The future of travel and tourism

Travel trends and predictions

At Responsible Travel we speak with hundreds of customers every day about their holiday plans. We reviewed and judged more than 5000 of the best examples of Responsible Tourism globally through our World Responsible Tourism Awards. We have relationships with over 400 tour operators and many activist NGO’s who bring us the latest ethical and cause related issues, from which we form our campaigning strategies. We’ve put all this experience together in to 5 big ideas and trends that we think will shape the future of tourism.

1. The experience economy

Tourism has changed from being a service industry offering you a flight, a room and some food to offering experiences. This trend was famously observed by Gilmore and Pine in their book ‘The Experience economy’.

Travel is now more about rejuvenation, adventure, fulfilment, learning new skills and ‘being more of who you are’ than just ticking off places and things and flopping in the sun.

This represents a big challenge for legacy tour operators and online travel agents offering flight and hotel packages and all inclusive resorts. The family who was satisfied with this 10 years ago now wants to go mountain biking or whale watching. Read more about experiential travel and how tourism became a dirty word.

By ‘experience’ we often mean access to other people’s cultures, ways of life, food and environments. At Responsible travel we believe that these things are only possible when local people buy into this idea, and benefit fairly from tourism. We believe Responsible travel is more experiential or authentic than other forms of tourism. This trend explains why Airbnb is keen to try to position itself as about ‘belonging’ and experiencing a place ‘like a local’.

In the luxury sector we see wealthy people who are more likely to spend money on experiences than objects – jewellery, watches etc. This is a further demonstration of the experience economy and there is a sense that people value memories more than some physical possessions.

2. Overtourism

For decades most tourism destinations have tried to attract as many tourists as possible, without any thought that there could be limits beyond which local people’s lives and tourists experiences start to suffer.

Various tourism hotspots are now experiencing what has become known as ‘overtourism.’ You can read about 6 examples of overtourism and Time Magazine on why Barcelona is trying to push away tourists.

The lesson here is that tourism is no panacea; it always brings negative impacts as well as positive ones. With global tourist numbers set to accelerate at an even faster rate ‘overtourism’ will become a bigger and bigger issue.
From now on efforts will be made to attract the ‘right type of tourist’ and where necessary numbers controlled through reducing bed night capacity, charging for entry, pre booking with fixed numbers, subsidising less flights, restricting cruise ship numbers and promoting less well known areas. More often than not the ‘right type’ of tourist will be the responsible tourist – creating the maximum benefit to local economies with the least possible social and environmental impact.

3. The industry's obsession with marketing ‘paradise’ will have to end

One of the great marketing ideas developed and exploited by the tourism industry was to encourage people to think they could leave all their troubles behind and escape to 'paradise'.

The classic photo of the deserted white sandy beach, gently lapping waves and solitary palm tree is a representation of paradise. A world before people.

To sustain the myth that paradise exists on earth the industry decided not to reveal the truth about many of these destinations. Although they are stunning beautiful, and you will have a wonderful time, local people and environments face some serious challenges around development and conservation. How many brochures for holidays in developing countries even mention the word poverty?

The industry felt it was better to hide these issues from tourists, as they might detract from a sale, rather than present them as something that is real and give tourists some ideas on how they can enjoy their holiday more and ensure its helps address these problems. Some of the travel press colluded with the industry around this – partly because the trips the journalists take are funded by the industry that wants to protect their paradise construct, and partly because they – in my view mistakenly - thought tourists didn’t want to be properly informed.

By remaining in denial about this for so many decades the industry both failed to tell tourists the whole truth (which they soon discovered when they arrived anyway) and it limited the tourism industries commitment and ability to do much to help solve these problems.

At Responsible Travel we prefer to be more honest with our clients and publish destination guides with sections on local issues and trip by trip responsible tourism information.

4. Global warming and CO2 pollution

Aviation has been hammered in the press for more than a decade for its contribution to global warming – but I think it will become even more of a pariah unless it starts to do more to address this.

We live in a world where the majority of some countries energy needs come from renewable sources and where it’s thought that in 5-10 years time 80% of the production of the world’s cars will be electric. All of the cars sold in India in 2030 will be electric.

This has required massive investment. And yet we still have no cleaner, greener alternative to aviation fuel – kerosene. The industries efforts have focussed on some efficiencies – which more than get wiped out by the growth in number of flights – and carbon offsets.

Pope Francis has denounced the CO2 compensation for air travel as hypocritical. He said: “The planes pollute the atmosphere, but with a fraction of the sum of the ticket price trees are planted to compensate for the damage inflicted.” If this logic were extended, one day it would come to a point where armaments companies set up hospitals for those children who fell victim to their bombs. “This is hypocrisy.”

Efforts and investments made in seeking renewable aviation fuels are small – certainly compared to what we’ve seen in renewable energy and electric cars - and is in fact decreasing.

This is even more galling as aviation fuel is heavy subsided – it’s the only untaxed fuel in the world. Experts estimate that the subsidy is as big as £10bn.

With these heavy subsides in place the aviation industry must invest more in finding solutions to reduce global warming. If it doesn’t then taxes will inevitably follow – and the price of flying will rise.

If there is little creativity from the airline sector then we do see some innovation from others that could transform domestic travel, in addition to high speed trains the hyperloop is one of the most exciting.

5. Can the industry counter a growing fear of strangers?

Perhaps the travel industries greatest achievement over the past 70 years has been about how it brings together strangers – local people and travellers – harmoniously (at least mostly).

While the UN, Governments and other bodies work hard on policy the tourism industry does something they cannot do – it brings people together face to face.

However in some parts of the world there seems to be growing fear of people different to ourselves, including refugees and immigrants and people with different religious beliefs. This, and restrictions of freedom of movement represents some of the biggest challenges to our industry. I’ve written more about this here.
Written by Justin Francis
"An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event."
Gilmore and Pine,
The Experience economy
Whale capaign
"The reason holidays need to work harder is simple: because we work harder. Screen-time-heavy working lives whet our appetite for experiences that transport us out of our heads and cut through our information ennui."
Anna Hart,
The Telegraph
"Although tourism is a vital part of Barcelona’s economy, it is also driving up property prices, pushing out locals and mainstay shops in favor of hotels and tourist traps."
Cailey Rizzo,
Venice cruise ship
"It’s called the Butler Model (named after Professor Richard W Butler): a tourist destination is “discovered”, grows exponentially and reaches peak success. For most places, though, it’s all downhill from there – beaches are overcrowded, queues are long and badly behaved tourists ruin the atmosphere that their predecessors came for."
Julia Buckley,
The Independent
"In December 2015, almost 200 countries from every corner of the world signed the Paris Agreement, committing to decrease greenhouse gas emissions."
Electric cars
"Although the aviation industry claims it is being badly hit by the soaring price of oil, it still enjoys a double boost denied to drivers because it does not pay fuel duty or VAT on the fuel for its planes. New figures suggest this subsidy is worth £9.92bn."
Andrew Grice,
The Independent
Plane taking off
"Responsible tourism brings strangers together in a fair and respectful way. It offers positive and optimistic opportunities to challenge stereotypes and to foster understanding."
Justin Francis,
Responsible Travel
Meeting people in Cuba
Photo credits: [Page banner: Kayaker - Dudarev Mikhail] [Graph -] [Hyperloop] [Venice - ub-foto] [Electric car - Paul Krueger]
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