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Aviation Emissions: will flying under the radar on a wing and a prayer help or prevent tourism to flourish?

I make no apology for this being a long post or provocative. The topic is complex and contentious and required a significant investment of time and effort to digest let alone understand. Those who want  a PDF with more references and reading are welcome to write me: and I’ll send.

This post is being written a few air miles from Paris in the penultimate  day of COP21 – the third major stage in humanity’s journey toward a collective commitment to prevent the planet’s climate warming to an unbearable level.

elephants in the roomIt turns out that while  prospects for some form of binding agreement are far better than at the Copenhagen talks five years earlier, two sectors, described by many as “elephants in the room” have done their best to avoid being included in any form of binding agreement and they are shipping and aviation with potentially disastrous results. (As of Wednesday night the key paragraphs related to the two sectors that together accounts for 5% of global emissions has been dropped)

A few hours ago this statement was issued by the NGO, Transport and Environment (T&E)

“The dropping of international aviation and shipping emissions from the draft Paris climate agreement makes keeping a temperature increase under 2 degrees close to impossible. Those parties calling for an ambitious agreement must insist that language on international transport be reinserted.

The journey started in earnest in 1992 with the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) followed five years later with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol. Because the Kyoto Protocol was designed to obtain national commitments, it lacked a mechanism to manage global phenomena such as shipping and aviation so the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation were mandated to reduce emissions. Unfortunately neither has yet succeeded in doing so as is evident in the graph below.

shipping & aviatios emissions
ICAO has since moved at a speed slower than most Greenland glaciers. Major breakthroughs have included the agreement to study, the agreement to plan, and the agreement to agree. This sector’s sense of urgency is evident in this progress statement.

At ICAO’s triennial assembly in 2013, an agreement was reached to proceed with a roadmap towards a decision to be taken in 2016 for implementation in 2020.

Only in this context, does the headline of a press release issued by the Global Travel Association (GTAC) [1] make sense. The release is vague and does not define what a successful outcome might look like but we know from other press releases that the aviation members, notably IATA, ATAG and ICAO, prefer to avoid inclusion in any binding agreement. They believe that progress can best be made at the ICAO meeting due to take place in September 2016 – by which time they’ll know just how strong (demanding) the Paris deal shapes up.

gtac press release.jpg

As you would expect, the aviation and shipping lobby have supporters and opponents – countries that stand to benefit from the next phase of globalisation are reluctant to pin these transport sectors down while numerous NGOs, the IMF, the EU and even the World Bank would prefer to have these sector participate in the deal.

A Turbulent Future

Going forward, it’s quite possible that instead of flying under the radar, aviation (along with shipping) could find itself in the spotlight as the drama of reaching a binding agreement intensifies. Despite this, the bulk of the tourism industry is silent and seems to be looking the other way – either unaware of the spotlight or hoping it will quickly dim or be directed elsewhere. Despite the fact that climate change dwarfs virtually all other issues focused upon by the responsible /sustainability community, discussion of this topic has been surprisingly sparse.

This silence is a tragedy and a disgrace and provides convincing evidence that much of the tourism industry is either asleep at the controls, or playing Captain Smith on tourism’s Titanic.

And here’s why:

  • Lack of regulation and the onset of globalisation have meant that aviation and shipping emissions grew by 78-83% between 1990 and 2010 compared to a growth of just 40% in all other sectors.
  • Furthermore, according ICAO’s own research, aviation-related emissions are set to increase by a further 270% by 2050 such that, 35 years from now, the two unregulated sectors (shipping and tourism) would together account for 40% of all global emissions! There will be no possibility to “fly under the radar” unnoticed then – if you could fly at all.Failure to include two industrial sectors whose combined emissions are equivalent to UK and Germany combined in any binding agreement would completely dash the survival aspirations of many Small Island Developing States and other vulnerable nations and significantly undermine our chances of not over shooting the 2 degree warming limit (see previous post and Kevin Anderson’s speech at WTM 2015).
  • The two sectors are in danger of losing a social licence to operate should all other sectors pursue rigorous de-carbonisation programs bound by a global agreement and held to account by an increasingly informed public experiencing more and more personal inconvenience, havoc, and harm as average temperatures continue to rise, climate-related hazards increase in frequency, and crops fail etc.
  • There are two other elephants in the room that need to be reckoned with: equity and growth. First equity: 45% of total CO2 emissions are generated by just 10% of the population and, while there is a direct correlation between rising middle classes and rising emissions, it is also becoming clear that within the middle classes distribution of emissions is highly skewed to a minority. Increasingly inequalities within national borders are more important than those between countries and a privileged elite in emerging countries is starting to outstrip working class Europeans (in terms of emissions per capita). The same pattern applies to aviation demand. In the UK, for example, just 15% of the population takes 70% of the flights and 55% didn’t fly abroad at all in 2013.Second volume growth – as has been discussed frequently on this web site, and especially here, tourism’s dependency on volume growth constitutes the other elephant in the room. There is no evidence that the tourism sector has been or will be able to de-couple resource use and emission production at anywhere near the rate needed to compensate for its aggressive growth forecasts. From both an equity and resource efficiency perspective it vital that the tourism industry shift its focus from more to better and that will require the attention of everyone.
  • Losing that social licence to operate may take a more tangible form – currently not a cent in tax is paid worldwide on aviation fuel for commercial aircraft or fuel oil for container ships, passenger ferries or cruise liners, nor are these sectors required to collect VAT on ticket salesin Europe According to Euractiv, aviation enjoys fossil fuel subsidies amounting to € 60 billion and since most flights are taken by the world’s wealthiest people (that includes people like me and you dear reader) it’s only a matter of time before it becomes politically expedient as well as socially desirable for passenger levies to be imposed on those who are most responsible for emissions from this sector.
  • Unless the visitor economy makes every effort to reduce emissions as a whole – on the ground and in the air – it will also find its bullish growth projections impossible to achieve as international tourism becomes the victim as well as contributor to climate change. Rising temperatures will render many sunny, warm destinations unbearable for much of the year, rising sea levels and strong, more frequent storms will disrupt travel patterns with increasing frequency; increased civil unrest due to food shortages, drought and political breakdown will increase the volume of refugees and incidences of terrorism and or protest and impede the free unhindered movement of people across international borders. In a worst case scenario, if “business as usual” does prevail and the rest of the economy fails to meet whatever pledges a deal in Paris binds them to, then we’re on course for a 4-6 degree increase described as simply catastrophic. International travel will have come to a stand still.

The Aviation Position
The alternative approach favoured by the ICAO, the aviation sector and the main-stream tourism leadership, looks promising but falls far short of what’s needed despite all the good intentions and accomplishments made by individual enterprises within the sector as described in ATAG’s colourful publication Solutions and the recent WTTC publication Connecting Global Climate Action. The aviation sector’s strategy for reducing carbon has four pillars:

brandalism airline ad

(C) Brandalism

  • Technology – new planes (1.3 trillion dollar’s worth) and winglets
  • Operational Improvements – continuous descent and shortened flight times but which nevertheless are proving harder to achieve due weather-related disruptions and changes to flight paths
  • Biofuels known as “sustainable alternative aviation fuels” credited with enormous potential but also unlikely to be commercially viable until the mid 2020s and, depending on funding or science, possibly later.
  • Smart Economic Measures” also known as Market Based Mechanisms or MBM for short that translate into a globally uniform approach to carbon trading and offsetting.

Essentially, ICAO is planning to cap aviation emissions at 2020 levels and offset the rest confident that “after 2020 the industry will start seeing some of the larger emission reduction possibilities of advanced technologies and sustainable aviation fuels which will allow the industry to aim for its most ambitious goals: to ensure net carbon emissions from aviation will be half of what they were in 2005 or 320 million tonnes of carbon, despite the growth in passenger numbers and cargo.”

Please note the words in bold and especially the word net in front of carbon emissions. This is not the same as actual reductions in CO2 but an offset purchased from other sectors of society or achieved by a massive reallocation of land from food to fuel production. In plain language – the aviation sector expects CO2 savings will generally be made in other sectors of the economy to enable aviation-related CO2 to grow or be cut by less.

Dr Kevin Anderson’s colleague, at the Tyndall Centre, Alice Bows-Larkin, challenges the effectiveness of “market based measures” suggesting that, for them to work, carbon prices would have to soar higher than most policy makers could countenance. Failure by this sector to make real cuts will require all others to make deeper reductions

“The rapidity with which the CO2 budget is being consumed requires immediate cuts in CO2 growth rates across all sectors. As long as aviation and shipping are outside of a global and strictly bound trading scheme, 2 degrees C implies that CO2 growth rates need to be near zero by 2015 to 2020”

 Bows-Larkin then concludes:

Technologies to cut CO2 in the required time frame are few and far between. Nations where per capita flying as well as growth rates are high have no option but to consider constraining growth in the short term, until fuel efficiency improvements or use of biofuel can more than offset the CO2 produced by a further rise in passenger-km.

In a 2014 paper, All adrift: aviation, shipping and climate change policy, available here, Bows-Larkin raises an interesting ethical and moral issue.

Should aviation, which in a global context is dominated by relative affluent leisure passengers, take priority over others sectors for the use of sustainable biofuels in preference to less popular policies aiming to curb or even cut growth rates? … For aviation, pinning so much hope on emissions trading to meet the 2 degree  C challenge is misguided.

climate reality pic of rbFortunately some high profile business leaders and one boss of an airline are sounding more committed and ambitious (see Guardian article Dec 6th). Richard Branson, CEO Virgin Airlines, is part of a coalition calling for the deal to embrace carbon neutrality by 2050 (as opposed to the end of the century); eliminate fossil fuel subsidies; tax carbon; and fund clean energy research so we can eliminate fossil energy. This group is also urging us to set 1.5 degree warming as a target (as opposed to the 2 degree limit) in order to protect the most vulnerable – millions living at sea peel along river deltas or on low lying islands….

I sub-titled this post – flying on a wing and a prayer – for good reason.

Future investors are likely to ask – is the aviation strategy appropriately responsible and sufficiently imaginative to ensure sustained community support over time – especially when we get daily reports of disasters, droughts, floods, famine etc.  While savvy existing investors might also doubt that they’ll get a decent return from $1.3 trillion invested in new aircraft if aviation experiences worsening impacts caused by a changing climate, if airport expansion is constrained and additional price mechanisms are introduced to ensure the limits of carbon budget aren’t exceeded.

Conclusions: The Tourism Conundrum

In short, the future for aviation will not be a repeat of the past. The sector is in for a very turbulent ride ahead and this is an issue that affects all of tourism and should involve the entire sector. This is not about blame. Nor should it be about special treatment.

None of us who work in the tourism sector and especially those of us who travel long distances by air can avoid burning carbon. The tourism industry is absolutely vital to the global economy as it is currently structured. But then so is agriculture, IT, health, manufacturing and education all of which are being asked to find creative ways of cutting back their contribution to a global carbon budget/footprint. Neither tourism as a whole nor aviation as a sub sector can or should ask for special treatment. Nor can the non-aviation aspects of tourism pretend that they aren’t part of either the problem or the solution and try to ignore the carbon elephant in the room. Nor can the aviation sector act in isolation and resist imposition of levies that could raise funds to help the ground aspects of tourism move as quickly as possible to carbon neutrality. If there is a failure right now, it is that we’re not seeing the system as a whole, not collaborating as interdependent partners, and failing to own up to the need to tackle huge challenges.

I am neither a carbon nor a finance expert but common sense dictates that the following concepts should at least be considered.

  1. Given that flight-related emissions are generated by a relatively small proportion of the population and given that much of mass industrial-style tourism does not generate sufficient yield in many developing countries to enable them to either adapt or mitigate, then some form of global frequent flyer passenger levy or user pay scheme should be introduced and paid into a fund distributed to the receiving countries for the purpose of  generating a carbon neutral tourism sector on the ground. French economists Lucas Chanel and Thomas Piketty have calculated that a €189 levy on business class tickets and a €20 on economy class would raise an estimated €150 billion a year for climate adaptation.
  2. Each destination should be required to produce a carbon mitigation and adaption strategy as part of a community-shaped destination development strategy that would provide a clear benchmark of the carbon footprint generated by inbound visitors. Such strategies would mark an initial step towards sound destination management and develop pathways towards becoming carbon neutral on the ground. Such an undertaking would also have the benefit of pulling together an entire host community to ensure that it is ready – creative and resilient enough – to face and flourish in a very uncertain future.
  3. The non-avaiation portion of the travel and tourism industry which, in terms of companies, far outstrips the aviation sector, needs to become part of this discussion. It has a vested interest in the outcome. Should the fate of an entire industry worth over $7 trillion be determined by the airlines and other multinational leaders who have been the primary beneficiaries of both its growth and subsidies to date? How are the interest of the significantly larger number of small and micro enterprises, their employees and their resident neighbours represented here? The reports and statements issued by GTAC consistenly support business as usual (albeit with some green and sustainability added on) despite growing recognition that deeper systemic or structural innovation is needed to respect biophysical realities and social equity. Hence our focus on community action.

At this time in tourism’s history it doesn’t matter what motivates you to face the tough questions – whether you wish to make your business more profitable, your community safer or to increase your reputation in a transparent world of changing values. What matters is that we don’t shirk the painful and the difficult and procrastinate any longer.

mlk 2

In response to Martin Luther King’s injunction, I would say the time is now.

[1] GTAC is a relatively new coalition of the key drivers of mainstream tourism formed to offer:.. .‘One Voice’ to spur governments to develop policies which contribute to the profitable, sustainable and long-term growth of the industry. GTAC is comprised of Airports Council International (ACI), Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), World Economic Forum (WEF), World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)”


BREAKING NEWS (after initial publication midday Thursday)
ICAO expectations for an emissions deal from their September 2016

Informative article on the 5th elephant no one either wants or is allowed to discuss – carbon generated by America’s largest single employer – the military.

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!

The Burning Issue of Carbon

background to the post

In my previous post I suggested that we humans will only react to danger after an alarm is raised and if our senses are aroused – i.e., if we can see, touch, taste, smell or hear the danger.

The problem with carbon is that it’s invisible – the fact that we’ve passed the 400 parts per million concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere isn’t registering at all and our own pre-disposition towards denial, combined with willful and woeful blindness exercised by mainstream media, isn’t helping.

But what is interesting is the fact that the alarm bells are being sounded by the most unusual source – the investment community  and increasing incidences of extreme weather and its impact are being sensed or experienced (as in causing discomfort, pain, inconvenience) by a much wider population – see these studies showing major shifts in American awareness and concern for example. Panic and an orderly exit are to be avoided at all costs.

do the mathsIn this post, I am going to appeal to your head.  It’s all a matter of math and common sense – not the super complex algorithms used by money spinners in the City of London but more like the plain math used by Dicken’s Micawber.  In this case there are three kinds of math – an understanding of which is essential to anyone who cares about their own future and that of their family and children. It’s the kind of math that any responsible, conscious host, active in the tourism sector,  needs to grasp and deal with.  You can read the facts or watch the movie but in the latter case you’ll have to sign up to see it here: and promise not to host a screening ‘cos Al Jazeera now has the movie rights! (Now why could Al Jazeera have done the right thing and bought the rights to American TV which I don’t watch so that the rest of us could watch it online without having to go through this process????)

Thanks to Bill McKibben and the, there are just three key numbers that you need to grasp if you want to make sense of climate change. Fortunately, despite the plethora of statistics thrown about by both sides in this debate, you can take them as solid.

2 degrees Celsius
2 degreesThis is the maximum allowable increase in global average temperature over pre-industrial levels before life on Planet Earth for humans and many other fauna and flora becomes seriously unpleasant.  We don’t know for sure whether it is conservative enough but at least 167 countries have agreed it is a maximum. Note: the extreme weather and spate of record breaking climatic phenomena; the 30% reduction in the Arctic ice cap, the 30% increase in the acidification of the oceans with a 60% drop in coral have already occurred as a result of a 0.8 degree increase – so who knows what will happen when we up current warming levels by another 1.2 degrees?

565 Gigatons of Co2

carbon budgetThis is known as our “carbon budget” in other words, the maximum amount of carbon we can emit into the atmosphere by 2050 if we are to have a reasonable chance of staying below that 2 degree threshold. Sadly there are no signs that we’ve slowed down our spend of this budget as carbon emissions continue to increase globally at about 2-3% per year. Or another way of putting it – we’ll have spent our carbon budget by the time a child born today gets to celebrate her 16th birthday.

2795 Gigatons of CO2

unburnable carbonThis is what some very bright people in a company called Carbon Tracker have estimated is the amount of Co2 currently tied up in the reserves of existing fossil fuel companies.  Note: it’s 5 times the amount we can afford to burn. Or, to put it another way – 80% of the fuel reserves have to stay in the ground if we’re to have any chance of keeping under that 2 degree warming threshold.

We know that our economy has come to depend on relatively cheap fossil fuel for its enormous growth over the past 60 years.  The value of the fossil fuel industry is estimated – based on known reserves – at $27 trillion and some $4 trillion of that is concentrated in the hands of just 200 companies. You can see why the thought of not extracting and selling 80% of that wealth might meet some resistance.

We all complain at the price of petrol or heating fuel but, remember that the income derived by the oil companies in no way covers the additional indirect costs that all of us are have to bear in the form of subsidies (over $1.9 trillion worldwide according to the IMF); health care costs, clean up costs after spills and accidents. The top 200 companies also are spending $675 billion each year on research, discovery and test drilling – funds which a growing number of analysts think is grossly wasteful given that these firms cannot or should not be burning all their existing reserves.

Institutional and private investors as well as international and national governments are rapidly becoming aware of the huge cost associated with either environmental damage or failure to pay a sustainable price for vulnerable but critical ecosystem services. These “externalities” were estimated by UNEP and the Panel for responsible Investing (PRI) to total some $6.8 trillion in 2008 (equivalent to 11% of GDP) and are forecast to rise to $28.6 trillion by 2050 – here’s the report  Pricing environmental damage: US$ 28 trillion by 2050 – Principles for Responsible Investment. What makes tourism leaders think that tourism will continue to be exempt from paying its fair share especially once other sectors have to?


So why am I bombarding my readers – hopefully mostly tourism providers, hosts, employees etc – with these kinds of data?

The answer is simple – we’re all heading to that position known as between a rock and hard place!

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

The Rock – Given the concentration of wealth invested in the fossil fuels that drive our global economy, a financial crisis could well occur if investors decided en masse that those assets were too risky to touch and withdrew their support in the form of capital and credit. That prospect is not that far away – see the HSBC report on Unburnable Carbon.

hsbc unburnable carbon

The Hard Place – if we allowed the fossil fuel companies to realise their asset and burn all their reserves, we’d exceed our carbon budget by a factor of five and, to quote Christine Lagarde, the Head of the IMF, all fry!  BTW, just in case you wish to dismiss me as some kind of left wing, tree hugging, alarmist then take note that at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Lagarde said,  “the real wild card in the pack is increasing vulnerability from resource scarcity and climate change, with the potential for major social and economic disruption.” She called climate change “the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century.” And in response to a question from the audience, went on to say “Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.”

There’s no way that an industry like tourism, so dependent on fossil fuels to transport its guests to the point of consumption, can expect to prosper, let alone survive, either scenario. (Pollock not Lagarde)

And the concept that tourism can save the world economy (as suggested in Abu Dhabi by its glitterati – see this post) is ludicrous.

It is in the best interests of the entire tourism industry to be doing all it can to face the carbon issue head on, wean itself off as much carbon as it can, and disinvest in companies or funds invested in fossil fuels. Only if there is a significant switch to renewable fuels in other sectors (ground transport, heating, cooling and electricity generation) can the aviation sector have enough time to kick its kerosene habit. (Pollock)

The financial crisis is not inevitable. But it will likely occur if we carry on with business as usual and muddle through until a combination of investor fear and public opinion determines that minimizing carbon spend is priority Number One.

The environmental crisis is not inevitable either – well, yet.  Both sunlight, human intelligence and ingenuity are abundant and the technologies already exist to eliminate our reliance on carbon producing fuels. A small fraction of the subsidies currently paid to fossil fuel suppliers could dramatically alter the energy landscape if diverted to renewables. But the spectre of food shortages, the large scale migration of people, rising sea levels and extreme weather will become daily occurrences unless we decide, individually and collectively, that is a future we don’t intend to create.

So what can YOU do?

  1. Wake up, become aware and informed and get active.
  2. Reduce your personal and business dependency on fossil fuels. Show your guests you care – the ones who notice and appreciate your responsible actions are the ones who can help your business grow.
  3. Assess your suppliers and do as much as you can to localise and ensure that your fellow citizens in your community benefit from your visitor’s spending too.
  4. If you have investments – disinvest from portfolios that comprise fossil fuel companies –  it was disinvestment in South African companies that helped stop Apartheid. To show the power of this approach, is persuading students to insist their universities divest from their fossil fuel investment portfolios. Switch to alternative fossils.
  5. Ask your DMO difficult questions – are their forecasts based on past performance and “business as usual” assumptions. Do they have a resilience strategy?
  6. Lobby your governments to lift subsidies on fossil fuels ($1.9 trillion a year) and subsidize alternative sources instead.
  7. Whether you call it the Naked King or the Elephant in the room, at least have the guts to start a conversation about carbon in your community. You may not be popular today but your children will thank you and your business might just survive if action is taken now.. and
  8. Don’t associate protest with NO but with a resounding YES vote for a better, healthier, happier future. A very small fraction of the population has much to lose when the rest of us wake up. They control the messaging and are counting on our apathy.

Lessons Learned from Fairy Tales, Extreme Weather and Bubbles


Emperor who wore no clothiersSince I watched Rajan Datur’s video coverage of the WTTC Global Summit on Fastrack in Abu Dhabi last month (see last post), I’ve been unable to silence a song from my childhood that replays in my head – Danny Kaye’s musical rendition of the famous tale of Hans Christian Andersen: the Emperor Who Wore No Clothes. If you have children or grandchildren with any innocence left check out the old but enduring charming film. Click the image, start 1.10 mins in and let the message soak in!

I had taken a pause from blogging for four months for two reasons – to complete a project and to turn off the chatter of an over informed brain. Pauses clarify.

While in my first post of 2013 I expressed disappointment with the position taken by the Summit’s leaders, allocation of blame wasn’t my intent.

At this incredibly portentous time in human history, we’re each and all caught up in a web of denial that has become the sticky stuff that binds our relationships with each other and the natural world.

At best we are entranced; at worst addicted. Our neurological development has not kept pace with our technical prowess and, like the King in Andersen’s story, our hubris has blinded  and our constant “busyness” has deafened us to the wisdom of our subconscious.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale it took an innocent child with an unbroken heart and senses fresh and intact to see and speak the truth.

There’s been considerable research as to why humanity is acting so slowly in response to the converging change forces pushing us towards the cliff’s edge. The reptilian parts of our brains are wired to sense and respond to the personal threat that our senses register. The newer, frontal lobe that is the source of our technical brilliance and feeds off endless analysis and discussion, has not yet evolved similar response mechanisms. Furthermore, our need to belong and be accepted is more associated with this growing part of our neurological development.

We’re like movie goers on a Friday night who’ve settled down into a comfy sofa with popcorn and coke to accompany our hard earned night of entertainment and distraction. Someone yells “fire” and our reptilian brain leaps into action. But if there’s another reassuring voice saying the alarm was false and, since we can’t smell fire and no one else is scrambling to their feet, we relax deeper into our chairs. We’ve paid good money for our seats and we deserve a night off. Yet all it would take is the whiff of burning plastic and distant signs of rapid movement across the theatre and our urge to shift would be irresistible. Getting to the exit before death/injury by trampling or burning would instantly become our first priority.

montana-thunderstorm-615So in that sense I am grateful for our lousy Spring weather – even though I am thoroughly fed up with grey skies and have felt colder here in the UK in May than I did in December. Extreme weather is nature’s kind way of arousing the reptile in us and perhaps it can do what armies of bickering scientists or retired politicians with slide decks and a huge budget have yet failed to do – wake us up to a reality no one wishes to contemplate. Research shows that the more we experience extreme weather events personally, the more likely we are to acknowledge that climate is changing faster than normal.

The Need to Focus
Over the past 2 years I’ve been invited to speak at over 20 tourism gatherings and presented my share of slides and facts joining up the dots of change, interpreting the clouds gathering on the horizon and suggesting responses.  (It’s all here on slideshare). But I now realize I have sold both my audience and myself short.  The message wasn’t clear and compelling enough.  The metaphorical “fire” in my story is actually frozen sunlight (carbon) – the fossilized remains of other species we’ve been burning to fuel the fastest most amazing economic and social expansion in human history. Carbon is not only the most dangerous, pervasive waste product of our “industrial civilisation” but, by focussing on the problems it generates,  we could also solve many equally challenging but derivative problems: biodiversity loss, economic disparity, food security etc.

We’ve got two worlds existing in tourism – the traditional mainstream that is preoccupied with business as usual (i.e., more of everything so long as that delivers more profit even if it delivers less value to the places it exploits). I don’t expect this group to like my message – yet.  There are plenty of agencies and consultants all too willing to provide the platitudes and spin to make the status quo feel comfortable and, as illustrated in Abu Dhabi,  even glittering and chic. They seem oblivious to the fact that the industrial model on which is it based inevitably passes its prime and starts to generate diminishing returns and less net benefit.

The other world comprises a huge but fractured, sometimes fractious fringe that is growing and spreading like multiple infections that haven’t yet coalesced.  By necessity, participants in alternative tourism are forced to focus on symptoms not causes of our malaise and because there are so many varied and increasing expressions of what is irresponsible, their efforts appear disjointed and only of local relevance. But the good news is that they are growing in number and their experience is highly practical, resourceful and their commitment to building a better tourism never to be underestimated or under valued. Their weakness, on the other hand, stems from the fact that they are too inward looking – applying labels, arguing over definitions and  decrying the expression of a problem but not joining up with their counterparts in society who are addressing deeper causes and systemic disfunctionality.

It’s as if we are arguing over the cut, make and style of the King’s clothes rather than admit he is, in fact, naked.


The challenge facing us all transcends discussions about good versus bad tourism. Tourism – even in a better form – will not survive a failure to deal with the issue of carbon. Like junkies we are dependent and addicted.

Drug cartels and drug pushers benefit from their trafficking when they are not caught. It’s a very profitable business that absorbs participation from all levels of society. Carbon pushers – the fossil fuel companies  – are now are pulling our strings but are as addicted and at risk as the rest of us.

The real crisis of carbon is only just being recognized: $27 trillion in asset value can only be realized if that resource is burned. And, if it is – to quote the courageous head of the IMF, Yvonne Lagarde –  we all fry. If it is not exploited, it becomes a “stranded asset” infinitely less attractive to investors than a dubious Credit Default Swap.

unburnable carbonThe light is going on in the boardrooms of institutional investors, rating companies, and even in investment banks that fossil-based energy sources could pose a real and growing credit risk and if these fears are acted upon, it will cause the biggest market shift in human history.

I feel confident predicting that the next really big topic of conversation will be the carbon bubble that has the potential to dwarf all previous bubbles that burst in recent history. Furthermore, it’s in tourism’s best interest to prick that bubble sooner rather than later to avoid financial meltdown that will seize up markets.

Do you smell smoke? I can. It’s seeping out from the high rise offices of the financial community.

Time to move. The exit is over here (see next post). It was a crap movie anyway!


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.


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.



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.

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: UNWTO

Source: UNWTO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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