Is the Future of Tourism Something Akin to “Outbreak”, “Westworld”, “Blade Runner” or “Eyes of Darkness”?

We recently published Science Fiction, Disruption and Tourism edited by Ian Yeoman, Una McMahon-Beattie and Marianna Sigala. In this post Ian discusses the aims of the book and highlights some of its key chapters.

As the Scenario Planner at VisitScotland in 2006, I facili­tated a team to model and construct a set of scenarios which replicated the present COVID-19 pandemic reality. This is an exam­ple of science fiction coming true and a journey beginning. Science fiction was used to explore the possible and impossible, to construct futures based upon technologies which had not been invented, to think about the transformation of tourism, and to predict the end of tourism based upon a natural disaster. The process took rationality to its limits. However, as academic researchers we would normally view science fiction as nothing more than a piece of creative writing. It is not something based upon fact but imagination; it is not real but fantasy. COVID-19 has challenged our thinking, as in Dean Koontz’s prediction in the Eyes of Darkness about Wuhan 400 or the 2011 film Contagion which portrays spread of a virus, attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease and the loss of social order in trying to halt its spread. Science fiction has become reality.

Thinking about the future

Science fiction is a ‘thinking machine’. It is about imagination and is right at the centre of scenario planning – the main research methodology used in futures stud­ies. Thus, the purpose of this book is to understand the role of science fiction in tourism research and how it is used to portray and make us rethink the future of tourism. It explores if science fiction can be of benefit to tourism researchers in a rapidly changing world, as it provides them food for thought and a way of thinking, rethinking and de-thinking of tourism futures. It helps set research agendas, directions and scope of research. In this vein, science fiction can be seen as a useful approach to foster and support transformation in tourism research.

Why change is necessary

Given the implications of COVID-19 and the overdue changes required in tourism, this book is more than just topical in nature and focus; it is also much needed to direct and foster tourism research that envisions beyond the past normal. As such, we fundamentally address the requirements for transformational tourism thinking and research through the contributions of the authors in this edited collection. Holistically, the combined contribu­tion of the chapters is to understand and construct a theoretical position or framework between science fiction and the future of tourism. If one can find an underpinning theory, then we have the basis of using science fiction as a theoretical lens and methodological approach to explore, frame and even form the future of tourism. By focusing on a specific form of tourism or topic, every book chapter uses a practical example and evidence to dis­cuss and explain the theoretical underpinnings, as well as the methods that others can also use to vision and rethink tourism futures.

Highlights of the book

In Chapter 6, Life Without Limits: Design, Technology and Tourism Futures in Westworld, Gurevitch uses a design theory per­spective which intertwines media, tourism futures and design. He explores the disruptive potential of technology to deliver experiences and the desire of tourists to feel free from the moral, social, economic and political con­straints of their daily lives.

In Chapter 8, Wildlife Tourism in 2150: Uplifted Animals, Virtual and Augmented Reality and Everything In-between, Bertella discusses the current research in both tourism and other disciplines in order to make a considered predic­tion about the future of wildlife tourism in 2150. Bertella examines the authenticity of future wildlife tourism where technology has been used to enhance the tourism experience.

In Chapter 9, Tears in the Rain: Tourism in the World of Blade Runner and Total Recall, Bolan addresses the worlds and their technology as depicted in the science fiction works by Philip K. Dick and explores their impact and influence on tourism. He examines the transformational impact of technology in tourism, from rep­licants to memory implants and self-driving cars to holograms.

In Chapter 10, Destination of the Dead: The Future for Tourism?, McEntee and col­leagues consider tourists a plague of zombies within the context of over­tourism and sustainability. The chapter takes a novel look at tourism and its impact on the people and places that experience excessive numbers of tourists. Zombies are now a clear genre in popular culture, appearing in countless movies, TV programmes and comic books, all of which depict crowds of mindless bodies shuffling along aimlessly while leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The same could arguably be said for some tour­ists, slowly walking along looking upwards at buildings with a selfie stick in hand while busy locals go about their daily business.

Towards a theoretical framework

Tourism futures needs a theoretical frame­work to contribute towards the evolution of tourism research. But as Yeoman and Beeton note, tourism futures is often presented with­out a foundation, is often misunderstood, and those that write about the future tend to emphasise presentism. What COVID-19 has taught us is the importance of moving beyond presentism and not thinking about the future as a linear projection based upon previously studied interrelations of known (economic) variables. Hence, the value of this edited collection is it encourages us to make a quantum leap in the terms of how we view and how we can afford to think about the future of tourism and tourism research. It takes us beyond the positivism to the non-linearity of interpre­tivism and a multiplicity of futures.

The book gives us a theoretical framework to study the future of tourism based upon science fiction. From an ontological perspective, the assumption is that the future needs to be explained by how the future will occur through science fiction. From an epistemological perspective, the book identifies a number of concepts including plurality, disruption and transformation, hyperreality of authenticity, dystopia, liminality, scepticism and the importance of narrative.

What next?

Many science fiction movies and books come in sequels. So, COVID-20 we suppose, but hope not! Indeed, that is not a science-fiction-inspired thought anymore but very much a possibility. We can only suggest you read a good science fiction novel and draw your own imaginings about the future of tourism. That’s what we did, and Captain Kirk was our inspiration, along with films such as Soylent Green or Star Wars. Delve into those alternative, imaginative worlds and ask yourself, what if they were to come true?

Ian Yeoman

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Future Past of Tourism edited by Ian Yeoman and Una McMahon-Beattie. 

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