspect, if asked, they would demonstrate higher levels of agreement with the statement that “the economy and society are subsidiaries of the environment” than might the Conscious Capitalists.

The Higher Purpose of the Bteam is specifically focused:

“Our vision of the future is a world in which the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit” 

Both groups agree that being driven by the profit motive alone is no longer acceptable.

The Bteam believes that profit will accrue from directly addressing the social, environmental and economic challenges head on. The Conscious Capitalists seem to believe that by setting a higher purpose, learning to serve all stakeholders, create empowering cultures and leading consciously, the conditions for tackling those issues will be created.

Because the Bteam has this external focus, they believe that business also needs to address accounting systems (pay for externalities), address the issue of destructive subsidies or tax policies, and help develop new corporate forms, hybrids and partnerships that deliver benefit to people and planet.

Given the magnitude of the challenges facing humanity right now, these are admittedly minor differences between two very noble endeavours.

The Bteam talks about a new leadership underpinned by a moral compass that is Fair, Honest, Positive and Creative founded on cooperation.

The Conscious Capitalists’ Credo states that “business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it can lift people out of poverty and create prosperity….But we can aspire to something even greater.”

Sadly the references to the excesses of greed expressed by many businesses is not acknowledged and thereby the power of Mackey’s aspiration undermined.

What’s Missing?

In this assessment of what unites and distinguishes Conscious Capitalism and the Bteam I became aware of one missing element that is perhaps implicit in both approaches but needs to be made explicit – and that, again, is MIND-SET, or Worldview.

barrett NLPNeither proponent articulates the need to see the world differently before we can be and act differently. It’s true that as we develop our consciousness, these shifts in perception will occur. Richard Barrett, founder of the Values Centre, and author of the New Leadership Paradigm,  whose pioneering and seminal work on values and corporate culture deserves far more attention than it is getting, has shown how our unexamined assumptions, values and beliefs shift as we rise in consciousness. We move naturally from seeing ourselves at the centre of our own universe to ourselves as an interdependent part of a bigger system of which we are each an essential part- in other words, from “I “to “We” and from “I am insignificant” to “I must be the change I wish to see in the world”.  When CEOs and investors truly embrace a perspective of utter inter-dependence and connection increasing their rates of  compensation at rates 10X the national average will be unthinkable and not in their best interest.

I believe that both the Bteam and the Conscious Capitalists will accelerate adoption of their respective agendas faster to the extent that they can reveal the ways in which the assumptions underpinning industrial-materialism simply don’t work anymore and that our understanding of complex, adaptive self-organising systems is infinitely more relevant and effective than a worldview that sees the universe as a machine that needs to be engineered/managed  or as a lumberyard of resources to be exploited and plundered.

It’s true – we’ve come a very long way in half a decade when such a comparison between two great thought leaders would have been impossible. So we mustn’t let these great ships of progress pass in the night. There is so much to be gained by mutual recognition and support plus healthy debate and exchange. The challenge now is for these concepts to rapidly move from the fringe to the “new normal” only then will it make sense for marginal differentiation to occur.

Where Does Conscious Travel Fit?  
Conscious Travel is currently a movement and a model that applies the principles of conscious capitalism to the provision of hospitality and travel services to create a less harmful alternative to mass industrial tourism. It will become a collaborative network of action-oriented learning communities that develop various Plan Bs suitable for their places.  The learning starts with the inner mindset of the host and their awareness of the context in which they live so that they can assume responsibility for both protecting and regenerating the landscapes and cultures on which they depend and generate a higher net return to all stakeholders.  By working up from communities that celebrate the uniqueness of their place while applying the generic principles that uphold conscious capitalism, conscious hosts will offer an antidote to the commoditization and diminishing returns that plague modern tourism. They  generate creative, resilient and truly sustainable economies around welcoming and serving guests.

Southwest Airlines, Joie de Vivre Hospitality (Chip Conley), Kempinski Hotel Group ( see Conscious Hoteliers Show They Care) and recently Intrepid Travel have been identified as Conscious Capitalists or have been associated with the Conscious Capitalist movement. Virgin Airlines, and Virgin Travel will presumably form part of the Bteam. While there’s plenty of room for other major Fortune 500 travel companies to join them, Conscious Travel is really focusing on the helping the vast majority of tourism hosts – the small,  medium sized providers – to follow the lead of these emlightened pioneers.

More Information

For the launch of the Bteam, see: http://bteam.org/leadership/watch-the-plan-b-kick-off-livestream/

For the launch of Conscious Capitalism in San Franciso, see: http://www.consciouscapitalism.org/cc2013/video#video_player

Related Posts

Screw Tourism As Usual

What is Conscious Capitalism?

Is Conscious Capitalism Business 3.0?

Tourism What’s The Point

Tourism: a Time of Leadership or a Time For Leadership?

For as long as I have been working in tourism, I have heard its “leaders” (presumed by society to be the heads of global agencies or multinationals) complain of a lack of media attention and the failure of governments to take it seriously or to give its tourism ministers political clout.

Based on the spate of headlines since mid April, it looks as if that situation is changing – but whether that is for the better or for the worse depends very much on your point of view.

The first event to grab the headlines was WTTC’s 13th Annual Global Summit under an ironic theme “A Time For Leadership”. Ironic because that title implies leadership has been absent the past.  Ironic because WTTC’s claim to be “The Authority of World Travel and Tourism” suggests that it’s the group that must take responsibility for any previous leadership vacuums.

The BBC’s 6 minute, Fastrack program sensed as much and viewing it is worth the investment of your time. I can’t embed the video but click on this link and the image to view.

fastrack

The tone of Rajan Datar’s report cast doubt on the ambitious claims made by the leaders at the event that:

a.) “travel and tourism can be a catalyst for change – alleviating global poverty, inequality and even environmental damage” and

b.) that tourism’s continued “growth”  and sustainability are not mutually exclusive.

……..

overbooked

About five days later Tourism made headlines again with Simon and Schuster’s  release of Elisabeth Becker’s opus, Overbooked in which this eminent journalist and editor “discovers” that tourism isn’t quite the frivolous, fun preoccupation that only gets mention in the travel pages of most media but, instead,  a giant business sector, an industrial phenomenon and now the world’s largest employer.

While nowhere near as hard hitting as Leon Hickmans’s earlier analysis outlined in the The Last Call published in 2007, Ms. Becker’s account doesn’t shirk from identifying the environmental and socially destructive impacts of this industrial contributor to globalization. She makes the following conclusion which, as you can imagine, gave me some comfort and encouragement:

For the emerging middle class around the world, travel is a right of passage. Travel is the reward for hard work and proof that one has arrived. Yet with every right comes responsibility, and protecting the world’s beauties would seem obvious by demanding that the industry respect local culture, heritage and the environment.

Sadly, Ms. Becker’s  account of tourism’s dark side isn’t news to any of us – the members of the Facebook Group Irresponsible Tourism  and RTNetworking are doing a great job of highlighting our internal challenges that cannot be ignored. What I did find interesting was her perplexity around the fact that tourism as an industry is subject to so little scrutiny. She could see that governments like the revenue, the investment and support for infrastructure and its provision of jobs etc. but there seems either some collective shame associated with this source of benefit or some form of innate snobbery – as if the glitteratti see no need to know what goes on below decks or behind the swing doors to the kitchen.

Having read the book, I don’t feel Ms Becker ever gets to the bottom of that paradox. Is tourism the prodigal son that leaves home to make some remittance money for a family that would prefer not to delve into how that wealth was derived as they simply don’t want to stop the flow?

There’s no doubt now that tourism is associated with huge wealth creation – you don’t sneeze at $6.3 trillion – but,  as volume demand continues on a finite planet, and evidence mounts that this wealth doesn’t evenly benefit the 10% of the world’s labour force engaged in it, you’ll see more headlines like “Is Tourism the Most Destructive Enterprise?” or “Tourists Today: Trample Distrust and Destroy.”

is tourism destructive headline

tourism trample disrupt destroy

………………….

So – Is it a Time of Leadership or a Time For Leadership?

Answering this question addresses Becker’s initial query – why doesn’t tourism get the same attention as other sectors?

I believe tourism will get the attention it deserves when it wakes up, grows up and steps up. Right now its dominant form – the “mass industrial model” is operating like an adolescent resisting any need to take responsibility for the whole. There is a paucity of Leadership and vision from the top – a situation not peculiar to tourism. All you seem to hear is a request for more favours, more concessions while at the same time expounding how well tourism is bouncing back and – now – potentially capable of saving the global economy no less!

It is, on the other hand, a time FOR leadership – a time for hosts and host communities to ensure they attract the kind of tourism they want and that generates net benefit.  It will be a different kind of leadership – emerging from ordinary citizens, community by community as is being shown by all those individuals pushing the responsible, sustainable, fair agenda forward.

I most certainly am not anti tourism – conducted properly it can create a far greater value than has been realized to date. In fact, as has been shown throughout this web site; the issue is one of value and “wellth” generation. But I am disappointed with the self serving complacency, denial, arrogance and self-satisfaction of those who, despite all the resources at their disposal, continue to repeat hollow sounding platitudes and ignore the truth.

Every other aspect of human endeavour – healthcare, education, retailing, food and energy production, capitalism, economics and politics is going through a radical re-think. It’s time tourism recognized the time for partying is over and it must come to the family table with constructive ideas as to how to face the issues affecting the community as a whole. I think that might have been what Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO was alluding to when he said in the BBC clip “ the more they (countries) become conscious of their responsibility, the more they can perfect their investment in what is right and good”.

The real task then is to shift consciousness as in awareness, purpose and priorities. Without such a shift in mindset that determines what we value, then “tourism as usual” will grow in size and impact with diminishing to negative returns. That value shift will only take place community by community. It requires re-learning and that learning can best be done in community.

Our aim with Conscious Travel is to accelerate that process of helping tourism hosts become the conscious change agents needed to envision and create a better, higher value form of tourism that enriches host communities, delights guests and provides a decent, sustainable yield to hosts. That’s what we need to grow but it will take a very different approach to that extolled in Abu Dhabi.  Work is proceeding now on seeking allies and partners to develop and test the collaborative learning platform.

Footnote:
There are now over 75 posts on this website – seemingly hidden from view! Here are some titles that relate to today’s discussion:

Why Tourism’s Impact is Hardly Noticed

Why Mindsets Really Matter

Conscious Travel in Three Words

Why Tourism Will and Must Change its Operating Model

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  http://1billiontourists.unwto.org/. 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. 

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

http://travelllll.com/2012/12/12/unwto-one-billion-tourists-campaign/      and 

http://travelllll.com/2012/04/11/bloggers-retained-by-un-gstc/

 

Where Do You Stand?

Botany Bay 2012

I write this before dawn in Sydney in a modern, sterile hotel room overlooking Botany Bay – the sheltered harbour that James Cook entered some 242 years ago when our current scientific, materialisitic worldview was just entering adolescence. I am sure that, if brought back by a Dr Who type figure, Cook wouldn’t recognize this place at all: paved with concrete, the horizon marred by giant oil storage containers, the incessant roar of jet engines, the continuous ebb and flow of taxis, cars, people, and luggage for whom this is now nothing but an anonymous, sanitized, securitized springboard to and from somewhere else.

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

I’ve just left Tasmania – a place where the transition from one economy to another is still proving painful and divisive. Blessed by nature, the state is rich in mineral and natural resources.  Many Tasmanian families have built their livelihoods and far fewer have garnered great wealth from their extraction and exploitation. Despite diminishing net benefit to the community as a whole, they are reluctant to let go of a way of life that has sustained families with seemingly no ill effect for generations. It’s proving to be a clash of worldview. Those who can see how quickly human society is shifting its values; those who can see that dependency on a limited non-renewable resource is folly; and those who wish to ensure their grand children will have a life, let alone a livelihood, are demonized as anti development.

Ecuador is at a very different stage – with a rapidly expanding population and rising expectations, it also needs to build a sustainable economy. But as each of us knows personally, to participate in the global economy (now its only option) it needs to generate cash quickly. The Ecuadorians are fully aware that the Amazon is worth far more to humanity as a life support system, but until we humans recognize that without air to breathe, water to drink and biodiversity we are doomed to become another Mars, there apparently is no immediately accessible market for those life support services can satisfy the demand for jobs and cash. Ecuador was the first nation to recognize the Rights of Nature and it looks like New Zealand is moving in that direction with respect to the Whanaganui River at least,  thanks to the opportunities afforded by the Waitangi Treaty and the influence of a Maori perspective. Ecauador also did a while back what the Tasmanians have just commissioned and that is calculate the value of their forest as a sink for carbon and not as a source of oil and lumber.

This is why both places are looking to tourism as a plank of a new sustainable economy. But what kind of tourism will best fit, and produce the greatest net benefit over the longer term? How can it be developed from the start and not applied like a bandaid after the damage has already been done? These are the questions that need serious attention in both communities. A new model for tourism development, that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling for all its participants, has to be envisioned from the outset and the people of Ecuador and Tasmania need to ensure a modern version of prospecting and speculation doesn’t pre-empt their options. If we don’t, then the children of the leaders in both places will be facing the ire and dismay of their people as is now happening in Venice and Bali – two priceless jewels that have now been trashed by greed, selfishness and myopia.

There are no simple answers and a conference on ethics and tourism isn’t going to scratch the surface for the simple reason that doing the right thing is being positioned as a choice and as an after thought. Until our most fundamental beliefs about the how the world works shift, until we wake up from the delusion that one species can grow indefinitely, applying a predatory, consumption-based economy that doesn’t give back, or “know its place” then the talk of ethics will evaporate like the morning mist over the Amazon.

The following video about the challenges in Ecuador is titled The Heart of Everywhere because its creators rightly recognize that the challenges in Ecuador encapsulate the issues affecting all of us. But imagine you are situated on a globe without either poles or national boundaries. In this case, every point is the centre of everywhere and that means that all problems are our problems and each of us, regardless of where we are located, shares equal responsibility for the whole.  In tourism, that means listening to our indigenous brethren and experiencing all places as alive – not dead;  and as  sacred – not profane. It means knowing that all manifestations of so called reality (inanimate and animate) are not just connected but in a constant but evolutionary dance with one another; and they are willing us to wake up and dance with them! Travel is one means whereby we can shift our perspective and develop lenses or eyes that see a version of reality that is “pregnant with possibilities”

I titled this blog post Where Do You Stand? because I want you to stop being a wallflower at the most amazing, colourful and creative party/happening on Planet Earth today. Join now and you can shape its future, set its rhythm and cadence or invent some steps of your own. At the very least subscribe to this blog and contribute to the discussion. In the next post I’ll share how my thinking is developing on the shape of an alternative model. I shared it with some very forward thinking people in Tasmania and they liked it. We’re hoping to co-develop it together in a totally open, inclusive process.