Every once in a while, we like to whip out the proverbial crystal ball and forecast what the future holds for the tourism industry. Most potential new trends in the travel sector today seem to hinge on concepts like sustainability, ecotourism, carbon-neutrality and carbon offsets, green(er) transportation and the emergence of a powerful travel-hungry, middle-class in places like China and India.
In parallel with the local, sustainable and organic food movement, we have seen a palpable shift in how people travel. More and more tourists now equate travel with a conscious and overt political act. If our supermarket grocery cart is now a conduit for social change, our vacation plans can also express fundamental ideological and ethical views. To mangle a popular proverb, you are where you travel and how you travel. Show me your holiday itinerary and I can write a book about you, in other words.
Effects of Climate Change
The full effect of climate change on tourism over the past several decades is a mammoth subject to mine and navigate. From a considerable shift in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms in the Caribbean to sea levels that now threaten Indian Ocean archipelagos, the ripples run long and deep.
Biodiversity is under threat in UNESCO World Heritage Sites that should be models of conservation, from the Galapagos to the Great Barrier Reef. Paradisal coastal areas, from Mexico and Indonesia, to Bulgaria’s Black Sea and the Sundarbans of West Bengal and Bangladesh, suffer the myriad costs of rampant overdevelopment – much of it for the very sake of tourism. The loss of primary forests, depletion of freshwater and devastation of coral reefs severely impacts vital habitats and robs us of precious resources. As a result, the ramifications for local tour operators and the global tourism industry at large are major.
Not Where But Why
This is the new question in the travel industry. Sure, inherent creature comforts, fine weather and a lavish amenity package still form a powerful, seductive triumvirate for most. The accumulated stress of the 9-to-5 does not always afford the requisite time and energy to think seriously about our vacation plans, when all we want to do hit up a tropical beach.
For many however, why we travel to a particular place is of equal concern. This “Knowledge is Power” approach illustrates a powerful new movement in what we can only describe as the “travel with a heart, a soul and a sense of integrity” game. Whether we look at a growth niche sector like volunteer and sustainable development travel or ecotourism and adventure tourism, it seems, despite our lack of scientific data on the matter, that for more and more people, to travel with a conscience is veritable badge of honor and pride.
The rise in “staycations” throughout the global financial crisis was more than just a symptom of tough economic times. In spite of the meltdown, there is a definite, quantifiable push to go local, especially in Europe and North America, where travel between proximate destinations is not only facile but relatively affordable.
Again however, this trend is beyond mere household income concerns. Akin to the local food revolution, many see the local travel movement as a harbinger of a wider awareness that perhaps the “grass is greener on my side of the fence”.
Of course, nobody can wantonly ignore influential factors such as the global rise in fuel and air travel costs and in tandem, the potential decline of low cost carriers. The airline industry had enough problems before the calamitous eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. Consumers will no doubt pay a high price for the massive disruption in service this past April in the months and even years to come. Many will simply stick close to home.
Wild New Frontiers
With “go local” firmly in mind however, it behooves us to mention that intrepid travel is also on the rise. From neophyte activist journalists who migrate to unstable hot spots to adrenaline nuts who jones for a taste of the obscure, a lot of us want to tread where few have tread before. Now that the world is flat and hyper-connected, many are doing precisely that. As global tourism develops and becomes more sophisticated and more and more new nations come into the mainstream travel fold, expect a growth of slice-and-dice niche sectors to bubble to the surface.