Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

The Lime, heart of a flourishing place (Symbol of Travel to Tomorrow) — Source and Explanation of its meaning

Travel to Tomorrow I: How we travel will affect where we arrive

Regenerative Tourism as an economic re-regionalization and climate resilience catalyst

I am getting ready for my participation in the up-coming ‘Travel to Tomorrow’ event hosted by the regional tourism organization Visit Flanders. As I am working on my keynote for this two day event that will explore the role of tourism in creating flourishing destinations and thriving places, I decided to write a series of articles as a way to reflect and integrate my thoughts on the theme in the context of redesigning tourism as a catalyst rather than a victim of the changes ahead.

Asking deeper questions about the role of tourism in the future

With the opening quote, the director of Visit Flanders, Peter de Wilde, is daring to ask some important questions about the future of the tourism industry. My role — or the one I choose to offer in the hope that it serves — will be to draw the parallels between the future of tourism and the future of humanity and how they might possibly interrelate. Yes, tourism urgently needs transformation — a re-invention even more profoundly than most professionals within the industry dare to envision.

At the risk of sounding overly Catholic about this, tourism might yet redeem itself for its past and present environmental, social and economic sins. Undoubtedly it also deserves a lot of credit. It enabled more people to meet, learn from, admire, appreciate, befriend, fall in love with what used to be strangers. Personally knowing people from another culture and place has made a difference in our growing planetary awareness. It helped many to stop fearing or othering those who come from outside their native culture.

Viewed positively, tourism helped to make us more aware of each other, furthered learning and intercultural exchange. More importantly it still harbours the potential of playing a catalytic role in a transition towards a new — more regionalised — presence of humanity on Earth.

In a world facing a ‘climate emergency’, we are now urgently need to collaborate in restoring ecosystems health , regenerating Socio-Ecological-Systems and strengthening climate resilience and regional economies. Failure to do so will mean that our societies, civilization and possibly our species will find an untimely (immature) end.

The Lime Tree as a “generative image” at the top is Visit Flanders way to invite us to ask deeper questions about what tourism could contribute to a place by creating thriving destinations. It is an inquiry into giving back , into regeneration and reciprocity and about the deeper value of the qualitative experience and participation not just the quantifiable and monetary kind.

Rather than turning tourism into a ‘product’ that is sold to ‘consumers’ by the ‘wholesalers’ and delivered by the local ‘hospitality industry’, the image — based on the lime trees at the heart of most villages in Flanders — is an invitation to re-invent tourism in a way that is deeply rooted in place as a way of safe-guarding, valuing and celebrating the bio-cultural uniqueness of place. I would also suggest it has an important role in restoring and regenerating the damage we have done — sometimes out of ignorance and often out of greed.

The visionary leadership of Visit Flanders is well aware that tourism — the world’s largest and fastest growing industry — is not a benign service industry but has vast externalised costs due to the extractive, environmentally and socially degenerative, and even exploitative practices that form part of its global and local supply chains, logistics and footprint.

There are a huge amount of externalities and hidden subsidies that are part of enabling the systemic dysfunctionalities that are destroying communities and ecosystems, which the tourism industry as benefitted from under the current extractive and degenerative rather than regenerative economic system.

Tourism as usual is no longer an option!

In anticipation of current global trends reaching Flanders and in response to the 2018 ‘Barcelona Declaration of Tourism and Cultural Heritage: Better Places to Live, Better Places to Visit’, the event in Bruges invites us to consider transformative innovation and a shift from competitive advantage to collaborative advantage in the tourism industry.

One of the growing trends triggering the event is the experience of other places around the world where ‘over-tourism’ and ‘massification’ due to ever increasing numbers of visitors are clearly demonstrating that tourism-as-we-know-it will soon die of its own “success”.

Personally, I directly experience this on the island I call my home — Mallorca — an island deeply burdened by the impact of the all-inclusive mass-tourism it helped to invent. A culturally and ecologically rich and beautiful island-region that has suffered many insults during the rapid expansion of tourism and ended up with a regional economy that is to 90% dependent on tourism and its enabling industries. The awareness of this addiction has now spread, but the need to kick the habit and to go into rehab is only slowly sinking in.

Tourism as usual is no longer an option! We need transformational change! It is no longer about the new (quantitative) growth model for tourism or a diversification of “products”, we have to ask how we can decrease the quantity of visitors in ways that increase the quality of experience for drastically reduced numbers of future visitors while actively improving the quality of life and long-term resilience of the host communities and regions — its local residents and its regional economy.

There is a window of opportunity where tourism can help to catalyse its own transformation and much more than that. Let us hold the vision that tourism has the potential to help people-in-place to rebuild what unrestraint exploitative mass tourism has so often helped to destroy in the past: thriving regional communities and economies.

This trailer of the recent documentary ‘Overbooking’ highlights the beginning of the end: Tourism as usual is no longer an option!

Transforming tourism into a catalyst of regeneration

A re-conceived and transformed tourism can — over the short- and mid-term — become part of the economic engine that helps us to transition towards a re-regionalised energy, food, water, and transport system. It can even help to stimulate both technological and social innovation, research, entrepreneurship, cooperative development, participatory governance, and build bioregional climate resilience by re-regionalising our systems of production and consumption.

Tourism could potentially help us to travel to tomorrow differently and hence have a chance to arrive at a different tomorrow than we are currently committed to: societal breakdown and systemic collapse (see Bendell, 2018).

We have little time left to respond before the looming spectre of run-away and irreversible climate change could trigger cataclysmic results for our species. The IPCC report from autumn 2018 speaks of 12 years, the UN Secretary General himself, and many climate scientists are saying 2–3 years is a more realistic and safer margin in which we need to take drastic global, regional and local measures — everywhere and in unprecedented collaboration.

Somewhat surprisingly — at least to me personally — it seems that possibly the only industry with enough global reach and local trans-sectorial impact and power of influence to effect such a immense transition in a catalytic way is tourism.

The event ‘Travel to Tomorrow’ has been co-curated by Anna Pollock with Visit Flanders. She draws on many decades of experience as a consultant in the tourism sector. Anna recently shared with me an article she wrote 25 years ago for the second edition of Travel Watch a publication of ‘Strategy Group: Creative Solutions in Tourism’ which she was running in the 90s.

The foresight Anna Pollock demonstrated in 1995 is simply astounding! At the same time it is deeply aggravating to see that a quarter of a century later still too few of the decision makers in the tourism industry are taking their responsibility and the potential of their industry to heart.

This article is the first in a series of four articles I am writing to prepare myself for the event in Bruges and create a series of reference points for delegates to come back to after the event. Much beyond this trigger event I hope that this series might stimulate dialogue with the wider industry about a new way of thinking about the role of tourism in how we will travel to tomorrow.

With my own future and my family’s future tied to the fate of the island of Mallorca I take a very personal interest in the potential of tourism to not only transform itself as an industry but in the process to heal local ecosystems, empower local communities and strengthen regional economies around the world — bioregion by bioregion.

The second article is about asking for advice on how to ‘travel to tomorrow’ so that we will arrive at a thriving place. It aims to exemplify how drawing on collective wisdom might offers some guiding questions that can inform wise action in the face of not knowing put nevertheless having to act.

The third will focus on the wider context of tourism with its positive and negative impacts. It will offer a closer look why climate science demands rapid and profound changes— not only for the industry itself but for our societies. Rather than being a victim to these changes tourism has the potential to catalyse economic activity and infrastructure development that would lead to increased climate resilience and thriving regional economies.

The fourth will explore to what extent we have to regard the notion of ‘regenerative tourism’ as a generative paradox, and to what extent there is a deeper potential in that paradox: tourism is part of the problem and part of the solution in so many places around the world.

Tourism offers a potential transition pathway towards economic re-regionalisation. Tourism is a glocal (global/local) industry by its very nature. Tourism has the potential to contribute to the rapid redesign of the human impact on place, people, and planet we now so urgently need. How we travel will crucially affect what kind of future we will co-create in the process and hence it will shape the tomorrow we will arrive at.

[see Part II]

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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures



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Daniel Christian Wahl

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures