Tag Archives: regenerative economy

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

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