We are pleased to announce our new book series The Future of Tourism edited by Ian Yeoman and Una McMahon-Beattie. In this post, Ian introduces the background to the new series and discusses the future of travel.
I was really excited when Channel View suggested a new book series about the Future of Tourism, as I have lived and breathed the future for the last 20 years, championing the cause, creating a new field and unravelling complexity. All other fields of tourism research are fundamentally about the past or the present whereas the future hasn’t occurred yet. The future is the only place you can travel to and the only place you can prepare for. To me, it’s the only field of tourism that has relevance.
It all began…
I started my career in tourism futures as the Scenario Planner at VisitScotland back in 2002 when 9/11 and Foot and Mouth Disease were having an impact on Scottish tourism. They were complex issues which needed unravelling. We did this, along with developing a robust economic forecasting system, scenarios about the future of Scottish tourism and an environmental scanning process. Taking these elements, we were able to build a system that made sense of the future, thus enabling leaders of Scottish tourism to understand the future, test their ideas and make informed decisions. I am now based in New Zealand and even more passionate about the future of tourism through building, partnering and giving opportunity to others to publish their thoughts on the future through this new series.
What is the future?
For economists and meteorologists it is relatively easy to understand and predict the weather with accuracy for the coming weeks or the economic outlook for the next 12 months as these events have a degree of certainty. However, predicting a longer term perspective is fraught with difficulties, whether it is the challenge of an automated world, changing food patterns, the breakup of the European Union, augmented reality or emerging markets. The further you look into the future, the more uncertainty prevails. Around the world people are living longer and expecting to do more in their lifetime. If you are born today in a Western country, you have a one in four chance of living until you are one hundred years old.
The future will have wars, terrorism, famine and disaster just like the past, but tourism will prevail. The future of tourism will be fed by equally unprecedented natural resource competition and environmental impacts, however it is Thomas Malthus who wrote in an essay on the Principles of Populations published in 1798 that sooner or later population growth will be checked by famine and disease. Was he wrong? While exponential growth can be expected to lead to increased scarcity of resources, human creativity can ameliorate increased scarcity. Basically, humankind is good at adaptation and overcoming many of the challenges it is presented with.
It is rare to find a national or regional tourism plan, book or academic article about the future of tourism that doesn’t reference the UN World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) forecasts – thus they have become the main arbiter of the future. This is an industry which in 1950 represented 23 million international arrivals and was forecasted to reach 1.8 billion in 2030. But the future of tourism has to be more than an economic forecast as extrapolated forecasts can often be misleading, ambiguous and debateable.
What will change?
In 2050, we still foresee romantic holidays in Paris or hiking the Yellow Mountains of China. What might be different is that Brain Computer Interfaces will have the ability to read customers’ minds, thus anticipating all their dreams and desires, or exoskeleton suits will give us all the power of Iron Man as adventure tourism is redrawn. Pokémon has taken the world by storm, but it is the convergence of the technology trends of GPS systems, augmented reality and ubiquitous computing that have made the game real and accessible to the masses, combined with the consumer trends of smart boredom and gaming cultures, that have changed how we play.
The future is both an understanding of the past and a quantum leap of imagination. Whether you believe in Star Trek, or Sunderland being the epicentre of tourism, the future is the only place you can travel to. Think of the future as your next holiday: we will help you pack your suitcase, plan the journey, guide you to attractions of interest to ensure you have a great time. Our new series, The Future of Tourism, will involve everything from science fiction to the rational – all because we adopt a multidisciplinary perspective that provides the answers to the questions you want to know.