23 Actions for Change in Tourism


The Challenge of Change


The need to reform tourism, to redesign its operating system, and to unleash a new kind of leadership in tourism has never been more clear. Why we need change in tourism is evident. We need not look any further than the massive disruption, business closures, job losses, social and economic pain caused by the pandemic in many parts of the world. Tourism has all but collapsed in many LMICs (Lower and middle-income countries) with job losses estimated to be in the order of 200 million jobs. Let's just hold that figure in our minds - that's 200 million families impacted globally. McKinsey estimates that COVID-19 caused international tourist arrivals to plunge by 60 to 80 percent in 2020, and tourism spending is not likely to return to pre-crisis levels until 2024. They estimate 120 million jobs were at risk.


Tourism dependent economies have been hard hit, exposing supply chain dependencies and the economic and social vulnerabilities of populations in these countries. In developed economies, after an almost complete halt in April 2020, we saw limited travel return in the 2020 European summer. This helped to prop up local places and support jobs in countries dependent on visitor economies. In some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, where Covid was contained early, domestic travel has started to return. Covid waves will inevitably play out along with localised cluster outbreaks and lockdown responses, and with vaccination programs now in play, we can look forward to a tentative, stop-start future for local visitor economies in these 'safer' countries.


In LMICs the story is very different. While populations in developed economies seek safe, local and less risky domestic travel options and are holidaying at home, LMICs cannot expect a return to pre-pandemic conditions, at least in the short term, and perhaps not at all. A shift in culture, aspirations, and localisation stands between a return to 'business as usual' and new ways of working that reduce vulnerabilities and dependencies. Given the circumstances, it is not surprising that there is an accelerated move towards localisation. The need to solve problems and challenges locally has driven a new wave of initiatives to improve economic and social resilience, and aid agencies appear to be supporting such shifts towards building and empowering local resilience.


The question of how we drive change has been a great obstacle for many tourism organisations, destination and businesses. Regardless of whether we are in more developed or less developed economies, anyone who has their finger on the pulse knows that a shift is coming. The manner in which the coming change is being embraced depends on how leaders balance the following demands:

  • the scope of change (which depends on the willingness to change, imagination, perception of risk, fear of change, etc).

  • the cost of change (which can be evaluated in terms of political cost, economic cost, social cost, etc)

  • the time it will take to change (in relation to time in office, political cycle, etc)

In tourism, it has been interesting to watch how different people and organisations are speaking about this challenge, rising to action, advocating for a certain type of change, and for some, attempting to take advantage of the lull to commercialise and scale their solutions. We have tribes forming, experts vying for spotlights, vodcasts, podcasts, membership groups, and dozens of 'social movements' have formed. In all this, is clear that Regenerative Tourism is trending.


Incremental Steps


There is no doubt that we are at an inflection point. A point at which we need to critically reflect, listen deeply, lean into the challenges of others in addition to our own experiences, build empathy, and co-design a collective future that is more sustainable, resilient, inclusive and purpose-full.


It is easy to be overwhelmed about what to do. Indeed most of us accept that change is needed, but sometimes inspiration is missing or it’s difficult to come up with concrete actions. Few of us have the opportunity or budget to implement big solutions. Systems thinking reminds us that small incremental change can lead to big change. We cannot boil the ocean all at once. We must work where we can, do what we can, demonstrate that change is possible, share the knowledge and inspire others. Through small steps, breaking the task up into manageable actions, that we can make change happen.


The challenge of crafting small collaborative actions, drawing from and blended initiatives, and adapting to meet local conditions is more likely to be the framework under which we operate. So we need to think of and map out an arc of possibilities to inspire, to progress, and to implement caring, inclusive and regenerative forms of tourism.


In a post in early 2020, I offered a laundry list of ideas - a list of discussion points that could be used to inspire conversations in your destination, organisation, business, community or network. It's now time to review that list and re-organise it into three key areas of work:


Changing Culture


1. Expand your literacies - learn how to talk about climate, equality, regeneration, resilience and sustainability.

Develop your communication superpowers and the ability to transcend gaps between different kinds and forms of knowledge. We need research and evidence is important,  but also consider alternative types of cultural, historical and Indigenous knowledge are vastly under-utilised.

2. Give Nature a seat at the table.

Respond to the environmental challenges we face. Develop environmental policies and initiatives based on what you can do within your operations. Customers will respond positively to environmental initiatives – anything from adopting a circular economy, reducing plastic waste, recycling food waste or putting making environmental issues a key consideration in your procurement processes. 

3. Identify your blind spots and review your assumptions.

Remember the value produced by tourism can be more than financial value. Become familiar with the different kinds of value being generated by tourism, and ensure you are taking these values into consideration in your planning and management. Become familiar with impact investing, blended value and other concepts. 


4. Define your values and build your purpose.

Identify your purpose beyond profit and incorporate it into your business or organisation‘s mission and operation. Business and organisations with a higher purpose enjoy stronger customer engagement and presence.

5. Design a responsible, caring tourism organisation.

Remember the value produced by tourism can be more than financial value. Become familiar with the different kinds of value being generated by tourism, and ensure you are taking these values into consideration in your planning and management. Become familiar with impact investing, blended value and other concepts. 


6. Have the courage to do things differently.

When Copenhagen called out ‘Tourism is Dead’ it was a clever strategic communication strategy signalling that it was time to stop, think and take a moment to reposition tourism. The strategy changed the manner and tone of the conversation, bought new stakeholders to the table, and bought time to develop a new approach. Consider the counter-intuitive!

7. Experiment, test, then experiment some more.

Experiment, test, then experiment some more. Let’s face it, policy is one big experiment. Traditional policy-making has a long timeline before any change is measured and evaluated. The alternative is to work in agile ways, activate change quickly by working with stakeholders in incubators and living labs.

8. Education and learning to empower a kinder world.

Tourism and travel help us understand and appreciate the world, build tolerance and empathy. We can assist this learning in tourism by unlocking community assets such as community gardens, community venues for visitor experiences.

Changing


Reassessing values


9. Deliver awesome experiences that connect people and places.

Focus on the unique qualities of place and build awareness of those qualities. Protect and value ‘silent’ common resources that contribute to awesome experiences e.g. clean air, night skies, silence, connection to nature and so on.


10. Define your values and build your purpose.

Identify your purpose beyond profit and incorporate it into your business or organisation‘s mission and operation. Business and organisations with a higher purpose enjoy stronger customer engagement and presence.

11. Personalise your relationships with the SDGs.

Not all SDGs are created equal. Some are more important than others as the building blocks on which everything else depends. Interpret the SDGs and what they mean for your business or organisation.

12. Explore the promise of intentional design.

Urban design and planning schemes provide a range of useful tools and opportunities to direct, guide, and encourage an appropriate type, style and form of tourism. Planning contributes to a sense of place, identity, experience, and the psychology of place as well as visitor management.


13. Design a responsible, caring tourism organisation

Remember the value produced by tourism can be more than financial value. Become familiar with the different kinds of value being generated by tourism, and ensure you are taking these values into consideration in your planning and management. Become familiar with impact investing, blended value and other concepts.


Courageous leadership


14. Strong leadership.

Build and support courageous leadership team with the strength to speak truth to power, awareness of the strengths and contributions of others, with empathy and great communication skills


15. Build user-centred solutions using a design thinking toolkit

Inclusive, user-centred design will design solutions that address the needs of both humans and nature so that each will have their needs met.


16. Nudging for good.

Before behavioural economics started using nudging to manipulate consumer decisions, environmental psychology was being used to manage visitor behaviour. Careful use of signage (or no signage) and other urban design elements like paths, street furniture, and planting created helped visitors make decisions, Use physical, economic, educational mechanisms to encourage access to resilient environments and discourage access in sensitive places, use co-location strategies to increase economies of scale, to shape visitation and development.

17. Digitalisation.

The digital economy is here. While tourism digital native firms are thriving, SMEs ted to large behind in tourism. Digital technologies offer new ways of doing business, connecting with suppliers, and building business ecosystems that can reduce environmental and social impacts of tourism.

18. Have the courage to do things differently.

When Copenhagen called out ‘Tourism is Dead’ it was a clever strategic communication strategy signalling that it was time to stop, think and take a moment to reposition tourism. The strategy changed the manner and tone of the conversation, bought new stakeholders to the table, and bought time to develop a new approach. Consider the counter-intuitive!

19. Experiment, test, then experiment some more.

Experiment, test, then experiment some more. Let’s face it, policy is one big experiment. Traditional policy-making has a long timeline before any change is measured and evaluated. The alternative is to work in agile ways, activate change quickly by working with stakeholders in incubators and living labs.


20. Engage the next generation.

Logan City Council’s Paddock to Plate event engages high school students in producing food, culinary arts, hospitality and more. In the process, the students transition into ‘global citizens’ learning about food security and sustainability. Just the kind of people we need to navigate the future of tourism!

21. Mobile living is here to stay so leverage it.

Unleash the value of mobile dwellers, what they can offer, and how they can contribute. Growth in international students has promoted some destinations to examine the opportunities of tapping into student markets. These visitors are likely to generate ‘sticky spend’ that stays in the community and goes deeper and extends further while generating a smaller carbon footprint.

22. Design the future of tourism work.

Massive restructuring of economic systems will mean that the nature of work is changing both in quality and quality of jobs. Take a moment to think about what kinds of jobs do you want in your destination, then design jobs that will attract higher productivity, higher-earning workers.

23. Education and learning to empower a kinder world.

Tourism and travel help us understand and appreciate the world, build tolerance and empathy. We can assist this learning in tourism by unlocking community assets such as community gardens, community venues for visitor experiences.


About The Tourism CoLab

At the Tourism CoLab, we believe that tourism and travel can be transformational, purposeful and regenerative. However, in order to deliver these benefits, we need to change our tourism operating system, adjust our mindset, and pivot our ways of working. We use an intentional design mindset to activate tourism for good, and we call this new way of working 'Regenerative Tourism by Design' and we're pioneering it at The Tourism CoLab. If you would like to know more about what we do, how we work, and how we might be able to help you, contact us.


 

©2021 The Tourism CoLab.

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