CAUTHE 2017: Tourism must move from short term profits, low margins and low wages

Tourism’s current focus on short term profits, its low margins and low wages will drive commodification and irresponsibility, according to Professor Pauline Sheldon.

Pauline Sheldon

In her keynote address ‘A pathway forwards: Tourism for the greater good’ at the 2017 CAUTHE conference at the University of Otago, Sheldon said for that to change, social ownership structures that ensure local control and enhanced local benefits must predominate.

The University of Hawaii’s Professor Emerita said the tourism industry needed to shift its focus to the “greater good” in an era of new realities, new norms and new shocks.

Tourism is uniquely positioned to contribute to this idealogical shift “but it requires urgent consideration of whether tourism can continue as an end unto itself,” said Sheldon.

“It requires changes in our consciousness, our mindsets, our values, our decision-making and in ourselves. It requires that all tourism stakeholders develop our ecological consciousness, our societal mindfulness and our moral imagination.”

In what was described as a call to arms, Sheldon questioned how tourism could be re-designed to be a force for the greater good.

The transformation of tourism from a “caterpillar to a butterfly” would require the disintegration of failing socio-economic structures that rely on financial capital and the emergence of new economies.

Social, natural, trust and compassion capital will drive these alternative socio-economic models.

Examples include the sharing or collaborative economy, the economy of resource efficiency or creativity or the generosity economy which Sheldon said was particular relevant to tourism.

“It taps into human’s desire to help each other and to seek our higher purpose. It focuses on the value the giver gets from generosity and the impacts of its ripples throughout a community.”

Generosity is not a scarce resource, however Sheldon pointed out it is hard to monetise.

She asked: “How can we design destinations to encourage radically generous acts by hosts and guest. Have we created the spaces and infrastructures and products that develop this type of economy?”

Sheldon focused on three change agents – or using the butterfly analogy “imaginal cells” – in the suggested paradigm shift, comprising tourists themselves, social entreprenuers and tourism workers.

In respect of tourists, Sheldon said research has recognized a shift in values to a yearning for meaning, benevolence and self-direction.

In recognition of this, it is important the narrative is changed to tourists as global citizens not just consumers.

And these new values held by tourists – particularly millenials and Gen Zers – must be reflected by the private sector.

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