Travelling Forbidden Zones: The holiday destinations of the future

As the tourism industry starts to feel the effects of climate change, we explore the changing nature of future holiday destinations and our fascination with forbidden zones

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.


Brighton, UK. Destinations in Northern Europe are becoming more popular.

“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.

shutterstock_155784854_3“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.


Herat, Afghanistan

“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).


Okavango delta, Botswana

“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?

Yeoman says that an expectation of better service will start to prevail, and we will see the end of the “once in a lifetime” concept, as we’re living longer and seeing places several times.issue8readfree

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.

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World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76. When Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged 22, doctors predicted he would live just a few more years. But in the ensuing 54 years he married, kept working and inspired millions of people around the world. In his last few years, Hawking was outspoken of the subject of AI, and Factor got the chance to hear him speak on the subject at Web Summit 2017…

Stephen Hawking was often described as being a vocal critic of AI. Headlines were filled with predictions of doom by from scientist, but the reality was more complex.

Hawking was not convinced that AI was to become the harbinger of the end of humanity, but instead was balanced about its risks and rewards, and at a compelling talk broadcast at Web Summit, he outlined his perspectives and what the tech world can do to ensure the end results are positive.

Stephen Hawking on the potential challenges and opportunities of AI

Beginning with the potential of artificial intelligence, Hawking highlighted the potential level of sophistication that the technology could reach.

“There are many challenges and opportunities facing us at this moment, and I believe that one of the biggest of these is the advent and impact of AI for humanity,” said Hawking in the talk. “As most of you may know, I am on record as saying that I believe there is no real difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer.

“Of course, there is unlimited potential for what the human mind can learn and develop. So if my reasoning is correct, it also follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence and exceed it.”

Moving onto the potential impact, he began with an optimistic tone, identifying the technology as a possible tool for health, the environment and beyond.

“We cannot predict what we might achieve when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one: industrialisation,” he said.

“We will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty; every aspect of our lives will be transformed.”

However, he also acknowledged the negatives of the technology, from warfare to economic destruction.

“In short, success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation, or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and sidelined or conceivably destroyed by it,” he said.

“Unless we learn how to prepare for – and avoid – the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilisation. It brings dangers like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy.

“Already we have concerns that clever machines will be increasingly capable of undertaking work currently done by humans, and swiftly destroy millions of jobs. AI could develop a will of its own, a will that is in conflict with ours and which could destroy us.

“In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.”

In the vanguard of AI development

In 2014, Hawking and several other scientists and experts called for increased levels of research to be undertaken in the field of AI, which he acknowledged has begun to happen.

“I am very glad that someone was listening to me,” he said.

However, he argued that there is there is much to be done if we are to ensure the technology doesn’t pose a significant threat.

“To control AI and make it work for us and eliminate – as far as possible – its very real dangers, we need to employ best practice and effective management in all areas of its development,” he said. “That goes without saying, of course, that this is what every sector of the economy should incorporate into its ethos and vision, but with artificial intelligence this is vital.”

Addressing a thousands-strong crowd of tech-savvy attendees at the event, he urged them to think beyond the immediate business potential of the technology.

“Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus our thinking not only on making AI more capable and successful, but on maximising its societal benefit”

“Everyone here today is in the vanguard of AI development. We are the scientists. We develop an idea. But you are also the influencers: you need to make it work. Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus our thinking not only on making AI more capable and successful, but on maximising its societal benefit,” he said. “Our AI systems must do what we want them to do, for the benefit of humanity.”

In particular he raised the importance of working across different fields.

“Interdisciplinary research can be a way forward, ranging from economics and law to computer security, formal methods and, of course, various branches of AI itself,” he said.

“Such considerations motivated the American Association for Artificial Intelligence Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures, which up until recently had focused largely on techniques that are neutral with respect to purpose.”

He also gave the example of calls at the start of 2017 by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) the introduction of liability rules around AI and robotics.

“MEPs called for more comprehensive robot rules in a new draft report concerning the rules on robotics, and citing the development of AI as one of the most prominent technological trends of our century,” he summarised.

“The report calls for a set of core fundamental values, an urgent regulation on the recent developments to govern the use and creation of robots and AI. [It] acknowledges the possibility that within the space of a few decades, AI could surpass human intellectual capacity and challenge the human-robot relationship.

“Finally, the report calls for the creation of a European agency for robotics and AI that can provide technical, ethical and regulatory expertise. If MEPs vote in favour of legislation, the report will go to the European Commission, which will decide what legislative steps it will take.”

Creating artificial intelligence for the world

No one can say for certain whether AI will truly be a force for positive or negative change, but – despite the headlines – Hawking was positive about the future.

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the world that can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management and prepare for its consequences well in advance,” he said. “Perhaps some of you listening today will already have solutions or answers to the many questions AI poses.”

You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted or expected, and to think big

However, he stressed that everyone has a part to play in ensuring AI is ultimately a benefit to humanity.

“We all have a role to play in making sure that we, and the next generation, have not just the opportunity but the determination to engage fully with the study of science at an early level, so that we can go on to fulfill our potential and create a better world for the whole human race,” he said.

“We need to take learning beyond a theoretical discussion of how AI should be, and take action to make sure we plan for how it can be. You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted or expected, and to think big.

“We stand on the threshold of a brave new world. It is an exciting – if precarious – place to be and you are the pioneers. I wish you well.”