Design Challenge: Towards a sustainable tourism vision for Amazonas: Creating hybrid narratives

In my role of business developer and content coordinator for the “hotspot Brazil” at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences I embraced the challenge to organize a field trip for the Imagineering Master students in Brazil with a design challenge – How to create hybrid tourism narratives in order to develop sustainable tourism in the region of the Amazonas.
This present design challenge was organized as a first concrete step in building a strong partnership between our University and the State University of Amazonas, in Brazil, specially with the Ocean Samsung http://www.oceanbrasil.com, the innovation lab. sponsored by Samsung.
Our goal is to develop a strong umbrella to foster better quality of life and a livable city for the people of the Amazonas. The result of this design assignment will be taken as the backbone for a larger network of University, (semi) governmental and private organizations in the Amazonas in the field of tourism, leisure, technology and innovation.
The topic chosen for this first approach was sustainable tourism for social development. This topic is receiving close review in the world as well in the Amazonas and should lead to a broader awareness of the need of a longer term and overarching tourism strategy, alignment on the goals and sub goals, by also creating a sense of urgency.
Under the banner “tourism is much more than you imagine’ the UN has declared 2017 the international year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (UNWTO, 2017). This designation is highly ambitious;
“the importance of international tourism, and particularly of the designation of an international year of sustainable tourism for development is in fostering better understanding among people everywhere,  leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations and in bringing about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, thereby contributing to the strengthening of peace in the world….. sustainable tourism (is) a positive instrument towards the eradication of poverty, the protection of the environment and the improvement of quality of life…and represents an important driver of sustainable economic growth and decent job creation”  (UN, 2017a).
With this topic, we organized a Field Trip with 16 Regular Master students and 5 Executives Master students from all over the world. We had in total 21 Imagineering Master students travelling to Brazil for this interdisciplinary challenge. Through the application of the Imagineering approach, they were analyzing the realities and controversies of the topic from a holistic and systemic perspective, taking into account the present resources that Amazonas holds as well as the richness of its people and culture.
The State of Amazonas in Brazil contains 60% of the Amazon forest, the world’s largest and most bio-diverse rainforest. The human relation with the Amazon has been controversial for a long time, having illegal and unsustainable resources extracted as well as poor planned infrastructure.  The area holds great contradictions, while full of natural resources and beauty, it has considerable poverty and economic inequality.
While ideas and images of the Amazon’s wild and overwhelming nature constitute a powerful legacy that transcends state and national boundaries and speaks to the imagination of peoples across the world, it remains uncertain how this global mental construct of the Amazon can be translated in physical tourism activities that contribute to social development and nature conservation.
Are there other forms of promoting tourism that goes into direction of the UN Declaration?
How about developing hybrid concepts for tourism? A tourism that is partly physical and partly virtual, that connects nature and humanity on equal terms, reaching far beyond the spatial boundaries of the state of Amazonas. As such, virtual tourism could complement and support the sustainable development of physical tourism in this destination.
Therefore, under the aforementioned umbrella of Sustainable Tourism for Social Development, the design challenge focuses on hybrid tourism narratives as step towards a new, shared, tourism vision for the State of Amazonas.
The Master students were in Brazil for two weeks, using the Imagineering  design approach, a method that uses imagination in mobilizing the collective to think creatively and imagine a (new) future that previously could not have been thought of. In their quest to come up with a concept for sustainable tourism, the students used tools such as gamification, appreciative inquiry and storytelling to get all stakeholders involved.
The trip has started in Rio de Janeiro, where the students interacted and got engaged in meaningful conversations around sustainable tourism with different stakeholders, such as favela tour guides & organizers (Cantagalo Community, Favela Connection & Pavao acima project), university professors and students for UNIRIO, professionals from all paths of life (during a Co-Cafe session organized by Co-Viva http://www.co-viva.com), farmers for a protected area around Rio de Janeiro (Silva Jardim) and tourism providers (Companhia Caminho Aéreo Pão de Açúcar).
In the second week they headed to the Amazonas, spending the weekend in the forest experimenting community-based tourism with indigenous people. The trip was organized with the help of FAS – fundação amazonas sustentável – a Brazilian NGO working with the indigenous for the forest protection.
In the capital, Manaus, they were based at the Ocean Samsung interacting with researchers and specialist, UEA professors and students. They also visited many organizations such as Inpa (National Institute of the Amazonian Research) and Sidia Samsung (An Institute for Research and Development in Informatics). In the Amazonas, they got fully immersed into the project and paved the way for understanding the current challenges, dreams and opportunities to help build sustainable tourism for societal development.
At the end of the second week, the students presented their final concepts and narratives to a group of judges assessing the feasibility of implementation.
We are now in the process of discussing next steps.
More pics here! Experiencing Rio –  Learning with the indigenous Community- based tourism – Manaus exploration sustainable tourism for social development