In the travel industry we hear certain buzzwords bandied about quite regularly; sustainability, responsibility, environmental awareness. And while many well-intentioned companies are doing positive things in their own sectors, are you sometimes wonder if, as a global industry, we’re making any real headway.
Someone, you feel, needs to take a fresh approach – to rethink the way tourism operates as a global industry. And one London-based company is planning to do just that: to innovate a new set of travel ideas, processes, products and services that can help navigate this titanic industry on a less destructive course.
Led by Simon Nowroz, Travelport’s former managing director for Asia Pacific, The Amazing Mr Anderson is a start-up innovation studio that concentrates on tackling the world’s “hard to solve problems”. And as problems go, the sustainable growth of the global travel industry is about as thorny as they come.
But in an interview with Travel Daily, Nowroz appeared undaunted by the scale of his task.
“What attracts us is the complexity of the problem,” the former travel executive told us. “[The travel industry] is a huge employer and a massive land developer, and often it is very disruptive. Overdevelopment and sustainability awareness are huge issues. Jump ahead 10-15 years and you could find yourself in a tricky position.”
So what’s the solution and how do you go about tackling such a gargantuan issue? Well, Nowroz and his team adopt an experimental approach to innovation – using methods like emersion, ideation and prototype development to give thought processes some real form.
“We decided to make the process more experiential; to make innovation something you do. We talk about potential ideas, capture them visually and make them tactile. Then we take it externally to people, gather feedback and iterate further. We take a dull cerebral process and make it real.”
He also tries to involve communities in his work, to make the process “much more inclusive”, and to ensure ‘buy-in’ from an early stage.
This process is already being practised by The Amazing Mr Anderson in the education and healthcare sectors, but how can it be used to solve the travel industry’s biggest problems?
“We plan to work with associations and tourism bodies on thought leadership, as well as help organisations improve the way they operate, and innovate the next generation of travel and services in a way that’s more sustainable,” said Nowroz.
He is also doing work on risk and asset management, producing thought pieces and sharing sustainability data. Nowroz also said he is talking to major tourism companies.
But his “dream assignment” would be to work directly with destinations, to plan “how to build the infrastructure around you” and “create strategies that embed community involvement in the project”.
And nowhere, according to Nowroz, is in greater need of such seismic change than Asia.
“The industry is in danger of self-sabotage,” he warned. “Compared to the US or Europe, Asia is light on regulation so we think there is a bigger need for this. Some big Western brands are aware of the problem [and implementing strategies to manage it], but much of it is tokenism. We need to get it right from the beginning.”
The world welcomed one billion international tourists for the first time in 2012, and is expected to reach almost 1.6bn by 2020. And Nowroz warned that the issues the industry – and the world – is currently facing will only get worse under the current system.
“The problems we experience today are nothing compared to what’s coming. The current system has failed, both environmentally and economically. We need massive cultural change [to fix things]. If you’re an innovator, this is the problem to solve.”
Whether Nowroz and The Amazing Mr Anderson can actually change the travel industry remains to be seen, but the fact that someone is aiming to tackle the project from the bottom up is already a major step forward.
For a company intent on cracking the world’s most difficult problems, it will be interesting to see what solutions emerge from the efforts of The Amazing Mr Anderson’s innovation studio.