Renewed concepts and new stakeholders at the table – Part 2

Remembering the initial impressions I registered while reading the event schedule, and after having reported the main themes addressed by the conference, I would now like to focus on my personal expectations with regard to a couple of themes that are very close to my heart.

Complying with earlier promises, local communities were invited on stage to share their achievements, and to illustrate alternative ways of working at the grassroots level, resulting in a new level of attention being focused on them.

Projects like those developed by Aldeias Históricas de Portugal (Historical Villages of Portugal) – presented at Évora by its executive director Dalila Dias – demonstrate that the richness of the local material and cultural heritage can become the propeller for local sustainable development and innovative solutions when the communities, their needs and wishes are kept at the centre. Tourism, in this example, comes at the end of the process, as a mere tool used to generate positive impacts on a rural territory experiencing endemic problems such as stagnation and depopulation.
This is a system composed of small projects, with direct tangible economic impacts on the life of individuals, that strives to stimulate both tradition and the local economy while investing in technology and new environmentally sustainable solutions and materials. It consists of many small stories, and is creating a much greater impactful narrative, especially when we consider that it is leading to social inclusion, as well as influencing the level of women empowerment and the retention of the young population. For this segment of the population, in particular, the result goes well beyond the skill development and employment opportunities that the project provides, and it relates also (and foremost) to the sense of belonging and recognition of value of the community’s own cultural roots.

In the same session, moderated by Rika Jean-François, talking about “Tourism’s positive impacts”, Tourism Cares’ founder, Robin Tauck, presented a platform which connects tour operators with local social enterprises, social groups and community groups that are usually hard to reach and find. The platform’s impacts, economic as well as social, have already been shown in the local economy of various Jordanian cities, and we expect to start seeing them in Colombia as well, where the platform will soon be launched.

Showcasing successful stories and inspiring examples at a local level has been an important first step taken by the global event, and we have learned about many interesting cases.
But to really transform the industry we need to invite the local communities to sit at the table as new stakeholders; this is required if we want to think local and act global, following one of the mottos that was mentioned repeatedly and with great conviction in Portugal. In particular, if we want to disrupt the current model of tourism with new ways of thinking we have no option but to act differently.

Marta Cabral reminded us with powerful remarks that if we truly want to include the local communities, we need real commitment and the willingness to lose power.
She made the emphatic and yet very pragmatic consideration that “we cannot do this if we are not willing to lose some part of our power in order to empower the local people.”
To improve the quality of life in both the human and the natural environment through tourism we must, first of all, plan it with the community.
During the short panel reserved for the younger generation – “Millennials’ View of Travel” – Marta went bravely straight to the heart of the problem, and gave us some initial practical guidance on how to do that. Referencing a methodology developed in Norway, she highlighted that we need to ask some critical questions and, most importantly, be determined to find the answers while working with the local communities.

Why do we want tourism?
Why do we need them (tourists)?
What have we got?
Where and when do we want them?
Who do we want to invite to our home?
How do we get them?

If you are not used to working with local communities, you should be aware that the process needs not only strategic planning and a rigorous methodology, but also time and commitment. In the end, we have no choice because, as Marta concluded, “without this [actions and willingness] we are only dreaming about it!”

I would like to reserve a final note for the role of the travel media.
The event took off with an encouraging and humbling message: we all need to be educated.
During the Q&A of the first press conference for the event Christian Delom – secretary general of A World for Travel – urged the journalists “to really push governments, companies, even citizens and the tourists themselves to move forwards. It’s a question of education, we need to educate all the stakeholders of this industry! This is, in my opinion, one of the major things we need to do.”

The responsibility of the media was also addressed by the president of Turismo de Portugal, Luís Araújo, who appealed to the media to work to “address the role that each one has, from the tourist to the DMO”, adding a fervent request to the audience of journalists in front of him: “The power of communication is so strong nowadays that we have to use it as a force for good”, suggesting the necessity of sharing the good examples and using the positive achievements as a benchmark that can be used to build on the positive that has already been achieved.

This notion represents a revolution in the role of journalists and influencers as well, and also for the world of the travel media in general.
What we talk about gains relevance and how we do it creates a certain response; but what we choose to leave out of focus in our communication will affect its impact in the long term as well.

There is a universe of significant local examples currently thriving at the grassroots level, which are visible only to those directly involved in them. These realities are improving the quality of life of many individuals, transforming tourism into a vehicle for sustainable growth, and supporting environmental conservation. Unfortunately, without the conscious support of the media, this universe will continue to function and develop in an isolated way; if they could, though, occupy more stages and columns in travel magazines they would inspire great changes and accelerate the spread of the positive impacts on a global level.
It is not about competition, it is more about the responsibility to report the good news and to drive accelerated positive and regenerative change by sharing the inspiration and the results, connecting and building change together.

All this needs to be communicated effectively and spread globally, by involving new voices – those of the local citizens – and sharing their stories, their needs, their feelings while inviting them to be an active part of this collective journey towards a sustainable and regenerative sector.

My commitment to continue sharing good examples from the grassroots level is loudly reaffirmed here.
It is time for us to spread the news about positive impacts and inspiring cases of local innovation in all the dimensions of sustainability.

Since this is a partial selection of themes from the event, I would prompt you to dig deeper in the rich content now freely shared on the A World for Travel platform and listen for yourself to the voices that have made the event.