By Anna Pollock, Founder Conscious Travel.
By any conventional measure, international tourism has been a huge success transporting 1 billion more people around the planet than 50 years ago and is projected to double again in volume within another 15 or so years. Despite its current size, the total market has barely been scratched as residents of developing countries are gaining the means to travel internationally.
Huge amounts of money have been spent monitoring the economic impact of tourism in terms of contribution to GDP, jobs and tax revenues but far less resource has been applied to all the complex and inter-woven “externalities” and social costs that businesses don’t have to pay for – carbon emissions, waste into landfills, water use, community displacement, rising prices, poor working conditions, temporary employment and low wages etc.
Conscious Travel has been formed to co-create and implement a better version that goes way beyond simply “doing less harm.” A tourism that, community by community, demonstrably:
delivers better value for more people
supports all life and operates in harmony with nature
actively celebrates and nurtures the uniqueness of places and people
enables all stakeholders to experience positive net benefit and develop their full potential as human beings
creates meaningful and sustainable livelihoods for those people and enterprises on which it depends.
The phenomenal success of global tourism came about by applying the same industrial model of production and consumption that has been applied to food production, healthcare, and education as well, of course, to manufacturing and retail. As a consequence, tourism is also, somewhat belatedly, experiencing many of the same systemic and structural flaws associated with the later stages of that model’s implementation. Fragmented attempts at bolting on sustainable practices or philanthropic gestures are proving incapable of mitigating the impact of a juggernaut careering out of control. Signs of breakdown are appearing everywhere – riots in Venice, resident protest in Barcelona and Bali, unrest in cruise ports, the closure of islands in Thailand etc.
While we join and support the hundreds of pioneering practitioners in and proponents of responsible, sustainable, and fair tourism we differ by taking a holistic, integral approach that called for a fundamental shift in paradigm from extraction to regeneration based on an eco as opposed to ego consciousness. We’re asking that we re-think our purpose from simply expanding to delivering more positive net benefit for all stakeholders – in fact, ensuring that all participants, guests, employees, host businesses, residents and suppliers flourish in all aspects – body, mind and soul.
Not only are the principles of Conscious Business both relevant to and needed in this sector but hosts of travel and hospitality-related businesses are in a unique position to influence the experiences, values and behavior of their guests to come to love and respect the natural world that makes their travel possible and enriches their experience.
While the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has traditionally admonished the tourism and hospitality sector’s reputation for poor employee relations, wages and working conditions, this same industry has also produced highly successful conscious entrepreneurs showing the exception really works. In a contemporary HBR series highlighting the need to enable employees to bring their authentic selves to work, and foster constructive non-conformity and curiosity, several of the leading examples come from the travel hospitality – Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Pal’s Sudden Service (a fast food chain), Osteria Francescana ( a Michelin 3* Italian restaurant), and Ritz Carlton and these companies add to the success already achieved by Chip Conley (Joie de Vivre and now Airbnb) and Dannie Mayer (Union Square Hospitality Group).
On the destination front, one of the most recent and best examples of a community taking conscious responsibility for shaping its own preferred form of tourism is Loophead on the Wild Atlantic Way. It chose not to adapt itself to the needs of tour buses and large groups but to ensure that they attracted visitors who wanted an authentic immersive experience of the community on the community’s terms. The result: high levels of customer satisfaction and more revenues benefitting local suppliers.
Just imagine a world in which those 1.2 billion travellers made mindful, conscious choices about where to go, who to buy from and what to do at their destination.
Anna Pollock, Visionary, Change Agent & Tourism Strategist has advises leading global authorities, corporations and entrepreneurs in conscious travel strategy and change. Her work that has been recognized by bodies including the UN.
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