Complete this sentence: Someday I want to go to ________________________.
What’s your dream destination? What location inspires wanderlust, itchy feet and the urge to pack a suitcase? What trip would be your trip-of-a-lifetime or just make you happier than ever to close the door behind you and embark on a new journey?
Many of us have a running list of our most desired, most dreamy trips and destinations — perhaps an exotic scuba diving trip in the Maldives or a sentimental trip home to see family and friends in the Midwest. Many of us also have a wish list of weekend getaways — maybe shopping at the Chatuchak market in Bangkok or attending the Glastonbury festival in the U.K. As the saying goes, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey … and the fact that at some point we hope and plan to embark on that journey.
Yet, lifetime trip or weekend getaway, it seems travel is easy to dream about but harder to actually do. I noticed this recently when I wanted to book a last-minute weekend trip from Singapore to Bangkok. Classified as one of my recurring “wish list weekend getaways”, I eagerly searched for airfares but was disappointed by the results. All the low-cost carriers were sold out. The larger carriers had seats available but the prices were upwards of $400. No surprise — it’s a scenario I run into repeatedly here in Southeast Asia because there are so many people traveling to so many amazing destinations. The demand for cheap seats on an airplane is sucking the spontaneity right out of travel. Unless you have unlimited funds, you must book well in advance if you want to get away for the weekend — which is not a major problem in the scheme of things. But I’ve started to wonder … if demand is so high now and spontaneity is vanishing, what will the travelscape look like ten to twenty years from now?
From the perspective of the travel industry, the future is so bright you should make sure you pack your sunglasses. Job growth in the U.S. travel industry is growing very quickly — outpacing the rest of the economy by 25% since 2010. Globally, emerging economies are reaping the financial rewards of tourism with the number of international arrivals (overnight travelers) growing at two times the pace of advanced economies, and projected to surpass them in 2015. Cheap travel to cheap places equals big money for many developing nations.
Yet from the perspective of travelers, the future may not be so bright. In 2012, the number of international arrivals exceeded one billion for the first time ever — 1,035,000,000 to be nearly exact. By 2030, if growth in tourism continues at a modest pace as projected, that number will nearly double to over 1.8 billion international arrivals. What’s perhaps even more fascinating is that there were just 25 million international arrivals in 1950. What a different world. How I wish I could have seen Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu back in the day when hardly anyone was traveling — which is the whole point of my story: go now.
Go now to the destinations you dream about before they’re overcrowded, overpriced, fully booked or just don’t offer the same accessibility as they do today. Many of the world’s top tourist attractions have finite space and limited hours — how will they meet the demands of more travelers wanting tickets, access, service, quality? Can the Louvre, which saw 9.7 million visitors in 2012, accommodate nearly twice as many in 2030? Can Disney’s Magic Kingdom retain its magic if annual visitors grow from over 17 million in 2012 to twice that in 2030? Can you imagine visiting the Eiffel Tower, Coliseum, Sistine Chapel or Statue of Liberty among twice as many tourists?
How will so many international travelers even get to these places? We’re gonna need a bigger boat, and airplane and airport. According to a study on airport capacity constraints, the world’s largest 100 airports handle more than half of the global aircraft movement. Of these, 10 to 20 airports are operating at critical capacity including major hubs like La Guardia, Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle. By 2016, an astonishing 70% of all flights from the top 177 airports (of 2,400 worldwide) will take off and/or land at capacity constrained airports where runways and schedules are full. What does this mean for travelers? Surely high prices based on high demand for limited flights, but maybe also the necessity of flying late at night or early in the morning as airports add flights to less busy times of the day. Perhaps too, the inconvenience of flying to an airport farther from the destination if the hub airport has no room for runway or schedule expansion. Bigger planes carry more people, but also require more space and emit more noise — an adverse effect on neighboring communities. Any way you look at it, there seems to be turbulence ahead for international travelers.
The good news is that travel can create valued memories that last a lifetime, particularly among families. According to a survey of American adults and children, more than half of the adults had vivid memories of childhood family vacations and still reminisce about them. These adults also want to create similar travel experiences for their own children. Half of the kids surveyed, ages 8 to 18, said vacations bring their family closer and some of their best memories are from family vacations. I would agree — I fondly remember our family vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico when I was 12. We were trailblazing since no one went to Mexico at the time. I got a vicious sunburn, but I’ll never forget the beautiful sunsets, eating jicama for the first time and feeling like it was pretty cool that my parents had taken us to such an exotic place.
Beyond all these facts and figures, no survey can quantify the thrill of leaving behind familiar surroundings in exchange for the unknown. I vividly remember the first time I stepped out of the Kathmandu airport into the taxi that drove me to my guest house. Where in the hell am I? What have I done? This place is crazy bananas. It was an experience I’ll never forget. It stoked the fire and I haven’t stopped traveling since. Good or bad, freaked out or chilled out, travel is the only thing we can spend our money on that will make us richer, guaranteed.
So, where is it you said you want to go? ________________________.
Go now and make the journey before the world beats you to it.