The next big tourism trends
1. Food tourism
People aren’t just traveling to visit historical and cultural sites anymore. They’re traveling for food. And I’m not talking about eating hotel food, I’m talking about eating local, authentic and culinary delights either on the street or in dining establishments, or getting their hands dirty in a culinary class or commercial kitchen. Enabling travelers to experience true local cuisine through food tours and culinary education programs can create unique experiences that have true destination appeal. Check out vayable.com, where I once tried to get a hummus tour in Tel Aviv and a tour of an organic pig farm in San Francisco!
2. The staycation
I may be ostracized by parts of the industry, but promoting a staycation doesn’t mean you have to downplay the importance of hospitality. It just means hotels can start tapping into their local market for added business. While disposable income grows and more people can afford to travel, the sad truth is that the more money we make, the less time we have to travel. Encouraging your local market to escape for a weekend retreat in your hotel doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I promise.
3. Value over added value
If you don’t know what airbnb.com is, you have to look it up, because it’s changing the way people travel. With a network of rentable beds, couches, rooms, flats and homes in 2,000 cities across 200 countries, airbnb.com is becoming a huge player in the hospitality industry. Why? Travelers (business, leisure, young, old, rich and poor) who don’t need the added services and amenities of a hotel are simply staying elsewhere. And I’m not talking about couchsurfing.com where you might be bunking with backpackers. I’m talking about paying for anything from a nice clean room to a luxury flat to Conan O’Brien’s TV studio. What does this tell us? Maybe we should focus less on those added thrills and frills — it’s not about adding value, but actual value.
4. Going local
Consumer paranoia over local produce and products (especially in and around China) is creating a frenzy to purchase imported items. Even hotels using locally grown or organic produce will say they import “only the best.” Are we feeding into consumer paranoia and increasing our food and beverage costs by importing unnecessary items? I think hotels will move away from bottled water imports and will start procuring from local farmers if not to do the right thing, than at least to save a buck.
5. Not just voluntourism, but responsible voluntourism
People volunteer for a plethora of reasons, but regardless of what that reason may be, we’re seeing a trend to “give back” to society in a tourism setting, where travelers are volunteering or donating sums of money to support a variety of projects. While their intentions are great, their actions aren’t always the most beneficial to the societies they wish to support.
Here’s an example: A few years ago I met the founder of PEPY Tours in Cambodia. The organization is built around “Adventurous Living. Responsible Giving.” When I asked why she moved from the States to start this non-profit organization, she began to tell me about her first trip to Cambodia years earlier. Before embarking on a cycling tour of the country with a few friends, they raised a small sum of money that could have a school built in the countryside. (Admittedly, I felt empowered to do the same after reading in Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, that US$12,000 could build a school.) In the end, a beautiful school was built, and they felt quite proud and accomplished for having done so much good. Fast-forward a few years when she went back to visit the school. What she and her friends had envisioned as a great success — a school that would educate hundreds — was more wishful thinking than it was realistic. The school was still there and in immaculate condition, but with no students, no furniture and no teacher, and was instead being used as a storage facility. Without teachers, what good is a brand-new school?
So what’s the solution? Travelers need to be made aware of the short- and long-term implications involved with voluntourism, and since the hotels they stay in are often the best resources for information, hotels can do more to collaborate with established organizations that promote responsible giving — not just building a school, for example, but perhaps funding vocational training or teacher training.