Tourism. It can warm our homes or burn down our house

I am genuinely passionate about tourism. I’m almost as passionate about tourism as I am about making cycling ‘normal’!  I grew up in North Devon in the south west of England. It’s an area dominated by and dependent upon tourism.  I spent my summer holidays working in a major tourist destination, I’ve worked with tourism providers in Devon and Cornwall to develop and implement transport solutions and I learnt, the hard way, from starting my own small watersports business that it’s much easier to loose money than make money in tourism!

My tourism hero is Manda Brookman. We met about 10 years ago at a seminar in a marquee in the middle of a hurricane!. She had more energy, enthusiasm and vigor than the weather and I have admired her work ever since. Manda, Director of CoaST (Cornwall Sustainable Tourism) and One Planet Tourism, joined us for a two-part master class about sustainable tourism and positive communication.

What we learned from Manda is that “it’s not just about tourism and it’s not just about Cornwall”. Manda’s ideas, strategies and concepts can be applied to many themes in our existing and in our future cities because the crucial, and transferable, ingredients in everything that she does are:

  • Positive communication
  • Collaboration
  • Inspiration and encouragement
  • Positive deviance.

In setting the scene for the day, Manda explained that tourism must be sustainable and resilient as well as delivering positive change. Sustainable tourism has benefits for our communities, our economies and our environment. Extreme events such as extreme weather and economic instability have had a detrimental effect on tourism across the globe and how we act as ‘tourists’ is critical. For example in Goa local residents use 14 litres of water a day whilst the average tourist at a resort hotel uses 1785 litres of water per day (as a comparison in Brisbane, a ‘Water Smart City’ the average resident uses 143 litres of water per day).

So what are some ‘easy’ things that we can inspire the ‘average’ tourism provider to do to be more sustainable?

According to Manda there are loads of things are fairly cheap, easy and quick to implement. For example:

  • Removing or eliminating plastic bags from shops – It’s true we can all carry a cloth bag in our handbags, that’s not hard!
  • Providing bicycle parking – It does not have to be a multi-million dollar cycle centre. Simply providing a couple of bike racks or providing space in a secure garage is a great start as a pilot project.
  • Providing ‘nice’ soap in a disperser or a refillable bottle…. Lets face it everyone hates those little individually wrapped hotel soaps… imagine how many bars of soap are disposed of each and every year!

What is Positive Deviance and how do we encourage it?

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.

The Positive Deviance approach is an asset-based, problem-solving, and community-driven approach that enables the community to discover these successful behaviors and strategies and develop a plan of action to promote their adoption by all concerned. In a nutshell ‘Positive Deviants’ are the ‘game changers’, the ‘early adopters’ and the “bell cows”!

In the tourism world these are the people who enable their visitors to travel without their car, who offer their guests local produce and who are ‘emotionally connected’ to their local area; they tell the right stories, they use the right words and they work from their heart not their head.

What about the Trojan Mice, who are they?

Manda challenges us all to release our ‘Trojan Mice’. Trojan Mice are small, well focused changes, introduced in an inconspicuous way. They are small enough to be understood and owned by all concerned. Manda suggest that we should take a ‘scary idea’ into our own networks and problem-solve together because our networks trust us and that’s how we can really influence change. It needn’t be expensive to do – mechanisms, like  Twitter, Facebook Linkedin are publicly available and free.

In the tourism world a ‘Trojan Mouse’ is someone like Peter Fraser, owner of award-winning fish and chip shop Harbour Lights in Falmouth. Peter sent ‘Cod on Holiday’ for one week to persuade customers to try other species.

Peter said “In challenging economic times, it may seem like financial suicide to take your best seller off the menu for a week, but we are also in challenging environmental times, and one thing that would really help the world’s marine resources would be if we were not so stuck in our ways and were more willing to try different species of fish. There are so many tasty alternatives available. It’s about not being selfish. I really enjoy cod and chips and I think my grandchildren should be able to as well.

Tourism can burn down our house but it can also warm our homes. It can help solve equity issues, it can generate long-term employment and many examples show that long-term stewardship, as a result of tourism, can protect the environment.

To make tourism, and our cities, sustainable we need to be innovative, visionary, determined, passionate and positive communicators. As I said “It’s not just about tourism and it’s not just about Cornwall”.