Tag Archives: Responsible tourism

WTM 2015 Responsible Tourism Day: Shock & Awe

While 99% of the participants at the World Travel Market were blithely conducting “business as usual” in their brightly lit booths, the intellectual equivalent of shock and awe was being unleashed by the climate change equivalent to Greek rebel and former Deputy Prime Minister, Yanis Varoufakis.

November 4th 2015 may, with hindsight (and, probably, some wishful thinking), turn out to be an historic and symbolic moment in the history of mass tourism. That morning we witnessed a clash of two mindsets and two styles of power.  Kevin Anderson was the gladiator brought into the ring by a very brave Harold Goodwin to stimulate debate and discussion on what apparently has become a rather boring topic in tourism industry circles.

Undeterred, Anderson, one of Britain’s top climate change scientists, delivered a brilliantly succinct speech that seemed to impress even the “I’ve seen it all” Stephen Sackur. The professor come mountain climber provided just the right mix of data and acerbic insight in 17 minutes to prove to even the sleepiest in the audience that apathy, resistance and denial of the need to change course might be suicidal. His key points summarized:

  • Based on science, the international community agrees that 2 degrees warming is the limit of acceptable warming – if the planet’s average temperature rises beyond that then humanity is in serious trouble.
  • But we’re not to deceive ourselves by averages as staying within that boundary will still produce incredible hardship and pain to the planet’s poorest, most vulnerable and innocent of inhabitants. Anderson pressed home the point thus: “At a two degrees rise many millions of poor people, mostly in the southern hemisphere, will die. it means we are prepared to sacrifice the lives of many poor, low emitting people.
  • The only way we can have a 66% chance of staying within that boundary is if we act now by reducing our generation of CO2 emission by 10% per annum and stop pumping any carbon into the atmosphere at all by 2050!
  • Unfortunately, our track record for changing our life and business-styles thus far has not been encouraging. Since we first became globally aware of the problem in the 1990s, humanity has pumped 60% more carbon into a stressed atmosphere.
  • This graph below shows the gap between carrying on as normal (the purple line) and meeting the reduction’s target that society at large has identified as tolerable (the trajectory depicted in orange). It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase most delegate heard on their tube journey; “Mind the Gap!”
    the gap
  • If we don’t alter course, we’re headed towards a rise of between 4 and 6 degrees in average global temperature which even the most conservative of organizations, such as the International Energy Authority and the IMF, now believe to be disastrous for humanity. Again, Anderson made sure we understood the implications: “Four degrees centigrade warming is incompatible with an organised global community. We will reach for a kalashnikov and start killing each other.”
  • To make the reductions necessary and deliver some equity (i.e., take care of those who have not caused the problem in the first place), the wealthy nations, who produce the lion’s share of emissions, need to take drastic action now and start reducing carbon missions annually by 10% and produce 90% less carbon in 2030 than we did in 1990.
  • To do that we need to consume less and produce less. In the tourism sector, and particularly within wealthy western economies, that means flying less often to far away places and making sure all the infrastructure that supports tourism around the world produces virtually no greenhouse gases at all. That will radically affect lifestyles and incur costs. The pain is unavoidable.
  • Unfortunately because the tourism sector is growing at such a rate (doubling in traffic in less than 20 years and moving towards more carbon intensive forms of tourism), it will, despite all efforts to become more efficient, generate 1.3 times more CO2 by 2030 and 2.64 times more CO2 by 2050 than it does now. That’s our contribution to the gap.

In order to send his dumbstruck audience away with a positive message, Anderson ended with this quote, clearly having delivered on its first pre-requisite:

unger quote

So it was with bated breath, we all awaited for signs of the second requisite, imagination, from the panel of industry leaders representing Boeing, Hyatt, UNWTO and a Tourism Minister from South Africa.This is when the real essence of the problem became apparent. What we witnessed in the next half hour was the clash of mindsets that Anderson identified as the crux of the problem and a subject I have been banging on about for the past 20 years. Anderson framed the challenge at its core as:

ultimately shackles

There’s absolutely no point in getting angry and blaming – we’re all slaves to our dominant paradigms and I can see why the industry leaders took the position they did – their immediate personal survival and prosperity depend on taking the prevailing corporate view – business as usual with some greening where necessary. Mr. Boeing talked about the fuel efficiencies they had achieved, stated that governments should invest more and then suggested, somewhat incredibly, that he didn’t know what profit his company made; Miss Hyatt took the same route – the hotel company is  investing heavily in becoming more sustainable but its spokesperson claimed to have no knowledge of Hyatt’s expansion plans; and Mr. UNWTO asserted that to not grow tourism was to be defeatist; that no one should be afraid of growth and, in fact should embrace growth – even though growth was never defined and, if it meant more people taking trips more often,   would certainly be at odds with the carbon reduction requirements Anderson had so eloquently and passionately just described. Interestingly, the only panelist who agreed that painful changes to our lifestyles might be necessary was a politician who also confessed he wouldn’t be running for office again!

There is nothing defeatist about facing the truth head on.  Continuing to do what we’ve always done will simply worsen our situation. Imagination and creativity are vital. We simply can’t afford stubborn resistance or intellectual laziness. Kevin Anderson is completely right to suggest that a complete systems change is needed along with leadership, courage, innovative thinking, engaged teams and difficult choices – little of which were evident from the panel but were evident in the subsequent Responsible Tourism Awards session that followed. The next 45 minutes provided a veritable cornucopia of imagination, creativity, joy and even playfulness all rising up from the messy but fertile soil of “grassroot communities” and small businesses experimenting and imagining a better future. If you don’t believe me, have a look: it’s all on video here…(Kevin Anderson’s presentations starts at 9:31 minutes in)

The whole motivation underpinning Conscious Travel is to create a space for both clarity and imagination to flourish. If the same amount of energy and money were to be spent exploring alternatives to the current model as are spent defending and justifying the old one, we would have found several ways to close the gap. As has been demonstrated year after year at the numerous award ceremonies held by all major tourism associations, there’s no shortage of imagination, leadership, courage, innovative thinking and a willingness to make difficult choices in the face of seeming intractable problems.

In two subsequent post to this, I’ll identify where we need clarity and some approaches to imagining a tourism that is better and better for more.

The ideas presented under the banner Conscious Travel are not original. What is perhaps new to tourism, is a fresh way of seeing, being and doing that enables us to shift into different patterns of behavior with less fear and more confidence. Once you get that this planet is not only our only home but a living organism of which we are a vital part; that we’re each and all connected participants in an amazing web of life; that each of our personal decisions matter; and that we can create conditions for our collective wisdom to guide us, much will become possible. It also helps to see that we’re playing our part in a vast, epic drama – an evolutionary shift from ego to eco consciousness and that such shifts are a natural part of life’s grand journey towards more complex and beautiful ways of being.

More Reading:
Jeremy Smith,  publisher of the amazingly content rich TravIndy wrote a concise and less critical summary of the debate here:

Previous Posts on this Blog Relevant to the subject:

  1. My response to the notion that growth is not to be questioned was summarised in this post: Walking the Halls of Hope and Despair, WTM 2014
  2. The notion of carbon budgets and the need to divest from fossil fuels was discussed here:
    The Burning Issue of Carbon
  3. A Licence to Grow or Get better – Which Do You Choose? 
  4. Climate Change: Implications for Business as Usual Tourism
  5. My first attempt to assess the impact of climate change on tourism was published by the Icarus Foundation in 2007  – The Climate Change Challenge: Implications for Tourism

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
Thrive

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

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.

polyp_cartoon_economic_growth1

(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.

RELATED POSTS 

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)


 

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.

FORWARD TO BALI SOUL JOURNALS

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

Lessons Learned from Fairy Tales, Extreme Weather and Bubbles

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The REAL PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Deja Vue or Clairvoyance – You Be the Judge

It was November 2001 at WTM and we were reeling from the impact of 9/11 and the aftermath of the dotcom crash. Thousands of IT specialists were out of work; CRM was the latest “new thing” as were XML, “web services” and “interoperability.” I’d just had to let go my involvement in a software company and formed DestiCorp Consulting and did this interview with a former colleague.

How might this image be a metaphor for international tourism?

Fast forward 11 years and I have just spent the past 8 days producing three webinar/videos on Conscious Travel which I will upload this week. To be honest I am not quite sure how to react to this DestiCorp interview – the content is remarkably consistent; the passion hasn’t waned but the wrinkles have certainly deepened! Eleven years have passed and I still feel compelled to be putting out the same message. It seems like yesterday.  Where did the past eleven years go? How much has changed or not changed? Will we get to the year 2023 just as quickly and how will we have handled the extra 600 million international trips that are forecast to take place?

They say that timing is everything. My timing wasn’t right in 2001. The tourism industry wasn’t ready then to hear anyone suggest that it should take time out to re-think. Many operators were holding on to the bucking bronco of demand after the attack on the World Trade Centre. What wasn’t clear either was just how quickly (relatively speaking) the economy would bounce back – especially in the US and UK where hedge funds were just beginning to scout for real estate in Mayfair; house prices were still to soar and ordinary Britons were to start taking advantage of Easyjet and Ryanair’s crazily low fares to Europe and speculate in real estate. The next six years (2001-2007) were about to see a few people get very rich and cause an even larger number of people to think were because of the extra zeros on their net worth statements. We lurched from one bust in 2001 (when the dot in dotcom punctured the bubble) to another one in 2007 when the financial house of cards came down – only this time its impact cut deeper and is lasting longer.

So is the timing right now?  Will the message be better received now than then? The simple answer is yes – I do sense a sea change. When a former senior executive of the UNWTO now describes himself as a Chief Disruption Architect, then something is shifting. When Michael Porter declares it’s time to “re-think capitalism” and companies like KPMG state that the current approach to business is non-sustainable and Deloitte support Elkington’s Zero Impact concept, then people like me can take heart.   It’s become disturbingly fashionable now to talk about sustainability, higher purpose, doing good, going green.  The good news is that  the number of initiatives (for want of a better word) in the sustainable, eco, ethical, fair trade, geo, local, responsible and good tourism arena is already significant and gaining momentum every day  – albeit in a very fragmented way. The challenge now is unifying the multiplicity of weak signals and diluting the semantic confusion as the sustainable Tower of Babel gets larger – but that’s another topic.

The more truthful answer is “I simply don’t care whether it’s right timing or not.” Conveying this message is simply my destiny. I can’t escape it. I feel as if I am an instrument being played. The words of Jean Paul Sartre keep echoing in my head.  Thanks to my role in tourism – that of quasi futurist and  sense maker I have to expose myself to information many others would prefer to ignore. I now simply know too much to mute or modify the message.

My circumstances over the past 18 months – when I have been travelling and staying with a host of friends and supporters – have provided an opportunity to test out my ideas. I am even more convinced that change is necessary and  encouraged to see it happening spontaneously. I’m also more convinced that the only effective  approach is to work not with the traditional sources of power and influence (the centralized associations and agencies) but with groups of hosts in small communities. They are the ones that must develop their creativity, ingenuity, self-confidence and resilience if they are to survive let alone thrive over the years ahead. This is how change occurs in the natural world and nature has had over 13.5 years of practice! We are trained to think that the itelligence of a cell is centred in its nucleus – the command centre but current biology has learned that the real smarts lie in the cell membrane where the edges of the cell interact with the environment. This applies to tourism – tt’s the hosts and their employees who know what’s really going on and have the most leverage to effect change.

As I have been saying for over 15 years, the role of Destination Marketing Organizations going forward should be to do less and enable more. They need to use the resources they have been allocated from the public purse to create the conditions whereby innovation and creativity can emerge and erupt naturally – just the way that it occurs in the natural world. Two of those conditions are trust and confidence – trusting in their capacity to adapt and providing the support and recognition. Conscious Travel is designed to provide a support structure for collaborative learning, experimentation and adaptation in the membrane.

Next week I’ll be launching three beta videos (beta is a fancy way to say they are home made and draft) that describe what we mean by conscious travel. The interesting thing is that this 11 year old interview is as good a sneak preview as any!

Empowering Conscious Travellers – a sequel

Back in October, 2011, I was thrilled to meet two enterprising and energetic young men, Eytan & Marco Bollinger,  of Iseeitravel whose mission had become to empower conscious travellers to act responsibly and to encourage destinations to think twice before succumbing to development pressures.

Given the mounting evidence that congestion and over or too rapid development can be as destructive as mineral extraction or deforestation – see last post “12000 words on tourism’s capacity to destroy” – young, emerging destinations should look to the work of these guys and  I’m delighted to celebrate their progress and dedication since my October  post. Their web site is www.iseeitravel.org and I urge my followers and supporters to put your weight behind Marco and Eytan and back their first major project.

iSeeiTravel is a media company dedicated to promoting conscious travel. Eytan and Marco  produce brand-building documentary content based on real places, real people, and real travel experiences.

Their first major project, called 2.5%, is designed to help protect one of Costa Rica’s last standing areas of pristine rainforest on the Pacific Coast of Latin America – The Osa Peninsua, home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and  50% of Costa Rica’s native species. The National Geographic have called the region “the most biologically intense place on earth”

Residents there have experienced both the good and the bad of tourism. Thirty years ago, an area to the north of the country – Guanacaste – looked a lot like Osa does now but 30 years of ever expanding, intensifying tourism development have changed that and not for the benefit of local residents. Here’s a short video clip that Iseeitravel  made to highlight the problems caused by unconscious, uncaring tourism development that is nearly always promoted by developers who then leave the area or airlines and international hotel companies whose owners often live miles away.

Iseeitravel are raising funds to create a compelling documentary that presents a case for developing Osa as a conscious travel destination and you can support them today by visiting their fund raising project here 

As discussed in my presentation to the Samoan tourism industry last month, there’s another tsunami coming in the Southern hemisphere and that is the explosion of outbound tourism from the emerging economies of Asia and South America. Destinations in the path of this tsunami of demand need to wake up and prepare for these changes now. They can choose, as Bhutan did a few years ago to stem the inbound tide and sustain a quality of experience, or they can surrender to external pressures and, at best, limit their future options or, worst, forfeit the chance to develop livelihoods that, in addition to being environmentally and financially sustainable, generate long term net benefits to the host community of today and tomorrow.

Time is of the essence – my conscious friends have just 19 days to raise another $18000 to support their project.

So please,” help build a community of travellers who care” and make a small donation here and spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, Google + or your choice of social media network.

Why Bhutan IS the First Conscious Travel Destination

I recently fulfilled a dream of 35+ years – to visit the Kingdom of Bhutan where its enlightened, conscious leader and 4th King had bravely pioneered the concept of “Gross National Happiness.” I was given the privilege of giving the opening keynote at PATA’s conference on Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism – the speech is on slide share here.

As readers of this blog know, Conscious Travel is an embryonic, emerging concept still taking form. We are encouraging debate on the qualities and characteristics of Conscious Hosts who can attract Conscious Travelers – those visitors who are awake and aware of their impact on the destination and who are committed to maximizing net benefits to it. So the concept of what makes for a “Conscious Travel Destination” is still in its formative stages. (As it develops it will support and integrate the principles underlying responsible, sustainable, geo, eco, fair, good tourism). 

Even though Bhutan’s tourism economy is very young, it shines as a beacon of hope exemplifying what a Conscious Travel Destination could be and here’s why:

Bhutan

1. Well-being. In Bhutan, tourism is recognized as one means towards achieving and sustaining the well-being of its citizens. As a consequence, tourism is not just about growing GDP, or increasing volume. All policies with respect to its development are viewed through the lens of 72 Gross National Happiness Indicators based on the four pillars of GNH (ecological balance; cultural vitality, sustainable, equitable economy and good governance). As Bhutan is still listed as one of the Less Developed Countries of the world, with an estimated 23% of its population living below the poverty line, it needs to develop its economy in order to improve its well-being and tourism is the fourth contributor to GDP. Despite these economic pressures, Bhutan is committed to pacing the growth of tourism to ensure that it doesn’t diminish cultural or environmental values.

.
Bhutan Happiness is a Place2. Place: The Bhutanese people and their leaders intrinsically recognize that Bhutan (like any other country, or region) is unique and its value lies in its location, geology, geography, landscape, history and living culture. Because they value themselves and the place they call home, they have never discounted its value and taken sensible steps to ensure that tourism is developed at a pace that doesn’t undermine its culture. 

Up until the early 1990s, a tourist quota was imposed in addition to a minimum daily tariff. All visitors are required to plan their travel with the assistance of a Bhutanese tour operator who arranges and supplies accommodation, food, transportation and guiding services for a minimum daily fee of US$250. Of this fee, a $65 royalty is paid directly to the Government to fund health and education. Every visitor has personal access to a trained, educated, English speaking guide whose intent and purpose is to ensure that the visitor experience is transformative. 

The daily tariff ( US$250 per day) has not only controlled the pace of growth but has shown visitors how their spending directly affects the quality of life experienced by their hosts. 

Bhutan’s recognition of the “power of place” and its commitment to expressing its unique spirit is perfectly reflected in their choice of branding “Bhutan – Happiness is a Place” – a tagline which is a truthful distillation of what Bhutan is all about and what the country means to its people.

3. Limits: Thanks to their love of their land and the spiritual values that shape their mindset and actions, the Bhutanese understand and respect the concept of limits. Built into their values is the notion of sufficiency, fairness and service. The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y. Thinley, defines happiness in the context of GNH as follows:

“We know that true abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and comes only from serving others, and living in harmony with nature.”



No sane person would deny the right of the Bhutanese to lift their people out of poverty and increase the quality of their lives. Nor do westerners like me have any right to impose our nostalgia and grief at the loss of so much cultural diversity elsewhere in the world on the inhabitants of this little country. But the healthy sense of self worth exhibited by the Bhutanese suggest to me that this is a living, dynamic culture capable of balancing the need to both preserve, conserve and adapt.

Lonely Planet Map of Bhutan

Lonely Planet’s Map of Bhutan

Located in between two of the most populous, fastest growing economies of the world (India and China), it would be tempting to open the gates and maximize visitor volume. Instead, Bhutan has increased the minimum daily tariff (from US$200 to US$250) and set itself a modest growth target of 100,000 visitors by 2015. Its first priority is to ensure that the existing, active 320 Bhutanese tour operators and 120 accommodation suppliers are operating healthy sustainable businesses and contributing to the vitality of its communities.
4. Value: Bhutan tries to give its guests good value while ensuring that tourism generates net value to its citizenry. The minimum daily tariff that all operators must adhere to makes it difficult, if not impossible, for price discounting to be used to gain market share. Instead, the inbound tour operators and suppliers of accommodation, transport and guiding services, must compete on the basis of service quality. Customer satisfaction, as expressed to the inbound tour operator, provides the “feedback loop” which determines which suppliers will be used the next time.
5. Local & Authentic: Visitors to Bhutan can be assured that their visit benefits locals as the inbound airline, all accommodation, and all inbound tour operations are locally owned and managed. Most of the food served is locally grown and prepared. (Bhutan intends and is working hard to ensure that its agricultural sector is 100% organic). Its attractions are primarily natural sites (trekking & wildlife viewing) and cultural/spiritual sites (monasteries, fortresses; memorials) or activities (Festivals) that are locally funded and managed. Bhutan is a living culture that invests in developing the artistic skills of its young.
6. A Place That Cares: for such a young country (Bhutan only switched from a theocracy to modern, parliamentary democracy in 2008), it demonstrates a remarkable maturity that reflects its cultural/spiritual values of service, compassion, personal responsibility and caring. Three examples support this observation.

The Host as Change Agent.

There is growing recognition of the role that business can and must play in achieving well-being. Karma Tshiteem, Secretary of the GNH Commission highlighted at a recent ‘Happiness & Economic Development’ conference that



“It is an urgent need that we engage the profit-driven business sector, and that we make the GNH discussion relevant to this sector. Otherwise, we’ll have a very powerful force working against us.”

The tourism community in Bhutan has not been slow to respond. At the time of Karma Tshiteem’s statement, two of Bhutan’s more innovative tourism companies, Yanpghel Adventure Travel and Hotel Zhiwa Ling, had already embarked on a GNH in Business project. This program:

Lobby of Zhiwa Ling Hotel

Lobby of the Zhiwa Ling Hotel

“offers a tool to bring sane and responsible behaviors into the business sector, which are driven by a genuine intention among the leadership of a business. A GNH Business is nothing less than a powerful change agent within its community with a genuine commitment to serve others…These companies are able to answer clearly and confidently three key questions: 1) What is enough profit for the owners and/or shareholders?; 2) What do we do with the rest?; and 3) How do we spend the rest to increase genuine happiness among our stakeholders?”………

“incorporates everything that a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program would do, plus two important additional components. Firstly, a GNH business not only requires a company to do things better in its relationships with external and internal stakeholders, with their environment and communities – it also requires each individual within a business to become a more evolved human being that can experience and share true and lasting happiness. This means that the key element of GNH that is not normally addressed in CSR programs is a recognition that a transformation is required on an individual level by all the people that make up a business starting from the owners/shareholders to management and general staff.”



The work undertaken by Zhiwa Ling and Yangphel is truly inspiring – fortunately they have also documented their experience in an excellent case study available here.

An Overhaul of the Education System and Focus on Youth
Bhutan is in the third year of a country wide program designed to completely overhaul its education system to ensure the principles and values of community-wide wellbeing i.e., “gross national happiness” are applied. After another international conference that pulled together leading thinkers and practitioners in the field of education, Bhutan defined the kind of citizen they needed as being able to:

• See clearly the interconnected nature of reality
• Understand the full benefits and costs of their actions
• Care deeply for others and their natural world.

When asked in an interview what kind of education he wanted to see ten years later, the Prime Minister responded:

“an education system that is quite different from the conventional factory where specific knowledge and skills are imported to turn out economic animals, thinking only of themselves and working only for themselves. …It would produce graduates who are human beings, that give importance to relationships; students who are eco-literate, analytical in the way they approach issues; people who know their needs and are neither excessive or greedy; who recognize that success is not about the acquisition of wealth but a state of being that comes from giving happiness and well-being to others.”

Since it is the graduates of this education system who will be running Bhutan’s tourism economy in the future, I have every confidence that the country will sustain its position as first Conscious Travel Destination!!

Environmental Care
Bhutan is also committed to maintaining the pristine nature of its natural habitat through careful forestry practices (a permit has to be obtained to cut down a tree and 8 have to be planted in the place of one); 70% of the land area is untouched; and all food production will be organic.

7. Pull not Push: the hallmark of a Conscious Travel Destination is its ability to attract the right customer – the visitor whose values match those of the host. Bhutan isn’t for everybody. Bhutan is for the visitor seeking a unique, and some would say, exotic experience of a vibrant culture expressed in a pristine setting. The Bhutanese appear very comfortable in their own skins; they know who they are and what they value and this comes through in all the media now available to express that identity.

For a country that only got TV and the Internet in 2006, its tourism operators are proving remarkably competent and gifted in digital marketing. 

Because an understanding that all sentient beings are connected and interdependent is an integral to Bhutanese philosophy, the concept of social business or social marketing comes naturally. The Bhutanese tourism community has both the mindset and the social intelligence to operate as a social business and I see no reason why they won’t become leaders in this aspect of tourism management as well.

This post is not meant to imply that all is perfect in Bhutan. The moniker “Shangri-La” will likely do more harm than good. Like many developing countries its population is rising faster than the economy can expand to develop sufficient jobs and unemployment rates among the young are on the increase. Young people are leaving the remote rural villages for the main centre Thimphu leaving the villages and agricultural production to an aging population. The visa/ tariff requirement does not apply to Indian nationals and Indian tour operators are keen to exploit destinations that would appeal to its growing middle class. Even though licenses are required to open a hotel or operate an inbound tour business, their number and capacity currently exceeds current demand so these operations are operating at low levels of occupancy and efficiency. The challenge will be to resist pressure to lower the tariff (institutionalized discounting) or allow construction of attractions and facilities not in keeping with the unique essence of the place.

Given these characteristics, Bhutan is a perfect destination for many “conscious travelers” many of whom are more likely to discover the country through stories about its pursuit of Gross National Happiness than through the traditional wholesaler/retailer channels.

As many of my readers are likely Conscious Travellers, I can thoroughly recommend a vist. So to plan your trip here are some places to start:

Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators

Bhutan Tourism Council

Zhiwa Ling Hotel, Paro

Drukair – the national airline


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