Kudos to ABTA, British Airways, Carnival UK, Co-operative Travel, The Travel Foundation and TUI Travel plc and Forum For The Future for leading the way towards some really thoughtful and intelligent debate on the future of outbound tourism.
The report, Tourism 2023, available here, should be mandatory reading for every tourism destination. It’s highly readable, full of substance and deliciously thought provoking.
Even though it doesn’t quite achieve its own objectives – i.e. “to set out a clear vision of a profitable, successful future in which the travel and tourism industry recognizes its wider responsibilities to society,” it does makes a very good start. While designed to help the signatories identify and address the complex environmental, social and economic issues affecting outbound tourism, it contains enormous food for thought for all places that attract visitors.
The talented team at Forum for the Future apply a scenario planning approach to paint a picture of four possible futures based on the inter-play of two key variables: the appeal of overseas travel and the presence of inhibitors to overseas travel.
The four scenarios represent a caricature of a possible future but are described with compelling detail and logic. Sadly, none is particularly attractive!
1. Boom and Burst describes a world in which mass tourism continues to grow fast and furiously based on disposable incomes rising in developed economies and the middle classes of emerging economies exercising their right to roam the planet. It’s a similar forecast to that outlined in the HBR article: Tourism: The Ticking Time Bomb and describes overcrowded, congested iconic destinations and the disappearance of wilderness.
2. Divided Disquiet describes a different world in which devastating impacts from climate change, resource scarcity and social unrest have rendered the planet as unstable and hostile; protectionism is rife, yet where the most popular form of tourism is “doomsday tourism” with a few tourists wealthy or brave enough flock to see places before they disappear.
3. In the Price and Privilege scenario, high oil prices have also caused the cost of travel to soar. Many companies couldn’t cope with the efficiency gains needed and went out of business. Capacity shrank and long-haul travel reverted to the aspirational luxury status associated with the turn of the century.
4. Carbon Clampdown describes a possible future in which the high cost of carbon , combined with growing environmental awareness and concern, make travel both uneconomic and anti-social. Tradeable carbon quotas restrict demand and economies are more localized.
I simply cannot do justice to this useful piece of work in a short blog post, so will likely revisit the topic – often. I am also loath to be critical as I would hate to discourage others from showing such thought leadership. But there are some serious limitations – most likely reflecting the fact that a consortium commissioned the work and each company would probably like to think and respond to its findings privately.
While no one can argue with the six motherhood principles for creating a sustainable future, the three areas where they say urgent action is needed sound lame and self serving:
- The industry needs to demonstrate and monitor the economic benefit tourism delivers to destination communities to help protect them for the future and increase their appeal and value to customers. (The insertion of the word NET before benefit would have made this objective so much more credible as it’s the destinations that generally bear the external costs and not the tour operators)
- Low carbon innovation – the industry needs to focus on trialling new technologies and taking them to scale; increase energy efficiency, reduce waste and use more renewables. (Of course, but why not set a big hairy audacious goal and say that enterprises based on the grownd will go carbon neutral while we strive to find less harmful ways of getting airplanes to stay airborne?)
- Driving Customer demand – develop further insight into what will motivate people to take sustainable holidays. (At no point is a “sustainable holiday” defined nor is the problem addressed. Vacationers could all stay at low impact facilities and drive around in hybrid or electric cars but if the industry as a whole continues to grow at 5% per annum and increases its demand for concrete and kerosene at the same rate, it wouldn't qualify as sustainable)
Tourism 2023 does conclude with a proposed strategic approach that outlines the areas above in slightly more detail and provides one important target – that the outbound industry will sign up to the WTTC target of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2035. It also references the Global Sustainable Criteria but doesn’t go as far as Walmart, for example, in setting a Sustainability Index for the members of the supply chain.
In addition to the good content and imaginative scenarios, the report does, however, throw down the gauntlet to the managers and policy makers in tourism destinations everywhere. These are the agencies that should be doing this kind of work – aren’t destinations supposed to determine the kind of tourism they wish to attract and help their businesses operate in a sustainable and beneficial fashion and ensure that their communities benefit not suffer from the influx of tourists? It’s sad and ironic that such public agencies have been upstaged by a handful of tour operators but not necessarily a bad thing….over to you DMOs...... The stage is now set for some action from you…..How are you thinking about the future?