RTD6 and The Failure of Old School Events

Let me say it: The 2012 Responsible Tourism in Destinations Conference, aka #RTD6 is … a massive failure.

I admire the work of the ICRT in promoting responsible tourism around the world. That said, I am disappointed that like other academic institutions it operates mostly in a silo without adequate transparency and information sharing. I participated in the conference in Belize, but what I cannot abide is how many of these events are orchestrated to hold an event. There have been few outcomes beyond the declaration, which in the case of Belize was mostly written by Harold Goodwin with minimal input from others.

At the time I thought that my personal interaction (storytelling now!) would be the catalyst needed to make the event more accessible via livestreaming web interaction, but three years and three conferences later this has not happened. Will the Brazil conference include a declaration written by Harold or composed in a more collaborative manner via a wiki (what’s a wiki?) or Google docs? I assume there will be a declaration as there is always a declaration. Sigh.

Posting videos and presentations after the fact does not cut it. There is no real-time engagement with those outside the conference outside of the random tweets. There has to be a better way. Business as usual does not cut it anymore.

I’m reminded of a comment made during last year’s NetHui webcast from New Zealand: “Our biggest challenge in digital literacy is moving organizations to a position where they can work with the community that is digitally enabled.”

Digital literacy is not tweeting from a bullhorn or posting videos after the event. It embeds what’s happening now in a physical room with the tools on hand that connect participants to the world and vice-versa. This is not a utopian dream. We’ve seen this with the European Ecotourism Conference in Estonia, the Responsible Tourism in Cities Workshop in South Africa and more recently with the Volunteering and Tourism Talk organized by Travel Matters and West Africa Discovery during Responsible Tourism Week.

Harold and crew from ICRT are not alone in their digital illiteracy. We are seeing a similar situation from the Rio+20 Conference and other UN events. Of course, the organizers rarely see their events as failures. They talk up the success, giving us a brand new buzzword for 2012: successwash: selling outcomes as successes rather than acknowledge what remains to be done.

Honestly, for any tourism event to be considered valuable, they need to engage those in the room and outside the room. In Belize, the participants used the free wi-fi in the conference hall to check emails and conduct other business. Would it be so difficult to assign a laptop to share the event in real-time via Justin.tv or Ustream? The UNWTO experimented with this earlier this year (success!) though it cannot figure out how to offer the same service from Rio (fail).

What do I expect from tourism conferences in 2012? Livestreaming is a must as is soliciting and responding to queries posted on Twitter. (Example: Eugenio Yunis). Please no more presentations which are read to the audience. Presentations should be posted online before not after the event. I’d also like to see public fringe events in which the local public can mix with participants. If locals are not included, can the event truly be ‘responsible?’ I recall with a bit of sadness how conference participants were driven past the local market in Belize. No time to stop. We learned (and shared) very little from the host country. If the events do not embody a respect for people and place, is it any wonder that ‘responsible tourism’ remains a conceptual buzzword for so many?

On a brighter note, if you want to see how the web can used for a stimulating real-time chat, check out this week’s Futrchat on the future of education. The hour-long, real-time conversation takes place Thursday June 21 4-5pm New York City time, 9-10pm London time and Friday 6-7am Sydney time. Topic: the future of education.

Digital Literacy #NetHui  Our biggest challenge in digital literacy is moving organizations to a position where they can work with the community that is digitally enabled.

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5 Responses to RTD6 and The Failure of Old School Events

  1. Thanks for writing up on this Ron! This is a great way to reiterate the importance of an open source type solution for the purpose of responsible tourism development. The issue with this though is that everyone may have a different idea to what RT is. This is why it is also important that everyone who joins the discussion is up-to-date on the current academic research, case studies and developments on the recognised responsible tourism principles. RT is much more complex than just taking into consideration the triple-bottom line (economic, social and environmental) elements of a destination. Working together is the key… but with the same initial understanding of the topic in discussion.

  2. I think the frustration with events like these has reached the point of a cultural disconnect with the ‘old school’ generation that seems unable or unwilling to acquire and practice digital literacy. Digital illiteracy has also become an obstacle to taking their underlying ideas seriously. Pity.

  3. Ross Klein says:

    I support the position expressed by Ron — I think there was a concerted effort to real-time stream the proceedings of RTD5 and am sorry to see that the capacity begun there has not been expanded. There are many who are interested in the proceedings, however are unable to attend either because of cost considerations or because notification about the conference came too late for arrangements to be made. It is truly unfortunate that such an event would not be as inclusive of the broadest participation given technological capabilities.

  4. ronmader says:

    Thanks everyone for the responses and I’m hoping that the organizers and participants chime in with their perspectives. Ross, I don’t recall any live streaming from RTD5. There were some real-time tweets but no means of listening or seeing what was going on. Worse, for those of us not at that event, we learned very little about Canada. That scenario is playing out again as we are learning nothing about Brazil from this year’s event. As Marc Prensky says, ‘Engage us or enrage us.’

    It’s not easy to criticize the organizers of an event. There is no doubt a lot of work that goes into such an endeavor, but if we have no access to the reports, to the dialogue, then it’s time to hold the organizers accountable. My criticism is not limited to the ICRT. We’re seeing the same old type of event being organized by other institutions and in other side events in Rio. If the UNWTO and UNEP cannot provide livestreaming access to their ‘Innovations in Tourism’ event — http://icr.unwto.org/en/event/official-rio20-side-event-green-innovation-tourism — then we need to be critical and state unequivocally that that this is not good enough. Events ought to be graded by what they contribute to a timely and inclusive conversation and in these cases, the grade is FAIL.

    • Ross Klein says:

      Ron – I was at RTD5 and thought there was live streaming, but I obviously was mistaken. I am sorry. With technology the way it is, this should be standard practice at these types of international events… There are so many who would like to participate (or at the very least know what is happening) who cannot otherwise be on location and it is unfortunate that they are left out of the loop. We have to do better.

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