Tourism uplifts communities. Tourism contributes to the economic growth of a country. Tourism facilitates cultural exchange. But does it truly make people living and working in major tourism destinations happy and content, or are they miserable? Or somewhere in between?
A new global survey of local residents’ happiness in World Heritage sites called Planet Happiness has been launched to address the issue. In an age of escalating over tourism, the initiative aims to show that measuring community wellbeing and happiness is, arguably, a more important metric than GDP, money, and perpetually growing visitor numbers.
It is a response to the fact that travel and tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries, with over 1.33 billion visitor movements across borders in 2017. Today more than 1 in 10 people are employed in tourism globally.
The 15-minute online survey is available in 18 languages and is open for anyone to do. The survey measures key indicators, such as satisfaction with life, access to nature and arts, community engagement, standard of living, life-long learning, and health.
Planet Happiness has been launched at a time when over tourism is becoming a major concern in visitor hotspots around the world, especially World Heritage sites. At the same time there is growing interest in happiness and wellbeing issues among individuals, communities, small and large businesses and nation states.
“Strengthen and support the happiness and wellbeing of local people”
Tourism consultant Dr Paul Rogers, co-founder of Planet Happiness, said: “The purpose of tourism in destinations such as Barcelona, Brasilia, Kakadu, Luang Prabang, Kyoto, Yosemite, Mt Everest, Victoria Falls and other renowned places is to strengthen and support the happiness and wellbeing of local people. If tourism fails to do this, it is neither responsible nor sustainable, and local policies should change accordingly.”
Rogers admits that the survey results may show that people in tourism destinations are happy and that no major changes are needed. Either way, he believes it will be highly useful to compare reactions and responses to tourism and wellbeing in different travel hotspots around the world.
“A new, fresh, more responsible and holistic way”
“It’s more about finding where there are deficiencies – such as having meaningful access to community fulfilment and feeling valued,” says Rogers. “The survey will show people where they are doing well compared to other tourism destinations, and possibly where they should seek to improve their lives.” He added: “It’s a new, fresh, more responsible and holistic way of looking at tourism.”
“The more people who do the survey, the better,” says US-based Laura Musikanski, a lawyer, sustainability process expert and Executive Director of the Happiness Alliance at happycounts.org.
Musikanski says that aggregated local and global data from the Planet Happiness Survey Index will be open source and accessible to everyone with an interest in sustainable tourism and community wellbeing. The project will never share information that could personally identify any individuals.
The Planet Happiness project encourages all residents and workers in UNESCO World Heritage destinations to take the 15-minute online survey and will post and regularly update results and share them with journalists, students, businesses, government officials and interested parties around the world. They hope to hear from destination managers, universities and any sponsors who would like to support the initiative and help deploy the Happiness Survey in World Heritage sites around the world.