Wide Horizons: Travel and Tourism in the Coming Decades

By Tarlow, Peter E.; Muehsam, Mitchell J. | The Futurist, September-October 1992 | Go to article overview

Wide Horizons: Travel and Tourism in the Coming Decades


Tarlow, Peter E., Muehsam, Mitchell J., The Futurist


Travel and tourism are perhaps the world's largest industry, with some $2 trillion in annual travel-related sales around the world. The travel industry plays a major role in the spheres of business, recreation, and family life.

During the last third of this century, a number of phenomena have occurred to promote mass travel, including discount air fares, the building of superhighways, the growth of the motel industry, and the abolishment in many cases of international visas. Free-trade zones have facilitated the growth of international business and business travel and will continue to fuel greater travel.

The health revolution, which has given millions of elderly persons relatively good health well into their 80s, has also driven tourism's growth. The population of 45- to 64-year-olds will grow nearly five times faster than the total population between 2000 and 2010; between 2010 and 2030, the population over 65 will grow eight times faster than the total population. Aging populations are just one factor that will have strong impacts on travel and tourism in the twenty-first century; already, travelers over age 60 make up 32% of all room nights sold within the lodging industry, according to the American Hotel and Motel Association.

Tourism specialists are keenly aware that these and other major changes are ahead as the new century dawns. The following areas are but a partial list of sometimes conflicting factors that will influence the travel industry of the twenty-first century.

Technology and Travel

* Communications as "electronic travel." Electronic communications of the twentieth century, including telephones, radios, televisions, and fax machines, have replaced the messenger of yesteryear. Future advances such as two-way visual telephones and improved computer networking will decrease the need to travel and will save both money and time. Business people will no longer be required to travel from one spot to another to close deals. Rather, they'll negotiate "face to face" via electronic conferencing and sign contracts despite being physically separated by thousands of miles. Similarly, families divided by great distances will remain electronically connected with each other.

Electronic communications will also give rise to mobile offices, allowing executives to take work with them, whether they're at home, at the health club, or on "working vacations."

To counterbalance this new age of electronic travel, consumers will see the transportation component of tomorrow's travel industry emphasize the personal touch. The theme of one recent airline ad, for instance, is that "you can telex it there, send it there, or fax it there, but there is no alternative to being there." With less need to travel, those who do travel in the next century will demand greater levels of fast, efficient, and courteous service from transportation companies.

Competition from electronic mail will force the travel industry to make traveling as comfortable as possible and offer more perks and benefits. Electronic mail may even help increase business travel: As the world becomes more interconnected, corporations will want to send even their lower-level executives on international fact-finding missions. These journeys will provide the next generation of business leaders with on-site training into the mind-set of their international partners--and competitors.

* Traveler as travel agent. Personal computers connected into worldwide reservation systems will allow many travelers to book, ticket, and purchase all of their travel arrangements from the convenience of their home or office. Many of the travel industry's "middlemen" will be replaced by debit/smart cards, fax machines, and interactive computer networks such as Prodigy or Bitnet.

* Robots at your service. Personal robots will become increasingly proficient at performing a multitude of services, such as greeting guests, baby-sitting, and performing security tasks. …

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