A profit-for-purpose visitor economy

An alternative visitor experience, which has positive social and economic impact for destinations.


This article was written and published for The Tourism CoLab’s online international publication The Tourism CoLab in 2019, which the author, Katie Anne Jowett is an associate for, the article is based on The Tourism CoLab’s work to enhance the development of an impact tourism economy community in Brisbane Australia.

The original article can be read here The Tourism CoLab


The what if?

What if Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) changed the narrative of how they promote a destination?
What, if instead of focusing on the products available at the destination, they focused on the social and economic impact the visitor could have on the destination — creating quality visitor experiences which have a purpose?

Would it create a more sustainable tourism industry? Would it support the improvement of quality of life for locals? Would it create a flourishing regenerative destination?

These were the questions we at The Tourism CoLab asked ourselves while undertaking an experimental project to develop a visitor experience map of Brisbane’s For-purpose business.


Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

The future of tourism and the profit-for-purpose business model

The ‘profit for purpose’ business model is not a new concept, nor is it new to the non-western parts of the world, many small and medium-sized business across the world use their profits to fund a purpose within their local community. But as Alex French says, it is a business model whose time has finally come. And it is a movement which is refusing to back down in the wake of the human-caused social and environmental issues affecting the world.

Nowadays, it is no longer enough for a business to figure out how it was going to turn a profit. Money is still important, but it was no longer the be-all and end-all of business. Money has become both result and tool to achieving another end — that is, to fulfil a purpose. — Alex French

With this growing consciousness of the wicked problems that are challenging humankind’s existence (and our devastating impact on our wonderful planet’s ecosystem) — climate crisis, pollution, conflict and politics — carrying out business-as-usual is no longer acceptable or being stood for. Visitors, consumers and employees are looking for more accountability and responsibility from businesses they choose to spend their money and time with. Resulting in the need for businesses to be more open about their process, procedures and their relationship with society.

Most recently, the fashion industry has come under scrutiny for its unstainable practices. With a focus on everything from how much it pays its employees, to where the garments are made and the quality materials they use. H&M for example, who have over the last five years rolled out a series of new sustainable procedures and policies, has invested in a Swedish start-up called Renewcell, dedicated to producing clothing from recycled textiles and materials.

Certification logo for BCorporation Businesses

We have also seen a growth in the number of social enterprises and support for social enterprises across the world; the formation of businesses networks dedicated to social and environmental issues (such as the B-Corp movement); and a rise in organisations from multiple industries being held accountable in public for their business processes.

Despite this acceptance of the growing need for business to embrace and have a purpose, the tourism industry has been slow to take up and empower this notion within its own ecosystem. That is not to say that the small and medium-sized business (SMEs), which make up much of the tourism industry, have not or do not have purpose driven business models — many do. But there has been little movement by those responsible for the management and planning of tourism to embrace, empower and evolve to a more sustainable and regenerative economy.


Purposeful tourism

We know that tourism has the power to positively transform and help destinations to flourish. The value created by tourism, when shared, can bring social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits — jobs, preserve culture, share knowledge and help tackle social issues. There is plenty of research out there, and which dates back long before ‘regenerative’ or ‘sustainability’ became a sexy word. But yet, often, the problem is that this value created is and has not been shared between all stakeholders.

So what if tourism management organisations and tourism planners focused less on the product and chasing new markets, and instead focused on how tourism can empower their destination and community. Creating purposeful visitor experience which educates, brings real social and economic change to a destination’s community and is industry-driven.

Copenhagen’s Street Voices

A Gadensstemmer tour — photo from Visit Copenhagen website

Street Voices is not your usual city tour of Copenhagen… you don’t follow a guide around the typical touristy spots while battling the hundreds of other tourists who are also hitting the same spots. Instead, this tour provides a real and unique perspective of the city of Copenhagen, its community and the everyday life of its people.

What makes it so different?
This truly personal perspective of the city is by guides who share their life stories, everyday struggles and experiences of being homelessness in Copenhagen. Each route has special significance to the tour guide and no two tours are the same.

Street Voices is a socially responsible company, and their mission is to enhance life quality for socially vulnerable people, strengthen solidarity in the society, and to give people hope that they can overcome even the toughest odds in life.
– Visit Copenhagen

Street Voices is not only a successful tour organisation, but schools from all across Denmark take part in their tours as part of the school curriculum.

As a tourist, taking part in one of these tours by Street Voices, either as an individual or as a group, not only allows you to see and hear about Copenhagen from a locals perspective but also allows you to help the community you are visiting. But you are also helping to empower the community, proving stable employment for those affected by homelessness, sharing knowledge and gaining an understanding/empathy for the struggles of others through the storytelling and shared experience on the tour; and helping the Street Voices organisation to carry on their work in Copenhagen.


The Case of Brisbane

What stood out to The Tourism CoLab was that we had a growing awareness of Brisbane’s flourishing and growing profit-for-purpose community. Perhaps this is not that unusual for a city like Brisbane, and it was just something we had not really noticed before now, but it was certainly an aspect that made it stand out for us and within Australia’s social enterprise community.

Here are some examples of Brisbane’s for-purpose business which stand out to us.

Hope Street Cafe/Hope on the Boundary

This not-for-profit social enterprises cafe, not only provides delicious breakfast and lunch — and trust me the food is amazing! — but while doing so, as part of Micah Projects, supports the training and professional development of people from the local community who are facing barriers to employment.

They also promote sustainable living, run community markets and dinners, and provide toiletries for the homeless community. You can read the stories of those they work with here.

Spirits of the Red Sand

The Spirits Of The Red Sand — photo from Spirits of Red Sands website.

Visitors to Spirits of the Red Sand can expect an amazing authentic Aboriginal storytelling experience while enjoying a dinner that takes you beyond Dreamtime to 1800s Australia when the British and Aboriginal ways of life collide.

The purpose of this storytelling visitor experience? To create respect and admiration for the Aboriginal culture through storytelling, to leave people with unforgettable memory and to help local indigenous people thrive through sustainable work and career development.

Brisbane Tool Library

Brisbane Tool Library does exactly what it says, it is a library of tools which members of the community can use and borrow — everything from hammers to surfboards — promoting and empowering a more sustainable economy of sharing and helping to stop perfectly good resources from going to landfill.

It is a not-for-profit organization that is sustained by the voluntary contribution of its members and was the first of its kind in the Queensland area.


The Tourism CoLab’s for-purpose Brisbane map

The Tourism CoLab is a design thinking agency that assists government and corporate clients to unlock innovative and courageous thinking, design and activation strategies for tourism that benefit people, place and planet. It is passionate about creating tourism experiences which are sustainable and have positive impacts for all stakeholders. And throughout my five months of working with The Tourism Colab’s Founder and Director Dianne Dredge, I got to see and gain a real understanding of the power tourism has to transform and empower through how we design visitor experiences.

We visited as many profit-for-purpose businesses as we could that were connected to the visitor economy; cafes, restaurants, galleries, markets, urban farms and shops, as well as meeting with social entrepreneurs and enterprises from around the Queensland region. Highlights included a tour of Logan City’s Substation33, talking transforming cities with Paulette Oldfield the City Transformation Program Leader at Logan City Council, attending the Social Good Summit Australia in Sydney, an Unconference for Queenland’s Social Enterprises and getting to talk with the staff about their work at the Hope Street Cafe in Brisbane CBD.

During these visits, we began to ask if it was really a big deal for people to go a little bit out of their way or walk two shops down to get something from one of these businesses — such as to grab a coffee — rather than go to the corporate chains which gives very little back to the community, if they knew that their money was going back into the community and how it was helping. We knew that for both of us, and many of our friends and acquaintances, this was not a big ask, but would it be something visitors and the businesses would be interested in.

We decided to run an experiment and create our for-purpose visitor experience map of Brisbane.

Image from The Tourism CoLab’s homepage.

We contacted as many businesses as we could, who had a profit-for-purpose business model and who we could connect to the visitor economy. Not only asking them to take part in the experiment, if they could recommend other business we could reach out and connect with; and if they had previously considered their connection to the visitor economy. This first stage of the experiment allowed us to see if the would-be an interested in this form of collaboration and to gain an understanding of the role business like these considered themselves to have within the tourism industry.

A free low-tech experiment

As a new business ourselves, we didn’t want to offer more than what we could with our own limited recourses. However, we knew that this project was something we wanted to at least try. Key to bringing the project to life was our honesty with ourselves — in terms of our ability to build something like this. And our honesty with the businesses collaborated with.

What we did promise was that it would be free for them to join, they would have control over what was featured and published about them and that we would handle the publicising of the map on our social media channels.

By the launch in September, we had over twenty-five listed business, from across the industry — including tours, shops, galleries, restaurants, cafes, markets, attractions and resource centres.

Check out The Tourism CoLab’s map here.

The mapping tool

As this was an experiment, we looked for free tools which would allow us to make this map a reality, which would be quick, efficient and easy to use.

Settling on maphub.net, as this allowed us to update the map live on the website, and through WordPress embedding, it would update on our website. It also meant that people would be able to use Google Maps features to interact with and use the map easily. It is very easy to use, maintain and quick to educate myself on its capabilities.For purpose Guide by KatieTheTourismCoLab · MapHubA guide of for-purpose businesses in the Greater Brisbane Area.maphub.net

So what’s next?

“The real goal of what we’re doing is to have a positive impact on the world.”

Ed Catmull (PIXAR)

The map

While we would love to be able to take this map to the next stage, perhaps creating an app or real digital experience that visitors and locals to Brisbane could use to find the many profit-for-purpose businesses in the area, we currently do not have the capability or resources to do this. Although we have pitched the idea to a small number of organisations in Brisbane who could invest or take this idea to the next stage.

However, we also know that there are many platforms out there which could take on this task and widen their own business purpose, not just by focusing on Brisbane but cities across the world.

What if companies like AirBnB or Klook showcased for-purpose business which are part of the visitor economy and their missions on their apps? Or if Google offered the ability to find purpose-led business in their map search?

The vision

What we would like to see in the future, is that destination management organisations and other tourism management bodies take on the message of this experiment, using it to showcase and empower their community of profit-for-purpose and social enterprises, to create an alternative narrative to how visitors can explore a destination.

So how might DMOs and Governments do that?
1. Through the promotion of these communities — a dedicated marketing campaign.
2. Investing resources — education, funding, community networks and support systems.
3. Thinking long-term and creating sustainable ecosystems for these businesses to thrive and grow in — working with and involving all stakeholders to plan for the future.


Have further examples of how profit-for-purpose business is being cultivated within the tourism industry? Comment and let us know.

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