Recently on the island of Bali, the risks inherent in developing tourism disconnected from the destination community have become clear. Local residents are angered by plans to build an artificial island in Benoa Harbour, whose 800 hectares of land will then host villas, apartments, luxury hotels, a theme park and a Formula One racing circuit. Waves of discontent are growing, seen most recently on Oct 18 when several thousand people attended a 12 hour concert held in protest at the plans.
Yet most Balinese are not anti tourism per se. But they are concerned that the very attractions that lure so many tourists (which for them are not so much attractions as ways of life and places they call home) risk being destroyed by the industry that relies upon them.
There are few destinations in the world where survival is more of an immediate and total risk than certain islands in the South Pacific. So imminent is the threat of rising sea levels through climate change in these tropical outposts, that ‘climate refugees’ are already leaving their homes for less low lying countries. Again, these communities are not anti-tourism. Far from it. For most of these islands tourism is the heart of their economy.
Recently they have been begun forging plans to ensure their long term survival as sustainable destinations, and doing through not though a process of exclusion, but of collaboration. In September the South Pacific Destination Alliance was formed in Samoa, in a partnership between Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the South Pacific Tourism Organisation, Sustainable Travel International. Samoa is the alliance’s founding destination partner, with other islands to join over the coming months. At the same time Samoa announced that it has become the South Pacific region’s first partner in the Sustainable Destination Leadership Network, a worldwide collaboration of destination management organisations and tourism administrations.
The key question is, what form will such collaborations take? Will they be partnerships in name alone, little more than rubber stamping efforts for top down initiatives? Or will they ensure that the voices and wishes of the host communities are not just heard, but placed central to any plans?
One way for them to succeed would be to look to the open source models being adopted by many companies around the world when developing new products and services. According to an article on advertising giant WPP’s website, over half of Fortune 500 companies have made co-creation (the vogueish term for bottom up collaboration) through community sourcing of ideas an integral part of their innovation strategy. They have realised that by ensuring buy in from their customers at the product development stage, as well as opening up the innovation stage to as wide an interested group as possible, there is greater chance of success later down the line. It means, reports WPP, that: ‘there are more than 440 communities dealing with, say, the issue around sunless tanning, while the lumberjack online communities forum consists of 6,722 members contributing over 0.5 million posts.’
Where are such forums in tourism? They are rarely seen, despite the networked nature of the industry’s web of relationships making them an ideal fit. Currently this peer-to-peer, collaborative approach is most known in tourism through the likes of accommodation sharing and carsharing networks like Airbnb and Liftshare. But just as no one knows better than a lumberjack what tools would best help them, so no one understands the truths of a destination, its opportunities and limitations, better than those who live there. Far from seeing local wishes as barriers to be crossed or needs to be accommodated, might it not be time to see them as vital and productive repositories of unique understanding and insight?
On Monday November 3 the opening event of the Responsible Tourism programme at WTM is a session titled ‘Partnership for Better Tourism in Destinations’. Taking place from 15:30 – 16:30 in the Travel Tech Theatre (TT390), it features: Martin Brackenbury, Director, Classic Collection Holidays; Noel Josephides, Chairman, Sunvil Holidays; Patrick Torrent, Executive Director, Catalan Tourist Board; Garry Wilson, Managing Director Purchasing at TUI Travel PLC; Nikki White, Head of Destinations and Sustainability, ABTA – The Travel Association; Cristian Alfaro Park, Head of the Tourism Department in Ayuntamiento de Calviá, Mallorca. Find out more here about this event and the rest of the programme here
It should be clear by now that we suck at collaboration. We shouldn’t, but invariably more time is spent setting up networks than seeing them through. Lack of continuity is the primary stone in the road. How many alliances and partnerships have been set up at conferences and trade shows only to fade away the following week?
We should be able to make better use of peer-to-peer and online sharing, but so far, success has been hampered by a lack of institutional buy-in and individual anxiety. Having set up online forums and wikis, I see the majority of these platforms fail because participants want a quick fix and spend the majority of their time anxious about the small things — the password, the style — and then move on to the next big thing.
Where I find inspiration comes not from the world of travel, but the world of open access. The concept has been making progress in the past 10 years with numerous institutions and funding agencies insisting that materials developed with public or foundation monies include Creative Commons licenses permitting sharing and remixing. I addressed these changes in the ‘Upgrade Your World’ presentation — http://www.slideshare.net/planeta/upgradeyourworld — made at the 2010 European Ecotourism Conference and the challenge of collaboration in ‘We Suck at Collaboration’ — http://www.slideshare.net/planeta/wesuckatcollaboration — made at the 2011 Responsible Tourism in Cities Workshop.
On a collaborative note, I welcome virtual volunteers helping out with the Planeta Wiki. We’re setting up Responsible Travel Week 2015 and editors are asked to chip in with 15 minutes of their time each month. Details http://planeta.wikispaces.com/editors