By Anna Simpson
Is long and luxurious replacing the no-frills minibreak as the tourist trend of the future? Anna Simpson packs her bags.
Two drifters, off to see the world.
There's such a lot of world to see.
(Johnny Mercer, 1961)
There’s something gloriously slow about the sort of tourism evoked in Moon River. It’s impossible to sing the song at a lick, with its lyrics stretched out over long bars towards the distant dream of a stylish, ‘some day’ trip. You imagine the two 'drifters' on their newly touched-up dinghy, carried by the lilting current through mangroves, past villages, over days, months…
Tourism has a different pace today. Many more can afford it, many more times a year. And in our frenetic world, only the very rich – or poor – have time to drift. Instead, we ‘trip’, and we consume.
In 2008, an estimated 924 million of us flew off for a month, a week, a long weekend, a stag night… The recession pressed the pause button for a season, but already growth is resuming. So can we expect ever more packed-out departure lounges, crowded skies, heaving beaches and breathless hype over ‘new’ destinations? Not so much Moon River as a thousand sun cities?
Unlikely. Tourism as we know it could be about to experience its greatest shift since Benidorm was a sleepy fishing village. And it won’t be so much changes in tourist appetites that drive it, but external pressures. There’s oil, for one thing, with prices inexorably rising. Then there’s the stop-start progress towards a functioning carbon market; looming conflicts over energy, water, crop land – not to mention the pressure brought to bear by a changing climate. And tourism, of course, is in turn having a bearing on that climate. All that fuel, all those flights…
So, what will holidays look like in the 2020s? Will carbon quotas limit us to one flight a year? And at the expense of what will we keep on flying at all? Will some of the ‘hottest’ destinations – the Maldives for one – still be on the map…?
These questions are at the heart of 'Tourism 2023' – a new investigative partnership between Forum for the Future and some of the biggest names in the sector, such as BA, Thomas Cook and ABTA. Its task: to create a vision in which international travel works for the environment, the economy, and of course, the tourist.
The starting point is a set of scenarios that address the combined challenges of population growth, climate change and peak oil. [See ‘Postcards from the future’, right] And we’re not talking distant challenges: they’re already here.
Take overcrowding. Some destinations are adopting radical measures to cut back on mass, short-stay tourism, doubtful that the fleeting economic boost visitors bring makes up for the burden on resources and the long-term impact on local life. Bhutan famously led the way with its ‘low volume, high value’ policy: all welcome if they pay a minimum of $250 a day. Now vulnerable Venice is planning a ban on ‘one-day tourists’ who rip through the city without so much as a gondola ride or a plate of zucchini.
If quick-fix visits don’t ‘do it’ for our destinations, how about longer holidays? By 2023, the Easyjet weekend may well be a thing of the past. An increasingly plausible scenario is that of the long vacation – a couple of months at least, but only every couple of years. More people want extended trips like these to be part of life’s rhythm, and companies are beginning to find that supporting staff to do so improves motivation and makes them more likely to stick around. Missing out on a few mini breaks in order to justify that longer haul makes sense in carbon budget terms, too.
And the destinations love it. Hoteliers and resort managers find it easier to secure bookings for weeks at a stretch; less turnover is less work.
So, you have breakfast in bed, load the latest Booker shortlist or sci-fi trilogy onto your iRead, and board the ‘comfycarriage’ of the high speed train to Tirana. Your ticket lets you stop off at any point on the way for as long as you please, so you’re hoping to have a few days with old friends in Munich en route. Or, with all that time on your hands, you decide to go further afield. You pack your laptop and camera and drift over the Atlantic on a sleek, silent airship. You spend hours gazing at the 360° views, catch up with friends in the virtual chat booth, dine well, sleep well, and use up just 20% of your carbon budget for the year.
It all sounds good, if that’s the only budget you have to worry about. But could such tourism ever be affordable, as well as sustainable? By 2023, carbon pricing has caused fares to rocket, making flights the preserve of the rich. Super-efficient overland travel, by contrast, is effectively subsidised. Trains and ships come complete with solar panels powering the lights and the in-seat cinemas, while, with commercial production reaching new heights, the cost of algae-based biofuel has finally begun to fall.
So is this the death of the jet set? “Overland travel is still not seen to be as ‘cool’, luxurious or glamorous as flight,” says the Forum’s expert on transport, Rupert Fausset. But what if your high speed cross-continental train also carried a Michelin starred restaurant, luxury office space complete with virtual conference facilities, and a crèche? These premium-rate pleasures would subsidise standard fares, where you would slum it in a lounger, with a flatscreen TV, and a view of the hills.
It’s an alluring picture, but as the Forum’s Vicky Murray, a key player in Tourism 2023, admits, “we’re only just starting down the right path. However, the industry now has a shared vision of how the future could be – on everything from jobs to transport to conservation”.
And Murray’s own vision of the perfect holiday?
“It’d be really long for a start,” she laughs. “I’d take my time to get there – preferably by train or a really comfy bus – and take even more time to get to know the place, try the food, explore the sights. And I’d come back knowing that my trip had done more to enhance local life than to harm it.”
Like the drifters in the song, we might all cross the world in style someday…
This piece originally appeared in Green Futures. Published by Forum for the Future, Green Futures is one of the leading magazines covering environmental solutions and sustainability. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable – and can be profitable, too.
For more stories like this, please see our series on sustainability issues in travel and tourism.
During the past century, we've seen business/leisure travel become affordable and popular in our Western society, but it's unsustainable... Over the next century, we will see business travel largely disappear thanks to technology, and we will see leisure travel reduce to early 20th century levels due to the extravagant cost of transportation.
Good work you guys. Our objective in eco-tourism is to have no impact upon our environment. We sail with Hectors Dolphins in Akaroa NZ. These dolphins are especially vulnerable. We should be able tyo cruise, twice a day, for 100 years, WITH NO IMPACT on the environment. We welcome any suggestions or comments to assist in meeting that goal. Thank you.