What does the term innovation mean to you?
Do you immediately think of 'going where no wo/man has gone before'? Or is it perhaps doing what has not been done before? Do you think of innovation as the act of unleashing imagination and creative potential? Or is it having a revolutionary idea that disrupts the status-quo and breaks the boundaries of 'the-accepted-box-of-how-things-are-done'? If you bring these ideas together, is innovation not perhaps the act of imagining and creating the future today?
No matter what your definition of innovation is, one thing is for certain, innovation is not about doing what has been done.
Which leads me to ask the question: where is innovation in tourism?
Before you jump at me with all the booking.coms, airbnbs and viators that are spilling forth like a mighty herd of lemmings. Allow me to ask how innovation suddenly transformed into a box of cookie-cutter digital platforms?
Now please don't get me wrong, I completely agree that the very first online travel agency and booking engine platforms were incredibly innovative. To a certain extent so was adapting the sharing economy for tourism. However, copying and pasting the same digital marketplace formula over and over again can no longer be called innovation.
So what is innovation?
In this time of Covid upheaval many would have you believe that sustainable, regenerative, restorative or resilient tourism is the answer. As if self-marketing semantics created by consultants and development agencies is going to forge the path towards the future of tourism for destinations globally.
But while these frameworks may be quite useful in helping to improve current destination management processes, they cannot be considered to be innovative. For we have been speaking about variations on this theme for half a decade already.
So where is innovation in tourism?
This is a question that I have been thinking quite deeply about recently with so many travel and tourism startup competitions being launched. Yet every time I get excited by a sexy competition title, when I delve into the content I can't help but be disappointed by the focus on engendering another set of cookie-cutter traveltech solutions.
When did tech become a byword for innovation?
Don’t get me wrong I’m a firm believer in the power of transformational technology to bridge service delivery weaknesses and democratise market access. However, let's be honest for a moment. It is impossible to create a fertile breeding ground for innovation when we make disruption-approved boxes for it to sit in.
Perhaps that is why we have stopped seeing innovation in tourism.
All our self-enforced boxes have clipped-the-wings of the free creative thinking that is needed to give birth to innovation. Instead of branching out into new unchartered territory, we are branching in. There is a popular saying that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ but that only applies if we all look at the sun in the exact same way. Isn’t it time we took off our blinkers and started to look at the possibilities outside of the boxes we have created?
Just imagine what we could create if we did….
Just imagine what we would do if we gave ourselves permission to think differently…
Just imagine what we would create if we embraced innovation…
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