Is Meaningful Tourism the Future of Sustainable Tourism?
If you want to be successful in the development of tourism, you need to give quality benefits. And satisfaction, to all stakeholders involved. A lot of discussion about the future of tourism is wishful thinking. Regulations are not working if people don't follow them. Welcome to another interview on the Tourism Foresight YouTube channel.
I'm joined today by Professor Dr. Wolfgang Arlt, who has over 20 years experience as professor of tourism management in various universities. Over 30 years experience in Chinese tourism research and consultancy. Lastly, as director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute and who has recently started the meaningful Tourism Research Center, and this is why we're talking today with Professor Dr.
Wolfgang Arlt. Welcome and I look forward to a good discussion on meaningful tourism. Thank you very much for having me today. And indeed, I have been working for the last 40 years in the field of Chinese tourism, especially China's offline tourism. But as many other people I had the opportunity during the pandemic to think a bit more about the future of tourism and how can we develop tourism in a positive, sustainable way. And as a result of that, we develop the paradigm of meaningful tourism.
Educate. It's a very simple idea. The idea is that if you want to be successful in the development of tourism, you need to give quality benefits and satisfaction to all stakeholders involved. The background of this is positive sustainability. To say we are not talking about that. You should stop doing things that you should be ashamed of lying or stop doing this or that. But to see how can we get positive benefits for everybody involved, it's not about balancing interests which are seen as antagonistic.
It is finding solutions where you allow the interest and you find out, well, actually there is a solution where both sides are happy with. And that is what we are trying to to help the industry to move forward with this type of trainings. We've been starting with research publications. It's very interesting you you alluded a little to due to the fact that all stakeholders need to be on board with a solution, I need to be happy with a solution. Is that possible? And I'm thinking of of, let's say, the big overtourism destinations like like Barcelona, like Amsterdam. Is it possible to make all stakeholders happy? I think it is.
So the key point I think is really is a change of perspective so that you you're saying it's not automatically that the local population is the enemy of all of the visitors. If you have Venice, we have 50,000 inhabitants versus 40 million visitors. So I would say they're subversive. The solution also also serves as a tourist tax. People are paying when they stay in a hotel in Venice anyway.
You take tax process money and just give it to the locals. So at the end of the year, everybody else, 50,000 Venetians get a €5,000 check from the government and say thank you for smiling at the tourists. And then people will have a concrete benefit from this, not only the people who work at the industry, because actually Venice is not the city anymore. Venice is a theme park. There's no way to deny that. If you look at the numbers, you look at the situation.
So but of course, you are happy to have 50,000 people there that give some local flavor. There is a a problem that the locals don't get cheap apartments anymore. But again, there's a solution for that.
And I think in many cases is in making the the losing side part of the deal that they are given something out of the positive effects of of of the deal. So in the case of Venice that you mentioned earlier, that would be part of the 5000. Yeah, but that can be money, but that doesn't have to be always money. That can also be price. So if you if you're a successor to telling the local people, look, what what you think it's your everyday life, other people spend a lot of money to travel ten kilometers to come and look at what you are doing. So that is also reinforcing traditions and giving people pride in what they are doing.
If you if that is what you tell them. Yeah. And look, this is you think this is normal? Actually, not many people do with this kind of festivities or culture events or whatever. So it is is not just money. A lot of the discussion about the future of tourism is wishful thinking. Is saying, Oh, if only those stupid tourists would understand that they should behave like this and this.
Oh, if only everybody would be a vegetarian. This is not going to happen. And of course, it's good. People do that. It's wonderful. But it has been shown that this approach of telling people what is supported, what they are not supposed to do is not working, especially for leisure tourism. When people are on holidays and this is they want to have fun.
This is the time when they want to think the least about what is my environmental footprint while they're there, maybe before they have to talk about this. Once they're in the holiday destination, they don't want to be told, no, you can't do that. You can't try this local food because, you know, this is this is a red meat.
You should eat it. But is that really a possibility for us, for the world at the moment with about 8 billion inhabitants to to rely on on positive psychology, with without any regulation, regulations are not working. If people don't follow that and and you add to what a policeman and at every car this is too expensive. So it doesn't work. We all know that.
So if you have a piece of grass and you put up a sign, don't don't walk across the grass. If this is a shortcut, people will do it. So you better make a little stone pass. It is short run as a shortcut is and then soft instead of putting the side there because nobody will follow the sun. I mean this is common knowledge so that and we have been trying very hard in this sustainability discussion to have this don't walk on the grass approach a visit putting up signs that doesn't work.
So you have to get people to understand what is the benefit if they follow advice or buy. If you say, okay, this is obviously an advantage for other people that they can they can have a shortcut, then organize it in a way that it doesn't hurt that that they walked out on that late. So not you need to regulations but you need the regulations which are easy to follow and where the people understand, okay, what is behind this? And if will be will be easier. How about tourists? So how can we use positive psychology to get tourists to change their behavior? You said before that regulation doesn't work and that it's wishful thinking.
That's not all the regulation works. So how can we use the concept of meaningful tourism to change how we travel? The short answer to that is the biggest attraction for tourists are people. So if you if you if you listen to people talking about their tourism experiences, there might be yeah, if you go skiing or mountain climbing, there will be the nature experience. But for for most people traveling, they will say, I met some interesting people and that that might be as a tourist even, but also it will be across local people.
And this might be even more the case that we are now in a situation where a very simply the average age of of international travelers is moving up. So so you have simply more older, affluent people than young people. So the idea that tourism is about beach volleyball and one night stands and alcohol is getting less and you have more people in there, I don't know, 50, 6070s traveling, interested in the place, they're visiting the culture there.
And so this is some of the demos are changing there definition of what is their job from telling people how wonderful is my city and who is the architect of the cathedral to bringing people of common interests together? So if you are interested in music, they will help you to fact to meet local people who are also interested in music. And they will show you the best places for music on your and you can talk to them. So all this special interest stuff, you could do it where you also the the the tourists are giving something back.
I've been traveling in Mongolia with security forces so traditional way and I was told that in Mongolia. So it is the right of every person traveling that evening. If there are the assets of the yacht, you can go there and you have to be given a shelter and a place to sleep and food even as this a so enemy kind of people. So as long as they're the guests, this is only in the response the guest has to test Boris. So that is from the times where there was no TV, no Netflix saw.
So that so that's that the guest is yeah it's the evening entertainment so he has to tell interesting stories, either what happened somewhere or fairy tales or whatever he can talk about. And I think this is something that the idea that also the guest is providing something that this is, of course, this if you if you start talking to each other, you see all these sort of interesting things. Is is that really a possibility for us, for the world at the moment with about 8 billion inhabitants to to rely on on positive psychology? Less so, of course, but but I think this is this is what will change.
I think the the the the this kind of tourism where you have a million people on the beach and like in Spain and the the waiter comes the microscopes of Romania anyway. And there is or bet its presence to be seen anywhere at the food comes from from the convenience food from from from the US a whole factory. So I think that this kind of tourism will not be as popular in the future as it was in the past.
So I think that this will that this is not it will still exist, I think, for the majority of of of of tourists, of this will become less and less attractive. And, of course, it is it is a mistake if you have internships to build everything only on tourism. So but of course, for many destinations there is no choice. The Maldives, what else should they sell other than the tourism? And at many other places. But no, it has to work for for bigger groups of of people because that is the only way we have an impact. So it is it doesn't I think that's part of the problem we have at the moment that we have I know a 5% or maybe not 10% of the future of people will say, yeah, I want to have a meaningful ecological footprint and I want to be careful of what I'm doing.
But but the planet doesn't mind what the minority is doing. It's a question of what the majority is doing. So it is it is something which can work. And there and so I think there are solutions for all of us.
All of us also strategies you have. You only have to start thinking about this in a way that we say, okay, how can we find a solution which is which has for benefits for for for everybody which has not been done is a problem. Yeah. And how can you do that? You mentioned the path that that that is a shortcut through the park and that's sort of a design aspect that that we are thinking in square in squares. Exactly.
But when we are walking we take the shortest route possible and that is not a square that but in tourism, how, how can we start to to think laterally I give you one example. So it was in the news the last few weeks that the the the the Comoro Islands where this giant lizards are living which look like dinosaurs. That's the central government of of Indonesia decided that from August 1st. All they say from January next year, the entrance fee for the national park is this animals are living is going up from $13 to $250. So and then the local tourist people went on strike because it said, are you crazy? That means for at least 90% of the tourists, they will not be able or willing to pay 12 trips to the entrance fee, but it's good for the animals. So of course, the starting point was that the animals have too much stress of all the visitors coming there.
But so but again, so this is the idea. You have visitors against environment and the local people nobody cares about. So if you change this to a meaningful tourism approach to say, okay, let's find a solution which is good for everybody, you can say, okay, we put some of these animals in a kind of zoo atmosphere with a glass of water.
And so and almost we saw animals to have. So we put five or six there. So they once in their lifetime they would have to work for two weeks.
So either one indicates so so they can offer this for for low price. People can still have the experience. And for those people who have enough money or are very interested, you offer the expensive one with a ranger and get depressed right at the same time for the local tourism people, instead of selling Coca-Cola, you have them to develop some authentic local food to offer that so they could earn more money and can be more proud that they are showing their own country. Not only was an obvious, but also with their beef, their food or the handicrafts or whatever.
So we help them to earn more money. The animals are happy because they have less stress. You have the rich tourists have their VIP service. The tourists also can are not kicked out of the whole thing.
And the local tourism industry is local people that are more money and are more happy that people are not just coming for the animals, but also for for them. We have just finished the the application period for the first meaningful tourism award and we had a lot of very, very good best practice examples. For instance, there is a organization in London and they have employed former homeless people as tour guides and these guys are now working as tour guides and they show the walking tour people how they have been living before as a as a homeless person. And sorry that this and what are the secrets of the city.
You know, as a homeless you would you never know as a normal citizen. And this is for instance, I feel where you can see this is where tourism is doing something for the local community. I came across another very simple example in the I think in Tanzania, there was a problem that you have the elephant sanctuaries at the elephant hut across the street, which was also used by local people. So for the children to walk to the school, the next bigger village, and sometimes the elephants attack the kids with the result that once a year a kid was was killed and the mothers had to walk with the kids.
So they were walking one hour to the school, one hour back. And the afternoon again, the brothers wasted 4 hours a day walking back and forth to two. And also, of course, what happened is that a few elephants were shot in the night. So because of the village, as we thought, these are the enemies.
And so you can you can go to this in a confrontational way and say, oh, there's a village, just have to be educated or punished or both, not to touch the elephants. Or you say, why the kids can't go to school anymore. But but if you say, okay, we need a solution for both sides, and somebody came up with a very rocket sized idea, a bus. So so had some NGO, gave some money, and now they have a school bus which is going in the morning, in the afternoon. And the bus, the kids are safe. And you created the drop, a tool for the bus driver as a local guy.
And problem solved. What you see now, the tourism industry is a lack of employees so that because it's a fast we all know that people are working in the industry and tourism especially in hospitality have it treated as human resources and not as human beings and have been had a very hard jobs to pay. And so many of them failed in the meantime, okay, you can have a mon-fri 9 to 5 sitting down job for the same money, so why should I come back? And this is because this where one of the stakeholders I was saying give the least interest and at least attention. And even today, if you if you see if you read papers about sustainable tourism or responsible tourism or regenerative tourism, very seldom people speak about the fact that you need also good and fair and fulfilling and meaningful working conditions for the people providing the services. I think this is the one of the key things is that you give them recognition so that you recognize and publicly so that so and I, I give an example.
I saw in one city and Europe that I will tell in a not so good part of the city that they put posters on the bus stops around to the hotel. So these are pictures of the employees of the hotel. Let's say these people help our borough to be, to care, to better image so that the people will come to our hotel.
They are given very good service. So they go away and tell other people good things about our of the city. So be thankful to them. They help everybody to that. Our city gets a better image. And I think this is how much does it cost if you are the euros or pounds? And so the people working in the hotel would be very proud that the kids resources to their friends all the way to school.
Look, this is my mother up there. She is the ambassador of our district. So this kind of things which are not money, but which will make people very proud, very happy about what they are doing and giving them a new idea that what they are doing is not just earning money by handing over a keys to the at the reception, but this is something where they are ambassadors of their of their district. This is something which you do not think about if you think KPI is, which are just simple monetized things. So because this is a of course that is not helping to get more visitors or more guests in your hotel. But but now people hopefully understand it's helps you to get employees and the marketing is not only for the customers you also have to have into the marketing and maybe the people now booking you this hotel.
They will tell their friends looking for a job. But you can you should also apply to work at our place because it's a nice place. So we've been talking about meaningful tourism as a as a concept.
But what does that concretely mean for for companies, for destinations that want to put that into practice? So what actions can they take? Yes. So I'm thank you for this question, because this whole thing is not just an academic endeavor, but it's it's a process really to help the tourism industry to have a sustained development. There is a need for change anyway, if only because of the climate catastrophe.
And and so, therefore, we are well, what we are doing is, of course, we have developed the first training program and we are working at the moment to have a more detailed, more advanced training program so people online people can do this by themselves. But of course, also we offer that we are helping people in their strategy, development and development of new KPIs which keep this different stakeholders in mind. And of course, but most big companies, most destinations already have some sustainability plan or some ideas. So it's not that we are telling people this is all rubbish and we have to throw this all away, but it's rather basic. This is a add on to what what you have been thinking about and we can show you that maybe why this is not super successful because there are some holes in it. There are some there are some some black spots you have not given attention to.
And we can help you to make this a more rounded, a more holistic approach by adding this add this by looking at this from a meaningful tourism point of view and then coming up with new solutions and I think the key point is, of course, that as people have become much more aware than they were before the pandemic and before this summer, you can actually earn money from that. You can have a first mover advantage. If you can tell people we are the guys who are doing more than just taking away the plastic straws and telling people to what's the topic of direct. We can provide strategies and insights and new ways of looking at things in the end, it's always the people on the ground.
We have to make the decisions and know their product better than anybody else. But this kind of outside holistic look is my experience of over many years as a consultant and as a trainer and as a professor. Do you have very often this you look at this from the outside at you, you discuss this at and at the end of the day, people say, yeah, that's obvious.
Why did we not think about this before? So but trust you always look at the same direction and in the same way. So this is what we try to it's it's not rocket science. We did not invent the wheel.
It is of this is common sense, but which has not been used. You've alluded that you've got the the meaningful tourism awards at the to be in Asia. I was really happy to see how many good applications came in and how many people in all over the world small, small initiatives and also some bigger companies do some very clever things and very interesting new approaches. So I think the biggest number of applications were for connecting to the host community in different ways, that this is something a lot of companies have understood that you have to have good terms with the host community is all that they are supporting your business, that they are friendly to your your customers, but also that this is what the what your customers are interested in. So if you can if you can have the real experience with real people and see how is their everyday life. And so that this is something which is which is very interesting.
I am I'm optimistic that there are many people out there who have thought about how to make this a better situation, have better products and services. And we will also produce a e-book after birth where we will show this what winners activities as best practice examples. Excellent.
I've I'm looking forward to the e-book and so anyone, as you said, needs a Christmas present. Check out meaning the meaningful tourism website. I suppose it'll be it'll be on there. Yes. Then we can learn from from best practices.
Thank you very much Professor Dr. Wolfgang Art for thank you for having us an overview of of meaningful tourism.