Magazine article Geographical

The Trouble with Travel: In Response to Geographical's Special Issue on the Future of Travel, Pat Thomas, Editor of the Ecologist, Pulls No Punches as She Offers Her Assessment of Exactly What's Wrong with the Global Tourism Industry

Magazine article Geographical

The Trouble with Travel: In Response to Geographical's Special Issue on the Future of Travel, Pat Thomas, Editor of the Ecologist, Pulls No Punches as She Offers Her Assessment of Exactly What's Wrong with the Global Tourism Industry

Article excerpt

ANOTHER TRAVEL COMPANY BITES THE DUST THOUSANDS are stranded overseas. Some are stuck at home with no prospect of that dream holiday or romantic wedding abroad this year. For the mainstream press, of course, this is pay dirt. Lots of poignant human-interest stories, plenty of expert commentary to call on, column inches aplenty to be generated on what this means, and what we all should be doing about it.

The travel industry's response is, of course, unanimous: we should all keep travelling. Book your holiday with confidence but don't forget to take out a new class of insurance that protects you if your holiday company goes bust. Take advantage of the price wars that are ensuing between those companies still in business to get the cheapest deals available.

The not-so-subtle message is clear: it's the public's fiscal responsibility to save an industry from which it has derived so much. And if we wish to continue to gain intercultural experiences, consciousness-expanding horizons, access to exotica and the warm fuzziness that comes from knowing, as Walt Disney once said, it's a small world after all, then we must keep investing in travel. And those companies that remain are rubbing their hands with glee: more businesses going down the pan means a bigger slice of the travel pie for those remaining.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

And that bottom line really is the bottom line. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council in March of last year, the global travel industry was on target to generate sales of US$8trillion in 2008--and that in a year of slow growth--and the prediction, in spite of the economic slowdown, is for sales to increase annually by 4.4 per cent between now and 2018. It's a staggering figure, but one wonders whether perhaps those predictions are now being quietly revised, given that some 26 travel companies and airlines went bust in the past year.

In spite of all the predicted revenue generation, you still have to wonder: is the travel industry worth saving?

TOURIST TRAPPED

In the days before an airport in every city and a travel voucher in every newspaper, travel may well have been about exploration, exposing yourself to the unknown, absorbing new ideas and cultures, and seeing how the other half of the world lives and reflecting on what this means to the way you live. There's a quote by Mark Twain, favoured by those travel writers who are still enamoured with that idea: 'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness ...', it begins. These days, it could be argued that this notion is deep-fried hogwash.

Most of us aren't travellers at all--we're tourists, as vulnerable to the process of commodification as the places we visit. A homogenous group of dopey beasts who take cattle-class flights at 3am, organise stag nights in Prague, and demand egg and chips and a beer whose name we can easily pronounce on a sunny beach in Spain. The smaller the world gets, the more we seem to want it to be as much like home as possible (but with cleaner sheets and towels and without the washing up).

Last year. a survey for Halifax Travel Insurance revealed the extent of the cultural experience of the average British holidaymaker. Not so much culture vultures as poolside potatoes, of the more than 2,000 holidaymakers questioned, most spent no more than eight hours away from their hotels during a week's holiday. Three quarters never attempted to learn the local language and 70 per cent never visited a local attraction. Most never took a meal outside the hotel restaurant. It hardly seems worth the 64billion [pounds sterling] Britons spend on holidays every year--around 80 per cent of which is paid for by credit cards and, according to a survey by Alliance & Leicester in 2007, a significant proportion of which hasn't been paid off by the time we book our next holiday.

ECO NO-NO

But travel, we're told, is good for us. …

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