If you’re in the tourism and heritage business, you may have already noticed something interesting. Environmental, cultural, and historic heritage tours and activities have seen a surge in tourism interest and are consistently top-ranking in travel trend reports,
Multiple reports have discussed the growth of this experience phenomenon, namely that travellers have a new experience consumerism whereby they are more likely to spend on sightseeing and tours or activities, than on shopping and souvenirs (TripBarometer 2015).
According to the World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism (T&T) reports, tours are increasingly being chosen for their sustainability profiles and practices. More travellers are likely to choose an visit countries and choose tour operators with a sustainable profile.
This is often indicated by activities related to heritage sites – including conserving the natural and cultural heritage, and community outreach ensuring an authentic experience. A similar analysis is presented in the infographic above describing how the sustainable traveler differs from other travels, from Destination Better.
Ocean, heritage, and food experiences : the fastest growing travel categories
The 2018 TripAdvisor Trend Report shows even further granularity with 4 key areas that are leading the travel trend categories (based on the number of bookings). Per their 2018 report, cultural local-food experiences, aquatic activities, historic heritage tours, and solo travel were all showing huge growth.
- Cultural experiences – foodie tours, local cooking and restaurants – are a seeing huge growth (about 50% versus the years before) with the rise of home & authentic cooking and food experience.
- Ocean tourism and aquatic activities are on the rise. More than half of the top ten activities were related to water and aquatic sports – some slightly more relaxed (ocean sunset cruises) than others (kayaking, canoeing, surfing, and sailing).
- Historic heritage tourism is on the rise and for some countries scoring as the fastest growing category overall. Historical and heritage experiences made the list of the fastest growing category for Trip Advisor USA (+98% bookings in 2018).
- Solo travel is the future with more solo traveller bookings made than ever before.
The global tendency for cultural experiences – especially food and restaurants – is perhaps a no-brainer in today’s age of foodie selfie indulgence. But the equally booming trend of historical heritage tours – education, walk-throughs, and guided visits, is something more surprising, as is the renewed interest in our oceans and natural environments offering a more healthy travel agenda, getting active in the great outdoors.
The growth paradox
A challenge of this trend is when it comes to balancing growth and opportunities, versus the negative impacts of (over) tourism.
World Economic Forum reports often refer to a “growth paradox” of recent decades, namely that it is very difficult (if not impossible) for tourism to really be sustainable. Surprisingly, the travel industry keeps on growing beyond the performance even of the global economy. According to the Travel & Trends Report 2017 (page 3), the travel and tourism industry contributed more than 10% of global GDP in 2017, and generated 1 in 10 jobs on the planet in 2016. In other words, more than US$7 trillion in global GDP and almost 300 million jobs.
“In 2017, the travel & tourism industry continues to make a real difference to the lives of millions of people by driving growth, creating jobs, reducing poverty and fostering development and tolerance. For the sixth consecutive year, industry growth outperforms that of the global economy…”
WEF T&T Report 2018, full report here
As more people travel and start to “consumer” ocean activities and heritage experiences, we will need to find more ways to keep these experiences authentic and protected. This means respecting the cultures and traditions of communities, making sure the benefits and economic value goes to local jobs and local tourism, and finding ways to engage with residents to decide the role of tourism in their own communities.
What it could mean
There are many ways to tackle this, but here are a few ideas of what it could mean:
- Local food experiences – for example AirBnb experiences
- Ocean tours focused on education – plastic clean-ups and bio-reef visits – for example, a surf camp combined with ocean and beach clean-ups.
- Historic heritage tours led by local tour guides and residents