The business case for sustainability, an interview with Bob Willard

The Business Case for Sustainability – What’s in it for you?

Bob Willard PresentationI recently attended the Manitoba Conservation Districts Annual Convention in Brandon.  The Conservation Districts are doing some great work on the conservation and sustainability front.    I attended a session on the Business Case for Sustainability and had the opportunity to meet Bob Willard, author of several books including most recently The Sustainability Champions Guidebook (How to Transform Your Company), The Next Sustainability Wave,The Next Sustainability Waveand The Sustainability Advantage.

Bob’s presentation was straight-forward.  If you can get an opportunity to see his presentation, do so.  It is well worth it.  I went twice, to both of his presentations, because the information was so compactly presented and in a way that over 200 farm producers and rural folk were able to understand.  That’s really good, because this is a challenging topic no matter what your profession or experience is.   The ability to connect the dots and clearly communicate about the risks, responsibilities and rewards or benefits of becoming a more sustainable enterprise is something that has been needed for a long time.

I interviewed Bob right after his presentation, because I was inspired by what he provided, and interested in his perspectives about sustainability and tourism.  Grab a coffee, or a juice and put your feet up.  This guy has some really neat ideas.  Check out his website Sustainability Advantage. In particular, see the 90 second video introduction from Bob personally.  Well done!

Interview with Bob:

Bob has helped me to articulate  a framework that helps me to bridge my passion for tourism with the business case for sustainability.  I hope that this interview will help you to shift your business towards sustainability.  The planet needs you to do it.  Climate change needs us to act in more innovative ways.  And, wouldn’t it be great to be able to do it in ways that actually increase your profits.


What are some suggestions that you have about improvements in your tourism business that have led you forward on the pathway to sustainability?   I would be really interested in hearing your suggestions or examples, so that we can help our entire tourism industry to begin taking the small steps toward sustainability.

Travel and tourism will be tremendously affected by the outcomes of the Copenhagen Climate negotiations, as well as by forthcoming cap and trade legislation that will be passed both in the US and subsequently in Canada.  Not IF, but WHEN.  I think that it behooves all of us to start building in a smart, small-steps approach to sustainability into our annual business plan for our tourism companies.  What do you think?


Canadian Human Rights Museum asks for a new Director, Learning and Programming

The Canadian Human Rights Museum is taking a really great step forward with its advertising today for a new Director, Learning and Programming.  From my perspective, this is a very good strategic direction.   In my experience across this country, we are still living on the coat-tails of a “build it and they will come” mentality that has not lost its shine for rural municipalities who go after infrastructure money as the be-all and end-all for tourism investment.

The fallacy of this kind of business decision-making at the community level is that the community gets federal and/or provincial grant money, combined with local fund-raising. Local residents are fueled by high hopes for a signature facility within their community.  What they have not recognized is that infrastructure investment has to be paralleled by “programming investment”.  Programming is why audiences or visitors come, not facilities – unless the facility has a very specific and significant architectural motif (with international stature or cultural significance), and even then the lure for seeing the building may only last for a little while.  People want to “experience” music, arts, culture, tradition, speakers, celebrations, recognitions, and many other things.  They wish to take part, to learn, to interact.  This is “programming”.  Programming is what generates revenue over the long-term. And, programming that is experiential generates higher yields, and attracts additional markets.

This community tourism business strategy which emphasizes programming takes sustained effort over time, and different investments and often different community champions to develop experiences, programs, and market these programs to the right visitors.  Often, the people who have worked so hard to bring capital investments in the form of a new facility are not the right people to drive the development of revenue-generating programming.  To drive programming development requires a skill set of community members including an understanding of tourism, product development, programming, web marketing, niche marketing, quality assurance, and entrepreneurship in which new pricing and revenue models can be developed.  These people are also strong collaborators and know how to leverage new resources.

Community recreation facilities, museums, and many other community tourism organizations would do well to hire local directors of learning and programming (another name might be community development and programming officers).  The Canadian Museum of Human Rights is on the right track!

The power of experience

From todays’ Winnipeg Free Press, an article by Nafeesa Syeed with the Associated Press shares the mood on the mall in Washington, D.C. and a story about the many people who have come to be part of the experience of  the inauguration of President Barack Obama, an historical event.  A small quote at the end of the article captures for me, the power of experience and why experiences are the “real stuff” of what we desire in travel today…

“World history teacher Calvin Adams of Arlington, Va., said he got up extra early so he could witness history being made first-hand and teach it to his classes. “Eventually I’ll teach American history,” said Adams, 23. “I’ll say, ‘This is how it works because I’ve been there, I’ve seen it.”‘ 

This is the power of experience, and what makes experiences authentic, memorable, and the real “take back” potential for good quality travel in which connections are made, emotions are felt, and transformation takes place.  There is something incredibly powerful about this, and it carries the weight of responsibility with it – the need for us as tourism operators to develop quality experiences that are the very best that they can be.

Planning Meeting for Best Practices Mission


Best Practices Mission Planning Meeting in Dauphin, Manitoba

Best Practices Mission Planning Meeting in Dauphin, Manitoba

Today, a group of us met in Dauphin, Manitoba to confirm planning arrangements for a number of unique experiences that will be taking place February 17 in Dauphin.  A group of tourism operators coming from Atlantic Canada will be taking part in outdoor activities in Riding Mountain National Park on their way to Dauphin.  They will visit a local honey producer, experience Ukrainian hospitality, cuisine, and music.  

Earth Rhythms, specializing in the crafting of customized learning adventures, is hosting this Best Practices Mission.  The participants in this week-long business development study trip will be taking part in a variety of Manitoba experiences to learn new aspects of experiential tourism product development, business partnerships, and will be doing so in a “hands-on” way with many of Earth Rhythms facilitators and partners.  It’s great to see that Manitoba has an export product in the form of experiential tourism.  We look forward to hosting these folks in mid-February.