“...the pandemic has given us the time and space to re-think tourism. At a time when radical, systemic change and transformation have become the order of the day, we need to foster a fertile space for new conceptualisations of alternative tourism to emerge... ”
Fiona Eva Bakas is a critical tourism researcher and lecturer with international teaching experience. She holds a PhD in Tourism (Otago University, 2014), has 20 years of varied work experience (corporate and academic), and is currently a tourism lecturer at Lusófona University, Lisbon. In 2017-2020 she was a contracted postdoctoral researcher in a nation-wide project on creative tourism in rural areas and small cities (CREATOUR), at the University of Coimbra and in 2014-2017 she conducted research into gender in tourism labour; festivals; and events at the University of Aveiro. Fiona is a collaborating researcher of CCarq (Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra) and a member of research groups GOVCOPP (University of Aveiro, PT), and ETEM (University of the Aegean, Greece). Her research interests are: creative and cultural tourism, educational technologies, active learning, gender in tourism labour, events and festivals, qualitative and action-research methodologies, cultural mapping, entrepreneurship, ecotourism and traveling as an intention to learn a foreign language. For the last two years, together with her partner, Fiona also hosts numerous Workaway and HelpX volunteers on their off-grid project in the mountains of Central Portugal.
Ecoclub: Tourism is a vast, diverse and dynamic global industry and socioeconomic phenomenon, interconnected with many others, thus this results in a continuous generation of adjectival tourisms, with networks, institutes and businesses to match. Some end up being commercially successful, even if academically nebulous and vice versa. A relatively new entrant is Creative Tourism. Which emerging needs or processes is it trying to cover, what are its key tenets, and in what ways is it different or similar to other tourism types such as Educational Tourism, Cultural Tourism and Activity Tourism? Is it inherently more resilient for the post-pandemic era?
Fiona Bakas: Creative Tourism is a type of cultural tourism, that focuses more on media, narratives and storytelling, than on built heritage (e.g., castles) as cultural tourism does. Building on the current consumer trends for transformative experiences that leave oneself a better version of themselves, creative tourism give tourists the opportunity to take part in tourist experiences that contain the elements of: creative self-expression, learning, community engagement and active participation. All these elements are underpinned by a connection to place, where place is understood as the physical environment and the people. Creative tourism covers the need to connect people to the locales which they visit in meaningful ways, engaging in everyday experiences. It allows for expressions of local culture to be revived and made visible, hence promoting cultural sustainability of places. Creative tourism also creates a link between culture and tourism that is often lacking. Cultural planning is mainly for locals, rather than visitors and creative tourism attempts to make this link, so that tourists can also experience local culture as defined by local people, rather than the often heavily commodified versions of culture that tourists are fed. What we have found that works best, through research in the CREATOUR project (www.creatour.pt), is for creative tourism activities to act as add-on activities to existing tourism or culture organisations. For example, a tourist accommodation provider can offer its guests a creative tourism activity as an additional attraction. Or an artisan who has as her main business selling what she creates (e.g. sculptures), can also offer a short workshop on how to make her creations. As creative tourism has community engagement as one of its tenets, it is similar to ecotourism in that it aims to promote inclusive local development through tourism. Since creative tourism aims not only to teach participants about the craft or local cultural experience that tourists are engaging in, but also about the wider historical and cultural aspects of the place they are in, creative tourists are also effectively engaging in a type of educational tourism.
Ecoclub: Voluntourism has become more mainstream in recent years and has thus attracted criticism on various grounds, ranging from including encouraging orphanage-related exploitation, disrupting the local economy by displacing local workers and draining local resources such as food and energy, to more complex accusations such as cultural imperialism. But at its most basic level, isn't hosting guests in return for their assistance, for example, with maintaining one's home or organic farm, a genuine, moneyless and honourable form of hospitality?
Fiona Bakas: This is a very interesting question as I myself, having frequently received and hosted volunteers over the last two years (before the pandemic), have also thought about the meaning of the word ‘Voluntourism’. Like greenwashing, volunteer tourism has come to represent images of affluent youths building schools for impoverished communities who have not been consulted on what their needs are. These actions cause the effects that you mention in your question. This is why there is a need to distinguish between the various types of volunteer tourism that exist – the volunteer tourism that people pay for a commodified experience and the volunteer tourism where no money exchanges hands and there is no tour operator organising the whole thing. We received volunteers through Workaway or HelpX who stayed for a minimum of two weeks and worked for 4 hours helping us in our off-grid project, 5 days a week in exchange for food and accommodation. This experience was enriching both for the visitors and for us the hosts, as it created an exchange of culture, ideas, foods and knowledge. People have various motivations for volunteering through Workaway/HelpX (what I think is ‘genuine’ voluntourism), such as learning, e.g. sustainable building techniques and permaculture methods, wanting to spend some relaxing time in nature, away from the city sounds (we live in a very remote place in the middle of a mountain range, next to a river), wanting to see if they can survive in a remote place like this, wanting to go hiking, wanting to train physically for some event, wanting to be away from many people. For us, our motivations are to get some help with the work that needs to be done, share our knowledge, exchange ideas with people from other countries and offer them hospitality. Although, since there is an exchange going on, I am not sure if hospitality would be the right word, as hospitality to me implies a lack of exchange, whereas in volunteering, we do expect a certain level of contribution from the volunteers in terms of their time and effort.
Ecoclub: Based on your direct experience with green building and permaculture, what prevents more homeowners from adopting these? Lack of funding, specific knowledge or interest?
Fiona Bakas: Green building is very demanding in terms of person-hours and whilst can be made to last for many years, the more mainstream materials, e.g. concrete are far easier to use and to source. It is also difficult to find technicians/construction workers who know how to work with green building materials such as cob and lime. From my experience until now, whilst green building has advantages in terms of being better for the environment, it is not cheaper, even if you can source your materials, e.g., clay, sand, straw, wood, locally which could reduce your costs, because you then need many hours to collect and prepare these materials. For example, we collected the clay from a source about an hour from the house, so we had to drive there, then walk a distance to the clay source with buckets and spades, dig the clay out, carry it back to that car and drive back. After that, the clay needed to be broken and sifted which is also a time-consuming process. Everything to do with green building takes time and as we know, time is money! In terms of using permaculture techniques in gardening, these can be very useful and time-saving, for example using mulching to build soil and prevent weed growth. Perhaps the lack of uptake is due to lack of knowledge and the belief that since we have always done it this way, we shall continue doing it this way.
Ecoclub: As in nearly all economic sectors, in Tourism there is gender discrimination, a payment gap, and harassment of all sorts. Some argue that Tourism is in fact far worse than other sectors in the way women are treated both at the corporate/hierarchical and the (patriarchal) family-based end. Although women's empowerment is a UN Sustainable Development Goal, one wonders if there has been any genuine progress in the Travel sector in recent years. What key changes need to be made in your view, and by whom, primarily?
Fiona Bakas: Gender equality has gained a lot of attention in the last decade, partly because of the MeToo movement which sees an increasing number of men being accused of sexual harassment by employees or people they had power over. This is just one way in which the patriarchal gender structure shows its operation, but there are many more ways in gender operates and they are all related to power. Within the tourism industry, gender inequality continues to be a problem, with the majority of tourism leadership positions (and hence highly paid) being held by men. One of the inherent problems of gendered divisions of work is the invisibility of gender, with many leaders in tourism (and other industries), saying that gender inequality does not exist as legally in most EU countries, since legally women with the same qualifications as men are paid the same. But the problem is that until we are able to change the stereotypes of what are ‘feminine’ tasks and what are ‘masculine’ tasks or what a correct woman or man does, it will be challenging to ensure that people who identify as female have equal opportunities to men. So, as well as still continuing to fight for more legal rights in terms of gender equality, there needs to be a change in common perception of what is acceptable for a man or woman to do and what their responsibilities are. Because if women continue to be held primarily responsible for social reproduction activities, then they will continue to compete in an unequal arena in terms of job opportunities within the tourism industry. States can help by making parental leave obligatory for both parents so that men also take on caring responsibilities. Tourism companies could offer childcare facilities more frequently and especially between the ages of 0-3 for which there is no provision in most EU countries. NGOs such as Equality in Tourism, are very important in achieving SDG5 (Gender Equality) by fighting for better representation of women in leadership positions in tourism and making visible the various forms that patriarchal power takes in tourism, such as gender-based violence which is experienced by female tourism workers and female tourists.
Ecoclub: You have a significant experience, both practical and academic, in the Events (MICE) sub-sector. Do you foresee its full, gradual recovery or has the treble hit of the Pandemic, the Climate Crisis and low-cost videoconferencing technology dealt a fatal blow to mega-events and associated business travel in which case some large conference and trade centres may have to be converted to cater to local, leisure needs (sports/culture/shopping malls)? Are local festivals, and perhaps conference-related academic travel, immune?
Fiona Bakas: As social beings, people will always want to meet and exchange ideas and experiences, which is what conferences and other events capitalise on. During the pandemic, the MICE industry was dealt a very severe blow and some of the companies involved in this industry will not survive unless they adapt to the new ‘hybrid’ reality which sees a combination of online and offline participation options. Hybridity will be the future of events, which will use technology not only to market their product better (e.g. Virtual Reality), but also to allow participants to join from around the world without having to travel. As people are becoming increasingly concerned about their carbon footprints, these hybrid alternatives will appeal to the more eco-conscious travellers as well conference-attendees who for various reasons find it difficult to travel (e.g. health problems, limited finances, limited free time). During the time of the pandemic, many webinars sprouted up as an alternative to in-person seminars, which have the advantage of having a much wider global reach than in-person events. Whilst the advantage of in-person events in terms of networking is indisputable, which is why I believe in-person events will continue to exist, online versions can be more inclusive and mobilise knowledge wider. However, it is hard to believe that local music and dance festivals will stop existing and I myself am looking forward to them opening again next year! With Tradidanças, Andanças, Sines FMM and Bons Sons festivals here in Portugal we are spoilt for choice each summer.
Ecoclub: In light of the above, and with the benefit of a wide academic and practical knowledge of the Travel industry, what type of academic and vocational training would you recommend to young people? What key selection criteria should they use?
Fiona Bakas: Academic training in the basics of tourism theory is essential, but I would also recommend a focus on academic training on sustainable tourism principles as defined by the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals and how each of these connect to tourism and destination management. Another area that students should aim for is digital marketing and how to use that to market tourism products and services as this is an essential tool to both tourism SMEs and large tourism companies. Regenerative approaches to tourism is another area that I think could be of interest to students as it appeals to a growing market of eco-responsible consumers. In terms of vocational training, as hotels, restaurants and resorts open-up, there will be a need for trained and skilled workers who can be sourced locally, so there may be more opportunities for young people trained in these areas, as migrant workers in tourism decrease because of travel-related restrictions and general uncertainty. Soft skills within tourism will always something that employees are looking for, so training in this area is advisable. Key selection criteria for choosing the type of job they train for should be that it is something they could feel passionate about.
Ecoclub: In the post-pandemic era, whenever that may arrive, and particularly for island and coastal destinations from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean to the South Pacific, that heavily depend on Tourism, which of the following courses of action is more realistic, and which one would be ideal? "Business as usual", "Building back better" or “Tourism Degrowth”?
Fiona Bakas: Tricky and very interesting question. If you look to the Travel Foundation/Future of Tourism network, ‘Building back better’ is their slogan. If you ask a number of academics who have studied and researched over-tourism, then Tourism Degrowth is the only way to prevent us from completely obliterating and alienating local residents. Then if you ask many tourism business owners, Business as usual would be the least painful and most cost-effective way forward. Personally, I think that the pandemic has given us the time and space to re-think tourism. At a time when radical, systemic change and transformation have become the order of the day, we need to foster a fertile space for new conceptualisations of alternative tourism to emerge and influence EU tourism policy by influencing current tourism ontology. This will allow for a post-pandemic era where tourism is used as a tool for local development, residents are not displaced but rather are valuable agents and positive social impact is a key objective rather than solely commercial profit.
Ecoclub: We thank you very much for your insight during these difficult times. We hope that your optimism will prove to be realistic, and that the pandemic will transform tourism in a positive manner.