Becoming an Adaptive & Resilient Organization: 3 Lessons from Dianne Dredge, Ph.D (Tourism / Community Engagement)

Arpy Dragffy
8 min readJun 2, 2020

This article is part of a series profiling innovative organisations from various industries. Find all of the articles here: Becoming an Adaptive & Resilient Organization: 3 Things We Learned During COVID-19.

This series is part of PH1 Research’s mandate to provide business leaders with free resources to improve their customer and employee strategies during this crisis.

The Tourism CoLab is on a mission to co-design visitor economies that benefit all stakeholders. They help businesses, communities, destinations, and tourism organisations design the visitor economies of tomorrow. Using a structured design thinking approach the CoLab resets how we look at tourism and centres it around designing a sustainable, resilient, and regenerative future.

For some destinations, exploring new, sustainable models of tourism was necessary after the destruction caused by the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season and now Covid-19. Some of these ecosystems and communities had been major contributors to Australia’s decades-long tourism boom. It has been a transformational period for business owners, communities and local governments and an opportunity to re-examine business models and ecosystems and reconsider where their values lie. How might communities, tourism operators, and visitors work together to create a more sustainable form of tourism?

These types of values-driven and action-oriented challenges are the driving force of the Tourism CoLab’s founder, Dianne Dredge Ph.D. Trained as an urban and regional planner, her early work focused on resort design, environmental impact and community engagement in Queensland. She became fascinated by the transformational power of tourism, and in 2006 published a book titled Tourism Planning and Policy which applied systematic thinking to how to make informed decisions about tourism policy. Her industry experience spans four continents and 25+ years, and led her to create the CoLab around five fundamental principles:

  1. Tourism is made possible by using environmental, social, cultural, financial, and other resources. We should not take these resources for granted.
  2. We cannot take more resources from the system than the system can replenish.
  3. Not all tourism is the same, yet we tend to think of it as a homogenous ‘thing’.
  4. We are all in this together — business, visitors, hosts, communities, governments, tourism organisations and Nature.
  5. We need new economic models and a new relationship with capitalism-as-usual.

3 Lessons About Adaptability & Resilience from Dianne Dredge, Ph.D (The Tourism CoLab)

Dr. Dredge’s work co-creating tourism models to help regions and businesses recover from the impact of the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season offers many parallels to what is needed today to help the global industry recover from the coronavirus crisis and provide lessons on how tourism and other industries can become adaptive and resilient.

#1 Understand the real impact of the crisis and what caused it

The first instinct in a time of crisis is to react to avoid failure and get one step closer to recovery. When the 86-year old Binna Burra Lodge was razed in the Gold Coast region of Australia by the wildfires it was clear that the cause was not the natural disaster — but climate change. The Tourism CoLab has been working with the Binna Burra Lodge and the local ecosystem to co-create a vision which is sustainable from the standpoint that tourism likely contributed to the acceleration of the factors which created the forest fires.

COVID-19 halted the global tourism industry and resulted in millions of people unemployed, however the virus was the catalyst which exposed existing weaknesses in the current tourism model. Pandemics are regularly occurring once a decade and with tourism’s explosion in popularity over the last seven decades, the industry needed more protocols to manage and trace transmission. The industry had also become heavily reliant on a high-volume of tourists, so much so that any shock to the number of visitors would decimate tourism ecosystems. And in many regions business leases, taxation, and industry funding is tied to projections which cannot be met by regional tourism alone.

As tourism begins its recovery from the coronavirus the question of most importance must be: Aside from the public health restrictions, which factors contributed to the economic damage?

#2 This is an inflection point and a rare opportunity to collectively do things differently

Dr. Dredge sees this moment as an opportunity for forward-thinking businesses to shift towards giving customers transformative experiences which will make them more loyal and connected to the places they visit. By focusing on value — not volume — the industry can recover sustainably.

“There will be some massive changes in tourism because this is an inflection point. The market will change how we all view travel.”

She notes her recent work in Copenhagen studying the cruise industry as an example of the dangers of planning around volume. In that project she found that day passengers from cruises had an average economic impact of 30 euros per day, significantly lower than the projections that were used to advocate for the region’s large investments in infrastructure and policy changes.

“We need to get smarter as a government and think critically about the data being provided. A lot of big infrastructure, construction, and labour decisions are driven by data that doesn’t match up.” She sees two trajectories from this inflection point: “1) There are those destinations being pushed back by business interests and to bounce back; 2) There will be those that want to get it right by connecting in meaningful ways with visitors and the local economy.”

Regardless of your industry the question to ask when deciding how to move forward from this inflection point is: Which assumptions that drive major capital decisions don’t seem to hold-up in a post-COVID world?

#3 Co-create a sustainable path forward with the entire ecosystem

Design thinking was originally used by creatives to better empathize with an intended audience and then test concepts. It helped them ensure they were building the solutions that would actually have impact. As design thinking has become adopted by a wider variety of disciplines it has provided an exceptional framework for collaborative engagements where the focus is on inclusion of typically marginalized voices. Dr. Dredge sees this as vitally important for tourism.

“I spent 17 years and was familiar with the growth of tourism. I saw a need to work with stakeholders to develop tourism at a local level using a multi-dimensional approach that engages the citizens, micro-entrepreneurs, and other voices in planning. Innovation comes when you have leadership who think outside of the box. They are ones who are thinking about how tourism can transform their region rather than thinking about how we can bring back the hotels, accommodations, etc.”

This innovation framework works on a small scale as much as on a large scale. She noted tourism operators who have taken this time to engage employees to explore new ways of using the skills and expertise already in the room. The simple act of collaboratively rewriting job descriptions and the organizational matrix based on a sustainable goal helps identify new possibilities. On a larger scale she encourages members of the local tourism ecosystem to walkthrough the day-to-day experience of being a visitor. By walking them through the individual steps taken on various routes the participants can familiarize themselves with parts of the tourism experience which commonly aren’t noticed — bad signage, poor maintenance, feelings of safety, navigation.

As a whole the ‘design thinking for tourism’ process can be applied to any industry. Empathizing with the needs of others across their individual journeys shines light on moments and voices that are often under-represented.

Learn more about the Tourism Colab’s approach in these free online courses.

Article by Arpy Dragffy, Principal at PH1. He leads customer experience, service design, and journey mapping projects for higher education, charity, health, and technology clients.

Register for the June 17 webinar How Organisations Become Adaptive & Resilient in a Time of Crisis to learn directly from some of the leaders profiled.

More lessons from this series:

This series is part of PH1 Research’s mandate to provide business leaders free resources to improve their customer and employee strategies during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Arpy Dragffy

Customer Experience & Service Design | Head of Strategy of http://PH1.ca