Fresh in the light of the myriad complexities in navigating around the reopening of the island’s borders to international travel, it’s evident that channelling some fresh and well-focused energy towards creative ideas and strategies in shaping the local tourism industry for a new future will go a long way. It is in this critical setting that SLDF 2021 hosts ‘Designed Experiential Tourism and Sustainability Conference’ which it believes can deliver a key breakthrough to the future strategy of the industry. Kicking off with thought leadership from the globally renowned Future Lab in London to a keynote from, sustainable development icon former Bhutan PM Tshering Tobgay to some ‘real thought on what designed experiences really means’ from Design Stars, SLDF is set for a groundbreaking virtual conference focusing on contributing to our Sri Lankan tourism industry with design thinking for revitalising response to post-pandemic challenges and the mounting issue of climate change. The ‘Designed Experiential Tourism and Sustainability Conference’ is freely open to participants worldwide via www.srilankadesignfestival.com. Sri Lanka Design Festival 2021, held under the theme impACT, stems from an agenda of national interest to power up three key identified industries – craft SMEs, agriculture and tourism – amongst several other supporting industries that can drive maximum impact across the island, parallel to the state efforts to revitalise Sri Lanka’s economy. With tourism as part of the economic trinity of key industries that AOD and SLDF focuses on to revive with design intervention, this key virtual conference is contributed. In an exclusive interview with Daily FT, Linda Speldewinde, Chairperson of AOD and Founder of Sri Lanka Design Festival shares her thoughts on what it sets to deliver. Following are excerpts:
Q: What’s special about this event?
A: I think not coming from the legacy of tourism and the ability to look at it afresh from a design thinking point of view is what’s different to our contribution. For example, we invited Bhutan to be our sister nation at SLDF 2021 with the intention of at the end of SLDF 2022, leading a combined sustainability trail between Sri Lanka and Bhutan with international sustainability influencers and leaders doing this proposed combined trip. Bhutan was invited by us as a sister nation for sustainable tourism knowledge-sharing from South Asia to also give Sri Lanka a bigger voice being a successful story from the region already. Apart from Bhutan being the only carbon negative country in the world, it has invested years on the topic of sustainable innovation and how the country not only advocates these practices, but truly lives and breathes them by the Bhutanese people being active practitioners of the conscious ways to use natural resources, culture and history by incorporating both new and traditional views on sustainability. This practice where policy makers actively involve the people of the country in the ideas they implement, and the general public of a nation becoming the foremost practitioners and advocates of these national measures is one of the most important aspects of Bhutan’s success that SLDF will highlight with this talk.
Q: Why is this important for Sri Lanka Tourism?
A: With tourism being an industry that penetrates communities throughout Sri Lanka at multiple levels, if it can be looked at that way and how Sri Lanka’s own people need to be practitioners and this is why we think the answer comes from the village for authentic experiences. The impact of this can drive serious ground if revitalised in this sustainable manner with a real commitment to sustainability, and greater public-private cooperation to establish and comply with health and safety standards and protocols, while communicating those measures to travellers worldwide to rebuild their trust and confidence, while also inspiring them through storytelling, and meaningful experiences designed for focused markets with design intervention, specialising on the unique aspects of Sri Lanka’s travel which undoubtedly needs to be authentic experience led. Unlike countries like Bhutan where what the citizens share is what they are actually living and breathing but for example we are creating separate products for tourists. From Ayurveda to even our own locally harvested product, are we really living and breathing it. These are the questions and also where answers will come from creating a new authentic tourism product that attracts a high end traveller, no one wants old luxury – certainly not the high end traveller who is looking for authenticity. I’m hoping this will shift the way we approach practices, traditions and products that we position internationally as ‘Sri Lankan’. It’ll get us thinking whether ‘Ceylon Tea’ is really Ceylon Tea until all Sri Lankans have tasted what’s so wonderful about our tea; and whether we can really talk about Ayurveda until we are a nation that really uses it. We have to instil these practices in our real lives and integrate them truly to Sri Lankan lives before we brand our nation with them. This is something we can really learn from Bhutan – a country that really walks the talk.
Q: Who is this conference for?
A: We are inviting our international following, every single SME owner, and industry professional in Sri Lanka’s hospitality and travel sectors to join in a conversation that can inspire and shape the local tourism industry’s future as many do not have an understanding of how powerfully design can influence in creating and designing experiences using design thinking, which is what future tourism is demanding. Travel is not dead, but it’ll never be the same again and the kind of conversations we’re having at this conference are just the kind that will allow our tourism industry to address the major consumer mindset shifts that are happening right now, and channel it to the advantage of our nation, it’s something that’s not still understood from an execution point of view and as a legacy industry, it does have its challenges and we can see that in newer players being successful at a much easier pace.
Q: What can one expect from this conference?
A: The conference will delve into what it means to build meaningful travel experiences out of Sri Lanka by using experience design, while considering the significant shifts in consumer mindsets post the COVID-19 pandemic. Parallel to exploring these ideas, the conference will also be encouraging radical action towards a more conscious world led by more sustainable practices, business ambitions and choices. It is this major sustainability agenda for the tourism industry that brought former Bhutan Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay to deliver the keynote for SLDF 2021’s Designed Experiential Tourism and Sustainability Conference. Bhutan being a great regional success story when it comes to taking a sustainable approach to tourism and governance as a long term measure to drive economic impact, former PM Tshering Tobgay will share Bhutan’s development philosophy with GNH (Gross National Happiness) as its key index, and its role in re-establishing the harmony between sustainability and economics, especially for industries like tourism. At the Conference, Tshering Tobgay will talk about how Bhutan – has invested years on the topic of sustainable innovation and together with its abundant natural resources, rich culture and a history deeply rooted in sustainability, has shown the rest of the world what can be achieved when sustainability is at the core of what drives a nation. He will also talk about the supporting role of industries like tourism in contributing towards a nation’s sustainability goals and standards. Abbas Esufally, Honorary Consul for Bhutan in Sri Lanka, and Group Director of the Hemas Group who was instrumental in facilitating Dasho Tshering’s talk at this conference will introduce the keynote speaker at the session.
Q: What about the future of tourism and how will this be addressed at the conference?
A: Addressed by The Future Laboratory – the world’s premier trend forecasting consultancy whose market and consumer insights have shaped businesses like Facebook, Google, Ikea, H&M and eBay will delve into how the tourism industry should navigate through the pandemic caused uncertainty and the related travellers’ anxiety which will be the hallmark of travel and tourism in the age of COVID-19. The session will share some interesting insights touching on building purpose, imparting more sustainable behaviours, and working with newly influential traveller groups such as single parents and children, and decelerated tourism that opt for more considerate and caring practices. The event we believe is well-timed for Sri Lanka with the country having just opened its borders.