After years of travelling, I shall be stepping on the South American continent for the first time on or around September 9th, 2012 when I am privileged to have the opportunity to speak at the  UNWTO’s Ethics and Tourism Congress. The provisional program can be downloaded here. The Congress precedes OAS’ XXth Inter American Congress of Ministers and High Authorities.

I am triply excited because not only will it be my first experience of South America but the host country is Ecuador – a country I have long admired for being the first country on the planet to recognise the Rights of Nature in its 2008 Constitution

Rights of Nature recognize the Earth and all its ecosystems as a living being with inalienable rights: to exist, to live free of cruel treatment, to maintain vital processes necessary for the harmonious balance that supports all life. (excellent history of this movement here)

This bold step by the Government of Ecuador was encouraged and supported by the Fundación Pachamama, the Ecuadorian arm of The Pachamama Alliance whose achievements I applaud and with whom I work – Conscious Travel communities will help introduce the innovative one-day,  awareness-raising Symposium developed by The Pachamama Alliance and we share their mission which is to bring about an environmentally, sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling presence (tourism) on this earth.

Thirdly – and I could hardly believe my eyes when I read the email of invitation, the theme of this important event is “Conscious Tourism For a New Era” – a concept proposed to the OAS and developed in June 2011 by Ecuador’s  Minister of Tourism, Freddie Ehlers,  and his colleagues. I’d like to think I might have had some input into this exciting vision but,  as there was no conscious conversation beforehand, it’s likely one of those serendipitous eruptions of a concept whose time has come.

Either way, I can’t wait to meet the participants at the august meeting and share in some very important and exciting discussions.

Here’s how the Ecuadorians defined Conscious Tourism after one of their brain storming sessions:


Conscious tourism is a life-changing experience that brings about personal growth and makes one a better human being. 

This new concept is based on principles of sustainability and ethics and promotes the values of peace, friendship, respect and love for life as the essence and practice of tourism. 

Conscious tourism is a covenant in which travel agents in communities of origin and destination and tourists pledge to co-exist with, have a sense of responsibility and mutual respect for, and commune with the natural and cultural heritage. 

Conscious tourism is a living, dynamic, and constantly evolving concept. It is an experience in giving and receiving.

Source: Concept paper presented to the Organisation of American States  by the delegation from Ecuador, download here

I am speaking on a panel with Gloria Guevara, Secretary of Tourism of Mexico.

I only have 20 minutes so I shall have to be focussed on what I think are some key points that are likely to encompass the the following:

1. It’s not conscious tourism but Conscious Travel. And this isn’t splitting hairs. Language is important. We’re not looking at incremental improvements to the stays quo but a fundamental, radical evolutionary shift  in how we live and travel on this planet. The word tourism keeps us mentally tied to the root of mass tourism – the tour, the package, the object, the thing, as opposed to the experience enjoyed by and supported by people. Conscious Travel is, as the Ecuadorians recognise, all about people – human beings not human doings. Language reflects our mindset and to change that mindset we need to converse in another language – a simpler, more gentle, less technical,  ostentatious language that speaks to the heart and soul as well as the cerebral calculations of a left brain.

That’s why I am not surprised that the term Conscious Tourism has emerged first from South America where a more youthful tourism economy is developing at the same time that the continent’s enormously rich population of indigenous peoples are taking a stand for Pachamama in so many ways. Between now and the OAS meeting, and especially during Indigenous Peoples Week (#ipw2012) I’ll be blogging frequently about the critically important role that Indigenous peoples have in developing Conscious Hosts and accelerating the BIG Tourism Shift.

Achuar Host

Achuar Host

2. Conscious Travel constitutes a completely different way of seeing – it involves casting off of outdated, inaccurate, distorted lenses that don’t enable us to make our way in this world.  Until a critical mass of us (and that doesn’t have to be a majority) have made that shift ; understood the implications;  and can create opportunities from this new way of seeing then we’ll always be tinkering at the edges and identified as fringe.There’ll be endless conferences, declarations, great initiatives and projects but no real ground-breaking change.

3. Conscious Travel is about a new set of  “Ps.”  Travel is, of course the movement of PEOPLE (who come with bodies, minds, spirits and souls)  between PLACES  – from one space to another. The old mindset focussed on products but they can be standardised, homogenised, automated and substituted – quickly becoming commodities that lose their value. Places on the other hand, cannot be reproduced – unless you have 13.5 billion years to wait – as each place is both geographically and historically unique.  By celebrating the uniqueness and, therefore scarcity, of places, we might recoup a higher and more appropriate yield and return greater net benefits to the host community.

The next key “P” stands for PURPOSE – a community of conscious guests and hosts are shifting from an obsession with “a cheap deal” or “quick return” to a sense of meaning, a desire to personally expand, to leave the world a better place. We know that more and more travellers want to return home transformed in some way and that conscious businesses (of which there are a growing number) are discovering that when they focus on generating value to all stakeholders (of which the environment is one), they thrive.

When a guest, who is seeking to connect with the people of a very different place to the one they call home,  meets a host whose PASSION  for the unique attributes of his place is infections and who has the capacity to re-create a sense of wonder and awe, then magic happens.  A trip is turned into a transformative experience taken home as a memory that can last a lifetime.  And the “passion” comes out when we “PLAY ” – when it’s safe for the host to experiment and be herself (authentic)  while “ad libbing” and when the guest feels fully alive, yet comfortable and at ease while ready to be stretched.

4. The shift from one decaying, mechanical  model of tourism (the industrial model) is replaced by its holistic, organic, juicy ecological version will occur not thanks to any more conferences and, God forbid sterile declarations of populated by pompous phrases but when, individual by individual, and community by community, hosts wake up to the opportunities and responsibilities; when hosts step up and commit to becoming change agents in their communities; and when they meet up with each other and the broader community and engage in spirited dialogue that leads to action that is right for the place and time they find themselves in.

So I am excited because this meeting in Quito might create the space in which we can drop our masks and defences and figure out out to birth a new operating system and make that shift from product to place.

This is a meeting of leaders (ministers and top authorities) who have traditionally been tasked with leading the people out of one troubled place to a promised land. With no disrespect intended towards the participants, I don’t think they can do that by declaration, policy statement,  international agreement, or even by pulling in the big consulting guns. But what they can do is create the conditions that support communities of tourism providers embark on a journey of discovery and action together.

It’s as if we’ll be journeying up a river through a dense forest pregnant with possibilities and the strangeness and richness of the surrounding environment will be eased if we are guided through this landscape by a scout who knows the territory. That’s why developing real conversations with our indigenous brothers and sisters is crucial. Their understanding that all  land is sacred  is the key  to shedding the materialistic lenses that have spawned so much greed, destruction, unnecessary competitiveness and sense of scarcity that plague modern society and that is so evident in mass tourism.

Source: Survival International

Machu Picchu (Wikipedia)

Ironically, in making this journey, we’ll be coming home. All tourism has its deepest roots in the soil of pilgrimage. Many of our most popular tourist “hot spots” are ancient sacred sites – Stonehenge, Machu Pichu, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Angkor Wat, Borabador, Varanasi..Sadly, many tourists, don’t know what to do when they get there because, thanks to the dominance of a materialistic, reductionist worldview,  we have lost that spiritual connection that depends on a genuine sense of wonder and awe.

Over the next month, we’ll look at the key values common to an indigenous worldview that could nourish and shape new roles played by conscious hosts.

Readers – of all persuasions – do please feel welcomed and encouraged to add to this discussion.

Next: Changing the Dream: Why Mindsets, Really, Really Matter

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