What Can the Events and Tourism Sector Teach Retail About Thriving?

Melissa Baird encourages companies to re-imagine the retail experience in the wake of the COVID and climate crises.

The retail sector is not alone in the decimation of its profits and purpose during 2020. Prior to the pandemic happy shoppers flocked to retail outlets and maximized shopping experiences through desire and intention to find great products at great prices, guided by the retail environment and its offerings.

This paradigm altered entirely and as of March 2020 we were left questioning and debating what on earth an essential item was and managing restrictions on engagement with the retail sector that we could never have imagined. Masked and sanitized, the shopping experience for customers has changed and so has the ability to interact with the built environment of shops.

History has shown that during times of unprecedented crises and change, what can help us navigate through the unknown territories is the ability to re-imagine how things work in order to put in place processes that will help recovery.

All sectors are being required to re-imagine and redesign their futures and creativity and the ability to think of new solutions is going to be of the highest priority and value. Could the clue lie in refocusing on what is essential and what we cannot put a value on? The global pandemic has enabled an extraordinary rise in the use of single use plastics that are not being disposed of correctly and this waste is adding to the already 8 million metric tonnes  that enter the oceans per annum. The impact on the marine environment and the communities that rely on shore based economic activities is massive. The management of post-consumer waste is just one of the aspects of our consumer culture that needs a massive overhaul because the failure of the systems in place to manage it is clearly evident. How can the retail sector and its entire value chain contribute to managing this problem and in doing so be a contributing sector to the UN’s global Sustainable Development Goals?

A recent report, the first in a series of #NATUREWORKS white papers, reveals research conducted with IMEX and Marriott International  that shows 2019 was a tipping point for sustainability in the events industry. The Regenerative Revolution poses vital questions to the events and tourism sector and it got me thinking about the correlation to the retail sector that is as complex and interconnected. Think of how their experiences are so interlinked via the shopping promise of urban city destinations, the restaurant experiences, travel deals and events.

The report’s findings showcase the great wins to be had by adopting circular strategies that can unlock literally trillions of dollars and enable equality of distribution and use of resources.

However, despite the collective will in the events and tourism sector only 3.4% of suppliers and organizers had implemented a circular strategy for their business events. Instead the focus has remained on linear business models which cannot promise to be ‘sustainable’ as defined by Dr Brundtland: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ”  The linear system of extraction, production and consumption is responsible for rampant pollution, massive economic inequalities, and staggering biodiversity loss.

But there is hope and as the report outlines nature has much to teach about developing a framework that can enable regeneration, where planning, resourcing, procurement, and production are designed and managed to optimize ecosystem functioning, human well-being and eradicate waste.

If the trillion-dollar tourism and events economy have the power to transform our energy, food, water, transport, employment, and social systems, how could the retail sector collaborate and work together to do the same and recreate retail environments and products that are beneficial to everyone in the value chain? Furthermore, how could retail environments act as community hubs solving issues around waste collection, recycling and supporting micro economies that serve the communities closest to their hubs?

Even more daringly how could the retail sector to be revived based on a value system that meets people’s essential needs not only for goods, but for connectivity and essential experiences? It will be up to the leaders in the sector to implement bold new strategies that have at their heart a vision of a future that is not just ‘sustainable’ but one that supports the health and vitality of the society it serves, the environment it relies on and the economy it hopes to replenish.

Melissa Baird is an experienced event creator and content curator specialized in conceptualizing and presenting at transformation events about sustainability and regeneration. Examples of her work include co-creating Sustainable Brands Cape Town 2016, event host and presenter at Sustainability Week South Africa and being MC at the inaugural Sustainable Brands Oceans event in Porto, Portugal in 2019.

During her career Melissa was the editor of Green Home magazine, The Green Economy Journal and is the founding publisher of South Africa’s first conscious lifestyle publication and website – Life in Balance.