Thinking beyond today: Changing the mindset around tourism planning

Annika Rautiola

5 October 2023

“We talked enough for 130 years, and we have not done enough, and we are scared of this transformation. And of course we are because it demands the total change of the mindset.” – Dr. Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar 


In the fast-paced world of tourism, it’s easy to get caught in the whirlwind of daily operations. However, how often do we take a step back and view the industry from a broader perspective? And if we did, would our decisions be different?

In this episode of Travel Beyond, we had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar from the University of Ljubljana. Her insights challenge us to rethink the conventional notions of tourism. She reminds us that travel is not merely a pastime; it’s a privilege, one that demands a thoughtful and responsible approach. By zooming out and considering the far-reaching impact of tourism, we open doors to innovative solutions and transformative potential.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How thinking longer term will help us make more effective decisions in the present
  • To think differently about tourism’s role in the larger ecosystem
  • Perspectives that remind us of travel as a luxury, not a right
  • About culture shifts that need to happen in order for us to make a difference



Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast player to join us on this journey.

Show notes

City Destinations Alliance – an alliance of tourism boards, convention bureaus and city marketing organisations in Europe. This interview was recorded at their 2023 conference in Sofia, Bulgaria.


Episode transcript

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: 

We would have to reconsider the whole economic and social agreement that we had up to now. And it’s not going to be easy, but at the same time, it could be very, very exciting also, to do all of this transformation.

David Archer: Hello and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to explore the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet, surfacing their most inspiring solutions. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording from Daajing Giids, British Columbia, which is a little village in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

We look at the role of travel and choose to highlight destinations that are global leaders, and we talk to the changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, often from the bottom up. And I’m really glad to share this episode today. We’ve been talking about some huge issues on the Travel Beyond podcast, from housing crises to decarbonizing the travel industry.

And if you’re anything like us at Destination Think, as you think about regenerative travel and how the industry needs to transform, you might be wondering, what’s the role of a destination manager or DMO in this environment? And if my job is marketing or promotion, can I make a difference to influence those larger societal shifts we’re talking about, or what can I do in my capacity in a travel organization?

Today’s episode brings us some much needed perspective on those questions. And we’re bringing you a fascinating conversation with Dr. Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar, an economics and tourism professor at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. And this took place at the 2023 Conference and General Assembly held by City Destinations International in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Dr. Cvelbar tells us about the long term opportunities ahead for DMOs and travel leaders everywhere. And that includes plenty of thought on how and why we need to start thinking on a collective level to work toward a better long-term future for everyone. Here is Dr. Cvelbar and Destination Think CEO, Rodney Payne.

Rodney Payne: Hi. Could you tell me your name and where you live and what you do?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: I’m Ljubi. I’m coming from Slovenia, from Ljubljana. And I’m a professor.

Rodney Payne: And what do you what do you profess?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: What do I profess? I profess tourism, which is a funny profession, isn’t it?

Rodney Payne: And you’ve just spoken, you gave a great presentation here in Sofia, in Bulgaria at the CityDNA conference. And you talked about a lot of topics that I don’t often hear talked about at tourism conferences. Could you give me just a little summary of your message and, and what you talked about?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: Yeah, with pleasure. You know, we’re preparing for this conference, thinking beyond tourism. I think we all have do so. Tourism is part of the broader ecosystem, it’s part of the society, it’s part of the economy. So while thinking about future, I was thinking about, of course, climate change, which is which is absolutely a emergency in which we have to react today. I was thinking about actually the world order is really changing. I was thinking about the geopolitical tensions that are actually stronger every day. I was thinking about inequality that is terrible in today’s world. And it’s also present in tourism. Not everybody can fly, not everyone can go to holidays, and we keep kind of ignoring that.

And I was talking about inflation. inflation, which is going to stay here for a while. I was talking about technological progress that is exciting and scary at the same time. It’s fueling neoliberal capitalism, and it is giving us kind of solution the problems that we have, but we have to be careful about it. And was talking about migration, uh, that are going to be result of things that are happening and we are staying blind to them for too long. And they are actually showing the biggest failure of the humanity at the moment.

So those are the, the broader picture in which tourism is have to position itself as well.

And then I talked about how we really have to take actions. It’s enough of talking. We talked enough for 130 years. And we have not done enough and it’s, we are scared of this transformation, and of course we are because it demands total change of the mindset, and uh, totally how we think about the way how we live, about the way how we work, how to, many other things.

But this transformation is necessary because, we came up to the point when there is no question can we transform or not. But we just, just have to accept it, adopt it and start, start doing it. And kind of concluded with couple of inputs for DMOs.

DMOs have to lead this transformation because the companies, they are connecting the whole ecosystem.

And in European Union at the moment, the government, do have a stick because it’s legislation. European directives that were accepted end of 2022 that are actually demanding from companies and financial institutions to report environmental, social and governmental performance. So actually the DMOs do have some kind of stick, and they have to use it in order to transform the industry.

Rodney Payne: One of the things I said in my presentation was that media generally has done a massive disservice to humanity by putting pictures of polar bears on melting ice sheets and people at the beach whenever we talk about a new heat record being broken. And it was refreshing to hear you start to open up the conversation here about climate migration, agricultural yields, and some of the real problems that are coming from chaos. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you think about geoengineering and adaptation and climate migration and some of the other massive conversations we need to be having?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: Yeah, the media also, there was a picture of the, boy that water actually brought on the same beach on which we have seen the people having and we kind of forgetting about that picture about migrations as well. And had it in my presentation, and it’s very distressful you know, and we have to kind of have these images in our head as well, because this is the world in which live in, and we have to address this issue.

So how? don’t have all of the answers, but what I’m seeing it now you know, we would have to… reconsider. We would have to reconsider the whole economic and social agreement that we had up to now. And it’s not going to be easy, but at the same time, it could be very, very exciting also to do all of this transformation. And was a great talk at the conference at the moment about how the level of democracy in our world is dropping.

And that we have to move from this consumerism to more collective participation, to a more inclusive society that will be able to address those issues. And uh, there is no easy answer to your question, but I would say we really have to change the mindset. think everything starts from here and ends up there and kind of believe that these changes are possible and show those cases, like you were showing Queensland today, that are actually saying we going to do it.

You know, it’s just really showing the cases doing it. And I’m working with couple of companies and I have seen it. And I have seen this transformative process that is taking a couple of years, but it’s being very, very fruitful and very successful at the end.

It’s about downsizing. It’s about mental health. I was working with people who were very successful, but on antidepressants for years. And those transformative stories were also personal, and they are very, very real they are still kind of good stories. They downsize, they, make the whole different business model, around the whole company.

I talk about the companies, the destinations now. So I think we have to show up those cases and give the people courage to go through this pathway because we have to do it.

Rodney Payne: Yeah, I a think lot about the different inspiration I’ve seen around the world, and it’s hiding, right? In some places you see this one thing like “if only the whole world knew that”. And then somewhere else you see another solution. I think piecing all of those solutions together more rapidly and giving people off ramps from the hamster wheel that so many of us are stuck on at the moment, to start implementing those solutions and working with destinations as a connector, like you said, both the mouthpiece for the community, but also a big influence within the community as well.

A lot of the issues that you talk about, I get the sense that you know how interrelated they are. And you talk about climate first, but then you talk about a lot of other things. Can you tell me about how you see the big problems in the world and how they’re interrelated?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: I was mentioning them at the beginning. They’re all interrelated. All of these chaoses that we created is actually quite interrelated. And we have to sort it out at a moment. So of course climate change are going to cause migrations because there will be scarcity of water, it’s not that much far away. Because we always think now in Europe, France and Spain and Slovenia as well, we have a border distress issue, border problem issue, so it’s getting closer to home. And absolutely all connected and interrelated. Solving up one, it’s going to help solving up another.

So as we created them, we’ll have to solve them. And we are quite late.

Rodney Payne: Yeah, we don’t have lot of time. And when humans face resource shortages and life gets harder, we tend to make really bad decisions. Are you frightened or hopeful?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: Both. To be very much honest .I have two kids, so I’m just, I’m threatened and then hopeful when I see those examples that are actually really doing it. They inspired me, and if I haven’t seen them, I wouldn’t be that eager to share it, because it, is possible, it is possible, to transform, it is possible to downsize without sacrificing a lot. You know, everything what we do, it’s because we’re kind of used to having everything immediately, and we have a lot of everything, so sacrificing is not going to be sacrificing lot, and we all have to do it. So basically on that, on that part I’m hopeful.

But I’m terrified because, this changing the mindset, it will take time. I think this is the biggest obstacle, that we change this, way how do we think about our lives, about the environment which we live and how do we want to change it.

And also another thing about thinking on the long term. We all kind of, the whole society, the whole economy, it’s about reporting on yearly level, now on quarterly level. So everything is so short, on quarterly level have to show the success and then another quarterly level. It’s ridiculous.

You know, because every decision, if you think about it in the span of three months or in the span of ten years, it has a totally different impact that you’re going to make and decision would be different. So think that’s another thing that we kind of have to swap in our hands. Think about how is this going to look like in ten years, not in three months.

Rodney Payne: I’ve started thinking a little bit about how do you create an amazing world a thousand years from now, right? To reshape my own perspective. And I was recently involved in tourism plan where we were looking 50 years out with a community. And people thought we were crazy to be looking 50 years out, right?

And we were asking people to imagine a really, really inspiring, incredible future. And it was so challenging for them, and then, when they did it, so rewarding as well, because it strips away a lot of the roadblocks that we conjure up in our minds, and gets people to think much bigger beyond just their day to day.

If there was one piece of information you could take, you know, you’re a professor and you think a lot about these issues at your university. And you think about all the community leaders and tourism boards around the world. What would you love them to know?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: A very, very, hard question to be very much honest. know, I’m a professor of economics, and they train me to think individually, maximizing your own interest. That’s what they train you when you’re… a student of economics and you’re professor. And it’s you know, getting from this individual to collective mind, it’s, what is good for me has to be good for others as well. I am again in this world of changing mindset, but thinking about a collective well being. I think this is what the world needs today and this is what DMO’s role would be as well. And thinking beyond tourism.

Tourism is part of the larger ecosystem. And we can, in tourism, solve this issue, if you think beyond tourism. And for the DMOs, I said to really stop fooling ourselves with the things that are not relevant.

We talked about the self reporting, evaluation systems and about greenwashing, and this is all very, very passé. So for DMOs, it’s really, you know, to take this leadership role in changing this, the whole pace of the development of the industry and showing this inspirational cases, leading them through this change and some of them can do this, not all of them, but some of them, you know, in showing these good examples to the others.

Rodney Payne: What happens if DMOs don’t change and show leadership?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: Then somebody else would have to do it, you know, hopefully. Collective failure, as we have experienced in many of them. So basically if the DMOs are not, you know, I’m just thinking who else is going to do it, the private sector? I’m not sure. Maybe some part of the private sector. And the government. But I’m not hopeful there, unfortunately not.

Rodney Payne: The government in many parts of the world is designed to go slowly. And the moment that we’re in requires the complete opposite. That’s why I’m hopeful that perhaps tourism and perhaps DMOs connecting the world and connecting their communities might be part of the solution.

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: And the DMOs have to think about all of the citizens that they have behind them. And this can give them this collective power. Because they should be guardian of the citizens, and they should actually express those collective interests that tourism have to take into account when developing. So, you know, thinking from this perspective, it could give the power to the DMOs to actually lead this transformation process.

Rodney Payne: You mentioned individualism. I too am a student of economics and was trained that individualism is the way to create prosperity, which I think, you know, we both know is, not accurate.

I also think about competition and our desperate need to work together. The atmosphere and the biosphere is something that connects everyone on Earth, right? I said in my presentation today that the moment we’re in, in climate, is checkmate for fossil fuelled travel, which is confronting for a lot of people who are buried trying to hit KPIs within their organisation. How do you think about the interconnectivity of the world, and how we can come together?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: It just strikes me when you were saying, know, all of this. When we talked about the airline industry, it was also allowed in 70s to smoke into the airplane. Imagine all the people sitting there and smoking. Can you imagine that today? No. So many things we cannot imagine today can happen in the span of 30 years and would be kind of normal and agreeable to all of us. And also reducing travel and having different way that we travel. And we talked about today about inequality in travel as well.

It’s not everyone in the world that are contributing to this CO2 emissions. Those are hyper-travellers. 1 percent of the humans that are traveling are responsible for 50 percent of all of the CO2 emissions. So is it that big of the ask, you know, to think about before you travel and to not go overseas for day or two? I don’t think so, really. So, the answer is so easy and so simple. We just have to anticipate and to just… also you know, kind of behave in that, in that direction even if the industry is not going to be very happy about it at the moment.

Tourism is not going to go away. We have seen it after the pandemic as well. Because the other industries are transforming, and tourism has to do it as well, but how can we collectively achieve this?

Rodney Payne: Are there any times in history that you can think of that are an analogy to the moment we’re in now?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: There are many, many points of the history when we think about inequality was high as it is now. And the situation is pretty much similar as it was as now. And those are scary times. It’s not lot of positive outcomes that were happening after that. But yes, we all know the history, and we know that it’s actually a lot of things are repeating.

Rodney Payne: If I could give you magic wand and a blank checkbook and let you be a benevolent dictator for a day or a week, what would you do?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: Oh my God. It’s like, I wouldn’t like to be dictator and I think the end of the day is not going to be long enough. That’s good question.

What would you do you know, I would use the whole day to ask myself the question how can we help to change the whole mess? I don’t have an answer on this question. I’m sorry.

Rodney Payne: Wouldn’t do anything with fossil fuel subsidies? I thought my economist would go straight there. What about pricing externalities?

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: I’m not sure that all of those mechanisms are efficient enough, to be very much honest. To solve the current situation.

Rodney Payne: I think I agree too. I’m not sure. No one’s can be sure. But one thing I wish is, I wish we would treat this with the urgency it deserves and [00:18:00] go into emergency mode.

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: Going to emergency mode would be the one that we’ll have to kind of impose and start really doing it and really change this kind of mental …again, and again, back to the mindset. Because, and also we not mentioning it, and it’s a huge issue, this huge elephant in the room, the mental health. The European Union is now really dealing with that as well, and we, we have a lot of issues there because all of this… society that is created is actually causing a lot of social costs as well.

So of course environment and then the social, it’s not just the nature that is hurt, the human is hurt as well. Each individual in the whole thing.

So maybe, yes, trying to have more collective minds you know, that we can together find a solution and be, really believing that together we can overcome everything that we have created.

I actually generally think that we will manage this transition and energy crisis, really, I think we will.

And this transformation with the energy crisis now and everybody thinking about how to solve it, I think the bigger problem will be water scarcity and the temperature and the migrations coming out of that. But I showed it on the presentation. We will need much more energy than we, uh, we are using it today. There is the, and you said we are talking from position of the Western world, and we have the whole part of the world that still developing, and they have the right to develop because they want to kind of increase the quality of life of the of their population.

So… Trying to make a conclusion, you know, it’s about technology. The technology, in a way, we have to also discuss it very openly about the technological pessimists and what, because technology is bringing a lot of good stuff, but on the other side, the power of institution is getting erased, because we don’t trust the institution anymore that much because we have all of this networks that we are part of that are shaping our opinions and shaping the way how do we behave. So it’s actually the social networks are taking off the roles of the institutions which could be kind of scary in certain moments, uh, and how to kind of orchestrate all of this, you know, it’s quite challenging.

So, you know, technology, yes, absolutely. But we have to be very considerate in what the technology is also bringing as a negative outcomes. And there are quite some of them and we have to address them. Because really with all the technology, and I’m not saying that institutions, but generally the institutions were there to kind of set up the scene.

And now the scene is set up, on the very different parts of the world kind of in a different manner. So this part of this a bit scares me when I think about it.

Rodney Payne: I really appreciate you taking a moment to sit down with me today. It was amazing to hear you talk and thank you for challenging the way I think.

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar: Thank you very much for your invitation.


David Archer: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think, and you just heard from Dr. Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar from the University of Ljubljana. We would like to thank CityDNA for making this interview possible at their conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. We’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems, so be sure to reach out if you have a story to share with us at the Travel Beyond podcast.

This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. My co producer is Sara Raymond De Booy. Lindsay Payne and Annika Rautiola provided production support. You can help more people find our show by subscribing and by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time. 


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