Doug Lansky Q&A

In his regular columns for Buying Business Travel, Doug Lansky assesses our sector from a different viewpoint in each issue, drawing on his extensive travel experience and keynote speeches at conferences around the world. Find out more about Lansky below… 

As a speaker and writer, where do you take inspiration from?
We have a bad habit, as a human race, of replacing one problem with another. We replaced poor insulation with asbestos. We thought we solved the environmental issue of transportation when we replaced horse manure (which had been piling up ankle deep in major cities in the late 1800s) with car exhaust. Might we be doing something similar with travel? I’m sure of it.

My task as a speaker, I believe, is to show not just where things are headed, but question if we’re taking them in the right direction, challenging the audience to think and question why we’re doing what we are, and see if they can be inspired to find a better way forward. 

Do you think business travel/meetings and events have a role in helping development?  Yes. business meetings, since the participants are typically busy doing their own thing, have a lower impact on cultural disturbance while still contributing to the economy.  And because they like to live comfortably and eat well (and don’t usually have to pick up the tab themselves), it’s a form of tourism that punches above it’s weight. Also, perhaps a more important concept is that it’s a great way to boost the economy by attracting new business. Tourism can only grow in a limited way before it gets overcrowded, diminishes the experience and start distressing the local way of life. But if a city can manage the crowds and use some of that tourism revenue to improve the attractiveness of the city, they have a good shot at luring new companies, or at least small start ups with young creatives who value a high life quality, can leveraging tourism to achieve larger and most sustainable economic growth. 

Do you have any specific examples of how travel might be making things worse?
You mean, besides cruise ships dumping waste and chemicals into the sea? Besides hotels pumping sewage into waters in front of their beaches? Besides developers plowing under pristine forests to make golf courses that are now no longer being used? Besides UNESCO-listed cultural cities allowing American fast-food franchises to take over the most popular corners of their historic areas? I could keep going, but the idea is that once you start to see a few, you allow your brain to change gears and think differently. And that’s the important part. As new projects move forward, if you learn from mistakes of the past, you’re going to start making smarter decisions. But this is only possible if you can see the mistakes. And understand what the customers want. So if you see a eco-minded purchasing trend in your customers, it would be smart business to take a good hard look at what eco-mistakes are being made. 

You have a focus on destination development – what countries today are most in need of development, or are there any in the past which you’ve think have done a good job turning their fortunes around?  
Japan was closed to the Western world from 1650 to 1850. Bhutan limited its visitors, opting for a policy of Gross National Happiness. Cuba only recently opened up to tourism from the US. In all of these cases, culture was preserved longer than it would have been otherwise, and we’ve all see what a big demand this creates. Visitors are willing to spend $250 a day to visit Bhutan – just on visitor permits. And the price to see mountain gorillas in Uganda has just doubled to $1,500 for a short visit. The opposite of this is what Venice and Barcelona have experienced – popular mass tourism. And we’re now seeing the locals in both of these cities revolt. A city can have tourists, but tourists shouldn’t have the city. For tourism to work for tourists, it needs to first and foremost work for locals. And this is what development has been failing to understand. It’s possible to protect your culture and nature (in other words, you Unique Selling Proposition) and also earn money from tourism. In fact, failing to protect is, in my mind, only a short-term recipe for success, like a beach resort that allows visitors to break off pieces of coral and litter the beach.  

You’re a frequent traveller – how do you cope with long flights/journeys?
Sleeping pills and ear plugs and, when needed, coffee (no alcohol). I limit the sleeping pills to twoper direction — one on the flight and one the first night.  Then I try to get as much exercise as possible. That’s also a big help, especially when I return home. I have a stationary bike in the basement and I will just cycle until I’m too tired to stay awake. 

You’ve written about the importance of the welcome in BBT – in your opinion, which country/countries offer the most hospitable welcome?
I think Geneva is doing a great job with the free transport into the city for hotel guests. It’s creative and far more than just putting up a fancy “welcome” sign. 

You’re a regular speaker at ITB Berlin – how important is this event for the travel industry?
It’s an honor to be invited back and it’s great place to meet colleagues (and everyone else) but it’s not really a speaker’s conference because so many of the most influential people have a full schedule with meetings, they never actually make it to hear the other speakers. 

What conferences/events are coming up next in your diary?
Heading to Montevideo, Uruguay to speak in two weeks. Until then, I have my summer holiday. 

Doug Lansky is an author, editor and speaker. He has visited 120 countries, written ten travel books and his work has been widely published in magazines and newspapers. Lansky lectures at leading universities and top-tier events, introducing audiences to new insights and smart tourism concepts. His website is at


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