This fall I did some conference hopping as I strung together speaking events.
These events are always eye-opening: I’m always interested in seeing how content is presented and how audience members engage with it. I’m intrigued by the questions people ask and the way environments are set up to seed curiosity and thoughtful conversations. And, I always appreciate how some of the most profound takeaways don’t come out of the conference itself but from the observations, stories, and moments happening as a result of the conference.
Reflecting on my recent travels, several insightful thoughts rose to the surface. Broadly speaking, they are “life lessons.” But within each of these life lessons is a nugget of wisdom that can be applied to our tourism-related work.
Know your why and then determine your how, which may change over time.
Why do you wake up every morning and do what you do? Why does your company exist? We each have a purpose or mission. Something drives us in a certain direction or toward a certain goal. In business, this why is often at the cornerstone of its existence and is baked into your company’s brand.
Now, how you work toward that why might change, and that’s okay. As we learn new information and skills, as personal priorities shift, and as professional and world realities change, we might find new, better, or simply different ways to embrace our purpose.
The most important thing to know about travel writing is yourself.
I am a person who often goes hard in one direction, and I know that it can be jarring — and even painful, in a way — to adopt a new approach after exerting so much effort in a different space. But, sometimes adjusting the path we’re on and the way we show up with our expertise and full selves in the world is better served by shifting and evolving.
Don’t hoard the gifts you have.
Another way to say this might be “give generously.” Whether it’s a lesson learned, an introduction or access to someone or something, or even just a few minutes to listen, it seems to me that we’d all fare a bit better if we didn’t hold so tightly to what we have and know. When we lift others up, we’re all lifted together.
As generous as people are with “pooling knowledge” and “promoting collaboration” at conferences, I’m often surprised that, out of the spotlight, many companies are still hesitant to share what they have and know. In tourism, it’s especially disheartening to hear and see some of the biggest names demonstrate in a variety of ways that they have no intention of lifting others up. Trust me, I take note of these companies, and I’m sure others do too.
That said, most individuals are genuinely good because they have no reason not to be.
This is something I have wholeheartedly believed and leaned into for a good portion of my adult life. I believe that most people want and need the same things out of life — a sense of safety and belonging, access to clean water and food, and care for their loved ones — and very few people (relatively speaking) act with malicious intent. With its emphasis on “bad news,” I think the media has helped reinforce a societal fabric in which we’re supposed to be distrustful and suspicious of others.
When it comes to traveling, obviously it’s important to remain alert and make smart, safe decisions. Yet, I believe we can’t be afraid to trust and accept the generosity of others when it’s offered. (A shout out to the very kind strangers who have helped me in Kenya and Vietnam, in particular, in my times of need.)
So, while I have witnessed some select people and companies hoard the gifts they could share with others, I’ve also seen many others generously offer what they have. I think many people, myself included, often default to wondering what the “catch” is — believing that nothing comes without a cost. Often, there isn’t a cost; rather, just a commitment to yourself to pay it forward when you’ve been the recipient of someone else’s generosity.
People are people the world over.
It’s worth repeating that most people are just trying to go about their daily lives. Even if a place is mired in controversy or not even recognized as a nation, life goes on: People engage in the same daily activities, desire similar things, and have the same needs all over the world.
In tourism, we tend to refer to people as “travelers” or “tourists.” In business-speak, they’re “clients.” Or, communities of people are often lumped together based on a shared geographical region, history, religion, language, or some other identifying feature.
But people are people: They are humans. They are individuals. They have names and families and dreams and fears. Though it’s easy to remove the “human” from “humanity,” don’t.
When you've hit your lowest point or want to give up, hold on one more day — and then just one more — because everything can change in an instant.
It’s so easy to jump on the bandwagon trying to catch trends or respond to the hot topic of the day. While it’s certainly important not to work in a silo and to act in accordance with the greater ecosystem in which you operate, don’t lose sight of why you started your professional journey or what your purpose is. Nothing worth having ever came easily, and the same is true for the work you do in the tourism space.
If you have found it hard to reconcile travel with the barrage of global challenges society is facing — or even questioned whether it is appropriate to travel at all — you are not alone. In fact, it is entirely appropriate to be grappling with contradictions in the tourism space right now, and if you are, then you are the kind of person who should actively be working on these issues to make it better.
Updated research, access to ancestral knowledge, emerging case studies, and new ideas are surfacing all the time. Today it might not feel like there’s any hope for the planet or tourism’s place in it, but tomorrow that might change. We need you to stick around to find out — and to continue pointing this sector in a positive direction.
Serendipity is harder to realize in the age of the smartphone.
Everyone is so plugged and hyper-aware of what’s going on, who’s doing what, and where things are happening. Once upon a time, it was possible to unexpectedly bump into your best friend from college at a coffee shop on vacation completely out of the blue; now you both know where you’re at because we’re all oversharing on social media and sending a quick text makes it possible to make plans to meet at the coffee shop instead.
Something that happens to me — an avid street art lover — is holding the route with the best urban murals already plotted out in an app in the palm of my hand. Yes, it’s helpful for finding street art, but I no longer turn the corner and truly have my breath taken away when I see a spectacular mural because I know it’s already there.
I miss those moments of serendipity and the feeling that, somehow, the universe is sprinkling a little magical dust on the world. When it comes to life in general, but travel in particular, I think there’s something to be said for stepping away from technology and letting the world unfold around us without a script.
Encouraging people to challenge the status quo will be met with resistance because change is inherently difficult. Do it anyway.
People say they want to change. Companies are being pressured to change. Professional spheres like tourism are in need of a change. The world in which we all live is on a dangerous collision course until there is change.
And yet. And yet …
I say things that rile people up. I have unpopular opinions. I hear a lot of “yes, but …” instead of “yes, and …” I’ve “called in” a fair share of travel companies and destinations engaging in questionable practices (though, not surprisingly, few choose to respond). Sometimes I feel like I’m screaming into the void. (And, there’s still a lot I haven’t said yet because the time still doesn’t feel right or I haven’t figured out how to craft my message yet.)
I know change is hard. It can be slow. It can be tedious. And it can be so incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient. But if the status quo isn’t working and change is needed, we need to push for it anyway. And then we need to act.
Don't let a single "aha" moment pass you by ...
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