Cuba, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Jakarta are some of the destinations travellers are being told they’ll be heading to this year. But it’s not where to travel in 2015, it is how to travel in 2015 that’s important — and it’s more important than it’s ever been.
Why Where You Travel in 2015 Is Not Important
One thing I’ve learnt in all the years we’ve been travelling and writing about travel is that destinations come and go into fashion and like fashion itself there’s no sensible reason why, it may just be a matter of whimsy.
Most ‘where to go in X year’ travel lists aren’t based on research data and analysis that indicates where people are actually starting to travel. Many lists are actually devised by identifying destinations where people have not been going to attract a bit of attention and in some cases controversy.
Most travel trend lists are created by deskbound editors, who travel less frequently than, and not as widely as, travel writers. This means they interact less often with travellers, have far fewer opportunities to observe how people travel, and don’t get to engage with travellers as much as writers do.
Of course some editors reach out to writers for their opinions on what places are starting to look appealing in their area of specialty, how people are starting to travel in those places, whether tourists numbers have been increasing, and whether tourism department research shows patterns of travel behavior and so on.
Editors and writers might consider what’s new in a destination that might attract the interest of travellers, whether it’s a new train journey or a jaw-dropping resort that’s just opened, whether there’s an amazing new museum or an architectural wonder with breathtaking views that’s finally been completed. Think what the Guggenheim did for Bilbao or Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa for Dubai.
Sometimes what’s new is the means of getting there, such as a new flight route or a big new plane; that there is greater accessibility, such as reduced visa fees, the elimination of visas altogether, or the lifting of sanctions or travel restrictions (the reason Cuba is now a hot destination for Americans). It might be a change of political leadership or even the end of a war that now makes travel safer to that place.
Occasionally editors will contact travel industry leaders, such as CEOs of airlines, travel companies, tour operators, and hotel chains, to seek their opinions on which destinations they think travellers will be going to. You’d think these people would know, but you’d be wrong. Sure there are some visionaries and thought leaders in the travel, tourism, aviation and hospitality industries, but the Richard Bransons are few and far between.
Overall, these industries and the people who work in them are pretty conservative and slow to adapt and adopt. I could recount scores of conversations over the years with excitable CEOs who’d just discovered a travel trend or technology that had been around for years that they thought was new.
I remember putting together a travel trend story based on tips from industry leaders a couple of years ago and of the dozen people I approached for predictions on new destinations or trends, only one person responded with anything new or visionary — an online travel publisher.
Another problem I have with those lists (as fun as they are to compile), is that a destination that might be considered ‘new’ or off-the-beaten-track in one part of the world might be ‘old’ and well established in another. One person’s rising destination might be a declining holiday spot for someone else.
I’ll never forget pitching US magazine editors stories on Dubai many years ago and being told it was too off the beaten track and nobody would be going there for a while — we were living there at the time and it was already beginning to boom as a tourist destination, although mainly with Europeans, Brits and Aussies.
Similarly, I remember reading a story in an American magazine about how Croatia was undiscovered and now was the time to go. We’d been two summers earlier for six weeks and every city, town and island was crowded with European tourists. And I know the media in Australia, the UK and other countries must make the same pronouncements about American destinations.
Significant media attention can also be damaging for destinations. On the one hand, the local economy might boom from an increase in visitors. On the other, people might stay away because they perceive a place to be too popular and therefore no longer cool.
Of course, there’s still a place for encouraging people to go to destinations during a particular season (some shine in spring but are miserable in fall/autumn) or a holiday, festival or event (Sydney is fantastic during Vivid; we love Melbourne for the Food and Wine Festival).
Why How You Travel In 2015 Is Important
We firmly believe it’s more important — now more than ever — to talk about how to travel rather than where to travel.
Firstly, because there’s a lot of hate in the world right now, as evidenced from the increasingly violent planet we are living on. Most hate stems from a lack of knowledge, understanding and empathy. The more we know, understand and empathize with each other, the better we’ll all get along.
There couldn’t be a more stronger case for local travel and experiential travel — for connecting with locals and learning to live like locals when you travel, as well as learning and doing and experiencing more in the places you go to in order to develop a deeper and richer understanding of that place and its people.
Secondly, we’re really messing up our planet here and if something radical isn’t done soon, it’s going to be too late. Countless scientists have warned in recent months that global warming is causing “severe, widespread and irreversible damage to the environment”. Animal species are vanishing at an alarming rate due to climate change and habitat destruction.
Okay, so big corporations and irresponsible governments are mostly to blame, but if we all start to act more responsibly when we travel and try to reduce our ecologically footprint, we can make a difference. That’s an argument for slow travel, for travelling more slowly, more sustainably and more responsibly.
Lastly, for now, the disparity between rich and poor is the greatest it has ever been, or more correctly, the widest ever recorded (and that’s due to greedy people and government policies as well). More of us need to start to do more good and give back when we travel.
I’m not suggesting everyone sign up for a volunteer experience and go build houses in poor countries this year — we need to contribute responsibly and ethically. We’ve covered ways you can do that in the past, but we’re going to highlight a lot more in the future.
So that’s my case for not suggesting where you should be travelling in 2015. Ignore all the lists, don’t feel like you need to be going to the next hot destination, just go wherever you want to go. The important thing is not where to travel in 2015 but how to travel in 2015 and I’m going to tackle that in the next post.