GREEN TOURISM - Green tourism trends

Below we define a view of the future of travel, as set out in the December issue (2008) of Geographical by the managing director of, Justin Francis, who is struggling with the following challenge:

“Consequently, we face a dilemma. How can we align a desire to see the world alongside a conscience that calls for the reduction in our everyday carbon emissions? It’s this dilemma that inspired us to start a debate around the future of tourism. If we’re serious about pursuing a sustainable future for travel, it’s essential that we have a vision to which we can aspire. My own experiences within the industry have given me a unique insight into the forces that drive it. This, in turn, has allowed me to formulate a series of ideas about the changes we can expect to see taking place over the next 20 or so years.”

1. TREND: Travel for a reason

The past half a century has witnessed enormous growth in package demand (which tourism experts call the “bucket and spade” culture), which has forced upon us the conviction that the purpose of travel is to fly to someplace where you will get two weeks of sun, sand and souvenirs. And the arrival of budget airlines a few years ago changed tourism for many people into a rush from destination to destination, and into ticking off a checklist of specific experiences and sites.

• Even today one of the first questions still put to travellers who drop in to a travel agent is, “Where would you like to go?” Nowadays, however, the point of holidays and travel is increasingly for us to recharge our batteries or to get in touch with ourselves, to return to some place where we have once been. Or perhaps to get to know new people, to discover something new about the destination and another culture. So the question should be “Why do you want to go?” Or “How would you like to spend your holidays?” Today there is increasing emphasis on what you want, expect and need from holidays – and how you can give back to the destination and people who live there for your experience.

With the growing costs of flying (whether it is because of expensive fuel, taxes or the purchase of carbon credits to offset emissions caused by flying), and given the fact that we have increasingly bad consciences about the carbon footprint we leave by flying, we are becoming less and less boastful of our overseas holidays – and at this time “why” and “how” will become much more important. Travel in the future will therefore have a greater, more profound meaning – and not just for us, but also for destinations and the people who live there. This kind of travel will be called “profound travel”.

• Even today we are seeking authenticity and real experiences (and not artificial culture devised for tourists), but travel in 2010 will go even deeper. Increasingly it will involve a respect of the local identity, its special features, things that make a destination different and special. This could be the aroma of fresh spices in Kerala in India or blueberries in a Slovenian forest.

2. TREND: Local

• With the growing cost of flying, we will experience the end of truly cheap flights, and as a consequence of this the local approach to travel will come to the fore, not simply as a result of new thinking and seeking of local special features, but also as a factor that will influence our choice of destination.

• Travel in the future will be geo-local. This means that people will travel much closer to their home – more within their homeland and continent, and less outside it. For instance, a British family will travel to Cornwall, to stay in a typical local Cornwall cottage, they will buy locally crafted Cornwall products and enjoy cream teas… Travellers will be increasingly aware that discovering the exotic nature of the unknown does not have to be in the form of a remote island in the Pacific.

Tourism will no longer be controlled by “Westerners”. Indians and Chinese will become increasingly mobile – and hotels in India and China that used to be reserved for foreigners will now have more domestic guests.

In future the majority of hotels will obtain their products, materials, services and employees from the direct vicinity. We will see a new type of hotel, the so-called “10 kilometre hotel”, which will purchase or obtain all its resources within a radius of 10 km. Moreover consumption will be measured for each guest, and bills will show separate accounts for the use of electricity, water and similar resources. Those whose consumption is less than average will get discounts.

3. TREND: Alternative transport

• With the growing cost of flying, travel will follow the slow food trend. We will be increasingly aware of the value of “slow travel”, by using trains, boats and bicycles. People will start to appreciate the journey more, and not rush headlong to the next destination.

• With the rising cost of fuel (if this continues) cheap flights will not be with us for much longer. This will have a strong effect in terms of changing the conventional travel market. A EUR 20 flight simply cannot be sustainable – currently it is only surviving because of clever marketing approaches, but its days are numbered.

• This change in thinking will be changed by improvements in other forms of transport, which will contribute to a more positive experience. Travel by train will be simpler, since timetables will be adapted to international travel by fast train, and a global reservation system will be created.

• In the same way that today travellers are choosing more responsible travel and hotels through tour operators offering such services, new websites will enable travellers to select a flight from those airlines that for certain itineraries generate less emissions. Although there is a general belief that the air travel industry has no other fuel options, we will see the growth of more environment-friendly biofuels, and in the cruise industry we will see a lot of new ideas that will reduce the carbon footprint, such as adding sails to large cruise ships, or a return to airships for shorter trips.

4. TREND: Changing climate conditions and planning the future

• Climate change is already having a major impact on tourism, and soon it will change our perception of which destination feels good to us – and when. The traditional migration from northern to southern Europe in the summer months will be threatened by temperatures that will be too hot for the majority of tourists.

Many destinations will be forced to change their focus. Many of the lower lying Alpine ski resorts are already closing or are refocusing on summer active holidays. Coastal erosion, the decline of coral reefs and rising sea levels will threaten numerous traditional coastal and diving destinations. Extreme weather phenomena will become more frequent, which will reduce the tourist season in many destinations, such as in the Caribbean.

• The consequences of global warming, the decline of yields and dwindling of available water reserves will lead to mass migration and increased social and political instability, which in turn will threaten tourism in certain countries that are most dependent on it.

Destinations will increasingly have to plan ahead in order to ensure a focus on the right products and to attract the right visitors, and on the right area – in the most sustainable way possible. For too long there has been a narrow thinking in pursuit of increased numbers of tourists, without seriously understanding the benefit that local communities derive from tourism or the real cost of tourism for the local community and environment being assessed. Tourism ministers will become wiser in planning – a few years ago they were still setting targets for doubling tourist numbers, and believed that this would bring in more cash. Now they will be aware that this is not necessarily the right way to increase the benefit and income from tourism. Now they will also look at the cost of tourism for the local environment and culture. For instance Spain has done extremely well for three decades, as people flew there for the sun and beaches, but now there are serious questions about whether they did the right thing. People are each paying EUR 100 for a week in a hotel they built, meanwhile the profits are going to some foreign tour operator and they are left to clean it. Why is this a good business model?

Smart destinations will not just pursue an increase in tourist numbers – instead they will focus more on what kind of tourists they want, and these tourists will then be directed to the most appropriate areas. In this way the benefits for the local community will be greater, and the costs of environmental protection smaller.

There will also be changes in how destinations are presented and marketed. There will be a growth of travel forums and the sharing of experiences by consumers and travellers, and this will promote the democratisation of travel. Both travellers and local people will have greater incentives to share their experiences of new and attractive destinations. Everyone will have the opportunity to contribute and to give their opinion, which will threaten the monopoly of the so-called “must see” destinations and attractions, be it the Taj Mahal or Mt. Kilimanjaro.

• The reactions of the destination will be far-reaching – negative impacts such as excessive burdens will be reduced, and the benefits of tourism will be more evenly distributed.

5. TREND: Labelling holidays and travel

• In the past few decades we have witnessed how the food industry introduced numerous brands and labels such as fair trade, organic, locally made – and we will see a similar concept in the tourism and travel industry. Although it will be hard to implement, the holistic approach to responsible tourism will include the labelling of holidays depending on how they impact the local community and its culture and environment.

SUMMARY: Seeking Utopia
• In the future, the tourism and travel industry will acquire a sustainable and responsible orientation, with emphasis on preserving identity and culture, and will recognise what is unique and will preserve what is different.

• We will fly less and will fall back in love with what is closer to home.

• We will have a more personal, in-depth relationship with the destinations we visit.

• We will better understand our individual and internal motivations to travel.


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