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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!

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

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

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:

Wishing You a 2015 Full of Wonder

It’s New Year’s Eve in England and the clock is counting down to midnight. I am have been invited to a curry dinner with neighbours – it feels so good to be part of a mini community that does welcoming things so spontaneously.

But before I go, I want to say a heartfelt thank you for all your support and comments over the past year. They have sustained me and inspired me in my current  endeavour – to write the book explaining why we need to change the way we do tourism and share some suggestions as to how we can contribute to a Regenerative versus extractive Economy – one that that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling for all participants – not just a few.

I am convinced that when you dig deeper, past all the individual challenges and crises – be they economic, environmental, social or political – you will find that the root cause is our application of a mindset or our addiction to a story that no longer help us make sense of our world. Regardless of name,  it is, to use current, common parlance, past its sell-by-date. It most certainly fails to reflect all the amazing discoveries that science has laid at our feet since the turn of the Century. “The book” will examine this is in detail because, by understanding how we got onto this particular stepping stone of history,  we might better launch off onto a new one.

I believe the travel, tourism and hospitality sector has the potential to play a vital role in shifting us from an old, out-dated view of a material, hostile world in which we,  separate beings, compete for scarce resources to a new view that sees only connections and interdependencies and that recognises greatest evolutionary progress has occurred when we collaborated and used our intelligence to co-create abundance.

Source: Jeff Willius

Source: Jeff Willius

One of the most important contributions that tourism can make is to transport people to places where they can experience a sense of wonder, awe, place and purpose and, thereby open their eyes to nature’s wonders all around them at home when they return. Nature is not a problem to be solved but the source of all life – we can learn so much from her if we have eyes to see and souls open enough to hear.Our task is not to waste and destroy its bounty but to sustain a balance so that Nature can evolve into higher levels of beauty and complexity. We are her partners not her master.

With the author’s very kind permission, I am sharing his words below as a way of expressing my gratitude to your support of Conscious Travel as an idea and of me as a colleague. The words below are a Pledge to Reclaim Wonder which I encourage you to take into 2015. It comes from Jeff Willius and his web site: that has filled me with joy since he started. He offers his readers a free, framed version of the pledge and I encourage you to subscribe. The absolutely gorgeous flower image is also his.


Source and (C) Jeff Willius –  www.onemanswonder. Pl

I believe I’m surrounded by wonders great and small, all the time, wherever I am.

I understand that many of those miracles lie hidden to first glances.

I will open my spirit to wonder. My eyes, my ears, my heart will follow.

I will make time for awareness, curiosity and wonder.

I will turn off the television, put down the book and start looking, learning and living first-hand.

I will decide for myself what entertains me and, more importantly, what nourishes my soul.

I will notice and celebrate the power of presence.   

I will carefully examine the myth of certainty, and value learning more than knowing.

I will be more aware of the miracle of grace that resides around and within every person.

I will shine the light of my own spirit, and will give other people the chance to shine too.

I will try to experience everything as if it were for the first time.

I will approach each day with faith in Nature’s instruction, and with gratitude for being Her lifelong pupil.

I will be patient, not just with Nature, but with myself, celebrating small steps in the right direction.

I will seize every opportunity to help a screen-bound child reconnect with Nature.

Hopefully you are with friends and or family this night and the coming days will be filled with joy and peace.

PS Apparently, this is my 100th post on this blog!!

Adventure in Namibia – proving the power of community based conservation and tourism

Excitement is mounting! In less than four hours I start my journey to Namibia to participate in the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s annual World Summit (2013).

It’s such a privilege for many reasons:

1. Namibia leads the world in wildlife conservancy because it made a courageous choice that at the time bucked the trend. Shortly after independence, Namibia was the first country to include the protection of the environment in its constitution. For the first time, rural residents on communal land could have the same rights over wildlife as private farmers, enabling them to operate tourism and trophy hunting businesses and to diversify incomes away from farming. There are now 79 communal conservancies covering 19.5% of Namibia’s land, with one in five rural Namibians living in a conservancy.

A whopping 42% of Namibia is under conservation management and the entire coastline (some 1000 miles) is protected.

elephants caprivi 1

Photo by Helge Denker (c) WWF Namibia

As a result of this visionary choice and the dedication of Namibia’s peoples, wildlife populations are flourishing.

I am looking forward to learning first hand how the Namibians have develop their Community-based Natural Resource Management Program

ATTA President, Shannon Stowell,  has written a mouth watering account of his first visit in the National Geographic here

2. Namibia is not just protecting its biosphere but the “ethnosphere” (Wade Davies’ term for cultural diversity) is getting a helping hand too as the conservancies provide the means for indigenous peoples to maintain their way of life and source income froum conservancy and tourism.

I am travelling as guest of Namibia and the WWF with a group of dear friends and colleagues from the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) to visit a number of community-based, indigenous tourism operations in the country. Included in our itinerary are visits to:

  • Mafwe Living Culture Museum, Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi Region)This is a formal enterprise that provides visitors insights into the traditional culture of the Mafwe people.
  • Kwe San, who have established a guide training program to help ensure the world famous tracking skills of the San people are not lost among the young generation.
  • Ovambo Community, Sheya Shushona Conservancy. This conservancy has partnered with an investor to build a Joint Venture (JV) Lodge.

On October 25th, some 250 participants in Namibia’s tourism sector are attending an Indigenous Tourism conference at which my WINTA friends will speak.

I am so impressed by the achievements of our Namibian hosts and will do my best to share experiences of the next two weeks. It’s a trip of a lifetime and a story that must be told. Enjoy this video and please follow the adventure!

On the tip of the tipping point – when ecology is understood to be spiritual, there’ll be no going back.

A core tenet of Conscious Travel is an understanding that each place is alive and sacred.

Host providers will develop truly sustainable livelihoods that benefit their communities when they come into right relationship with all life.


Our indigenous brothers and sisters have always understood this and now find themsleves on the frontline of a global clash in world view:

  • one perspective considers all it views to be dead matter that exists for our manipulation and exploitation  (even divine intelligence is considered to be “out there” and separate);
  • the other knows  all is alive and interconnected and pulsating with the same energy that shapes all existence urging it forward in its evolution.

Two important events are occurring right in the middle of 2013 (i.e. July)  that I believe will help tip us towards a wider embrace of the second view of the world. They will help accelerate the shift in values  (towards greater meaning and purpose) that has been described throughout this blog such that when a critical mass wake up to the fact that ecology is not just physical, there’ll be no going back.

The first event is publication of a book of essays called Spiritual Ecology as introduced in the trailer below. Edited by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee, it comprises diverse perspectives from such luminaries as Chief Oren Lyons, Thomas Berry, Satish Kumar, Thich Nhat Hanh, Vandanna Shive, Joanna Macy and Pir ZiaInyat-Khan.

The second is completion of the Sacred Land Film Project (SLFP) –  a four-part film series for public television titled Standing on Sacred Ground. Here’s its trailer:

Winona Duke describes Sacred Places as spiritual “re-charge” areas. Given that the root of travel is hospitality which, in turn,  is all about regeneration, re-creating (recreation), making whole, healing and re-charging, then we too are involved right on the frontline of this change in views. As hosts who welcome guests into their “their unique, special and sacred place” we have the chance to help them  come in touch with the magic and mystery of all places. But to do that we must have developed a sense of the sacred.

Author’s amendments August, 2014

Here is an excellent review of the Sacred Land Film Series by Leslie Sponsel.
Click here to access trailers of each film with ease.

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!

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. 

Place is back – how did we ever lose it?

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

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

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

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

Competitive Success”

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

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

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

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

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

Consider our tendency in tourism to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If branding were left to engineers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conscious Travel in Three Words, 17 Characters & 3 spaces

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


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

Cheap Travel is Viewed as Right By Many

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Change your Lens, Change Your World

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

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

Why Mindsets Really Really Matter

Why Tourism Will and Must Change Its Operating Model

Screw Tourism As Usual  

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Postscript  – external article on indigenous objections to carbon trading mechanisms 

Why all Travel is Local

The Role of Indigenous Tourism in Developing Conscious Hosts

Link to new Wold Indigenous Tourism Alliance

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

Presentation Slide deck WINTA Forum

Linked in Group on Indigenous Tourism

Definition of Indigenous Peoples – WINTA

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