According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the next two decades will see the tourism industry grow at a rate of 43 million international tourist arrivals each year. This means that there will be around 1.8 billion people travelling the world in 2030, compared with 940 million in 2010, which breaks down to 5 million people crossing international borders and four times as many travelling domestically.
Described as a global phenomenon by UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai, who says tourism has seen “extraordinary growth” over the last six decades, the tourist industry has always managed to thrive despite the many obstacles and challenges that threaten to hinder its advance.
“In spite of the multiple changes and shocks – from man-made crises to natural disasters and economic crises from which the world is still recovering – tourism, although vulnerable, has always bounced back, proving its resilience and capacity to rebound,” he says.
As the number of travellers increases along with climate change, and resorts open up and close down, a shift in the locations that people wish to visit is inevitable. But what changes are we likely to see occurring over the next few decades, and why?
Reversal of European tourist flows
In terms of mass tourism, climate change expert David Viner – who was behind one of the first reports to link climate change and tourism, titled Climate Change and Its Impacts on Tourism and written for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1999 – believes that the biggest change will come from the flows of tourists between Northern Europe and Southern Europe.
“The main drivers of tourism are the big flows of people from Northern Europe to Southern Europe who are looking for sun, sea, sand and security,” says David. “If you take away the sun as a push factor, it can really alter how people’s perceptions of these resorts change.”
In order to assess what regions would be become more or less attractive in the future as a result of climate change, David explains that a tourism comfort index was created for the study, which was constructed using a suite of climate variables, including mean and maximum temperature, humidity, rainfall, sunshine hours and wind. Four maps were created comparing the period of 1961 to 1990, the 2020s, the 2050s and the 2080s.
They showed a clear departure from the warm and attractive climate we recognise in Southern Europe today during the 2020s in destinations such as Portugal and Spain, and which starts to impact Southern France and Italy during the 2050s. What emerged was a climate reversal, where Northern Europe becomes warmer and more appealing during the 2020s and 2050s. The result is that the north of France and English resorts – think Normandy, Southend-on-Sea and Brighton – become as attractive, climate-wise, as the French Riviera and Italy’s Amalfi coast.
David says that the European heatwave during the summer of 2003 proved that when Northern Europe was hotter than Southern Europe, those areas became popular holiday destinations. It was the hottest on record since 1540, particularly in France (with over 14,000 heat-related deaths reported), Portugal, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
“This was also especially true of the Costas in Spain, which were too hot and too uncomfortable,” says Viner. “At the same time in Northern Europe they had ideal tourism conditions and people did not have to leave home. We know now that in the future, some places in Northern Europe will become increasingly attractive holiday destinations.”
Increase in travel from China
While Europe will welcome the most number of tourists in 2030 – as per the UNWTO’s Tourism Towards 2030 forecast, which predicts 744 million – Asia and the Pacific region are not far behind with 535 million, and the Americas with 248 million.
“This is due mostly to intraregional travel (travel by Asians within Asia) fostered by investment in infrastructure, development of transport and accessibility, including visa facilitation, strong economic growth and regional integration,” says Sandra Carvao, UNWTO chief of communications and publications. “This growth is also supported naturally by the exponential increase in travel from China. In 2013, Chinese tourists spent $129bn on travel abroad.”
A recent SkyScanner study states that the explosion of Chinese travel will be one of the drivers behind travellers seeking new destinations off the beaten track or in forbidden zones due to the impact of Chinese tourists in classic destinations such as Paris, Rome and New York.
“Asian tourists want to come to Europe and America because this is their Disneyland,” says travel futurologist Ian Yeoman. “Europe is clean and green compared to the polluted cities of Asia,” he continues, describing Europe as their “social capital”.
Forbidden zones as social capital
Social capital, he explains, is how we talk about destinations, people telling others “I have been there”, which is driven by people seeking new experiences and sampling new regions. The Skyscanner report predicts that this social capital will push the Traveller of the Millennium to forbidden zones, described as “the countries and regions once rendered inaccessible by conflict or political problems” in a bid to “boast that he was among the first”. But Yeoman says that this is only possible if safety is improved. In the future he believes that Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran could open up, but only if they are safe.
“If you have peace in Iran, it will become a huge cultural destination, but tourists will not travel to a forbidden zone if there is turmoil, as safety is a basic need,” he says. “However, post-conflict you will see previously dangerous countries opening up. Vietnam was once a killing zone for Americans, today it is competing with Thailand for new markets.”
He says that a country such as Egypt will always have terrorism activity because it is “the nature of Islam states with a hedonistic product”. “There will always be bombs, but we travel in between those bombs as they are managed,” he explains, adding that Lebanon was once the Paris of the Middle East, but it is no longer now because of civil war and Islam. Despite this he believes that Lebanon could be what it used to be in the future, as although the Syria conflict blights its current growth the country realises the potential of tourism. “It is a country of Christianity and Islam, which have worked together in the past,” he says.
Carvao says that looking for new destinations is a natural trend. “Today tourism touches almost any destination in the world and this is a natural trend if we consider that in 2013 there were 1,087 million tourists crossing borders up from a mere 25 million in 1950,” she says. “Tourists thus become increasingly interested in discovering new destinations that for one reason or another have been closed – this has been the case in Central and Eastern Europe or in destinations such as Vietnam, Cambodia or Myanmar.”
Emerging economy destinations
Emerging economy destinations have been increasing in popularity and will continue to become more and more sought after by travellers.
The WTO’s Tourism Towards 2030 report reveals that international tourist arrivals in the emerging economy destinations of Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Eastern Mediterranean Europe, the Middle East and Africa will grow at double the rate (+4.4% a year) of that in advanced economy destinations (+2.2% a year).
“Emerging economies have been showing an extraordinary growth in terms of international tourism in recent decades, and international tourist arrivals grew from 255 million in 2000 to 505 million in 2013,” says Carvao. “Reasons behind this include strong economic growth, an emerging middle class, technological developments and declines in the cost of travelling. Besides, there is a clear support in many emerging economies to the tourism sector as a driver of economic growth and development.”
Botswana and Angola are also likely to open up in the future, believes Yeoman. “Botswana is a relatively wealthy African country with great natural assets and a governance structure – and it is safe,” he says. “Angola is an emerging economy of Africa, rich in oil and resources, where China is investing in infrastructure (new hotels and airports) to allow future tourists.”
Cuba takes off
Viner predicts that tourism is going to take off “in a big way” in Cuba, as it has access to the American market, probably to the detriment of some of the other islands, due to its location. Yeoman agrees, believing that Cuba will become the top tourism destination in the Caribbean due to an influx of American tourists and large economic development.
But what about the negative effects of climate change in the Caribbean; won’t that affect its appeal? The UNWTO’s Davos to Copenhagen report says that the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and Africa are the tourism regions thought to be the most at risk as we head into the future.
“The impact of climate change on tourism is one of the most pressing challenges faced at a global level,” says Carvao, adding that extreme weather patterns can disrupt tourist demand. “All these face rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions leading to natural disasters or to extreme changes in weather, which jeopardise the development of the tourism sector, as it erodes natural resources.”
However, Viner doesn’t believe that the overall suitability of the Caribbean to tourism will be affected by climate change. “There might be a localised risk from sea level rise and beach erosion, but there is no evidence that hurricanes will become more frequent, just perhaps more intense,” he says. “Hurricanes are infrequent and these resorts quickly recover so the viability of the resorts won’t change.”
The ultimate forbidden zone
As the tourism industry continues its growth, what changes and trends could be sparked off as a result of new destinations opening up?
He also believes that space tourism will become the “ultimate weekend stay”. Currently the most forbidden zone of them all, the opening up of this destination could perhaps provide the Traveller of the Millennium with the most valuable social capital experience possible.