Tag Archives: Conscious Travel

Future Prosperity Depends on Managing Success Today

Almost for as long as tourism has existed, we’ve heard the expression ” don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg” yet over the same time has carried on growing regardless.

It looks like 2016 will be the year when it becomes obvious that the golden eggs are cracking under the weight of a very heavy goose. Mainstream media seems to be taking a serious interest in tourism and, because bad news sells newspapers, their focus is on congestion. A few examples already this year include  Iceland, where tourism grew 29% in one year, and Airbnb is the bearing the brunt of local negativity; several European cities where congestion, Airbnb, and the cruise industry are objects of resident ire, Thailand, where three islands have been closed to visitors due to the environmental damage they cause, the Balearics, where a booming tourism industry is welcomed after a decade of recession; and most recently New Zealand whose 100% Pure image is at risk thanks to an unexpected 10% jump in international arrivals (see: RNZ article: Who should pay for the costs of tourism?).

welcome note for tourists to veniceNow, if you thought that it was about time the evils of mainstream, mass tourism were highlighted, think again. Ironically, it is often the so called “eco-tourists” who venture off the beaten track in pursuit of wildness or solitude, that do the greatest harm. The author of the Balearics article, quotes a local conservationist decrying the damage caused to bird nesting sites by over zealous bird watchers:

I think it’s better to have those drinking ghettoes, Playa de Palma and Magaluf, where people go, rather than these intellectual types of tourists who tramp over everything in their search for the untouched bit, the original Mallorcan, and the residential tourists, who buy up property, buy a car, usually two, swimming pools, and want gardens with plants and grass like at home but that need water.


Jeremy Smith (founder of Travindy) has also written a stimulating post today, The endless quest for authentic tourism is sowing the seeds of its own destruction, astutely observing:

that which began as a backlash against the mainstream is fast becoming the mainstream. The increasingly ubiquitous coffee shops and quirky cafes become filled with international hipsters. The museums and galleries teem with foreign visitors seeking a selfie, with the Botticelli now serving as little more than a backdrop…. 

Almost every destination markets itself according to this model, using some form of generic, catch-all appeal to perfection. Everywhere is presented as pure, natural and waiting-to-be-discovered. Even when so-called responsible tourism seeks to present itself as distinct from the mainstream, it mostly does so by reinforcing the same dominant story theme – by accentuating the authentic, and lingering over the local.

If the tourism economy has any chance of becoming sustainable (for it certainly isn’t now), we have to enter into a more intelligent, nuanced debate that acknowledges reality and its complexities in terms of both cause and consequence.

There were many times when Captain Smith of the Titanic could have left entertaining the investors of his shiny new vessel, returned to the bridge and changed course. But, convinced his beautiful ship was unsinkable, he chose not to. Or perhaps having sold the investors of its unsinkability, he couldn’t admit he might be wrong? What do you think – was it an iceberg or hubris that sank the Titanic?

We saw a similar pattern in the months running up to the global financial crisis when, in 2007, the CEO of Citigroup – leveraged up to its eyeballs – declared “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.” The financial collapse occurred not because people were ignorant of the possibility (everyone knew the music would stop one day) but because no one wanted to be the first to leave a good party before the canapés and champagne ran out.

No professional in tourism could ever stand up and say they had no idea tourism could be destructive.

The real problem challenging global tourism is that we’re running out of time to address the root causes underpinning the problems highlighted in the stories listed above and they are.

  • a fixation on volume growth combined with a failure to understand the effects of compounded exponential growth;
  • the global spread of an extractive model that sees people and places as resources to be exploited;
  • a failure to engage resident populations in understanding all the ramifications of opening one’s doors to tsunami-like demand and allowing them to make informed choices;
  • failure to develop the leadership capacity within destinations to deal with such a “wicked problem” as compound growth. (Our tourism and hospitality schools and the many consultant-driven training sessions all assume that the primary goal is volume growth + contribution to GDP not net benefit).
  • a reluctance to admit to and deal directly with the negative consequences associated with tourism – planning regulations, traffic management; zoning, carrying capacity, user fees etc etc
  • failure to see and understand the integrated relationship between tourism and all other factor of human society (culture and economy) as well as the natural world on which it depends.
  • its susceptibility and vulnerability to ravishing “boom and bust” cycles that elicit either greed+recklessness+willful blindness or panic-selling+price discounting depending on which side if the roller coast you are on.

As Jeremy Smith has suggested, it doesn’t matter how authentic or green the supply of an experience is shaped to be, too much of it, imposed on a population (even if it could be a force for good) will produce a huge backlash. The parallels with the immigration crisis in Europe cannot be ignored. Too much of anything delivered too quickly and without the consent of all stakeholders is doomed to produce resistance and, in many case, rightfully so.

Unlike the Titanic, tourism has neither a captain or a rudder

Unlike the Titanic, tourism has neither a captain or a rudder

But my use of the Titanic metaphor is unfortunately inappropriate. Yes, we have many shiny “new” even “awesome” new vessels in tourism, and no shortage of investors and participants wishing to grab a piece of the action, but the amorphous nature of the phenomenon means that, in tourism, there is no captain and no bridge. No one is in charge!

Furthermore, those that do see a problem ahead identify it by its form not its cause – the responsible tourism movement is currently a cacophony of voices protesting about any one of multiple issues; abuse of wildlife, habitat destruction, money laundering, tax evasion, child trafficking, sex tourism, orphanages, carbon emissions, water overuse, eviction and exploitation of indigenous peoples, cruising etc. while, at the same time, extolling the growth of responsible alternatives whose infinite growth could become just as threatening IF not managed properly.

Jeremy is also right to associate the current situation with a Greek tragedy – it’s futile to blame anyone or group. We’re each and all caught up in a flawed social system that needs to be addressed and the first step is to name it for what it really is. Jeremy calls it a new narrative; I call it a new operating model. The name doesn’t matter but our willingness to take off our rose tinted sunglasses and get to work will.

If you care either way, comment!

Travel + Social Good: It All Starts with WHY?

travel +social good banner

On Wednesday of this week I set off for New York to join 150 people committed to figuring out how to make responsible tourism go mainstream at the  Travel + Social Good 2016 Summit.

I’m encouraged because it won’t be a talkfest but a re-design workathon. I am particularly pumped up because I’ll be in the company of other Crazy Ones, like members of the Green Program, willing to listen as much as to speak and willing to look at the challenges facing us as both humans and as tourism professionals from many different perspectives.

crazy ones

I am also hopeful that before we rush into “the how,” we’ll acknowledge the critical importance of addressing two critical “why” questions:

  • Why is the mainstream model of tourism – as a collective economic phenomenon practiced for the past 60 + years– becoming so unsustainable?
  • What is the true purpose of a responsible, regenerative alternative?

But I am also a little fearful that out of a desire to be seen to be effective, fast moving, and action-oriented, we’ll confuse design with problem solving/fixing – as an exercise in re-engineering (albeit with a subtler, softer language) based on a belief we can stay in control of our future.

Even though our daily experience of global digital connectivity may have helped us (as both individuals and communities) to see ourselves as self organizing agents in a huge networked system of living systems, we still tend to apply industrial, mechanical tools to address today’s challenges.

For example, a persistent reductionist habit is evident in the way we segment responsible from sustainable, geo from eco, pro poor from community-based and continue to focus on issues as if they were disconnected from one another e.g., women’s rights, biodiversity, animal cruelty, human trafficking, carbon emissions, peace and security.

Answering the questions posed above (in italics) will necessitate our digging deep into root causes and both identifying and questioning the assumptions, values and beliefs that underpin and shape our behaviour.

esinstein quote for blog

While it has become fashionable to repeat the words in the graphic attributed to Albert Einstein, living that truth is very difficult. It requires a level of deep inner reflection and outer observation that very few time-pressed executives and leaders, who know they are judged on actions not thoughts, feel able to take.


When I repeatedly say, “tourism is not an industry but a living human system” most people nod their heads in agreement. Some tell me that they’ve studied systems theory and are familiar with its concepts. To which I say, “Great, but how do we live it?” Not only is that much harder to do but until we wear a systems set of lenses every day, we’ll fail to see how best to act.

Two words, which are appearing with increasing frequency in the business literature are purpose and regeneration, might trigger productive thought as to how live consciously within a system.

At our best, humans are “meaning seeking beings.” Those of us whose survival needs have been met are asking deeper questions – Who am I? Why am I here? What’s my contribution to making the world a better place? Many of our customers are, in fact, travelling on a quest for answers. These are questions that apply to all aspects of our life, including economies.

People cogently asking the question “What’s an economy for? include Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics) and Christian Felber, founder of Economy for the Common Good; along with the members of Conscious Capitalism; Business as an Agent for World Benefit; the Next System Project, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and B-Corp certified companies – to name merely a few of a growing host of individuals actively contributing to redesigning the economy.

Posing this question is crucial because as systems theorists and practitioners will tell us – you can’t direct a system, you can only disturb it. And the most effective way of disturbing a system is to change its purpose.

The late Donella Meadows – one of the most articulate and early proponents of a systems perspective has this to say in response to the question, if you can’t understand, predict, and control, what is there to do?

Systems thinking requires a different sort of “doing.” The future can’t be predicted but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being. Systems can’t be controlled but they can be redesigned. We can’t surge forward with certainty into a world of no surprises, but we can expect surprises and learn from them and even profit form them. We can’t impose our will upon a system, we can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone. We can’t control systems but we can dance with them!


Hopefully at the Summit, we’ll start with an inquiry into the purpose of tourism and hospitality. Readers of my blog will know it’s one of my favourite questions and most popular topics ( see Why should these graduates work for you?)

  • Is tourism simply about maximizing shareholder profit or enabling all its stakeholders to flourish?
  • Is the purpose of a destination and the agencies responsible for it simply to attract more visitors (to grow in volume) or to ensure this activity generates greater net benefit (measured both quantitatively and qualitatively) for all stakeholders?
  • What – especially from a systems point of view – does a successful, flourishing destination look and feel like?
  • Can tourism fulfill a higher purpose and genuinely contribute to making the world a better place and how?

Which leads me to the next word grabbing more business attention: Regenerative.
Another great contemporary writer thinker, Marjorie Kelley, having conducted a through analysis of which financial institutions continued to serve their communities through a period of financial collapse observed in her book Owning Our Future:

You don’t start with the corporation and ask how to redesign it.

You start with life, with human life of the planet and ask…

How do we generate the conditions for life’s flourishing?

To which I would answer, you can’t do that without changing your mindset and shifting your focus away from mechanics and engineering to living systems and evolution. I am in agreement with another economist turned philosopher-change agent, David Korten whose plain speaking in Change the Story: Change the Future drives the point home:

The only valid purpose of an economy is to serve life. To align the human economy with this purpose, we must learn to live as nature lives, organises as nature organises, and learn as nature learns, guided by a reality-based, life centred, intellectually-sound economics.

It’s because life evolves and is not static that we can never restore something to its original condition nor can we ever succeed in conserving what we have today for future generations. (I was in magical mystical Bali in 1973 – there’s no way a visitors can have that experience today). But what we can do is restore a system’s capacity to continuously self organize and evolve into ever higher levels of complexity, beauty, order, resilience and adaptability.

It’s because of this more accurate understanding of LIFE, that the word sustainability has not succeeded in capturing the hearts and minds of the majority.

In A Living Systems Approach to Design, Bill Reed, cofounder of Regenesis starts his presentation with:

Regeneration is about framing restoration as a whole – engaging the earth’s systems, the biotic systems, AND the people of each unique place in a continuous dialogue of restoration and evolutionary development – a healing or “wholeing.”

Regeneration involves inspiration – an act of breathing new life into a person, into an enterprise, a community, a place, an association and a guest!

Finally and this is the point most pertinent to tourism – we can do regeneration best at a community level because first and foremost it involves expressing and celebrating the forms of life that reflect the uniqueness of the place in which life evolves. As we grow in awareness of who we are and why we are here as humans, we are literally re-membering (piecing back together) the whole system of life in each unique place instead of the fragments we have been taught to specialize in. Indigenous people, allowed to live on the land true to the customs and traditions that emerged from it, have never forgotten this living systems knowledge. Our indigenous brothers and systems can help all of us become indigenous again and learn to be living expressions of a place we in tourism call a destination.

Finally to inspire and encourage let me a share a great example presented by the efforts of residents on Inishboffin to ensure their visitor economy flourishes through responsible, community-driven tourism development. My dear friend Mary Mulvey of  Eco Tourism Ireland who inspired and supported the community and, in my opinion, did an amazing job. It’s one example of thousands emerging from the grassroots.

So for all these reasons, I am very excited and inspired by the prospect such great company at the end of this week and exploring how tourism fulfill its true potential as a force for good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The remaining four principles are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Relevance of VUCA and ANTHROPOCENE to Tourism

What do military personnel and hunter-gatherers have in common?

In addition to being highly mobile, often clad with weaponry of some sort, they possess high levels of situation awareness, a nose for danger and an above average capacity for adaptation and improvisation.  Their “fight and flight” responses are on full alert.

Given these capacities, it is not surprising that it was the US military who first named the new conditions in which humanity would have to operate for the remainder of the century and very likely beyond. Traditionally tasked with obtaining “intel” they are adept at reading the signs and joining the dots. As early as 20 years ago, they concluded that established methods of observation, analysis and forecasting were no longer up to the job. They coined yet another anagram to draw our attention to the new state of play suggesting with conviction and accuracy that we now live in a VUCA world in which Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity are dominant characteristics (1).

As military men are spared the restrictions of time consuming peer reviews and a drawn out publication process their observations preceded conclusive scientific evidence from biophysical scientists by a few years. But the physical scientists have since caught up in style and have introduced a fancy new term of their own – the Anthropocene; a name that is likely to last much longer in the history books.  It applies to the arrival of a new geological epoch, no less, whose commencement may have started as early as the 1850s when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane began to rise as a result of the introduction of the steam engine and the industrial revolution that followed. It marks a time when human activities have reached such a scale, scope and pace as to alter whole planetary systems. (2) (3)

As is the case with all “phase changes” its early beginnings were imperceptible and potentially reversible at first but really took off in the very early 1950s – coincidentally,  the same time I was born. I mention this not to suggest any causal relationship between the two events (!!!) but to bear personal witness to the fact that it’s unprecedented for any human to be born in one geological epoch and reach the end of their lives in another.  It seems to give a whole new depth of meaning to the term Baby Boomers as it is our generation that is witnessing this profound beginning. It’s also our generation, whose activities during what is known as the Great Acceleration, that kick-started this incipient shift.

The changing of epochs is a geological process that normally takes thousands of years so this unprecedented situation just goes to show that while change may be a constant, the rate at which change changes most certainly is not!

The Great Acceleration refers to the scale, pace and scope of human activity that has occurred since the end of the Second World War – a period during which the earth’s population tripled and GDP expanded some 20-fold.  Owen Gaffney of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program has created an illuminating slide deck illustrating the most impactful period of human history in terms of our relationship with the biosphere. It’s well worth watching.


In order to appreciate the immensity of this shift, I  also encourage you to watch this brief and beautifully crafted video explaining what the Anthropocene means. If you feel you don’t have time, or if you doubt that humankind can have had such an impact, consider this:

  • Humans now move more sediment and rock each year than all the natural processes of erosion –rivers, rain, glaciers, frost.
  • Humans manage 75% of all land outside ice sheets
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations are higher than they have been recorded for just under a million years
  • Humans now take out more nitrogen from the atmosphere than the biosphere does as a whole
  • The average global temperature has increased by just under 1 degree Celsius in one hundred years and is forecast to rise by an equal amount in less than another thirty-five years if business as usual prevails.
  • Human activity is correlated with a lost of 60% of species in that same period.



So what has this to do with VUCA and hunter gatherers?

1. By entering the Anthropocene we’ve left a short but uniquely stable period in earth’s history – an epoch called the Holocene when the ideal conditions for humans to thrive and multiply emerged and have been sustained. The Holocene began around 12,000 years ago and made it possible for homo sapiens to stop wandering around searching for food and start growing his or her own.

2. Prior to the Holocene, notably for the previous 400,000 years the Earth System had stabilised around a very different pattern characterised by huge swings in temperature (between + and =4 degrees C) that corresponded the arrival and then disappearance of huge ice flows out from the poles. As illustrated below, the last time the earth’s temperature rose significantly higher than today was in a time called Eemian when sea levels were  also 4-6 meters higher than now.

last 800 thousand years

During the past 100,000 years, early man – our hunter-gatherer ancestors – had to put up with huge swings in climate that made survival very difficult. It’s estimated that the population of homo sapiens was reduced to a mere 15,000 fertile individuals and flirted with extinction until a warm period enabled them to start wandering out of East Africa.


last 100000 years coloured

3. It was as if Planet Earth was seeking and found a balance or an internal rhythm around 12,000 years ago and average temperature fluctuations have stayed within a boundary of + or – 1 degree until very, very recently. This new stability provided a degree of predictability that humans could observe without which any form of agriculture would have been impossible. Without agriculture, there would be no settlements and without settlements there would be limited exchange of knowledge.. Our current lifestyles, transport infrastructure and agricultural surpluses have all been developed to function under the benign conditions typified by the Holocene and could not be sustained if pre-Holocene conditions were to return.

4. The arrival of the Anthropocene marks the end of that period of stability and predictability – a “regime shift”, ironically,  caused by our success as a species in the Holocene. The military strategists were right – even if they didn’t know of the science. This is not just another “trend” or even another “risk factor” or “threat.”  This change is about as big as it gets and there is simply no aspect of human existence that isn’t going to be affected by it.

5. This doesn’t  have to be a sad story with an unhappy unending. It need not be a Greek tragedy with lots of wailing and lamentations. On the contrary, what’s so very different is that we know so very much about the benign Holocene conditions that we can avoid straying away too far away from that state. Thanks to the work of  Johan Rockstrom et al, we have a dashboard that can be applied to keep humanity operating within safe planetary boundaries. We have all the tools to track our progress and many argue that we have the knowledge and tools to thrive – even as 9 billion people – within those boundaries. More importantly we have the knowledge and tools to regenerate our local environments and ensure tourism is in truth a force for good.

Using those tools and the insights of modernsnakes-and-ladders, however, will take awareness of the challenge (hence the need to wake up now); recognition that we can’t assume someone else will take care of us (hence the need to grow up); and development of a compelling vision of a better way of living together on this most beautiful of planet (hence stepping up and working together to create a better model). It will also require re-thinking virtually everything, including how we are going to move 1.8 billion across international borders safely every year from 2030 onwards.

If we don’t, then sharpen you spears, check out the bows and arrows, hone your foraging skills and make friends with the indigenous peoples of the world. Maybe evolution is like the game “snake and ladders” after all, and we’ll just slide down the snake to climb the ladder again. Unlike the game, however, it’s not about throwing dice but making conscious choices and collectively, co-creatively developing the skills of a hunter gatherer described at the beginning of this essay. Not because we need return to foraging but because we need to thrive in a less stable, more unpredictable world. I am confident that by so doing the outcome will be better and better for more.



1. The notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College in the late 1990s and took hold after the terrorist attacks on the world trade centre in 2001. See: Kingsinger, P. & Walch, K. (2012 July 9). Living and leading in a VUCA world. Thunderbird University. Retrieved from http://knowledgenetwork.thunderbird.edu/research/2012/07/09/kinsinger-walch-vuca/.

2.  The terms Anthropocene was popularised by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and subsequently a team of scientists have published several papers on the subject. Steffen, Will et al. “The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship.” Ambio 40.7 (2011): 739–761. PMC. An application has been made to the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London for its formal acceptance.

3. Background history of the proposal for a new epoch http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_anthropocene_debate__marking_humanitys_impact/2274/

4. Contrary positions toRockstrom

Walking the halls of hope and despair, WTM 2014

World Travel Market 2013, ExCel, London, ExCel, London


I confess I have never been wild about the World Travel Market – its central hall was the site of my personal “Road to Damascus” several years ago when I experienced the full extent to which tourism has become an industrial production and consumption machine.

I admit to being overwhelmed by the sheer scale, busyness and sterility of the event where products are pushed and deals done; brochures and media stuffed into plastic bags then discarded; and sustainable clichés fall like feathers from the upper galleries onto the hard selling activity in cubicles on the shop floor.

Walking the central hall this year I felt a visceral inner and outer tussle between despair and hope.

The number of “responsibility” seminars was, encouragingly, greater than ever before but still totally outnumbered and out attended by sessions devoted to trends, technology, social media, and market segments. Within the responsible tourism stream, the same pattern applied. Subjects like “Increasing the local economic impact” and ‘Using responsible travel to drive sales” attracted far more participants than subjects like reducing energy and water. (Note: I learned much from these sessions; applaud and thank organisers, speakers and Jeremy Smith for his excellent distillation: 10 things I learned from WTM 2014 with great links to speaker interviews)

There’s a simple explanation for the topic and attendance bias I suppose – the vast majority of people paid to attend WTM are engaged in marketing and sales. It is a market after all. But that explanation points to an issue that was hardly mentioned– and that’s the G-word: Growth. Tourism succeeds when it grows because we have defined success as more. Because growth is the goal, we allocate resources to the people, technology and processes that produce growth and measure our progress towards sustaining it.

And that leads me back to despair – because until we describe our predicament accurately and delve deeply into the root cause of the challenges we face, as an industry and as humanity, we’ll waste time and scarce resources tinkering at the edges. Our well intended “busyness” will keep thousands employed, produce endless conference fodder, and generate hundreds of checklists, certification bodies, “new” green initiatives, declarations and reports but won’t actually move us off the road to catastrophe.

The deeper problem is that more has become the end and not the means.

Somewhere in the last 60 years, while we’ve been so busy expanding, we’ve made it the responsibility of commerce to grow but not necessarily improve the lives of the community in which it takes place. GDP is used to measure growth in activity not welfare. We’ve become so used to growing and to the benefits that we believe it brings, that we’re literally hooked. We certainly behave like addicts. We seem to need more of it to feel its benefits. We complain and suffer when growth slows or stops. We associate a life without it as being uncomfortable at best and possibly life threatening at worse and we can also be blind to the hurt we cause ourselves and others.


(c) polyp@polyp.org.uk

As is also the case with addiction, the object of our craving is now causing more harm than good and producing a number of side effects that threaten our collective welfare. Many of these side effects – the pressure on biodiversity, the mistreatment of animals held captive; growth in human trafficking, and social inequity — were rightly included as responsible tourism topics at WTM. But climate change, universally recognized as one the biggest threats to human life and prosperity, was not officially assigned any airtime  this year despite the urgency now communicated by 97%+ of scientists (see Guardian summary). Climate change was not named as a topic in any of the seminar sessions. Yet climate change is surely a major and critically important symptom of an organ (in this case, our life supporting ecosphere), adjusting to the effects of an addiction afflicting its dominant species.

Addicts, we know, spend increasing amounts of time as their disease progresses, denying and concealing their dependence. The absence of sessions at WTM in which neither climate change nor the negative impacts of growth were officially discussed, and the complete absence of their mention in the brochure used to launch the “New” 10YFP Programme on Sustainable Tourism all signal avoidance behaviours classically used by addicts not yet ready for rehabilitation.

Finally, this statement from the Director of Sustainable Development of the UNWTO in the only article labeled “Responsible Tourism” in WTM Business,  shows what really matters:

“The tourism sector is embracing responsible tourism not as an option, but as a condition for its continuous growth

Forgive me if the thought of sterilized needles and methadone replacement comes to mind.

So What’s Wrong with Growth?

The problem is fundamentally a semantic one. The verb “to grow” has three meanings:

miriam webster

Over the course of time, we in tourism have assumed that more of an entity or state is better than equal or less over time. Look at any tourism strategy from the smallest of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, National Tourist Boards or even the UNWTO and you will see that the goal is to grow tourism by a percentage increase over its performance the previous year. Performance is measured in the trips, people, and their spending at the host destination. In short, size matters and the shared meaning of growth is MORE.

So what’s wrong with that?

Well, there wasn’t much wrong with that at all when we started out some 60 years ago deploying mass transport to enable working men and women and their families have a holiday, visit parts of their country or venture to foreign lands. The tourism “industry” sensibly applied what had proved to be a very proficient method of making and selling things – an industrial system of production and consumption and, as a consequence, during the span of one human lifetime, tourism became a global economic sector of enormous importance contributing 10% of GDP and keeping over 250 million people in a job.

Since World War 2, tourism has brought benefits to virtually every country; lifted people out of poverty through accessible employment; created an untold number of entrepreneurial opportunities; enabled millions to enjoy face-to-face encounters with people of very different cultures; help fill public treasuries with useful tax dollars that were applied to education, health care and other social services; supported the development of important infrastructure and provided billions of dollars in foreign exchange and investment capital.

Phew!  Surely that’s an accomplishment to be proud of?

Yes, it is. But it’s not the complete or honest story. It ignores the inefficiencies and inequities built into the industrial system that only become apparent over time. So duplicating that rate of growth going forward may not bring more “good” with it. There are reasons why continuing to grow bigger is neither desirable nor at all likely. Let’s tackle the issue of likelihood first.

It will be difficult to sustain such growth forever because the operating model on which it was based was designed in and for a different world. The conditions that ensured its success are fast disappearing.

The model flourished when energy was cheaply available from abundant, accessible sources of fossil fuel; when there were literally hundreds of new, virtually empty and exotic places to explore and cultures to get to know; when host communities needed cash and investment to play in a global cash economy; when there were vast quantities of resources, capital and know-how to deploy with limited debt to be paid; and when huge numbers of people were determined to put two decades of war behind them and improve their material well-being.

Continuing to grow in size is not desirable now simply because the world is full (1), and because the industrial model of production and consumption contains within it certain characteristics and flaws that worsen with time. For the purpose of this post, I’ll concentrate on just four of the biggest:

  1. Tourism generates wastes and uses resources at a rate that can be accommodated in its early stage of development but not sustained after it has reached a certain scale and pace of growth. Mitigating the negative effects of climate change (most of which will hurt tourism) now requires that all economies drastically reduce their production of COto zero by 2050. That is because the atmosphere can only absorb a finite amount of CO2 IF we wish to keep average temperatures at a level in which human society can flourish (see previous posts on subject here and here).
  2. Tourism is on a course that would increase its carbon contribution by 150% at precisely the time when it needs to focus on decreasing its absolute contribution to zero! Even if all ground operations became carbon-negative, the airline sector – vital to international tourism and responsible for 40% of tourism emissions now – will be a major contributor to the global total by 2050 if current forecast/ growth rates are achieved. Despite all the talk about being responsible, not a single nation has a carbon mitigation strategy for the tourism sector (2)
  3. With a human population expected to increase by a further 2.5 billion between now and 2050, tourism will also face increasing competition for land, water and food in areas where – thanks to the effects of climate change – public funds may be unable to cope with the basic needs of resident populations. According to UNEP (3), mass tourism leaves an average of 5 cents in the host country for every $1 spent by visitors.  As the costs of mitigation and adaptation to climate change and the demands of a burgeoning visitor population rise, where will these hosts find the resources to supply adequate waste management, security, health and transportation services in addition to meeting the needs of their own growing population?
  4. cheap travelMass tourism has a tendency to produce diminishing returns to investors and host communities over time. Tourism demand is highly volatile, seasonal and beyond the control of host destinations. When demand ebbs there is a tendency to discount and that response, combined with a lack of control over capacity, leads to a general fall in income per transaction. Price discounting necessitates either rigorous cost cutting or vertical and horizontal integration which can exacerbate a tendency for service levels and customer satisfaction to also decline.


What can we do?  There are two answers and the clue lies in the second and third definition of the verb “to grow.”

First, we re-define “growth” as better and second, we grow up!

Re-defining Growth As “Better and better for more”
Let’s shift our focus to a more inspiring end goal – enabling all stakeholders and especially the communities that welcome guests to flourish; in other words express and exude health and vitality; be resilient; open to change and qualitative development. In short thrive and prosper and become all they can be.

Let’s make sure the growth we get is:

  • honest (acknowledges and deals with costs and harm as enthusiastically as it promotes the benefits);
  • fair (ensures the benefits accrue to all stakeholders equitably); and
  • natural (is life enhancing and in harmony with the natural rhythms of life).

Let’s make sure that what host communities deliver and what guests experience constitute an antidote to the types of uneconomic growth that prevail today in many parts of the world:

  • jobless growth, where the economy grows but produces few jobs or ones that are poorly paid and erode the dignity and health of the worker;
  • ruthless growth, where the proceeds only benefit speculators,  and the rich or powerful:
  • voiceless growth, where economic growth is not accompanied by extensions of democracy or empowerment and where residents are deprived as say in who and how many guests they welcome; and
  • futureless growth, where the present generation squanders resources needed by future generations.

Note though: The challenge when discussing tourism from a global perspective is that it ignores the enormous variability in circumstances between destinations. Volume growth may be needed in many destinations where there is over capacity brought about by a “build it and they will come” approach. Conscious Travel is not only about generating higher yields but empowering hosts communities to make informed decisions about how much, what kind, where and when. In some instances, more visitors are needed to ensure vitality and resilience.

We Grow Up!
Growing from an adolescent to an adult requires understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around you personally; that you are a member of a community on which you depend and to which you are obliged. It’s a reciprocal relationship of respect and caring. It also recognizes that there are limits. You neither can nor wish to keep growing bigger. You expect to change as you pass into adulthood – both physically and emotionally. You look forward to exploring how you can express your uniqueness within the constraints set by your culture and environment. While sometimes you’ll kick against those constraints and may even succeed in redefining them; other times, you’ll see that they are useful and stimulate more creativity and innovation.

You stop growing bigger when you grow into adulthood – you mature; you start to want to express yourself; to become more, to stretch – but qualitatively not quantitatively. You want to contribute to a larger whole. You want to be the best you can be. You strive to go where no man has gone before. That yearning diminishes much more slowly than your body ages – take that from me!!

And this process is totally natural!

In nature, nothing grows forever except perhaps the universe itself,  (it’s been expanding outwards at a phenomenal rate for 13.7 billion years).

There are no straight lines in nature. What looks like a straight line in nature is simply a part of a fractal curve that appears throughout life itself. It has what sounds like a mysterious name – it’s called a Sigmoid curve. But Sigmoid is just Greek for the letter S and the curve describes the letter lying on its back and illustrates a natural cycle that pervades all life.

Butler TALC copy

Thanks to Dr. Butler, the tourism community is familiar with the Sigmoid Curve even though they aren’t recognized as such. Dr Butler introduced the most enduring model of tourism destination development but, while he correctly named it as the Tourism Area Life Cycle Model (TALC), he based it on a concept derived from the industrial model of production and consumption – the life cycle of products. It’s an indication of the author’s modesty, that Dr. Butler is surprised by its popularity, potency and durability (4).

The TALC model is applicable not just to individual resorts – each of which sits at its own unique point on the curve – but to mass industrial tourism as a whole. If you define success as volume – as opposed to net benefit – you’ll place mass tourism between stages 3 and 4 on the TALC curve. But if measured in terms of its net benefit then we’re most definitely at or approaching stage 4.


Evidence for Hope

We don’t need to tear down the old model. The alternative model is emerging all around unwto-report-cover-217x300us. Both need to co-exist while the alternative grows in strength and complexity. Several pioneers of a new, less harmful, more beneficial model were acknowledged and applauded by receiving Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM and many others attended and contributed to the sessions that accompanied the trading on the exhibit floor. At the WTM, the UNWTO and Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) launched their jointly produced Global Report on Adventure Tourism  in which ATTA revealed from its Industry Snapshot 2014 that an estimated  65.6% of the total trip cost of an adventure package remains in the destination(s) visited – a vast improvement on the 5% estimated by UNEP for mass tourism. Proof that there is huge potential to improve the net benefit to host destinations.

We don’t need any more divisions; no more “them” and “us”. Those of us who have been working in all aspects of the new, whether it be in sustainable, responsible, geo, fairtrade, or social tourism; whether our focus is on environment or social issues; or whether we’ve been involved for years or minutes, need now to join hands. Some can focus on building inspiring working prototypes of the new. Others can build bridges with the keepers of the old until it makes sense for them to move.

nature's timeless principleWhat we do need is coherent thinking as a “we” tied together by a common vision for humanity that can thrive and flourish on a living planet.

What we do need is to understand nature’s timeless principles to recognise when it’s time for transformation, maturation, evolution (5).

We also need courage to undertake a fearless inventory and speak the truth. It was Chris Doyle’s article for the WTM that persuaded me to attend and I was honoured to join him in the two lively and provocative sessions organized by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).

This is the most exciting time to be alive. It’s the very first time in human history when individual humans have the capacity to be aware that their personal choices do matter in the evolutionary trajectory of a species, no less!

No wonder we’re being called to stop growing in size but in wisdom, insight, maturity and compassion. Because tourism plays such a direct role in connecting people to each other in places where they can experience the power and beauty of nature  and discover their true identity, we must step up into a much grander sense of purpose.

More of us must engage in the task of building a better model – shifting from one S curve to another.

It all makes that brightly lit central hallway in a box called Excel seem rather unappealing, don’t you think? There’s a mysterious and amazingly beautiful world of living beings out there in the sunshine by the river – let’s join them there and flourish.

References and Reading
(1) Economics in a Full World, Herman Daly, Scintific American September 2005. Download here 

(2) Climate Change Implications for Tourism University of Cambridge Download pdf here

(3) UNEP, Negative Economic Impacts of Tourism – available online here

(4) Tourism Area Life Cycle R.W. Butler,  in Contemporary Tourism Reviews, Goodfellow Publishers, Oxford, 2011

(5) See Giles Hutchins: Transformational Times Call For Transformational Minds.

Personal Note: This post is the first in a series of reflections about how tourism can flourish in a post carbon, post growth society. The “book,” which so many of my dear supporters have said I must write, is finally in the making. It will be so much better if you add your comments to these blogs, share and encourage others. No individual, no enterprise, no community can go it alone. The stakes are too high.


When will tourism industry start talking sensibly about tourism growth? Author Jeremy Smith, founder Travindy. Another call for this discussion to take place.

WTM 2015 Responsible Tourism Day – Shock and Awe
One year later in 2015, resistance to contemplating another model i.e. one that does not deed on volume growth acme very evident.

DO UNWTO Figues mislead?

Tourism What’s the Point ? (just in case we have forgotten)


Conscious Brands

A consistent theme of my blog that I hope has not gone unnoticed is that the scope and pace of change is engulfing us all now is unlike anything previously experienced. It’s not just the speed with which a new idea can now catch light and spread – look at the success of Airbnb and its many competitors – but the potential for its radical disruption of the norm. That’s because you are not looking at minor adjustments to business as usual but a fundamental shift in “Story” – the narrative, values, beliefs that we use to guide our choices and actions as individuals and as society. Once you understand the dimensions and characteristics of that shift, you will see all manner of  opportunity and implications.

Having said that, I am amazed at the relative lack of interest in such high/deep level analysis – most people in tourism seem content to be fed a diet of trends that often appear in international events almost at the point of being past their sell-by-date. Recently one tourism conference declared in 2013, that “experiential travel is now hot.”

Expect to see the word “conscious” appear with increasing and alarming frequency. Alarming because we all know how the force of a new idea can be significantly weakened with either repetition or mis-use. (the word “paradigm” comes to mind). By way of example, I am sharing the work of a relatively young New York agency “spark& honey” who describe themselves as “trend watchers and tacticians, strategists and savants, creatives and quants who  live to help brands hijack, accelerate and ignite culture”.

Here are two provocative slide decks – the first on Conscious Brands and the second on the Collaborative Economy. These are simply two manifestations of a deep shift in  values.

A year ago, we highlighted the emergence of Airbnb “10 Reasons Why Airbnb is an awesome Travel Enterprise . In this deck from spark & honey, you can see how the collaborative economy is creating new competitors from unlikely sources that are affecting hospitality and transportation more widely.


To be honest, I am tired of being told I am “ahead of my time” because as time speeds up, those who are considered to be “out front” might have something highly relevant to say. But if noses are permanently to the grindstone, their owners may not have noticed the acceleration!

Bali Soul Journals – for the conscious traveller

front & back flap BSJ

I am very pleased to provide a sneak preview of what I consider to be the best contemporary insight into the essence of Bali – as seen through the stories of 14 Balinese residents – beautifully compiled by writer Clare McAlaney and photographer Trish McNeill. Unknown to me at their time of writing, the authors included a chapter on Conscious Travel which I have re-posted here. Please view their original post here and Facebook page and wonder through their site to stimulate your appetite for the book.

I was honoured to be asked to write the Forward which I am posting below in the hopes it will make you beat a speedy path to the RESERVE NOW Section as it’s a sensory delight and full of wisdom, hope and humour.


Bali Soul Journals is no ordinary travelogue. It’s a tapestry that weaves storyteller, story, image and reader into one rich fabric – a precious insight into the essence of a unique place.

Wrap this fabric around you  (and it will drape around your shoulders like a silken shawl) to experience a contradictory array of emotions as all your senses are mysteriously activated. Awe, admiration, sadness, curiosity, wonder, pride, hope, despair, compassion and determination will likely be just some of the feelings evoked by the stories of an island and its people struggling to maintain its integrity and avoid a cultural unraveling.

Bali Soul Journals joyfully and gently educates – as in “draws out” – the conscious traveler who yearns to be a participant not voyeur, welcomed guest not tolerated consumer, contributor not exploiter. Bali’s sensuous landscape and profoundly rich culture come alive through the journals of fourteen Balinese who daily must balance economic imperatives with a compelling need to keep their cultural fabric intact. 

Balines Kites - image sourced from and © held by Bali Soul Journals

Balinese Kites – image sourced from and © held by Bali Soul Journals

Author, Clare McAlaney, and co-photographer, Trish McNeill,  successfully immerse readers in a virtual experience of Bali from the inside out, enabling them to hear stories that cannot penetrate the plate glass of a tour bus or compete with the din of musak, megaphone or motorcycle engine. There’s a gentleness to the writing, suffused with hope and belonging, that is quintessentially Balinese slowing your breathing, relaxing your shoulders and drawing you into the mystery beyond the temple walls,

Bali Soul Journals is the perfect inspiration for conscious travelers. The guide models a way of seeing, being and behaving in a place that could deliver a sustainable livelihood and enhanced dignity to the host while enriching and transforming the guest.

This publication arrives at a critical tipping point in the history of tourism. By turning what are sacred places in substitutable products (i.e. commodities), mass tourism has undermined its ability to create sustained wealth and well being. Only by celebrating the uniqueness of each place and re-weaving the many and various threads that comprise the complex yet delicate tapestry that is Bali, can both guest and host alike benefit from future encounters.

There’s no denying that Bali stands on a knife edge – mass tourism’s juggernaut is pulling apart so many of the threads that hold its fragile culture together. This book is both a rallying cry for visitors to wake up to the challenges their presence creates and an invitation to help co-create a more harmonious, respectful way of being together.

Post on Bali’s Impact I wrote in March 2010 – http://desticorp.typepad.com/desticorp/2010/03/on-homecoming-and-wayfinding-rethinking-sustainable-tourism.html

What is a Conscious Traveller?

PostScript from Anna Pollock (Nov 22nd)
Serendipity and Synchronicity are powerful concepts and words. You’ll start to use them the more you let go the need to plan and control; trust the process and live in the present. Both are happening in my life now. I wasn’t aware of this blog post from Bali Soul Journals until two weeks ago when I received an email from the authors thanking me for being a source of inspiration for their latest book creation. They sent me an e-version of the book before it went to the printers and even though I had to squint to read it online, I couldn’t stop. The essence of Conscious Travel is all here. What an affirmation that a new Story can emerge just at that moment when despair darkens the sky. The book is being launched at the end of November. It’s a feast for the eyes and nourishment for your soul as it offers hope. Get your order in quickly, in time for Christmas.Bali Soul Journals

Bali Soul Journals

When Bali Soul Journals was born, it was as sibling to another book, Things you need to know about Bali. As author, I had felt there was ‘something missing’, the ‘je ne sais pas’. It wasn’t until I chatted with Jack Canfield, author of the famous Chicken Soup for the Soul series, that the penny drop. While it is fine to give practical advice, capturing people’s stories about a location was not only more interesting, it was necessary.

I returned home and began researching a term that Jack had used, ‘conscious travel’.

View original post 1,502 more words

Why John Mackey and Richard Branson should break bread together

Richard Branson launches the Bteam on June 14th

Richard Branson launches the Bteam on June 14th

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

John Mackey launches Conscious Capitalism in London June 12th

John Mackey launches Conscious Capitalism in London June 12th

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

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

It would certainly make for a fascinating dinner party:

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

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

The opportunity lies in exploring their different approaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Higher Purpose of the Bteam is specifically focused:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Missing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information

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

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

Related Posts

Screw Tourism As Usual

What is Conscious Capitalism?

Is Conscious Capitalism Business 3.0?

Tourism What’s The Point

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

As I am an optimist by necessity and an altruist by choice, I’ve no desire to criticize the sentiment behind UNWTO’s campaign  http://1billiontourists.unwto.org/. Hopefully it will also get the millions of hosts – many of whom are struggling right now – thinking more deeply about their future.

Source: UNWTO

Source: UNWTO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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