Late last year, we decided to title the Global Destination Sustainability Index’s Whitepaper “Creating the New Normal.” Little did we know then, how relevant this theme would become as we decided what our next steps will be.
In less than six weeks, the global tourism and events industry collapsed. Over a third of the world population was in some form of quarantine, and hundreds of convention centers and hotels around the world had been turned into field hospitals. Since then, most of us have been on a giant roller coaster ride of personal and business upheaval, uncertainty, and sadly some of us have lost loved ones. It has been a story of survival, not one of determining out next steps.
As our industry emerges from the flames, we are now being forced into a new world that has to be created. This “new normal” is a time of rapid change, innovation and creativity. How best do we support each other, how do we create new income sources, how best do we take our events online, what technologies should we use, and how do we maintain sanity while working from home?
At the GDS-Index, we strongly believe that the crisis gives us an enormous opportunity to stop to rethink and redesign the future. To not repair the old, and patch what’s already broken, but to reflect and reimagine the new. To rebuild a regenerative and resilient tourism and events economy that works for everyone. An industry that generates jobs and spreads prosperity inclusively and fairly. A resilient, vibrant, and flourishing industry, that grows in harmony with, and not against, nature and its boundaries. An industry that regenerates cities, people, and the nature around us.
This moment reminds me of the parable of the Caterpillar*. A caterpillar is a consumptive beast, devouring leaves and vegetables, until one day it stops. It has no earthly idea why, but suddenly, its whole world stops. Rather like ours has. The worm enters the profound isolation of the chrysalis. As it is enveloped by threads of transformation, it literally melts into what are called “imaginal cells.” That goo of possibility is the beginning of an unimaginably different future. As the fragile butterfly emerges, it is the struggle to escape the strands that had encased its transformation that then gives the new pollinator the strength to fly. No longer a fat consumer, it is a bringer of new life to the plants it once destroyed.
In our chrysalis, we have a unique opportunity – but it won’t be easy. Many people will tell you it’s too “soon” to start thinking of recovery and rebooting your sector. Many of you will be changing your organization, fighting for survival, and making radical budget and personnel cuts. In your supply chain, key operators, hotels and convention centers will have laid off staff or shut down. Clearly, it’s time to have empathy for the situation, and to be kind to others. But it’s also time to be focused, brave and bold.
We are in a Bretton-Woods moment. This was the historic conference held in 1944 at the height of World War II, that brought together key decision-makers from 44 countries to design the post-war world; the foundations of which still underpin many of our systems today. They too were told it was too early, but history has proved their bold efforts were right.
My colleague, Ed Gillespie, reminded me of a famous quote from the grandfather of capitalism, Milton Friedman:
“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”
In the past, many said that creating a sustainable and regenerative events industry was ‘politically impossible’. Now is the time to seize our chance to make it ‘politically inevitable’.
* Caterpillar parable is from the book “Our Finer Future” by Hunter Lovins.
Guy Bigwood, one of Prevue’s Industry Influencers, is a sustainability strategist, speaker, facilitator, and event architect. From 2006 to 2018, Guy was the sustainability Director of MCI, the world’s largest association management, communications and events agency.