Potential for Permanent Shift in Tourist Behaviour

The UN World Tourism Organization expects global tourism to rebound strongly after "one of the most difficult years", the 2009 travel downturn created by the credit crisis and H1N1 scare.  However, after reviewing over 30 independent predictions for tourism in 2010, we react to this prediction with some scepticism.

Over the years, there have been many bad years for the travel industry each with a readily identified cause, 911 and SAARS being the most memorable.  However, the past decade has produced a perfect storm of negative tourism drivers, influences that have not been short term and may well lead to a permanent shift in tourist behaviour.  Tourist decisions are increasingly influenced by:
  • concerns for personal security, while travelling and in the destination community
  • concerns for personal health
  • increasing travel costs combined with persistent personal economies of restraint
  • a new awareness of the carbon footprint related to airline travel in particular
  • shifting air travel policies that frankly reduce travel appeal, and
  • heavy investments in domestic tourism promotion - as governments, destination marketing organizations and industry groups adjust to reduced international movement.
These influencers have been in place and growing for a full decade.  They are changing the way individual consumers think about travel.  Together, they are pushing tourists towards a tipping point where permanent behaviour change may result.  We are convinced that at least some market segments will make a significant shift requiring major travel industry adjustment.

Personal Security

911 and more recent in-air terrorist attempts have shaken our confidence in air travel safety.  Terrorist activities and threats in popular resorts reduce the appeal of each destination involved.  Crime against tourists, while not rampant, seems always to be in the news.  These issues are of particular concern to security minded older travellers - the booming market.

Health Risk

SAARS dampened our enthusiasm for travel.  H1N1 did the same, just as we were getting over SAARS.  Potential travellers are now listening carefully to regular warnings about the inevitability of the next epidemic.  Many popular destinations (e.g. Dominican Republic) have developed reputations for high tourist illness rates; susceptible travellers are increasing concerned about the return trip, listening to coughs throughout the plane and breathing recycled air.  Again, it is the mature traveller that will likely be influenced most.

And don't forget all the new information about exposure to sun and the risk of skin cancer - gradually eroding our 'sun seeker' enthusiasm.

Economic Restraint

The cost of travel is increasing dramatically, particularly when airplanes, RVs and cars are involved.  Old habits made it easy to pull out the credit card and deal with cost later; now, many are rethinking their dependence on credit and at the same time realizing how difficult it really is to save the cost of a trip in advance.  Travellers have been looking for better deals for some time, with last minute bookings almost becoming the norm.  There is a real possibility that even a good deal will seem too expensive.  Expect travel demand to remain high, but expect many travellers to sign up for fewer expensive trips, moving towards a more sustainable balance with inexpensive staycations or other forms of domestic tourism.

Carbon Footprint

Not only is air travel expensive, it is also one of the 'grand contributors' to global warming.  More information is available all the time and the public is beginning to make life decisions based on environmental impact.  Expect airline trip reduction per traveller, continued RV use but with less travel, and general movement away from fuel consuming recreation/tourist activity towards complimentary alternatives (power yacht to sail, motor boat to canoe/kayak, downhill to Xcountry skiing).

Air Travel Change

Air travel is simply less appealing as we move into the second decade of this very volatile century.  Consider:
  • increased security hassles at the airport
  • fare increases which always feel like we're paying more for less
  • reduced service and/or more special fees (fuel surcharge, luggage charges, advance seat selection, prefered seats on the place, pets, etc.)
  • ongoing cuts to routes and the number of planes per route
  • less legroom and more crowded planes
  • few service personel per plane (on ground and in air), often more stressed as a result of cuts.
Airlines are hoping that we need our travel fix badly enough that we will tolerate all of this.  But this mix of deteriorating airline hospitality factors may turn out to be the straw that breaks our air travel desire (on top of other concerns).

Domestic Travel Promotion

As the travel industry faces reductions in inbound trips and witnesses the move to staycations, their promoters are spending more time and money convincing us to travel locally or in our native countries.  The impact of several years of mass social marketing, designed to convince us that patriotic travel is best anyway, will have a cumulative impact.  It could well be the final factor that changes travel behaviour permanently, for some market segments.


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