Editor's note: This is a guest post from Fanny Lincoln, founder and author of The GreenPick, a 100% green travel blog on sustainable tourism.
It is interesting that despite increased security concerns, tourism continues to grow in some regions. What more, there seems to be a boom in some regions. And as we all know every boom is a two-sided coin which comes with its rewards but also challenges.
How serious are those challenges? Serious enough for countries to openly speak about this growing concern and the media to talk about how countries are unable to cope with the sudden and uncontrollable growth from international tourists.
Get more insights into responsible tourism in our 2018 Travel Trends Report:
The challenges of a sudden boom in tourism
While a growing tourism industry is generally good news for the local economy, a sudden boom in tourist numbers means more stress on existing infrastructure, reducing both availability and quality of service for locals. There are also potentially unseen damaging effects on the environment and these destinations tend to experience an almost immediate inflation which could increase socio-economic disparities.
A boom in tourism does not always benefit everyone in society as the new income generated takes time to trickle down throughout society. To maintain the balance between the growth in tourism and the wellbeing of the local community, sustainable choices need to be made.
At the same time, we have a new generation of travelers growing. They’re called millennials, representing 20% of international travel according to the UNTWO. This figure from 2014 that doesn’t show signs of slowing down. These young travelers, between the ages of 16 and 34 are seeking new and more meaningful experiences, exploring less touristic spots which, in turn, are not equipped to receive them.
These places are often spots that are more traditional and closer to nature, and therefore less protected. If the operators in these new hotspots don’t develop a sustainable tourism agenda, then we would slowly witness the destructive effects mentioned earlier. Here are some examples: the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand already suffer from increased destruction due to mass tourism ; while Cozumel in Mexico is now in danger of losing its primitive island charm and its world-famous scuba diving spots.
What can we do to prevent this? Sustainable practices. I’d go further to say that it is the only solution that can prevent tourist destinations going from boom to boom. This applies not only to travel industry but to all sectors of our economy.
Millennials are changing the industry, one social media post at a time
While millennials don’t yet represent the majority of tourists, they are well on their way to change this. It is expected that by 2020 the number of millennial tourists will have increased by 47% reaching 320 million. If a tour or activity operator wants to attract this large demographic who thinks that travel is an indispensable part of their life, then they will have to deliver more “authentic” services, often intertwined with the idea of responsible tourism.
Due to the obsessive desire to share everything that is seen and done in the most incredible and spectacular manner, the millennial traveler will most definitely want to showcase beautiful spots, original and unique food, breathtaking landscapes, or local people in their authentic daily lives. It is the dream that needs to be displayed, not the pollution, the pain, or the hordes of tourists invading a beautiful place.
Just look at the types of alternative tourism on the rise: volunteering tourism, orphanage tourism, last chance tourism or ecotourism that are all rather popular amongst millennials. Everything is done for the “original experience”, but also for the recognition. It’s not only a recognition from others that one’s life is truly incredible, but also a recognition for oneself – that he/she is filling his/her life with unique adventures.
There are many reasons why certain types of tourism become “trends” and a lot of it has been driven by social media platforms, including responsible tourism.
People, thanks to social media, have become more aware of the effects of careless travel habits. These travelers, who refuse to be called tourists, are becoming more responsible and more aware of his actions. It’s not so much that responsible tourism is changing the travel industry, but it’s the tourist himself who is.
Do you recall pictures of the Tiger Temples in Bangkok being shared on social media a year or two ago? I remember this trend on my own social media feeds that went on a year or two ago about the Tiger temple in Bangkok. It has been forced to shut down because tourists were sharing pictures and videos of animal abuse all over social media, tarnishing the reputation of the once very successful attraction. People became disgusted by the practices of the temple and it was forced to shut down.
Social media is also giving travelers a platform to uncover and talk about unsustainable practices. Why go to South Africa if there are no more wild animals roaming free? Why go to Thailand if the soft sand beaches are covered in waste?
My point is that social media is a very powerful tool and tourism professionals need to switch their mindsets. Millennials are changing today’s travel trends and they will influence the rest of the industry in time to come. Travelers want to rely on their tour operators to offer them the experience of their lives, including a guilt-free holiday.
Satisfying the masses who demand to feel unique and special
Think about those 3 words: experience, authenticity, reliability.
Tour and activity operators must remember that today's tourists don’t appreciate being part of the masses anymore. Every traveler wants to feel unique. Because travelers have been given tools to become increasingly independent while travelling, organizing holidays for themselves via social networks, apps or travel blogs, they are relying less on travel agencies who tend to offer ready-made, cookie cutter packages.
In the same way that the global economy is moving towards more personalized offers, tourism professionals must also adapt to a demand that is slowly evolving towards the individual rather than the group. It is why tour operators who won’t understand that it’s imperative to offer personalized, responsible and authentic products to their clients, won’t survive on the long run.
What can you do as a tour or activity operator?
There are plenty of ways to make the best out of these growing trends.
First, make sure you offer personalized packages. Don’t pack tourists in one big tour with 50+ people, going from a restaurant made for tourists to a viewpoint where they will have to push each other to see what’s to be seen.
Second, make sure to communicate about the local issues currently facing your destination and your company’s role in tackling them. Your role is now to educate your customers about the challenges and the sustainable practices you’ve initiated. Trust me, people will admire your work for the communities and the environment, and will be more willing to leave a positive review regardless of the tour itself because they believe it is the right thing to do to preserve a beautiful destination like yours.
Finally, do not expect your customers to know everything about sustainable practices and to pay premium for a green tour. The offer must be competitive because people won’t understand why they should pay more for something that seems to be your responsibility and for which they would rarely give a second thought.
While being responsible on holiday is yet to be top of mind for travelers, travelers will most definitely be repelled by a non-sustainable practices if they witness it.
Since we, as human beings, are becoming more responsible in our daily choices, in what we eat and how we live, we also expect the same behavior to be mirrored by the companies we choose to give our money to.
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Would you like to read more on sustainable tourism? Follow The Greenpick and read about Fanny's travel experiences worldwide focusing on authenticity, responsibility and self-awareness in tourism.