Shambala Festival: What tourism should do next

Shambala Festival: What tourism should do next

To imagine what tourism should do next, I go dancing

I have just spent a long, hot, joyous weekend at Shambala Festival. Year after year I return with friends and family to be recharged and reminded of what is possible. In my ongoing quest for ‘tourism’s new stories’, I believe this event offers one of the best examples around.


It offers an example in terms of its energy use. It’s 100% powered by renewable power. It has reduced its carbon footprint by over 80%. And it pays to ‘balance’ that which it hasn’t yet been able to reduce more than five times over.


It offers an example in terms of how it deals with its waste. It sends zero waste to landfill. It has removed all single use plastics from the site – right down to cable ties. It is meat and fish free. At the end of the festival leftover food is donated to a local surplus food café who provide Pay What You Feel meals in a community space.


It offers an example socially too. It strives to be a truly inclusive festival. It aims to provide a safe space for anyone to be who they want to be. And its communications – everything from its website, blog, social media and on site programme – provide an example of how businesses focussed on providing pleasure can and should fearlessly showcase their green credentials. Shambala proves ethics and enjoyment make very good partners.


At Shambala, living well for a weekend is the best fun I have all year. It is a thriving, immersive example of the possible. This is not just a four day escape from reality. It is a chance to live – even if just for a few days – in a society that works according to our hopes and dreams. It is a chance to experience an example of what the future might be.


As such it offers a kind of prefigurative politics. The term was coined by political theorist Carl Boggs to describe forms of activism that work to embody “within the ongoing political practice of a movement […] those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal.” It means the party is the rights you are fighting for.


This is what I believe tourism’s ‘new stories’ should be. Our industry should offer tourists a chance to live in and experience what a future worth striving for might be. A week in a truly sustainable hotel should be a chance to imagine and experience examples of other ways of being in the world.


First, though, we have to close the book on the old story. The old story for tourism is one based on escapism, a respite from daily chores, a break from responsibility. We relax, and someone else picks up our mess. We need to move on from this story based on escaping bonds to one based on restoring connections and regenerating the world.


We’ve spent most of our industry’s existence telling stories that depict the past – join a guided tour of the monument, experience an authentic recreation of how we used to worship, work, eat and play. The past has been an over-extended prologue. The next chapters need to look to the future.


This is what Shambala does so well. They have created a truly sustainable, transformative environment, one that offers a chance to experience and enjoy different versions of sustainable living. Life designed by permaculture, grown organically, sourced ethically, powered renewably. Free of corporatism. Open to all.


And with lots of dancing.


We need to see the ‘escape’ that tourism offers in this way. It is not an excuse to avoid responsibility, but an opportunity to imagine, create and experience better versions of reality. The hotels and tour companies and attractions that make up tourism should be part of the most socially inclusive and environmentally transformative industry in the world. The way we offer joy should be a model of sustainable, inclusive practice to those other industries not lucky enough to have joy as their core product.


Finally, this shouldn’t be seen as some long term goal. Zero waste and 100% renewably sourced energy aren’t aspirations to reduce our pollution towards. They are the baselines that give us a license to operate. Fully diverse and equal representation aren’t targets to aim at. They are the only way we can move forward.


Also – it’s going to be a lot more fun this way.

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Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant. He is co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an initiative that supports tourism organisations in declaring a climate emergency and working together to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Science Based Targets. He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and co-founder of, the travel industry sustainable tourism website news site. He consults widely on sustainable tourism strategy and communication, with recent clients including Bruges Ommeland, GSTC, English National Parks, Tripadvisor, the Travel Foundation, and the European Travel Commission. He is a member of Travalyst’s Independent Advisory Board and was a member of Rotterdam’s International Advisory Board in 2019, helping develop a new vision for the city’s tourism.

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