In mid-November, the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) – the United Nations agency responsible for promoting responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism – launched a 1 Billion Tourists 1 Billion Opportunities campaign. It asked us to consider the positive difference that only one conscientious tourist can make and then “imagine if every one of the one billion tourists did the same. One billion small actions, one very big impact.”
As part of the campaign, the UNWTO arbitrarily selected December 13 as the symbolic day on which this landmark number of potential do-gooders would be reached. On that day – tomorrow! – the UNWTO will launch a Thunderclap campaign to help spread the message that “one billion tourists mean one billion opportunities.”
With no time to lose, you are of course strongly encouraged to be part of the show of mindful force.
But then, on December 14, perhaps we need to take a hard look at whether it changed minds. And if it didn’t, we need to reflect on what that says about our travel industry priorities. Remember, we’re talking about the UNWTO, arguably one of the most high-profile and far-reaching global tourism bodies in existence. Faith might move mountains, but what if faith in the mountain itself is no longer enough?
Inspiration and Action
The genesis of the campaign is refreshingly simple. “It actually came in an internal discussion when we were talking about numbers and trends and statistics,” shared Sandra Carvao, UNWTO Chief of Communications. “We were saying that we’re going to reach this amazing number this year, and I said we can’t really escape this big opportunity to call people’s attention to what it means. And actually to reinforce our message of saying it’s not about 1 billion, of course, but it’s 1 billion we have on the ground and the possibility that if we can mobilise this 1 billion to change one of their actions, at least, how much that can impact.”
- First, everyone should ‘vote‘ by committing to one or more of a quintuple of the kinds of 21st-century actions that should be common practice but still aren’t: save energy, buy local, use public transport, protect heritage and respect local culture.
- Second, participants should ‘shout’ by lending their voice to the Thunderclap that will take place at 2pm GMT on December 13th. At precisely that moment, tweets and Facebook posts about #1billtourists (the hashtag to use) will simultaneously appear from all registered supporters.
- Third, travellers can ‘join’ the effort by sending in travel self-portraits (to firstname.lastname@example.org), the best of which are uploaded to a special Faces of the One Billion Facebook album. (Be sure to include your name, place of origin and the place where the picture was taken.)
“Our idea is really to use this – of course this is until we reach the 13th – with a very specific objective: getting people engaged to vote, getting people to have on that day something on Facebook saying if there’s 1 billion people around the world, see why it matters and what difference we can make,” commented Carvao.
Is It Enough?
There’s one question asked several times about this campaign: Is the energy put into a one-off or one-sided campaign like this enough to make a difference? Or, after the great social-media clap of thunder on December 13th, will the brief focus on mainstreaming socially conscious travel behaviour again be eclipsed by other less high-minded mobilisation efforts, especially within UNWTO ranks?
“For us, more than a goal itself – saying, OK, in December, on the 13th, we will be reaching this landmark – this is connected to our long-term objective, which is to use tourism to promote economic growth, development and, in the end, to be a force that actually works more on the positives, and minimises the negative impacts. So, the communications goal is let’s take this forward to following years as well,” responded Carvao.
That’s very good to know, but remains to be seen. At the time of writing, just 18 hours before the Thunderclap, the response has hardly been staggering. Despite the UNWTO’s heft and influence, a mere 266 people have registered their support, for a combined social reach of not quite 300,000 digitally aware souls. A drop in the bucket compared to the 1 billion on the move.
Could It Ever Be Enough?
Rather than asking ‘Is the energy enough to make a difference?’ the question might more logically be ‘Was enough energy put into it?’ especially by a presumed juggernaut like the UNWTO. As we all now know, no matter how big the entity involved, it’s just no longer enough to launch a campaign and expect that it will instantly find legs and then build momentum. Time, energy and resources have to be arrayed behind it, to propel it for as long as it takes.
“We have coordinated within our networks, our outreach to people we are in contact with,” explained Carvao. “Being an organization working in several areas, our colleagues responsible for different areas as well have multiplied the call within their own networks. But as you know, we are probably one of the most fragmented sectors, so it’s really difficult to make sure that we reach everyone that we should be reaching.”
True. But for all the multiplications, the campaign may only have further exposed divisions. It has a few hundred supporters and very limited reach with travel writers and bloggers. It caught off guard so many people from the responsible, sustainable and local travel communities that a good lot remain unconvinced by it (perhaps to their own detriment). Just how deep and wide must the fragmenting fissures run for the uptake to have been so flaccid? I am as unwowed by the results of the campaign as I am embarrassed by the industry it seeks to rally.
Where Do We Go from Here?
How can we, including the UNWTO, not lose hope? “We have to make these people [supporters] count… always, not just on the 13th, not just this year. I think [the campaign]‘s more of a starting point than an end point,… something that we want to continue doing,” concluded Carvao. “This is something that takes time for people to realise, get engaged, spread the word. In the end, what we are aiming at is that everyone gets engaged and multiplies the same message.”
Notwithstanding all the other concerns, that’s a sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more.
With that in mind, given my long-standing commitment to responsible, sustainable and local travel, not to mention my belief that travel industry stakeholders, especially writers, need to be part of the solution, I’m one of the few hundred who have thrown their support behind #1billtourists.
In the very short amount of time remaining, will you too? For this campaign, it’s now or never.