Issue #98 - Can Meaningful Tourism Tackle Travel's Biggest Challenges?
Sustainable tourism leads to bad solutions for which irresponsible tourists are blamed
What keeps travel industry CEOs in Asia Pacific awake at night?
A hostile technology disablement would be high on the list. That is neither new nor exclusive to travel, but in addition to the negative business impacts a sustained denial of service attack could imperil the safety of staff and customers across continents.
On purely commercial terms, China not reopening anytime soon continues to be a sleep depriver despite the pendulum of optimism briefly swinging this week.
The prospect of a new pandemic must cause at least subliminal sleep stress.
‘Demand Destruction’ is another early hours worry - the fear that a coalition of viral, economic and geopolitical factors could erode travel demand over the mid-term and lower the recovery ceiling.
And then there’s the climate.
Regional weather patterns are changing, and will diverge further. The tourism industry is in the cross-hairs. It must deliver solutions to reduce the impact on communities and the environment, and ways to respond to extreme weather events, which are increasing in scale and frequency.
So this week we delve into the concept of Meaningful Tourism.
Thanks for being onboard.
- “IN THE NEWS”
- Can Meaningful Tourism Tackle Travel’s Biggest Challenges?
“Sustainable tourism leads to solutions that are not working, and for which irresponsible tourists are blamed.”
- South East Asia Starts to Reopen for Travel - One Year On
Reflecting on Test & Go, VTLs and the ‘Most Open Country in South East Asia.'
“IN THE NEWS”
A pleasure to be interviewed by Zinia Liu, Senior Lecturer at the Dept of Marketing & Tourism, NSBM Green University in Sri Lanka for its new magazine, Sparkle. The theme of the interview was The Future of Tourism Marketing for SMEs in Sri Lanka.
Can Meaningful Tourism Tackle Travel’s Biggest Challenges?
In August, I read a new study, Tourism Under Climate Crisis in Asia: Impacts and Implications. It inspired me to interview co-author, Alexander Trupp, Associate Dean of Research & Postgraduate Studies at the School of Hospitality & Service Management, Sunway University in Malaysia, on The South East Asia Travel Show.
I asked Alex why the report was produced now: “We wanted to create a status quo assessment of tourism and climate change in Asia, where research has been limited.”
I carried that answer in my head for weeks. Why has it taken a pandemic for us to wake up to the impacts of tourism on multiple levels, not just the environment? Why has research in Asia been limited?
Simultaneously, I’ve been discussing Meaningful Tourism with Prof. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, Founder and CEO of the Meaningful Tourism Center. There are three main reasons for this. Firstly, we are (full disclosure) long-time friends and regularly chat all things travel. Secondly, I am always interested to learn how progressive tourism concepts can be applied in practice.
Thirdly, several prominent travel organisations are showing interest to adopt Meaningful Tourism’s programmes.
So what is Meaningful Tourism?
Prof. Arlt describes it as “a positive solution to move forward from the concepts of Sustainable Tourism and Responsible Tourism.” Those two concepts, he says, “have not achieved substantial changes in the way tourism growth began to develop into a negative, destructive force instead of an activity connected with pleasure, experiences, friendship, peace and economic development.”
Instead, future solutions should incorporate the views and interests of all stakeholders for which travel activity plays a role - both positive and negative.
Last month at ITB Asia in Singapore, the first annual Meaningful Tourism Awards honoured best practice initiatives worldwide. Three winners were from Asia:
Fazal Bahardeen, Founder & CEO, Crescentrating, a leading global consultancy for halal tourism.
Rashidah Lim, Chief Representative, Albatros Expeditions, which specialises in Arctic exploration trips.
Eric Mossman Uvovo, CEO, Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority.
After the awards ceremony, I sat down with Prof. Arlt to probe further into Meaningful Tourism…
Asia Travel Re:Set: During your Awards speech you said “Sustainable Tourism is a term the travel industry needs to move beyond”. Yet several presentations and panels at ITB Asia emphasised the phrase over and over. Are we going around in circles?
Prof. Arlt: During the pandemic, it was widely agreed that measuring visitor arrivals or overnights is not effective. New KPIs need to be developed that measure the meaningful progress of tourism development from all perspectives. Unfortunately, this has been largely forgotten. The UNWTO, for example, is measuring the recovery of the travel industry simply through arrivals figures.
It is hard to find speeches by politicians or CEOs that do not include the word "sustainable." It is overused not only in tourism and often means no more than “for a long time”. The fact that nuclear power plants, which create dangerous waste that has to be controlled for thousands of years, made it onto the EU’s list of sustainable forms of energy production because it creates no air pollution is a recent illustration.
“The concept of sustainable tourism and developments such as responsible tourism and regenerative tourism do not cover all aspects of tourism development or all stakeholders involved.”
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) likewise are the subject of an avalanche of surveys and reports sustaining an army of consultants and certification agencies. However, the analysis of the results shows that for many SDGs no progress has been made, and for some negative developments are actually evident. One major study concluded that governments and companies often use SDGs as an instrument of greenwashing, hiding their lack of resolute measures behind words and symbols.
The concept of sustainable tourism and developments such as responsible tourism and regenerative tourism do not cover all aspects of tourism development or all stakeholders involved. From this perspective, only one stakeholder - usually host communities or the environment - should be given attention. This leads to solutions that are not working, and for which, in most cases, irresponsible tourists are blamed.
ATR: What feedback did you get from tourism players at ITB Asia? What more did they want to know about Meaningful Tourism, and what challenges do they foresee?
Prof. Arlt: We got very positive feedback. Tourism players like the idea of a positive approach to address quality, benefits and satisfaction for all stakeholders instead of denial and limitations and the alignment of interests instead of attempting to balance interests.
They especially like the focus on the satisfaction of employees in the travel industry in the discussions. In the past, employees have often been treated as ‘human resources,’ and accordingly optimised their own ‘resource’ by running away from the hospitality and tourism industry - and not coming back.
“The climate catastrophe is clearly changing the parameters for most destinations.”
The main question we were asked was about the translation of the concept into action. This can be effectively managed with specialist training and the development of concepts for destinations and companies based on the Meaningful Tourism approach. We want to change the perspective away from seeing different stakeholders as competitors or as irrelevant parts of the process.
The biggest challenge identified was the dream of many players in the industry to go back to the “good old times” before the pandemic. This period was characterised by discussions about over-tourism and unnecessary pollution, and now the climate catastrophe is clearly changing the parameters for most destinations.
ATR: Having completed the first Meaningful Tourism Awards, what's next?
Prof. Arlt: The projects of the 2022 Meaningful Tourism Awards winners will be published in an eBook as best practice examples in a couple of weeks.
There will be a 2023 Meaningful Tourism Awards for sure. This year, our first edition in Singapore was kindly supported by visitBerlin. We are discussing with partners about where and when a bigger event can take place in 2023.
The Meaningful Tourism training programme will be enlarged to a three-tier structure. This will offer an opportunity to become an accredited trainer for Meaningful Tourism and deliver intensive one-to-one sessions at a C-suite level for decision makers who want to transform their company or organisation.
ATR: And what is the Meaningful Tourism Index?
Prof. Arlt: This will be a major development. The first Meaningful Tourism Index will create a six-level bottom line approach by measuring the tourism situation in a destination from the perspective of the six major stakeholders: visitors, host community, employees, companies, governments, environment. The Index will provide a key tool for destinations and companies to measure their Meaningful Tourism impact, and to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
On Tuesday 8 November, Prof. Arlt will participate in the Responsible Marketing – Securing the Business Advantage panel at WTM in London.
South East Asia Starts to Reopen for Travel - One Year On!
Test & Go. Vaccinated Travel Lanes. 'The Most Open Country in South East Asia.' Twelve months ago, on 1 November 2021, Thailand introduced the Test & Go tourism entry policy. In the same month, Singapore accelerated its Vaccinated Travel Lanes and Cambodia made travel easier for visitors than anywhere else. Malaysia and Vietnam launched Sandbox-style schemes on the islands and Langkawi and Phu Quoc.
One year later, The South East Asia Travel Show rewinds to the month that reignited travel in South East Asia after 20 months of lockdowns and labyrinthine restrictions. How should we reflect on those progressive, yet imperfect, government efforts to reboot travel? And how has the language of tourism changed since?
Listen to South East Asia Starts to Reopen for Travel - One Year On, here:
🎧 Website 🎧 Spotify 🎧 Apple Podcasts
Or search for The South East Asia Travel Show on any podcast platform.
And, that’s a wrap for Issue 98.
The newsletter (which is published every 2 weeks) will return on 20 November.
Until then, find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, the Asia Travel Re:Set website and The South East Asia Travel Show.