The end of mass tourism

In addition to the usual requests for car rentals and hotel reservations, European low-cost airline Ryanair is now offering customers the option of paying carbon offsets when booking online. For those unfamiliar with the term, a carbon offset is meant to offset the fossil fuel emissions from your trip, a kind of eco-indulgence for the environmentally conscious. You can select your compensation right after downloading your mandatory Covid documentation, which includes, depending on your country of origin, a vaccination passport, a negative Covid test, and an official registration of your home address and where you will be staying. .

It is not difficult to see where this is going. The second half of the 20e century was not only a time of mass abundance, but a time of mass tourism. At least in the developed world, middle and working class families have become accustomed to recreational travel. Now, however, the economic system that gave us the motel, campground, and annual summer vacation is fading just as new barriers to international tourism, from Covid restrictions to environmentalism, have emerged. .

At the end of the 19e and early 20e for centuries the archetype of the foreign tourist was a sophisticated wealthy, often British, perhaps with an amateur interest in painting or architecture or travel writing. Wealthy Americans would embark on major European tours, a formative experience for young Theodore Roosevelt, whose wealthy family could afford the expense of extended continental vacations.

The post-war boom changed everything. Peace, paid vacations, the automobile, and decades of post-war growth in the United States and Europe created a new class of budget vacationers, who in turn spurred the creation of travel agencies. travel, charter buses, motels and guesthouses, and other services to facilitate middle-class tourism. Exotic destinations like the French Riviera, the Amalfi Coast and Saint-Tropez suddenly gained an international reputation, aided and encouraged by mass media and popular films.

In 1960, most Western Europeans had two weeks of paid vacation. In the early 1950s, according to historian Tony Judt, French tourists in Spain numbered thousands. In 1964, 7 million people visiting every summer. In the early 1970s, more than 6 million tourists visited Western Europe every year the Yugoslav coast. The American middle class has experienced a boom similar trips.

From “tourist traps” to family vacation packages to stereotypes of loud Americans, photo-crazed Japanese and pastry Britons making their seasonal migration to sunny Spain, generations of travelers have lived through this era of travel. abroad. But can a pre-pandemic system built on widely shared prosperity and stupendous consumption of fossil fuels survive into the mid-21 decades?st century?

Navigating a world of virtual restaurant menus, electronic vaccine passports, and mandatory document downloads will almost certainly prove to be overwhelming for older travelers. The increased vulnerability of older people to Covid may also dampen their enthusiasm for vacations abroad, even after the threat of the disease has receded.

Young people and tech-savvy people are likely to find this new environment more welcoming, but if carbon offsets, health-related flight cancellations, and negative antigen testing become standard operating procedure, air travel will soon become prohibitive for people. most of them. And while young people are more comfortable breaking through electronic barriers, the digital life can undermine their desire for international adventure. Gory video games seem to have reduced our appetite for violence and pornography almost certainly reduced our appetite for sex. Social media platforms like Instagram could do something similar to travel.

Airlines and the tourism industry are not about to disappear, but their business models and customer profiles will begin to conform to new economic realities. Tourism will return to its roots as a luxury good, and for those who can afford carbon indulgences and enough upgrades to avoid invasive health and safety checks, travel will become an extravaganza instead of a annual ritual of the middle class.

Already, the travel industry seems to be moving in this direction. Family packages and economy class plane tickets are out; ecotourism, charming hotels and personalized services like Airbnb are there. In the United States, travel to national parks during the pandemic era exploded as European countries like Hungary and Italy launched campaigns to promote sightseeing within their own borders. Domestic tourism and “stays” become consolation prizes for those who cannot afford to go abroad.

International tourism may rebound quickly after the pandemic has receded, but the rigidity of the post-9/11 security theater sets a suggestive precedent. The relatively minor threat of a spectacular terrorist attack has given us 20 years of mandatory airport shoe inspections, TSA pat-downs, and endless security lines. A disease on the verge of becoming endemic, and with a far wider impact than the attacks of September 11, will it quickly disappear from public consciousness? A more likely outcome is the permanent addition of health protocols to our routine security checks, to be avoided by those savvy and affluent enough to pay for various officially sanctioned shortcuts (a Covid version of TSA’s CLEAR program, which allows travelers to pay to bypass security by downloading personal biometric data, seems inevitable).

Carbon offsets and other environmental restrictions are not yet mandatory, but elite consensus is rapidly evolving in the direction of restricting air travel.Flygskam—Swedish for “flight blur” —was shorthand for feeling guilty about traveling by plane. Popular travel sites help environmentally conscious consumers find alternatives to theft. An Explanator of the Green New Deal Posted on the progressive sweetheart’s website, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says the program aims to make air travel “unnecessary.” A report from the World Economic Forum on eco-friendly air travel carefully points out that there is a ‘cost difference’ between old-fashioned jet fuel and sustainable alternatives, but remains silent on who will bear that cost when airlines switch at the Green light. The likely answer is that travelers will pay in the form of“Green flight functions” a solution that has already been proposed in the UK The World Economic Forum report helpfully notes that “corporate flyers” have shown a willingness to pay extra for environmentally friendly transport.

This last aside is revealing. Those most likely to travel in the future (wealthy, young, educated, environmentally conscious and probably business-minded) are also more likely to accept new environmental and health restrictions and incur new travel costs. The older and poorer will be left behind, literally and figuratively, as the idea of ​​an annual beach vacation abroad becomes a distant memory.

Changes within the travel industry are lagging indicators of broader economic and cultural changes in Western society. According to the Brookings Institution, America’s middle class has shrunk dramatically over the past few decades while the upper middle class has grown. The tastes and prejudices of upper-middle-class consumers, who already exert a disproportionate influence as creators of cultural tastes and custodians of elite institutions, are now reshaping tourism. The result will be a travel industry that prioritizes environmental and public health concerns over affordability.

The EU smells badly among conservatives, but there was (was?) Something slightly miraculous about the Schengen zone, which allowed free movement of citizens in most member states before the pandemic. Some of Schengen’s most enthusiastic supporters believed it was a model for a global society without borders. Instead, it looks like the last breath of the era of mass tourism, a relic from an era before global pandemics, economic stagnation, environmental alarmism and the resurgence of nationalism.

What comes next can be more depressing than all the cheap motels and dingy campgrounds put together. On a recent trip to Italy, I came across a McDonalds at Milan Central Station hoping for a quick meal. I was greeted by a masked and gloved health inspector who checked the QR code on my vaccination card before giving me a red verification sticker. All orders were made through electronic kiosks; employees barely exchanged words with customers as they assembled and handed out Big Macs behind a huge plexiglass shield. Everyone wore masks and pretty much everyone was hunched over a phone while they waited for their orders. Many never bother to take off their wireless headphones. If this is the future of affordable travel, who will bother to pay for the tickets?

In a parallel universe, Mark Zuckerberg had just announced the rebranding of Facebook to “Meta”, with a cringe-worthy video of his new virtual reality platform. Coincidentally, the World Economic Forum recently suggested that virtual reality tourism could become a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to real-world travel. The Zuckerbergs of the world aren’t about to give up their private jets, and the well-heeled employees of companies like Facebook – sorry, “Meta” – will almost certainly continue to vacation in exotic foreign destinations. For everyone else, the allure of digital life and the indignities of class travel steer clear of the 21st century will make mass tourism a thing of the past.

Will collins is a teacher in Budapest, Hungary.


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