A consistent theme of this blog, that will persist until The Shift/The Transition/The Great Turning/The Great Disruption is over, relates to the power of paradigms to shape behaviour.

A perceptive reader will notice that I haven’t used the word paradigm much because I was told a few years ago that it was too “high falutin” for my audience and it would cause their ears to close down, and eyes to roll or glaze over.

But I am encouraged. A couple of weeks ago,  there was a seminar at the World Travel Market of all places on just this subject:

“The Paradigm Shift in Travel and Tourism – New Rules for

Competitive Success”

South Gallery 19; 12:30-13:30.

And it was lead by a tourism professional with all the right credentials – Dr. Auliana Poon, CEO of Tourism Intelligence International, whose text turned a few heads some 20 years ago,  was subsequently largely ignored simply because she was too ahead of her time. Sadly, an unplanned for accident on the way to the seminar prevented my attendance and a long overdue catch up with Dr. Poon to find out her interpretation of the current paradigm shift.

Emboldened that there might be a growing audience for this topic, I’ll continue.

An industrial mindset (a.k.a.paradigm) causes many of us to view the world through a lens that separates subject from object; that pits buyers against sellers as adversaries; and consistently focuses on things and transactions rather than invisible stimuli and emotional states.

This same worldview fuels our obsession with definitions, with labels, with breaking down a topic into its component parts before trying how to make the pieces of the puzzle fit back together again.

Consider our tendency in tourism to:

1. Separate product development (engineering) from marketing (see an earlier post on Branding – If branding were left to engineers);

2. Separate markets by activity (adventure, cultural, heritage, agro, eco, culinary tourism)

3. Focus on artefacts and facilities,  “attractions” and venues rather than the experience, the emotions aroused and memories created; and

4. Divorce the “product” from the setting – the place – which is properly the biggest force shaping the visitor experience

5. Have the message shaped and controlled by centralised bodies often with the help of external agencies.

Well for someone who has felt like a displaced person for much of my career in tourism, I’m delighted to find I am in very good company and that THE SHIFT that I keep describing is real and not a figment of my imagination. The waves of change are even washing up on the long sandy beaches of Australia’s Gold Coast where the chief reporter for the Gold Coast Bulletin  declared in a recent article:

We need a sense of place. A lot of global tourism destinations are starting to look the same. Place tourism is growing.

While I am having real difficulty with the completely redundant term “place tourism” which is as about as useful as “experiential tourism” I do see cause for optimism.

And to celebrate the return of PLACE in our consciousness, I’d like to honour other “soldiers in the thought trenches” who have been trying to lure place back into the centre of all tourism conversations:

  1. Steven Thorne, From Waterloo Canada, who has been consistently writing about the power of place along with his colleague Greg Baeker, author of Rediscovering the Wealth of Places: A Municipal Cultural Planning Handbook for Canadian Communities published in 2010 by Municipal World.
  2. Joe Pine, author of the seminal work The Experience Economy
  3. Robin Barden, a Briton based in Barcelona who writes a very perceptive, intelligent blog called SenseOurway
  4. Simon Anholt,founder of the National Brand Index and author of “Places: Identity, Image and Reputation
  5. Ethan Gelber, editor of The TravelWord, co-founder of the Local Travel Movement and Chief Communicator for the WHL Group
  6. Marin Schobert of Tourismus Design
  7. Dr Dan Shilling, former Executive Director of the Arizona Humanities Council, and author of the wonderful 2007 book, “Civic Tourism, The Poetry and Politics of Place”. His website is http://www.civictourism.org/ – Clearly Dr Shilling is a skilled proponent of place. I hope we will be able to embed the video that is on his site here. I thoroughly recommend a view.
  8. Dr. Susan Guyette – a cultural anthropologist in Sanata Fe with considerable experience working with indigenous people in the US and author several books has recently conducted a webinar on Sustainable Cultural Tourism with/for Sustainable Tourism International that has lots of practical advice and examples concerning ways of maintaining cultural integrity and ensuring that the culture of a host community is respected.
  9. Ron Mader, creator of the magnificent resource Planeta Wiki moderated an important seminar on Media, Tourism and the Environment in which there was considerable focus on place. Ron’s summary posted by the South Africa’s Rhodes University titled The Coverage of Place. is here http://www.rjr.ru.ac.za/rjrpdf/RJR_no21/coverage_of_place.pdf

I am aware that this initial list will have only scratched the surface of specific tourism-place talent out there so I would welcome suggestions as to other “Place Proponents” – individuals, hosts, planners who are making a stand for PLACE to replace product.

Over the next few weeks, some of these place rescuers have agreed to contribute their insights on this blog. They’ll all be categorized under Place and further links given here as we compile their insights and point our readers to useful sources.

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