Tag Archives: Purpose of tourism

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.

Hacking History (Part 2) The Internet’s Third Power Shift

In the previous post, we considered how mega change happens and pointed to the thought-leaders, technologies and demographics that worked in combination to shift power from companies to consumers. That’s not news, or shouldn’t be, for most of you. What might be news, however, is the fact that we are about to see an equivalent shift in the relationship between corporations and employees and the emergence of far more fluid organisational structures to get work done. I am not confident that the current industrial structure supporting mass tourism can reverse an opposing trend – i.e., declining wages, deteriorating working conditions, less security… Hence the need to focus on an alternative.


follow-your-blissThe workforce has divided into two camps – those holding onto a job (employees) and those who, by choice or necessity, broke free or were pushed into becoming self-employed, free lancers, sole traders and volunteers or who joined or started social enterprises, collectives, NGOs, not-for-profits and worker-directed companies. The Internet has been awash with sites encouraging and showing people how to “follow their bliss,” “make a difference”, find “meaning and purpose” and “financial freedom” by running their own business. It’s also become clear that anyone with a smartphone can potentially execute a bright idea by pulling together creative, talented but virtual teams, deploying software rented from the cloud and crowd fund it from micro investors.

The internet initially shifted power in the marketplace and is now enabling a major political shift. Social media is being used to mobilise people on an unprecedented scale with a degree of spontaneity and surprise unseen before. Occupy Wall Street was spawned by the Egyptian uprising and within two-three years we witnessed expressions of public dissatisfaction in Iceland, Ukraine, Brazil etc. Less visible but more impactful was the explosive growth in online petitioning and crowd funding. Now the shift is moving into the third arena: the workplace and the Millennials are the push force. The 2015 Deloitte Millennial survey, is a must read for all employers and it will be a subject of a later post. Right now, two paragraphs from the front page summarise the core message:

Millennials overwhelmingly believe that business needs a reset in terms of paying as much attention to people and purpose as it does products and profit. 75% believe businesses are too fixated on their own agendas and not focused enough on helping to improve society.

The message is clear: when looking at their career goals, today’s Millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and its contribution to society as they are in its profits. These findings should be viewed as a valuable alarm to the business community, particularly in developed markets, that they need to change the way they engage Millennial talent or risk being left behind.

key sources of economic valueIBM’s annual survey of CEOs around the world, Leading Through Connections, the corporate world appeared to have recognised that human capital had become its most important source of economic value but do they really understand the full nature of change going within their workforce? They spend hundreds of millions measuring “engagement” but from the company’s point of view.

Preoccupation with developing meaningful conversations with consumers has blinded many companies to the plain truth that customers and employees share one thing in common – they are human beings!

If companies are having to become customer centric, then why won’t they be required to become employer centric too?

Failure to recognise this power shift constitutes a huge opportunity cost and will soon become the factor that separates success from failure. The Manpower Group’s talent survey shows that 36% of companies are having trouble filling staff shortages now – the highest proportion since the pre-recession boom year of 2007. Bill Jensen in Hack the Science of Engagement! cogently argues that companies need to ruthlessly examine just how self centred (as in employer centric) they really are and how out of synch with the motivations and aspirations of today’s workforce. Just look again at how engagement is defined:

“the extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplish tasks important to achieve organizational goals.” (Source: 2014 IBM Smarter Workforce Study.)

Jensen’s team asked several truly employee centric questions. First of all they assessed the degree to which employees were optimistic, happy , hopeful and harbouring dreams for personal growth and success. Despite all the challenges of making a living as a “worker” the results were remarkably upbeat. 79 per cent happy

The workforce is NOT disengaged from working on what matters to them… They are very engaged in their hopes and dreams!


9.8 dreamsBUT – and it’s a big but, they are extremely frustrated with businesses’s lack of caring, desire and willingness to be a vehicle for achieving their dreams and goals. Only 29% said they thought they could achieve their goals where they currently worked. But it’s worse than that. When you subtract from the total those workers in executive or entrepreneurial positions and environments, the 29% figure drops to 9.8%!

That means that 9 in 10 employees have dreams that they don’t expect to fulfil by staying with their current employer!!

So what does all this have to do with tourism and hospitality? It is no coincidence that when you look at the Conscious Travel compass of its eight principles and practices, the foundational four are Purpose, People, Place and Power. They work with the principles of Protection, Proximity, Pace, and Pull  to support the goal of building a visitor economy that enables all its stakeholder to flourish – to fulfil their potential as passionate, fully alive human beings.

PEOPLE is positioned as the second most important Principle and Practice in the Conscious Travel Model to remind us that for, a visitor economy to survive and flourish through the next decade, we must shift our focus from moving “product” to growing people. That’s because consumers are not mere consumption units (passenger nights, revenues per room) but people and people that talk to one another, and try to help each other. Consumers are also employees, shareholders, voters, investors, association members, family members, lovers, friends and, in short, human beings – all steadily, uniquely, consciously or unconsciously engaged in a lifelong journey of experience and self-discovery as described in the 1950’s by Maslow as a Hierarchy of Needs from survival to self-actualisation.

Companies that help individuals – be they customers or employees – move up that hierarchy, regardless of where their customer sits on it, will be the winners regardless of the sector in which they operate.

We have examples of both worst and best practices to learn from. The revenue battering trend of commoditisation  has caused many instances of poor labor practices, labour unrest, low wages, high turnover, zero hour contracts and pitiful levels of engagement. Some parts of the industry have grown by deploying an extractive approache more suited to mining. This comment was made by an industry analyst within the airline sector:

What we have is a race to the bottom in the mass market segment – ever restrictive ticketing conditions; customers forced to pay for anything extra; the slow and inexorable reduction in in-flight catering…This has been dubbed the “Gotcha” economy – that successful companies go out of their way to create conditions in the fine print that lead to consumers paying extra fees and penalties. (1) (2)

peak bookBut the good news is that there are many excellent examples of leaders who have put their employees welfare first and as a consequence enjoyed higher profits and greater resilience. Pioneering leaders like Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, Chip Conley founder of Joie de Vivre and PEAK, Mike Dapatie formerly CEO of Kimpton Hotels, Danny Meyer successful New York restauranteur and creator of Hospitality Quotient, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Fairmont are all examples of live up to the definition of a Conscious Host – a host who cares.

Conscious hosts create places that care simply because the people at each place (be it a B& B, a boutique hotel, the site of an activity, tour or event) genuinely CARE about their guest, the environment on which they depend and each other. They also care about the vitality of the local economy; the culture of the host community, the viability and responsibility of suppliers, and the needs of shareholders to see a return on their investment. So yes, Bill Jensen, Chip Conley, Danny Meyer I am with you – let’s Hack the Science of Engagement and talk about Passion instead.

When all the stakeholders associated with a place share a common purpose and can express their passion for their place through their work, profits will follow.

PS. An economist I really admire is Robert Reich who offers a more jaundiced view on employee prospects here. Why Wages Won’t Rise. I think he hasn’t fully appreciated the change that is occurring in the creative economy. The jury is out as to whether or when progress there will spill into traditional manufacturing. Another analyst is Jeremy Rifkin whose Zero Marginal Cost Society is a must read and far more optimistic. The three of us are boomers so what do we really know – it’s those of you born after 1980 like the founders of Airbnb who will surprise and delight us all.

PPS Breaking News: The B Team and Virgin Unite have weighed into the debate by publishing a synthesis of latest thinking on the topic New Ways of Working. It provided authoritative evidence that Conscious Travel is on the right track.

See also: Conscious Hosts Create Place That Care

(1) http://airlineanalysts.com/2012/09/19/a-race-to-the-bottom-low-cost-carriers-and-the- gotcha-economy/ (2) http://redtape.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/07/13710824-the-truth-comes-out-ceo-says- stupid-consumers-deserve-hefty-fees?lite

On Honouring Time as a Sacred Gift

At WINTA’s Indigenous Tourism Forum held as the concluding day of the Adventure Travel World Summit 2012,  my role was to explain why Indigenous Tourism is an approach whose time has most definitely come (slide deck here). When guests are received and hosted by indigenous peoples they have an opportunity to look at life through perceptual “lenses” that are not only different to the prevailing western worldview but are more likely to ensure our survival and prosperity as a species.

It’s my belief that only when a critical mass of people become aware of the lenses through which they perceive the world (ie their unexamined assumptions, values and beliefs ) and  wake up and become conscious will a real shift in collective human behaviour occur and we’ll start to live in harmony with Mother Earth. Travel and tourism can play its part in achieving this Shift. It was exciting to hear the Secretary General of the UNWTO position the 1 billion travellers as providing a huge opportunity to accelerate the shift in consciousness provided that the tourism community woke up themselves and assumed a role as guides along this adventurous journey!

The good news is that “waking up” is exactly what is happening on virtually every continent of this beautiful Planet Earth as you can see from this post by the Pachamama Alliance – an organization that has had a direct and, I think, very positive influence not just on my personal worldview but on my commitment to supporting “the Big Shift.”

In order to achieve their core mission of empowering the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture its leaders have understood that their success depends on the extent to which they can convince the western world  of the relevance and power of a worldview that has sustained these first inhabitants for thousands of years.

Ben Sherman Addressing WINTA Indigenous Tourism Forum

The article titled New Moon Action: Honor Time As a Sacred Gift expresses and affirms the values that Ben Sherman (from Lakota Territory in the USA) spoke so eloquently about at the WINTA Forum – values of love, respect, reciprocity, and gratitude.

The Pachamama Alliance author points out that one of the most precious gifts of all is time – it is not a commodity that should be spent or even saved but a gift that should be consciously received (by stopping rushing and being still); shared (by focusing attention) and celebrated through acts of being rather than doing..

I’ll keep this article short because I know most of my readers consider themselves time pressed so rather than read my words please read the Pachamama post. When you start to think about time as a gift it puts the concepts of “voluntourism” and “slow travel” in a much deeper context with powerful implications for how tourism is practiced. As the indigenous worldview sees both time and space as a sacred gift, it’s less about spending time than investing time. People help each other using what has been described as “currencies of caring” i.e., “the mutual respect, relationships built on trust and the joy of sharing your gifts and talents” that Ben Sherman described as central to the indigenous world view.

“We’ve all been given a gift, the gift of life.

What we do with our lives, is our gift back”

And if you find these ideas inspiring, then I am sure you will be similarly encouraged by the concepts that a very bright young man, Charles Eisenstein, has presented in his latest book, Sacred Economics  as summarized in the short video positioned at the end of the article. Right at the beginning, Eisenstein distills in a few profound words how the old stories, which we have been telling about ourselves in our world for the past 300 + years,  have shaped our actions and our institutions:

Every culture has a story of self and answers the question “who are you” “what does it mean to be human?” Our current story says that you are a separate being among other separate beings living in a universe that is separate from us as well. You are not me; that plant is not me; we are each something separate. This story of self creates our world.

If you are a separate self and there are other separate selves out here and the universe is fundamentally indifferent to you or even hostile then you definitely  want to control and have power of these beings and those whimsical forces of nature that could extinguish you at any time. This story is becoming obsolete. It is no longer true and we don’t resonate with it any more. It is generating crises that are insoluble from these methods of control. That’s what is clearing space for us to step into a new story of self. Transcribed from video

The values articulated in the Pachamama article form a key part of the Conscious Travel model as simplified in this expression of the 7 new Ps of tourism.

Conscious Travel Operating Model

Each guest experiences the gift of a unique place (space) at a unique time as seen through their own unique set of lenses. Conscious Hosts are encouraged and enabled to slow their guests down so that they can use all their senses to experience their surroundings (Pace). Even time can stretch when we are so immersed and captivated that we lose track of it and enter “the zone”, or “flow” and another state of consciousness. In other words, instead of needing to discount products as commodities, we have the opportunity to realize and release true value associated with enabling our guests to expand their consciousness through their travel experience. To quote the Mastercard advertisement – the travel experience that transforms- priceless. This is the essence of Conscious Travel.

Some More Relevant Reading From This Blog

The Role of Indigenous Tourism in Creating Conscious Hosts

Where Do You Stand?

Changing the Dream – Why Mindsets Really, Really Matter

The Legend, Prophesy of the Eagle and the Condor

Tourism – Whats the Point Part 3 & links to Parts 1 & 2

Affirmations from a Serial & Iconic Entrepreneur

You don’t often have the opportunity to meet and talk with individuals who have created not one but three business that sold for over £1 billion each. And should that happen, it would be even rarer to be talked to as an equal.

Mike Harris of Iconic Shift

Last night I was privileged to join about 50 others at an event organised by Start Up Leadership at a presentation by Mike Harris, creator of First Direct (the world’s first telephone bank); Mercury Communications ( a successful consumer business purchased by Virgin Media) and Egg, the word’s first internet bank.

I know I am not Mike’s equal in terms of material accomplishment but his skill at listening and his genuine interest in the ideas of his conversation partner left me feeling that one day I just might be. And it’s that skill that proved to be the secret of his success – Mike  discovered early on in his career how to liberate the creative capacity of his co-workers; to make their soul’s sing and leap out of bed each morning eager to apply their gifts to whatever the task at hand.

That’s why discussion around purpose and passion are themes that I revisit over and over again here  (see previous post: Tourism What’s the Point – Part 3 ) because I have always been a believer that the order in which you place those three Ps determine success. And that’s also likely why any posts on this subject prove the most popular with my readers.

Mike confessed that when he first started presenting his business ideas to potential funders he would keep his thoughts about higher purpose to himself for fear he was perceived as insufficiently “hard-nosed”, practical and realistic. But as his reputation for producing results grew, he felt he could jettison such caution and be true to himself. And the previous evening, when he sat down with a table of venture capitalists, virtually all agreed with him – further proof of a value shift that also is a theme pursued on this blog.

And that’s why the Conscious Travel program has the potential to be an industry game changer.

We want to be known for putting the value, the wonder and the magic back into the business of travel by  enabling hosts in becoming effective agents for good in their community. We want both guests and hosts to feel – as I did last night – inspired and empowered to participate in an activity that doesn’t cost the earth.

The new five “P’s that can make or break a travel-related business are place, people, purpose, and passion that create profits for all.

So, what do you want to be known for and what feelings do you wish your guests to have when they experience your particular place? *

This question formed an exercise Mike gave us around branding that I am finding a really useful thought stimulant.For more great ideas and inspiration see: http://www.findyourlightbulb.com/iconic-thinking/

Tourism – What’s the Point? Part 3 AFAR readers answer the question

The business literature is full of articles on the importance of differentiating your business by – showing you care; making a difference and having a deeper or higher purpose than simply maximising profit to a few shareholders each quarter.

In fact the three most popular posts on this blog have been those that addressed this topic.

Tourism: What’s the Point? Why Should These Graduates Work for You?

Tourism: What’s the Point? Part 2 – Join the Conversation

Why Conscious Hosts Will Help Their Guests Fall in Love

So we were delighted to see that AFAR, the great magazine and web site that focuses more or less exclusively on what we would describe as the Conscious Traveller,  is asking their readers why they travel and using Pinterest to spread the word.

As I haven’t yet received permission to reprint their entire blog post yet, please check it out now

I Travel Therefore I…?

but here’s  the other responses that stood out for me. Why not pop over to AFAR’s blog  and add some of yours.

As I wrote nearly a decade ago: Profit = Passion  + Purpose. Focus on all three but just make sure you get the order right and it’s not as it appears…

Tourism Vancouver Asks The Right Questions

I am confident that all of my readers will agree that asking the right question before starting any strategic exercise is vital at any time but particularly so when the context in which you operate is undergoing profound and radical change.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein

Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers. Anthony Robbins

Given this belief, you can imagine how pleased I was when the Chair of Tourism Vancouver – Howard Jang, CEO of the highly successful Arts Club Theatre – posed two particularly important questions at their recent Business Plan Launch on Tuesday (Jan 17, 2012). I couldn’t attend because I knew I would be in Auckland, so was able to contribute via video.

The depth of thinking being expressed by Tourism Vancouver is most encouraging so I have re-printed, with permission of course, Howard Jang’s side of the conversation below.

Howard Jang, Chair, Tourism Vancouver

This musing by Jan Myrdal started me thinking about what the “cause” of tourism is really about:

Travelling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind.  Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you never to return.

My own thinking on these topics has been evolving since the AGM and much of it was enabled by a new friend of mine, though an old friend of many in this room.   Anna Pollock is a highly respected Futurist, perhaps though you’ll let me also add the designation of Visionary, as you’ll see.

Following our conversations and my reading of some of her writing, I asked if she’d speak with you today, during this presentation of mine, via video. Stay tuned.   First, let me take up the “cause”.

I’ve long felt that there is more to tourism than making the cash register ring – important and fundamental though that is to our industry’s well-being and to this very organization. Yet there seemed to be values inherent in tourism that are broader, more meaningful, and possibly at the very foundation of a sustainable industry – one that is in the longer term profitable on many fronts. In discussions, I asked Anna, “what she feels is the ‘cause’ of tourism? and here is how she responded:

Anna’s words both echoed and informed some of my own thoughts, posing fresh views that I wanted to share with you. It’s crucial that our tourism industry engage wide support with the citizens of Metro Vancouver, indeed within British Columbia.   The Team at Tourism Vancouver, are at the forefront of generating demand, attracting visitors, ensuring a business model that works for you, our members.   However, we are also about ensuring that the visitors’ experiences while here are unparalleled, and that when they leave us, they have an ambition to return and a willingness to speak highly to others about our destination.

I once heard this quote:

Once a place becomes special, it’s no longer special  Peter Storey

And then there is the other concept from our AGM.

When I first used the term – a presumptuous declaration of sorts, now that I look back – that the coming years would be Vancouver’s Decade of Culture, I was wearing more than one hat.

Understandably, I was speaking as your new board chair, and also I obviously come from ‘the arts’, from the cultural industries.

True though both those hats are, there was another – it is that of a Vancouver resident.   We call this place home – and that gives us notable privileges, huge opportunities, and a host of responsibilities.    For me, Culture has never been about just the Arts but, rather reflections of our soul.  I wanted to take the “decade of culture” beyond a comforting phrase and give it depth and context.

And, I asked Anna’s thoughts.

Those two clips and my own words are but a part of how we hope to inform, guide and learn with you during today’s presentations.


Thanks Howard! – looks like you are already letting your guests define what Culture means to them. I see you have a great Youtube Channel and a number of vignettes on Culture in Vancouver.

Let me end with another quote from my favorite poet, Rainer Rilke,  that applies to all of us

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.


To see how Vancouver’s community (its residents) rescued its brand – click here 

Tourism: What’s the Point? Part 2 – Join the Conversation

This week my blogging experience confirmed an intuition.There exists “out there” a real hunger for meaning and purpose and, unless we as businesses, bloggers, associations and governments acknowledge this, we will fail to serve our customers, readers, members or constituents. I am at an early stage with this movement called Conscious Travel and testing the waters. Interest is building steadily. I am finding out which topics “move” people to comment, subscribe or share and this week we found a “hot button.”  The Tourism: What’s the Point? post was read and shared more than any other and also suggests a preference for positive messages. This experience is as thrilling as it is encouraging – there is a demand and need for a positive vision and most of us want tourism to “to good” as well as help us make a living. I am now on the search for practical examples, real life stories from the frontline as to how this Higher Purpose for tourism is fulfilled and how Conscious Hosts might better serve their customers.

Image @jessofarabia

A skilled travel writer, photographer and former guide working in the Middle East, Jessica Lee,  was one of many bloggers who  engaged in this conversation and kindly agreed to become my first guest contributor. Author of five guidebooks to the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, Jess tells us in the intro to her blog that she:

“loves searching out the quirky and odd little details that lie under the surface of a place. She aims to help inspire travellers to go beyond the highlights and venture out off the-beaten-track to discover the soul of their destination for themselves.”

Jess’ thoughtful contribution to the discussion is presented in its entirety below. I have highlighted in purple some of the key points that Jess made. The beautifully written essay is illustrated with Jess’ own images. _______________________________________________________________________________

The Purpose of Tourism: from the frontline of the industry

Jess Lee 

One of my favourite places for leading tours was always Damascus. With the slumping architecture bearing down upon us amid the labyrinth alleyways, I would begin my group’s introduction to the Old City by taking the winding path that leads to the Shi’a pilgrimage site of Saida Ruqqiyeh Mosque. Invariably, as we threaded our way through the medieval streets, we’d become caught up in the great tide of Iranian pilgrims who were all heading that way as well.

Image @jessarabia

For many in my group it was an uncomfortable situation where we would end up separated from each other; thrown to the mercy of the crowd as it surged forwards, and backwards, and to either side in relentless waves of people. When we finally washed up at the end of the street outside the mosque my group would be sweating, slightly frazzled and usually all looking a bit dazed after this very Damascene version of crowd surfing. What they didn’t know was that I could have avoided the crowds quite easily by taking another route but had deliberately guided them into the chaos. I didn’t want my clients just to see pretty monuments and nice museums. I didn’t want to keep them swaddled from reality in cotton wool but rather I wanted them to be able to get in there and smell the sweat of the crowds; to become part of a place, if only for an instant.

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Like most people who’ve worked on the frontline of tourism as a tour leader or guide, I have developed a healthy disrespect for the industry’s marketing jargon. For years there has been a very obvious disconnect between the tourism industry’s love affair with hyperbole and how it actually operates on the ground. The fluffy throwaway phrases in the glossy brochures offering clients ‘once in a lifetime adventures’, ‘off the beaten track experiences’ and the ubiquitous ‘responsible travel’ become hard to swallow when every year you see the trips get cheaper, more ‘extras’ squeezed out, and the itineraries grow ever more homogenized in the quest for competitive pricing.

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The industry has been feeding the same line of cheaper, faster, now, for so long that we seem to have bred a style of tick-list tourism where clients demand more but pay less and see everything but experience nothing. On returning home a tourist may be able to reel off an impressively long list of sights they saw but did they stick around long enough to be able to describe to you the uncomfortable sensation of the layer of gritty sand that sandpapered their sun-parched skin in the desert. They can walk through an ancient, bustling souq but are so busy documenting their visit so that they can remember it later – their camera permanently glued to their face – that they fail to see the stall-vendor in the corner beckoning to them to come drink syrupy tea. Is this the style of tourism we want to be involved in? And more importantly, is this what clients want? I seriously don’t believe so.

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As those involved at the top of the tourism tree become more and more focussed on pricing and marketing it’s now more important than ever for those down at the roots of the industry to realise the role we can each play in promoting a different ideal; an approach that, for me, is the true purpose of tourism. Seeking connections between people, places and cultures so that the tourist is no longer just a spectator peeping through the window into an exotic ‘other’ land but part of that world, if only for a minute, themselves. By their very nature of packing in as much as possible in the least amount of time, it is difficult to do little more than scratch the surface of a destination on a tour. But a good guide or leader can make all the difference in helping to lift the lid off a place and allow tourists to travel not just further but deeper. We need to foster a sense of inclusion where it’s not ‘us’ against ‘them’. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve overheard guides tell their clients to not talk to anyone in markets and at sights and on the street. If you dive into the market and are comfortable chatting to the vendors, your clients will feel that they can do this too. If you just walk through simply giving a spiel on the history along the way and ignoring everyone, that’s the way your passengers will act as well. For our groups we are the benchmark for how to behave and by using this responsibility wisely we can inspire our clients to go out and make local connections themselves.

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There was this one time trapped amid the flow of pilgrims in Damascus, when a car insanely tried to navigate down the road and caused the crowd to suddenly tip madly to the side. An elderly Iranian woman, shielding her face from view by clutching the corner of her black shroud in her teeth, lost her footing and grabbed the wrist of one of my female clients in an attempt to regain her balance. This then caused my client to stumble and she in turn reached out and grabbed the shoulder of the tiny Iranian lady in front of her until it looked like it could turn into a domino effect of tourists and pilgrims tumbling endlessly down the street. I heaved them all onto the narrow ledge of a shop front where I’d managed to shelter the rest of my group until the car to blame for all this chaos finished manoeuvring through the street. We all looked at each other and burst out laughing. There was no ‘us’ and ‘them’. No strange line drawn by different clothing or eye colour, religion or politics. We were simply some people who’d all nearly ended up face-down on the ground. When the car finally managed to grumble past the Iranian ladies patted my client’s hand to say thank you. Then some young men pushed towards us through the crowd. The ladies waved excitedly back and beckoned them over and suddenly we were all waving madly into their video camera and shouting ‘Hello Iran!’ with the Iranian ladies beside us grinning broadly. We were no longer observers. Just fellow actors in this crazy carnival called the world. _________________________________________________________________________________

If you work on the frontline as a guide, at the front desk, or helping a visitor enjoy an activity, you have likely a practical perspective and can share ways of tapping into Tourism’s real purpose: to heal, connect, and invoke wonder. This experience needs to be shared so we can all get better at it and restore tourism to an activity we can all be proud off. Please comment or email me: theconscioushost@gmail.com  

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