The New Era of Transformative & Sustainable Tourism

June 3, 2020
Jeremy Wells

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder (where) fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) was an American author, cultural anthropologist, mythologist, and professor who is best known for his comparative study of mythology and religion. In his lifetime and throughout his career, Campbell examined thousands of stories told throughout human history, across many cultures and many religions. In his book, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Mr. Campbell outlined a thematic method of personal and collective transformation that permeated every story. He defined this common structure as “the monomyth,” also known as, “The Hero’s Journey.”

The well-known creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, cites that Campbell’s monomyth inspired the series of pioneering films. Lucas believes that Star Wars became such a popular saga because it utilizes this timeless story method— one that has existed for thousands of years.

Campbell defined the Hero’s Journey as a loop consisting of three phases: 

  1. The Departure—The hero departs from what is comfortable or familiar, venturing into an unknown world of darkness.
  2. The Initiation—The hero encounters a series of challenges in which s/he must make difficult decisions to make evident their real character within.
  3. The Return—The hero returns from the arduous quest with a boon that benefits not just their own life, but often save their own community and many times the entire world.
The Heros Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a story of growth and passage.

It’s a transformative journey that forces a separation from comfort. The hero shifts from the status quo onto a path which grants a new level awareness, responsibility, and skill—culminating with a triumphant return home. No stage of this journey can be bypassed. Turning back is the acceptance of failure, and the rejection of the meaningful growth and maturity which awaits.

Travel & tourism has been long considered a powerful tool for economic, societal, and cultural growth. But traveling into a new, unknown world can spark growth within us as well. 

While the future of travel and tourism is largely unknown, there are some travel trends and indicators that have remained. Traveler preferences related to wellness, sustainability, solitude, experiential travel, affordable luxury, and “off-the-beaten-path” travel are likely to expand over the coming years, and transformational travel may be a polestar that clues us in to what the future holds.

Traveler’s Shifting Values

A survey conducted in 2017 by Skift found that Transformational Travel was a growing trend. Of the 1,350 travelers surveyed, 54 percent ranked transformational travel as a 7 out of 10 or greater. 52 percent of travelers said that they’d place an increasing value on this type of travel.

In a follow-up survey of 500 people in 2018, Skift found that there’s certainly an opportunity for this type of travel to take off. In the survey, they found that 32 percent of travelers had a previous travel experience that transformed them in a positive way. However, 24 percent of those surveyed said that they’ve never had a transformational travel experience.

What Does Transformational Travel Look Like?

The Transformational Travel Council (TTC) defines Transformational Travel as “intentionally traveling to stretch, learn, and grow into new ways of being and engaging with the world.”

Transformational Travel can look different for anyone, but these travel experiences usually include some, if not all, of the following:

  • Venturing off to a new place that is fiercely different from your home
  • Traveling with intent, while maintaining an open mind and open heart
  • Learning about local people and culture through purposeful interactions
  • Challenging yourself through cultural, physical, or spiritual experiences that stretch you
  • Extending an invitation to others in order to share perspectives and experiences
  • Spending time reflecting, meditating, praying, journaling, etc
  • Seeking meaning from the experiences you have, and lessons you learn
  • Taking what you’ve learned in your life, and creating a plan to apply it

Case Study: Singapore Travel

“Passion Made Possible”

Ahead of the curve, The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) launched a brand campaign named, “Passion Made Possible” back in 2017. With the aim of targeting tourists who were seeking experiential and transformative travel; positioning their country as a place to explore personal passions and which encourage venturing into new, unexpected, and unknown experiences. In Singapore, whether you’re an explorer, foodie, artist, musician, collector, or sports enthusiast, they have something for you to enjoy, experience, and bring home with a new perspective.

In the campaign, they defined specific groups of travelers with certain passions — a.k.a. “Passion Tribes”. Collectors, Foodies, Explorers, Collectors, Culture Shapers, Socialisers, and Action Seekers were among the defined tribes. With these tribes defined, travel agents (which they label “Passion Ambassadors”) are able to create itineraries and recommend ideas to customize the traveler’s experience.

This approach works at a nation-wide level, but can also work at a state, city, or even individual property level. For example, a hotel property could define a list of “tribes” related to their own guest profiles. Once these “tribes” are clearly defined, then it’s possible to recommend local experiences that match their passions, alongside well-defined itineraries.

“Isn’t All Travel Transformational in Some Way?”

Travel isn’t transformative by default. The simple act of relocating yourself from one location to another won’t transform you. Yes, you’ll have experienced or learn something new, but nothing is changed unless you apply meaning to what you’ve learned or experienced, and then taken action.

Real transformation occurs when we explore ourselves while exploring the world around us. Once we become mindful and contemplative, realizing that our own perspective will define our experiences, and our participation truly matters, and then actually apply these experiences to our lives back home, that’s when travel becomes transformative.

Transformational Travel is More Sustainable

Tourists crowd streets of Venice Italy

Overtourism has been a concern written about for years now, and it’s a complex phenomenon that has long-lasting implications. The responsibility for combatting overtourism is shared by sectors including hospitality, destination marketing, aviation, and cruise tourism. While the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic may curb overtourism for a while, it will likely return.

This challenge isn’t simply solved by telling travelers to go somewhere else, rather it could be remedied through encouraging the mindset of transformational tourism—traveling with a purpose and intent. This shift must occur both in the consumer, as well as the industry at large.

For decades, the travel industry, like many others, has focused almost solely on growth, profit, and stakeholder interests— with very little concern for the potentially harmful impacts or long-term sustainability. After years of virtually unrestrained growth, it finally crossed a barrier. Now, for many popular destinations, tourism now irrefutably creates more problems than benefits. Overtourism is destroying natural ecosystems, increasing waste, forcing the increase in housing prices for locals, and much more.

If both the industry, and the consumer can maintain a focus towards on transformational travel—or traveling with a purpose—then maybe our world has a chance to reverse the damage that has been done; an opportunity to ensure that our local communities are sustained, infrastructures are maintained, ecosystems are thriving, travelers are more educated and responsible, and balance is preserved. It’s the simple idea of quality over quantity.

What lessons can we as travelers learn on our journeys? How can we learn from these experiences, and take action once we arrive back home? This is a sustainable movement that comes full-circle—creating a long runway ahead of us for our industry to take off. Transforming us all individually and collectively.

Ways to Encourage Sustainable, Transformative Tourism:

  1. Consider traveling by train or car, instead of airlines or cruises
  2. Look for dates that are “out-of-season”
  3. Select locations that are less “touristy”
  4. Respect the places you’re visiting, and live like a local
  5. Engage with the community you’re visiting, have conversations
  6. Design itineraries that immerse you in nature, culture, physical activity
  7. Schedule downtime in your trips to reflect, meditate or pray
  8. When you arrive home, spend time to journal or reflect on what you learned
  9. Share what you’ve learned with others

If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our industry (and even our world) isn’t invincible, and certainly not one without mistakes. The difficult days of closing our doors, social distancing, staying at home, wearing masks, and religiously washing our hands may come to an end very soon, but the long-lasting effects of this black swan event will stick with us for a long time. 

Our collective mindset has shifted—at least I hope it has. What was once important, is no longer. The old, broken ways are now antiquated. The small cracks were exposed and turned into huge, insurmountable chasms. There’s no going back.

The future of travel and tourism must be sustainable, transformative, and meaningful.

I don’t know about you, but that is a future that’s truly exciting.

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Jeremy Wells

Partner at Longitude°

Jeremy is the author of Future Hospitality and Brand Strategist at Longitude°. As a member of the Education Committee for The Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA) and a content contributor to Cornell University’s Hospitality Vision and Concept Design graduate program, he is a committed thought leader in hotel branding, concepting, and experience strategy.