Today, the entertainment industry, including tourism, is experiencing the effects of the most disruptive technology since radio — the mobile device. Mobile has made a meteoric impact on the entertainment landscape, one that is killing off dinosaurs and giving birth to new, adaptive life forms. This article takes a peek into the crater left behind by mobile and the game-changing technologies that preceded it, each of which profoundly transformed the film and music industries, and will soon transform the tourism industry. From this vantage, the tourism professional is offered insight as to who will survive, and who will become a fossil.

Beowulf, Steppenwolf, and Wolf Packs

Those of you who have read my book or articles on mobile tourism know I draw a lot of parallels with popular films and rock and roll music. I like both, and as an amateur musician and filmmaker, I have personally witnessed how technology has changed the art of storytelling, which all entertainment is in one form or the other.  A good tour guide is a good storyteller, and so it stands to reason that the trajectory of the tourism industry can be predicted by studying patterns found in the business of storytelling as a whole. From the day the earliest cave human told a joke over a campfire, to the stunning augmented reality and 3D imagery of today’s modern movie, the story of storytelling is one of creative destruction, of who survives, who doesn’t, and how disruptive technology changes everything. This is that story, adapted and shortened for busy people.

From the Beginning…

The first disruptive entertainment “technology” was discovered 35,000 years ago by the human inhabitants of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France, who used acoustic “hot spots” to amplify their voices throughout the cave. Valiantly fight off a sabre-tooth tiger? Tell the whole tribe just by standing in the right place, and win the heart of the cave-woman growling in the dark shadows. Thus the human species proliferated.

By 500 BC, the ancient Greeks had improved primitive amplification by building stone theaters into the sides of hills. In this way, patrons in the “peanut gallery” (the back row) could hear every whispered word of vaunted stories and plays. Homer, the first and greatest of the epic poets, took full advantage of the new technology, and so his Iliad and the Odyssey were told and retold for eons. There would be no Beowulf without Homer, no Shakespeare, no Yeates or Shelley, nor any of the other great live storytellers of the ages. The Greek theater design was probably the greatest advance in acoustics since the stone-age, and we still find their design today in modern theaters, opera houses, and concert halls. No live performance to a crowd of any size would work well without it.

Snap, Crackle, Pop

Like ancient Greek actors, modern tour guides are essentially live performers, although without the benefit of Greek theater acoustics. Some try to shout out their story, as did the tour guide shown in this picture I took in 2016, but more often tour guides rely on devices made possible by the next of humankind’s great discoveries, and the most massively disruptive since fire — electricity!

Appearing with a crackle in the late 19th century, some 3,000 years after the first Greek theater was built from stone, electricity, and the inventions it made possible, thrust change upon us with head-spinning rapidity. Suddenly, live performances could not only be powerfully amplified and broadcast, they could also be preserved. For the first time in human history, electronic recording technology, from the vinyl LP right up to the iPhone in your pocket, embodied a fundamental and symbiotic relationship between “what can be played” (content) and “that which does the playing” (machine). No story about that relationship, or electricity for that matter, would be complete without understanding the role played by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison.

Edison, one of the great masters of electricity, single-handedly created the market for recorded sound and moving pictures, inventing both the content and the machines needed to play the content. Make no mistake, Edison was a control freak. He lived in an era when it was quite possible to completely own an industry, and like Edison’s admirer Steve Jobs, Edison had strong ideas about how people should experience his inventions. Most people born before 1980 are quite accustomed to his ideas, including:

  1. Performances have a fixed start and stop time. In other words, you can be late for a performance.
  2. Performances have a fixed location, where the machines and people that run the machines are found. Movie theaters (an Edison invention) are the best example of this.

Heartburn and the King of Pop

When I tour, I chafe against these ideas. Guided tours are often not available at the time I want them, and the fixed locations do not always align with my interests. I suspect most Millenials chafe as well. They grew up using a personal, mobile device that enables them to consume content (music, videos, books, etc.) where and when they want. They do not expect to be held prisoner to Edison’s 200-year-old ideas. Content streaming on demand, and mobile technology have freed them, and they expect to remain free when they travel.

When I produce tours or consult those who produce them, other antiquated ideas of Edison’s give me heartburn. They are:

  1. Performers are the last to get paid, as they are beholden to the technologies and systems that deliver their content to the paying customer (the “end user” in software parlance).
  2. Performers do not own the content they create, rather, it is owned by the record company or film studio that controls production.

Some performers got rich from Edison’s business model, but most found themselves in the category of “starving artist.” Even well-known artists like John Fogarty of Creedence Clearwater Revival and George Harrison of The Beatles do not own many of the songs they wrote, and thus do not get paid royalties when the songs are played. Paul McCartney, also of The Beatles, rather infamously lost control of the entire catalog of songs he wrote with John Lennon. They are now owned by the estate of the late Michael Jackson.

What the large print giveth…

Bitter mistakes like these happen when entertainers fail to read or understand the fine print of the contracts they sign. I advise clients against signing contracts that do not clearly allow the content producer to own and control their own creations. At the conclusion of this article, I present terms from actual software companies that I refused to sign. The bottom line is this: Even though they say they do not own my content, for all practical purposes, they do. By signing terms like theirs, I would have given them a “worldwide, non-exclusive, irrevocable, transferable, royalty-free license,” with the right to “sublicense, use, access, view, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, stream, and broadcast” my content.

Terms like these clearly advantage the one party, but they were standard language in film and recording contracts for over 100 years, that is, until the late 1990’s. Then the wheels started to come off. This period in the recording industry’s history reminds me of July 8, 1853, when the U.S. Navy steamed four warships into Japan’s Edo Bay and threatened to attack the country if they did not begin trading with the West. The arrival of these so-called “Black Ships” forced Japan to reopen political dialogue after more than two hundred years of self-imposed isolation.


Part Two is Coming Up

In Part Two of this series we’ll continue the story of the black ships, how they related to storytelling, and learning from the mistakes others made fighting disruptive technology and trying to live in a world of “self-imposed isolation.” We will close the series with the one thing you can do to achieve remarkable success building a robust tourism economy. In the meanwhile, below are the contract terms I referenced in the above article.

Contract Terms

The terms cited below are from the terms and conditions of three different companies that offer tour building framework software. Note how the terms overwhelmingly favor the software company. I advocate a more balanced contract such as the one I wrote about in my article entitled “Professional Tour Guides Need a Wolf Pack,” and one using standard intellectual property protection terms offered by Creative Commons.

Example One

Author [tour guide] agrees that [software] Company shall retain, indefinitely, the sole and exclusive right to publish, exploit, sell and/or license the Work [the tour guide’s content] and to sell all or any portion of the Work for the PocketGuide Application, in any form, format, media, style, or manner now known or hereafter invented, and in any or all languages, throughout the world.

Example Two*

All Intellectual Property Rights in relation to the Content will remain with the Content Provider who made the Content available through the izi.TRAVEL Service. The Content Provider acknowledges and accepts that by making the Content available, it automatically and free of charge grants IZITEQ an unlimited, worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicensable and transferable right to use and reproduce the uploaded Content and make the Content available to third parties for the duration of the izi.TRAVEL Service, including but not limited to the right to:

  1. incorporate, (permanently) store, add to or otherwise use the (modified) Content in the Database, the izi.TRAVEL App and on the izi.TRAVEL Website;
  2. provide access to the Content to Third Party Providers by granting the Third Party Providers a non-exclusive, worldwide, sublicensable and transferable right to (i) reformat and/or use the Content for purposes of developing, producing and enhancing the Products, (ii) use the Content in the Products; and/or (iii) sublicense, deliver and/or distribute the Content with and/or as part of the Products to other parties for their use and/or further distribution and/or to End Users; and…

* In response to an early review of a draft of this article, IZI Travel showed me new, yet to be published Intellectual Property terms that offer some improvement to what you see above. They are making an effort to find the right balance, and I have offered my feedback on the new terms.

Example Three

User hereby grants to Tour Buddy a worldwide, non-exclusive, irrevocable, transferrable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, use, access, view, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, stream, and broadcast the Content in all existing and future media. Tour Buddy does not claim ownership of the Content.