Staying in business requires being savvy enough to stay one step ahead of everyone else — to anticipate trends and respond immediately to customer needs before anyone else does. Yet working in a silo with the sole goal of staying one step ahead of your competition can mean working against your company’s or destination’s best interests.
I’ve been thinking a lot about cooperation and collaboration over the last several months. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that working together creates fertile ground for solutions that can help address and overcome our individual shortcomings. Tapping into others’ strengths, taking advantage of joint experience and knowledge, and working through challenges beyond an internal team can surface new ideas and position all collaborating partners in a better place than if they’d ventured out alone.
In my research over the last several months, I’ve learned that the cooperative business model is far more resilient than traditional business structures, and they’re far more invested and rooted in local communities’ wellbeing. I spoke to small business owners across a variety of industries who offered advice on collaboration during crises. And, I watched those in the tourism industry, which has its own degree of competitiveness, embrace cooperation in innovative ways and on a much deeper level than ever before.
This gives me a renewed sense of hope and optimism for the tourism industry. We have a lot of work ahead of us as we rebuild the industry in a more sustainable manner, fold equity and inclusion into every inch of our essence, tackle the climate emergency with a committed sense of urgency, and support communities around the world work toward their sustainable development goals.
None of use can do this work alone. We must embrace a future built on a bedrock of collaboration and cooperation instead of competition. It’s time to think creatively about what that looks like.
Collaborations Through Industry Coalitions
Even before the coronavirus hit, the tourism industry — like all industries — shared ideas and inspiration through association relationships, at conferences, and in workshops. In the past, many of these gatherings have offered inspiration and ideas that individual businesses took back to their offices.
While these gatherings are a great place to meet others in the industry, they haven’t done much to foster true collaboration. On the few occasions where I’ve seen opportunities for true collaboration in order to move the industry ahead as a whole, only a few people and companies have been willing to sacrifice something (time, energy, effort, knowledge, etc.) to benefit the group.
When industry partners intentionally come together with a specific goal, the inertia exists to make real and meaningful changes from within.
- Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency - This community of nearly 150 (as of time of writing) travel organizations, companies, and professionals have all committed to actively addressing the climate emergency. The community openly shares ideas, tools, resources, and lessons learned as it works together to address a universal challenge.
- Future of Tourism Coalition - This coalition has established concrete guiding principles that signatories agree to use in developing sustainable and responsible travel operations. As stated in the coalition’s FAQs, “our organizations regularly communicate with each other and previously had collaborated bilaterally on specific projects. The difference now is we have all come together with a united voice and intend to capitalize on and combine our unique strengths to further a shared mission.”
- Muda - This Brazilian collective of responsible travel operators works together to promote public policy, hold each other accountable, and work with third parties to fully realize the potential of sustainable tourism practices in the country.
Other ideas for large-scale industry collaborations:
I would love to see a collective developed to help travel companies become Certified B Corporations. These companies balance purpose with profit — an ethos many travel companies believe in — yet the process to become a B Corps is rigorous. That is also why it is important, especially in the tourism industry, which weaves a web throughout every corner of the globe. Florida For Good offers a tentative model for this kind of collaboration.
Collaborations Within Destinations
Whether on a destination-wide scale or with small businesses in a community, there are countless opportunities for collaboration. Travelers choose specific destinations for a myriad of reasons, and it’s important to embrace and showcase that special something in a responsible way that honors local residents and their history, culture, and story.
The focus must be driven by locals — their expectations, wellbeing, and comfort with inviting travelers into their lives and communities. This is why collaborations between tourism boards/DMOs and local community members are so important.
- Bay of Plenty’s The Love of Tourism Plan - The framework laid out by the Bay of Plenty is led by community inclusivity, local partnerships, and shared goals that benefit and respect all local residents while positioning and marketing the destination in a way that attracts the ideal visitor.
- Colorado Tourism and Leave No Trace - A partnership with Colorado Tourism and Leave No Trace ensures that Colorado’s many stewardship partners have the resources and messaging they need to educate travelers about environmental care and protection.
- Indigenous Kokoda Adventures (IKA) and Local Coffee Growers - Hit hard by COVID-19, local communities along the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea are working with IKA to package and sell their coffee to a wider audience. IKA is considering expanding its partnership with local growers by opening a local coffee mill.
Other ideas for collaborations within local communities:
For a long time, the tourism industry has existed separate from and alongside destinations’ wider development and community goals. Instead of determining or dictating the value of destinations, tourism can add value by being woven into a community’s existing fabric. Destinations and tour operators should seek out, support, and promote social enterprises and community organizations addressing socio-cultural and environmental challenges.
Travelers are increasingly interested in supporting local businesses and having unique experiences. Helping them learn about locally initiated social impact projects is a powerful way to amplify community initiatives while delivering one-of-a-kind stories about the places people travel.
Collaborations Outside The Industry
Some of the most powerful collaborations have very little to do with the tourism industry directly. It’s also what makes them memorable and interesting. It is in this space that tourism professionals can begin to tap into the expertise and learnings that we aren’t even thinking about but that others have already discovered.
By collaborating with partners beyond the tourism industry, we can take advantage of expanded expertise, bigger markets, and larger budgets. Breaking out of the tourism mold also introduces new ways of thinking and approaching ideas, which can have a ripple effect as we uncover other problems that need solutions.
- Coral Nurture Program - This science-based program works toward reef conservation and preservation by capitalizing on the infrastructure, reach, knowledge, experience, and skills of guides working in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. And, because tour guides come in contact with thousands of travelers, they’re able to use their experience in the Coral Nurture Program to create awareness about and engage people in conversations about this marine habitat.
- Accor Hotels and Too Good to Go - To address the extensive amount of food waste in the hospitality industry, several Accor Hotels brands have partnered with Too Good to Go, which rescues surplus food and delivers it to local residents at a discounted price.
- Tomorrow’s Air and Airbnb - A virtual Airbnb Experience in partnership with Tomorrow’s Air (a travelers’ collective interested in carbon removal) encourages people to learn about and remove carbon from the atmosphere. The one-hour experience is ideal for armchair travelers, the eco-conscious consumer, students, science lovers, or anyone curious about this forward-thinking climate solution.
Other ideas for collaborations outside the industry:
Apropos to tourism’s tendency to work within a silo, there is a tremendous opportunity for collaboration with other industries. If the tourism industry wants to promote and encourage more responsible and sustainable practices among travelers, it must play an active role in making responsible and sustainable practices become the default way of living for the average person on the average day.
We must break out of the industry silo if we’re going to make meaningful changes across humanity as a whole. Just imagine the opportunities available to the tourism industry if it can find ways to reach casual travelers through innovative collaborations in the automotive, fashion, and publishing industries and beyond.
Sometimes the most creative collaborations are born out of necessity during times of crisis. Prepare for the next crisis now by downloading Collaboration + Storytelling Solution in Times of Crisis: A Playbook for Content Creators and Tourism Partners.