Where Tourism Is Now

A year ago I wrote something like this in a note:

Tourism shapes the culture in many rural parts of the world, including where I live in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Having had the privilege to travel to many agricultural valleys and tourism regions all over the globe that have experienced an influx of curious travellers, I find myself growing concerned about the way this industry is shaped here in Nova Scotia/Mi’kmaqi: how it transforms local culture and how we transform the cultures that visit, how it impacts ecosystems, how it impacts mother nature’s ability to regenerate, how it impacts community infrastructure, what guests we invite into our community, and what we ask of these guests.

We’re beginning to see glimpses of overtourism in Wolfville. The area becomes overrun on weekends, heaps of garbage are left at Three Pools, Gaspereau tubing is packed full of people, and hundreds of selfie-takers gather at Cape Split. But this is nothing compared to what could be if we continue down this route.  

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit, everything has changed. While overtourism is still a potential threat, using it as a business model (i.e. large hotels, lodges, resorts etc.) doesn’t make sense anymore if purely looking at the GDP model of economics. In fact, it never was logical holistically, in my opinion.

A large scale tourism business model focused on GDP growth above all else carries the most amount of risk as we move into the future of pandemics, the shifting needs and desires of the traveller, economic disruptions, and climate change. By the end of 2021, most of the estimates I’ve read agree that 1 in 5 (or 20%) of Canadian tourism businesses will permanently close.

I suspect that it will likely be businesses with large infrastructure built to accommodate high-volume tourism that will continue to sink moving forward. I believe that we will see fewer and fewer large scale tourism business startups with high overhead costs because investing in them will be too risky. 

The COVID-19 virus pandemic is forcing business models to adapt and continue to do so on an ongoing basis. It is both a time to grieve the old model and a unique and exciting time to transform. 


Looking Forward at the Future of Travel

Here’s a bridging video to start reThinking Tourism – How Corona Virus Will Force Destinations to Stop Overtourism

Below you will find a selection of videos and resources that point towards – and in some cases demonstrate – tourism as a vehicle to support culture, regeneration, and thriving communities.

Thank you to Celes Davar at Earth Rhythms for putting them together. A small group of us, including Celes, Adam Barnett and I at Rising Tide Experiences, and a few others (I will name them once I have permission) have started conversations here in the Wolfville area of what tourism could be. We have also done some community experiments focused on what tourism could be in future and in the new normal we find ourselves in”.  

Re-Authoring/Re-Envisioning the Future of Travel

Here’s a video that shows a new vision for tourism in Flanders, Belgium. The project is called “Travel to Tomorrow” and is an award-winning and visionary project in a popular tourism region. I’m deeply inspired by how it focuses on connecting with people and the land.


I learned about this re-authoring of tourism project through Dr. Chene Swart, my Re-Authoring Narratives teacher, and colleague as part of the How We Thrive Narrative Project. Chene has been involved with the Holiday Participation Project  as a re-authoring narrative facilitator, which has helped to shape a different vision for tourism, and shifted the narrative to “everybody deserves a holiday” and that tourism is about “connection to place” in Belgium. This was achieved by creating a program that helps make local tourism accessible for all people and has expanded to the international project of Travel to Tomorrow. Here’s her paper on Co-Authoring the Future of Travel and Hospitality and a video of her sharing how stories played a major role in transforming the vision for the future of travel:


Here are a few other videos I find inspiring:

reThinking – The Brutally Honest Sustainable Tourism Video


The Thompson Okanagan Experience

More about Thompson Okanagon’s approach here 

Articles and Strategies for the Future of Tourism:

I’m excited about the future of tourism, as the industry continues to recognize that we are interconnected with all living beings and systems. Ignoring this fact is what led us to where we currently stand: in the midst of a pandemic, a climate crisis, an economic model based on overtourism, communities displaced, tourism regions imploding, and collectively wondering what to do next. 

What if the vision for tourism was more like this:

The tourism of tomorrow will be rooted in local communities. In neighbourhoods, villages, and cities that thrive and, as a result, enjoy welcoming enthusiastic visitors. A flourishing community is very much connected to its specific place; where people work together, where visitors can feel at home, and residents can nurture and share their love for the place.


Image from https://www.traveltotomorrow.be/

Designing a Tourism Strategy for Adaptability

We can find better options together. I am excited for a tourism industry that thinks 7 generations forward and 7 generations back like Thompson Okanagan. We will need complex facilitation processes to test, iterate, and create tourism solutions as we move forward (design thinking, re-authoring narratives, art of hosting, theory U etc.) It will need to be set up so that at any given time our region is able to engage facilitators locally who have these skills and local hosting and facilitation capacity will need to be built for this. The future of travel is now a complexity challenge that needs a facilitation process designed for a “complexity” environment rather than a “complicated” environment, see my blog post on the CYNEFIN (there’s a video) framework for what I mean. In short, the strategic approach is no longer “sense, analyze, respond,” “probe/test/experiment>sense>respond” because the variables we will encounter (health, weather, travel patterns, narratives about places, visitors etc.) are unpredictable and will shift more rapidly moving forward. 

It is now a necessity, not an afterthought, that our approach includes the widest diversity (age, industry, scientists, community, cultural etc.) of residents, travellers, and entrepreneurs to shape the future of tourism and make it work for the future; the tourism regions that put into action fully including and engaging the widest variety of stakeholders (climate scientists, community developers, recreation departments, cultural groups, indigenous people, politicians etc.) will be the regions that thrive in the future. Having this diversity involved and working together from the beginning will mean we won’t be stuck in the position we are in now, where businesses and the tourism industry weren’t designed or set up to adapt quickly, and diverse groups of people aren’t already engaged to work together to test and find the diversity of solutions available in these complex times. 

What if this wasn’t the case? What if the future of tourism meant that when a health or environmental crisis emerged, our tourism businesses could quickly adapt because the business model was a more balanced mix of local and global visitors, tourism was more integrated in place and community,and everyday, tourism businesses were part of building community and regenerating the land?  It is possible, it has been done, and we can do it!

 Where does this take you? What’s bubbling up for you as you read this? I would love to know where this has taken you, and welcome comments below, or you can email note on my Contact page.