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    Selfie tourism and its consequences

    Sustainability in tourism has become an adult, we could say: we are at a critical stage in the conception, expression and application of sustainability in the hospitality industry.

    Sustainability, "environmental tourism" or the various forms in which this attitude has developed, seemed in the past as an alternative to "mass tourism". This forcing has sometimes led to some aberrations, such as thinking that an overnight stay in a hotel was not environmentally friendly, or that it was necessary to discover the desert island to be able to say that one is in a preserved and quality place.

    The tension to maintain the beauty, to avoid the "consumption" of territory, to reason in the long term rather than short; it has been however anticipatory and beneficial because it had put before the public opinion a point of view that was previously absent.

    Today we are at a convergence of several factors of a new situation in which sustainability is not to be contrasted with "mainstream tourism", but is itself "mainstream". In short, all tourism is (must become) sustainable. The road is not very simple, but it is safe; on condition that this strategy is based not only on the demanding level (as often or always happens in tourism) but on objective, measurable and comparable bases. These are issues that we will come back to in a moment.

    Why is sustainability today a necessity rather than an option? Let's see some numbers. In 1950, there were 25 million tourist trips around the world, rising to 602 million in 1998 and today they exceed one billion. Exponential growth due to the incredible supply of airline seats (only Alitalia has managed to reduce them); to the equally incredible economic growth of large countries like China; to the formation of a well-off class in any country in the world. Those who think that we can go back to the aristocratic tourism of the nineteenth century, are out of time.

    If quantity attacks quality, however, new ways must be found to make quality compatible with large numbers. On the other hand, the world of consumption teaches us a lot, because we live in the era of mass luxury, given that the most famous brands in the world have millions of customers, not hundreds: they have preserved quality even with large numbers. We must think of the hospitality industry as an entirely sustainable sector, a "mass sustainability".

    There is a particular phenomenon that has made the situation incandescent: selfie tourism. There is a human tendency to want to show how good one can do in one's daily life so that photographing oneself next to or within a global icon of tourism has become a must. It is as if the world had at some point, been simplified and condensed in its iconography. To say that I've been to Paris I must have the Eiffel Tower behind me (if I had an Art Nouveau bistro I would complicate the life of those who come across the fleeting moment of my photo. Instead the Eiffel Tower is indisputable: I'm in Paris).

    It's the equivalent of the logo in fashion: if there's no logo on the shirt, where's its value? Instead of the crocodile, put the Eiffel Tower in it, and that's it. In essence, the narcissistic culture that characterizes our time in tourism creates an incredible phenomenon of concentration, because there is an assault on the icons to take pictures. It is the icon that defines the status of the tourist. So, on the one hand, we have exponential growth of the tourist movement and on the other hand a concentration of the phenomenon in its most iconographic points, welcome in "Instagram Tourism".

    How to cope with it? The strategy of prohibition does not seem to be the most effective, because it draws attention to the most desired icons, so that an elementary psychological principle suggests that the more you ban something, the more you increase the desire, so if the goal is not the economic return, but sustainability, you must put in place more subtle tactics. The right strategy is that of the gentle push ("nudge"), that is to convince people that the city is more significant than its icons; that a selfie has value because there is the self (self) and not for its background; that discovering a destination, or a less famous corner increases one's self-esteem and so on. Here is the profession of intelligent tourism promotion that it chooses according to an end and a strategy.

    The prospect of sustainable tourism everywhere also reverses some concepts that were previously profoundly rooted in the idea of sustainable tourism as an alternative to hotel tourism. Think of the impact on the city of tourism of short term rentals of houses. The hotel system is regulated (it expands according to specific rules, has a particular and fixed number of rooms, is already organized with parking and logistics). The informal offer of houses on digital platforms varies in unpredictable ways, creates additional needs, has an impact on transport services and the rest extra-ordinary (in the literal sense, ie out of the ordinary of the size of that destination). It is clear that the impact on the city is net and heavy. Therefore, orderly hotel development is much more sustainable than the unregulated supply of informal residences.

    Let's take another case. We have beautiful villages in Italy, so there is a tendency to say let's rent the houses of the village for the holidays. But if a village is all rented to guests does not betray so its essence? Since one of the principles of sustainability is to preserve the social and cultural structure of the places. It's a paradox. Perhaps it is better to have a small hotel, built with the materials of the area, according to the aesthetics of the site, which leaves unchanged the socio-cultural fabric of the village. Renting a house is beautiful, hospitable and "alternative", but renting all the homes turns the town into a non-place. The quantity is not irrelevant.

    So how does one arrive at "mass sustainability"? Various dimensions need consider. The global aspect, of course, but there is also the destination dimension and even the individual hotel dimension. Let's focus on the last two. First of all, sustainability has to be measured. We need a metric; otherwise, how do we measure the progress we make? How do you compare two destinations from sustainability? Take in mind that the new frontier of competition is on sustainability. All other things being equal, sustainable destinations will always be preferred. Among other things, sustainability conceived in this way eliminates the dialectic between tourists and residents at its roots, because if a destination is sustainable, for the sake of consistency of the model, the presence of tourists will not make a difference. Let's begin to measure sustainability, so we get out of the generic nature of the term and enter correctly into this new strategic dimension.

    The contribution of hotels to sustainability can be decisive: from the choice of materials to home automation for energy saving, from the offer of local agricultural products to the cancellation of plastic in bars. On the contrary, the hotels as they were born, as an evocation of the ideal house, of the perfect stay, today can be the example of the entirely sustainable residence. Today they can be, in the beginning, an example of sustainability and in so doing they acquire a competitive advantage over other forms of residence offer and are willing, according to their nature, to anticipate what is the ideal residence that everyone will want even at home. Tourism sustainability is a multi-dimensional job; a responsibility; a perfect and material growth together. Isn't that always the case for growing up?

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