This edited version of this article first appeared in the Cape Times on 4 January 2018 (for other inspirational Thailand stories, read my Sunday Times article on walking with elephants in Chiang Mai and my Joh Phangan jungle cycling story that ran in the Sunday Independent).
Holiday hot lists have landed and, unpredictable exchange rates and economic challenges notwithstanding, global leisure travel is looking bullish and set to generate close to US$1.40 billion in 2018.
Surveys & consumer buying decisions
As reputable surveys flood the internet space, numerous consumer buying similarities have been identified with seamless mobile optimization, Influencer based decision making, cruising, personalization, skip-generational travel, chatbots, airport biometrics and artificial intelligence, women travelling solo and ‘bleisure’ (business combined with leisure) being just a few of the frontrunner trends.
Responsible tourism is standing out
However, as global warming, habitat loss and the planet’s plastic pollution crisis move centre stage through awareness generated by earth advocates like Lewis Pugh, travellers are planning their getaways more consciously and the overarching theme of Responsible Tourism is on the rise. Environmental degradation is a direct threat to the livelihood of many and the conservation cry to preserve fauna and flora and to respect people has spiked an interest in ‘voluntourism’ charity projects and ‘last chance tourism’ bookings to places like the Arctic and the Maldives and regions that may not be recognisable or accessible in the not-too-distant future. Ethical travellers are shunning animal exploitation for entertainment and adopting a ‘leave no trace’ policy through concerted efforts to lower their carbon footprints.
Exploitation of animals for entertainment
People are increasingly aware of the ugly business behind any shows or activities that involve animals in performance. Whether it’s riding elephants or watching them paint or do tricks, watching a circus, seeing orcas jump through hoops or swimming with dolphins in captivity, it is seen as unethical and it’s a side of tourism less supported than ever before.
Agencies are stepping up
Travel agencies, practitioners, hospitality brands, tour operators and destination marketers across the world, now under more scrutiny than ever before, are streamlining their offerings to meet the shift towards sustainable travel. “These types of travellers are between 38-57% more likely to book travel with brands based on their sustainable practices”, says Danica Helfrich of Big Ambitions SA. 70% of travellers begin by doing their research and reservations on mobile devices on the move and are also engaging with progressive travel practitioners to further fine tune their journeys and curate bespoke experiences that take them off the typical tourist beat.
‘Overtourism’ is causing stress amongst the citizenry of cities like Venice that recently banned behemoth ocean liners from entering waterways close to its historical centre and Barcelona, bombarded by 32 million tourists last year alone, has become blatantly tourist-phobic. It seems the more popular a place, the more congested it is and the less appealing it becomes. Slow, calm travel, like barging lethargically through the French countryside or drifting down the canals of Amsterdam, are frequently optioned above frenetic tour itineraries. Serious travellers these days, averse to mass tourism, prefer to immerse themselves in the ‘5 C’s’ – culture, cuisine, community, content and customisation- according to the experts.
Hotels, hostels and B&B’s are stepping up to meet green traveller expectations as well. Every hotel enterprise in Seychelles integrates sustainability practices in their business operations, and luxury brands like Anantara, represented in thirteen countries, has initiated several upliftment and eco projects such as mangrove regeneration and street elephant rescues in Thailand. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has outlined their ocean upcycling efforts in the quest to protect the Thai Kingdom’s spectacular coastlines and marine life by harvesting tons of plastic debris and incentivising leisure divers to do the same. The Rezidor Hotel Group that has recently opened the RadissonRED in Cape Town’s Silo District, a hotel particularly fastidious about water saving and other green issues, have 282 of their hotels eco labelled, with more to follow.
Where to in 2018?
As for top destinations on the radar this year? Sights are set on Malta, Montenegro, Argentina, Nepal, Sweden and New Zealand among others, with Turkey bouncing back after a challenging past few years. In Africa and alongside, Kenya, Botswana, Zanzibar, Mauritius and Reunion are prime. It is anticipated that South Africa will draw close to 15 million tourists to its shores and to the Mother City, Cape Town, celebrated as one of the most desirable and biodiverse cities in the world.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on your surroundings. You have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make”. – Dr Jane Goodall.
Let’s not love our destinations to death.
Until next time, tread lightly on the earth…