It’s taken mainstream tourism nearly 20 years to fully embrace the wisdom imparted by authors Pine and Gilmore in The Experience Economy. Use of the word “tour” is diminishing, replaced by the word “experience” even though format and content may have stayed the same. Today’s “truth” – tours are done by tourists; self-respecting travellers seek authentic, immersive experiences. Tours compete on price; experiences are sold on value etc. etc.
In the last chapter of their book, Pine and Gilmore made a prescient observation that experiences (designed initially to wring more value out of products) would also eventually be commoditized and the only way suppliers could escape that trap would be to deliver ever more customized experiences that transformed their customer.
With transformations, the economic offering of a company is the individual person or company changed as the result of what the company does. With transformations, the customer is the product! The individual buyer of the transformation essentially says, “change me”. Pine and Gilmore, 1999
I urge you to get a copy of the book and visit Strategic Horizons – it’s a marketing classic – but if you’re in a hurry, you could get a quick summary of their last chapter from The Transformation Economy – a post I wrote in 2006.
Don’t procrastinate though – the Transformation Economy has now arrived. And just in time – perhaps. Before our shiny new year was just 3 days old Vogue Magazine was telling us “Why Transformative Travel will be the travel trend of 2017”. (I’d like to think that, given how long it took for the implications of the Experience Economy to sink in, if “it” does catch on, then “Transformative Travel” appropriately capitalized (no pun) will be with us for more than the 365 days forecast by Vogue, even if the magazine may have shifted its attention by year’s end.
I have very mixed feelings about this development. I love the concept, support 100% the aspirations of the Transformational Travel Collaborative and very much hope that we can work together but I fear for the health and vitality of this “new born”. Those of us who care about the future of travel and humanity must wake up to the dangers this kind of travel faces – will it too fall pray to mindless imitation, commercialization and oversell? Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti profit or business. I want the demand for transformation to grow – it’s our only hope as a species. The rise of transformational media, education, coaching, conscious business etc. is playing a critical role in our evolution and, yes, where there is a demand and a need, others will and should supply and the exchange of value will result in commercial returns to sellers and value received by buyers.
But the task ahead is far greater than satisfying yet another market segment. We humans are being called right now to wake up and shift from our slumber as all-consuming, passive, robotic human doings to conscious, caring, fully alive human beings mindfully expressing our unique place and role in the future of the planet (yes, really!)
Tourism, as a collective effort, can and must unleash its capacity to become a restorative, life affirming change agent and participate in the biggest, fastest shift in human history ever but it will completely miss this golden opportunity and dire necessity if we reduce this phenomenon to “a latest trend.” If transformative and transformational become another set of empty words like sustainability, authentic, eco and immersive – recent arrivals in marketers’ shiny new lexicon – we are doomed to continue along our suicidal path called “business as usual”.
We will miss the opportunity to elevate the concept of transformative travel from just a marketing concept to a powerful force that helps change the fundamental assumptions on which mainstream business practice and many cultural norms are now based. Furthermore, we’ll miss the chance to turn tourism from being a force that extracts and exploits to one that regenerates and vitalizes. That’s the real deal.
Our biggest failing right now as a global community is to resist learning how to see or perceive ourselves and our world with fresh eyes. We’re too busy doing, fixing, solving with limited levels of success based on a set of operating assumptions that are obsolete and inaccurate. At the same time, more of us recognize that we see what we want or expect to see and the act of perceiving is actually a huge filtering process. That’s why there appear to be so many opposing views on the planet right now. Each person does, in fact, see and create their own version of reality in their heads. So, yes, a real benefit of travel is that it stimulates us to not only see our world from a different perspective but also become aware of what we have failed to see or chosen not to pay attention to.
Confession – I borrowed this quote from TTC. I suspect Miller borrowed it from Marcel Proust who put it this way:
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Hosts i.e suppliers of travel and hospitality services – who wish to satisfy guests’ desire to stretch, grow and be transformed can make a good living in this space. All other factors being stable, this market is destined to grow hugely. But to be truly successful, the host will have to do some transforming of their own. That’s why Conscious.Travel is developing programs to enable communities of hosts to wake up to their potential as transformative change agents in their own communities. Only then can they truly support and satisfy their transformation-seeking guests and only then can they contribute to the biggest and most essential evolutionary shift in human history! That’s a whole big topic to be covered in another post. In the meantime, the relevant question today is:
Can Transformational Travel be immune to the forces of commoditization?
Unlike products and experiences, transformations cannot be extracted, made, delivered or even staged, they can only guided/supported. Transformations occur within the customer and can only be made by them. But transformation, like love and happiness is an “emergent” phenomenon – elusive when pursued. (Note: “emergent” is about to become another buzzword – albeit a very importance concept/phenomenon. To get better acquainted with it do read Beth Comstock’s piece, Welcome to the Emergent Era.
Transformative transactions are truly co-creative. The Guide or Host (Pine and Gilmore use the term Elicitor for host and Aspirant for guest) can create the conditions that assist the transformation but can never guarantee it. Furthermore, the guide needs to:
1). understand their customer’s needs, aspirations and tolerance for risk, surprise, discomfort, wonder and awe;
2). develop a shared agreement regarding the desired aspiration and the context in which that aspiration is expressed and anticipated;
3). provide support and guidance towards breakthrough; and then
4). be willing to deliver or arrange for others to deliver long-term follow through.
All of this implies a level of caring, a diversity of skill sets and application of multiple intelligences (emotional, spiritual, kinesthetic, and spatial) along with a willingness and capacity to enter into a relatively intimate, trusting and long-term relationship.
All of which also implies a higher level of self-awareness and maturation of both emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence on the part of the host. Both of which factors also imply that such a level of interaction – while potentially highly profitable – is not scalable or suited to mass tourism.
Not surprisingly, many of the skills and attributes listed above are already developing and being developed within the broadly defined adventure travel community – the birthplace of the Transformative Travel Collaborative (see ATTA).
And while a first glance at the TTC might suggest this market primarily comprises a youthful demographic hooked on strenuous risk taking, it is emerging from other sources too including the business, boomer, creative, conservation, eco-conscious communities and the Cultural Creatives described most recently in the UNWTO report Global Report on the Transformative Power of Tourism. The demand is fuelled by a human yearning for meaning and purpose now recognized by many contemporary businesses as essential to be addressed if companies want to inspire and engage people at work. It also reflects another powerful yearning to be more as expressed so eloquently by Antoine St Expury:
This yearning in all of us – regardless of our role as host, guest, community member, supplier, or intermediary – provides us with the biggest opportunity to discover and express who we really are as human beings i.e. conscious human becomings.
It’s this yearning to be so much more than passive, consuming, half awake robots that’s stirring all across the planet now as we reject the sterile, calorie loaded but nutrition starved fare served up by our utterly money focused economy. We’re at an evolutionary tipping point when transformation of our consciousness is called for and there’s no possibility that responsibility can be delegated. It’s up to each of us. Who better to take us on a journey of discovery than people skilled in guiding us into new territory or creating safe welcoming spaces from which to observe a different, unfamiliar view?
Those of us working in the domain called Tourism Travel and Hospitality have a unique and potent role to play in that transformative journey of discovery – please don’t let’s waste it.
As you can tell, this post is a teaser designed to find out who might be interested in pursuing the outrageous idea that tourism can be the sector that most helps humanity’s shift to a way of being that restores health and harmony to an incredibly beautiful, bountiful planet. I’ll happily take a like or share as evidence of your interest – no matter how vague at this point! And a comment – well that would be like Christmas and Birthday rolled into one! Thank you for reading.
Fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing your thinking. You make a few references to its relevance to adventure travel but I’d like to highlight a travel sector where, I now realise, it might be particularly applicable. That sector is the naturist, nudist or clothing optional travel market. In my opinion, a sector stuck with outdated and failing promotional strategies. There is some evidence that it is a sector where demand is growing but where many hosts are failing to understand what is driving that demand. My wife and I run a small off-grid, eco-friendly clothing optional campsite in Montenegro. With little or no marketing experience we’ve been struggling to pin point what it is about our offer that results in the overwhelmingly positive feedback we get from our guests, many of whom (our 2015 guest survey suggested over 50%) were experiencing a clothes free environment for the first time. Looking back over our guest book comments in the light of your article it’s now obvious to me that the resultant “transformation” in their thinking towards non-sexual public nudity underpinned the enjoyment of their holiday. As you say in your piece, they were stimulated “to not only see our (their) world from a different perspective but also become aware of what we(they) have failed to see or chosen not to pay attention to. Your piece also helped me to appreciate why, as a host, I get such satisfaction from our customer feedback. I totally relate to your comment regarding being anti profit and business. At the end of the day we have to earn a living but we’ll never be rich doing what we do on the scale that we do it. The reward from feeling that we have “created the conditions that assist the transformation” is far greater.
Interestingly, as I write this rather kneejerk lightbulb reaction to your article I’m experiencing creeping insecurity as to whether I’m misinterpreting the relevance to my own business. Please tell me if I have completely missed the point. I’d hate to be one of those responsible for the “mindless imitation, commercialization and oversell” of this fascinating concept. In the meantime, I shall look forward to following the links and further reading suggestions in your article. I’d also like to raise my hand and say yes! I am interested in pursuing the outrageous idea that tourism can be the sector that most helps humanity’s shift to a way of being that restores health and harmony to an incredibly beautiful, bountiful planet.
I agree with everything you’ve said here. I’m the founder of Adventure Awake (www.adventureawake.com), a truly transformational travel (really, conscious travel) business, and in my efforts to see what else was out there in my market research, I’ve discovered A LOT of companies who call what they are doing “transformative” but actually, it’s merely experiential.
You point to some really important factors, particularly regarding spiritual, emotional, somatic awarenesses, along with a deep amount of caring, shared agreements and co-creation, and most importantly, long term integration plans once the experiential piece is over. I whole-heartedly agree as to the importance of these things in order for true transformation to occur.
This level of attention is rare so far as I’ve found it. I know we do it at Adventure Awake because it was specifically designed exactly that way (and it will never change in that structure).
I attended a luxury travel unconference with PURE earlier this year hoping to discover the epicenter of this concept that has up until now felt a lot like a blue ocean, and was broadly disappointed by the gross misunderstanding of what transformation even means. It’s been grabbed as a buzz word, but not fully understood. People aren’t changing worlds yet – they’re just finding even riskier experiences to share with clients, most of which involve some level of exploitation (this is particularly true of travel types in Africa). They put an eco-lodge in the middle of an elephant nursery and call it sustainable. But as you’ve said: we can do better.
I’d love to talk to you more about this if you’d like. It’s something I hold near and dear to my heart and I have some big ideas on the topic as I look to scale my own business. Feel free to email me.