The Great Interruption and The Great Acceleration

By: Jack Johnson, Destinations International

In the past, I have described this time we are going through today as the Great Interruption. With travel down dramatically -- totally in some areas -- with borders closing, quarantines being required and stay-at-home orders being issued, our industry is anything but fully “open for business.” This moment has been one of the great challenges of our life, a test of our humanity, and a time to marshal all the experience and all the talents we can apply.

Over the last year we have been required to identify what is essential in what we do. We have done fewer things but hopefully done them better. We have needed to pull back on inspiring and storytelling and instead we have needed to be creative in promotions and develop a major focus on engaging the people in our community, helping the people in our community in a way we have never had to before.

Last summer and into the fall we at Destinations International spent a great deal of time talking about the idea that we are at a time of significant change in our situation. We are at a strategic inflection point. A point in time in the life of our organizations when the fundamentals are changing. And that change can mean an opportunity for a destination organization to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of an organization’s decline.

We pointed out the over a year before, we laid out a direction for destination organizations to become a shared value in each of their communities. To develop a resident focus.  To view them as your ultimate customers. And to expand your mission to position your destination to compete and not just put heads in beds. We applauded how many organizations had responded and begun making changes. But the time to move gradually, deliberately was now gone because the change in our fundamentals that have been changing for decades were and continue to rapidly speed up.

Trends that might have taken five or 10 years to play out have unfolded in only five to 10 weeks and all point in the same direction. The virus isn’t creating a new future. It’s speeding up the changes already underway. It is, in other words, the Great Acceleration.

Why we know this is that everything we have spoken about concerning becoming a recognized and valued force in our communities addressing a broad community need of destination branding and promotion remains true.  Just more urgently.

The three transformational opportunities from the DNEXT Futures Study to help destinations heading into the future, to both grow the visitor economy and support the mandates of local government, industry and community organizations -- Destination Stewardship (Balancing economic development, sustainable tourism and quality of life), Community Alignment (Building public support around a shared vision for the destination), and Digital Conversion (Connecting with visitors on mobile devices to drive real-time sales in-destination -- remain true. Just more urgently.

Image by Simon Landrein for The Washington Post

While I cannot take credit for this name - Carlos Lozada, the Pulitzer Prize winning nonfiction book critic of The Washington Post authored an article entitled The Great Acceleration back on December 18, 2020 – it captures what we and others were seeing last summer. From that article:

  • Life after the coronavirus “is going to be, in many aspects, a sped-up version of the world we knew,” author Fareed Zakaria writes in “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World,” a survey of the possible socioeconomic and political consequences of the outbreak.
  • In “Apollo’s Arrow,” physician and sociologist Nicholas A. Christakis warns that the pandemic can “amplify” our inequalities and divides, touching on what is most human about us, our griefs and our fears and our denials.
  • Journalists John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue in “The Wake-Up Call” that this is a “history-accelerating crisis,” one that will deepen the dysfunctional politics and ineffective governance of Western societies.

The pandemic has laid bare long-term shortcomings -- our exclusive focus on the visitor while ignoring residents for one, our over reliance on the hotel tax for another, our shunning the profile as an organization within our community for a third -- but it has created an opportunity to address these.  But we need to do so urgently for the window is already beginning to close.

Over the next three weeks or so, the Destinations International Advocacy, Research and Tools team will take on the topic of what the Great Acceleration will mean for our industry in 2021 and beyond.  Furthermore, we will cast an eye specifically on summer 2021 which we believe, more every day, will herald the return of our industry back to the forefront of the economy.  That is, for those destination organizations embracing the need for pressing change. Changes that can mean an opportunity for a destination organization to rise to new heights.

More than ever, now is the time to bookmark this site and check it on a weekly basis as we work to provide you and your destination organization the ideas and tools to excel.

About the Author

Jack JohnsonChief Advocacy OfficerDestinations International

About the Author

Jack manages the overall public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities. Jack is a 2021 Smart Meetings Magazine’s Catalyst Award winner and one of Successful Meetings’ 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry in 2018.

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