It’s the perfect venue for a revelation – St Ethelburga’s, a 15th-century church in the City of London which was partly destroyed by an IRA truck bomb in 1993 and which has now been rebuilt to serve as a centre for reconciliation and peace. I was there yesterday for a meeting about raising the profile in Britain of the Abraham Path – a walking route through the Middle East linking sites of Abrahamic interest about which I’ve already blogged (see below) and published (see sidebar).
I went expecting milky tea and earnest vicars – and instead, in a quiet moment sitting at the back, glimpsed the future of tourism.
The revelation came courtesy of Daniel Adamson, former trekking guide for ATG Oxford, now based in Beirut as Director of Communications for the Abraham Path (and just about the least stereotypical PR you could ever meet; sorry PRs). This is how he explained it.
Web 1.0 was where a webmaster presented a site for ‘consumption’ by individuals; it was, if you like, a mediated experience, where end-users had little or no say in what was presented. They browsed. This is still mostly how TV, radio and newspapers operate (and long may it continue; it has a purpose).
Web 2.0, on the other hand – as Wikipedia defines it – “refers to a second generation of web development and design that facilitates communication, information sharing, interoperability and collaboration”. Design creativity flows to and fro between webmaster and ‘consumer’, ideas are shared and websites are no longer shop-windows, developing, instead, into meeting-places. There’s a nice visualization of the difference here at Sizlopedia.com.
The concept is exemplified by Facebook, Twitter, Flickr – websites which create nothing but which serve at platforms where individuals can meet and create on their own terms.
Tourism remains stuck in a 1.0 mindset. Most travellers, most of the time, get a mediated experience of their destination – variations on the well-worn theme of the 1970s-style package holiday, where you pay someone on your local high street (or your computer screen) to sort the whole thing out for you. This ‘expert’ tour operator then shepherds you – and a bunch of other people – from the airport to the destination and back again. The tour operator acts as webmaster, while their customers browse pre-selected attractions with impotent docility. Destinations become mere shop-windows.
What the Abraham Path Initiative is trying to do is not construct a path, or develop tourism, or act as guide or tour operator. They want to be a platform, upon which individuals can create their own experience of these destinations. They are network facilitators, trying to establish a system within which travel can return to being a means by which people can meet other people, unmediated by ‘experts’.
Tourism 2.0 is scary – like Web 2.0 is scary – because it highlights the fact that you will only get out of your holiday what you are prepared to put into it. You create your own experience, and you meet a whole bunch of unexpected people and challenges along the way. The end is likely to be different from how you imagined… if you ever reach the end; Tourism 2.0 begins to erase the differences between ‘home’ and ‘destination’.
Tourism 2.0 also means travel can finally lose its Noughties’ laziness. A journey can become a journey again.
Lots of people will prefer the 1.0 model: tour operators and ground agents still have a long and lucrative life ahead.
And, of course, truly independent travellers – who do their own research and make their own decisions – will thrive, as they always have done (and always will).
But those travellers who fall between the two – disliking the commercialism of the travel industry, but seeking some structure, theme or direction for their journey – finally have a model to aspire to, and to develop on their own terms. Lots of 1.0 operators have been trying to find them, dreaming up specialist small-group low-impact tours, voluntourism and all sorts of niche products. But it’s all still 1.0. And, I’m afraid, it all rubs me up the wrong way.
The Abraham Path are breaking new ground – literally and metaphorically. I won’t blether on any more but I had an exciting day, imagining the possibilities for Tourism 2.0.
But I’m only a journalist – what do travel professionals think of this? Am I being idealistic, or is there the nugget of a genuine innovation here? The economics of creating a Tourism 2.0 platform are not easy to pin down – has anyone got any ideas? Love to hear your thoughts.