With borders opening and restrictions lifting at an accelerated pace, stir-crazy travelers can’t book trips fast enough. It doesn’t matter where the plane is headed, travelers want a seat — right now.
Over the past year and a half, the tourism industry responded to peoples’ inability to move far beyond their borders. Intrepid Travel promoted short getaways as a way to “travel closer to home.” Destinations like Greece turned their marketing efforts toward neighboring countries instead of international markets. And travel bubbles aligned destinations with like-minded protection protocols.
With each passing day, though, travelers are more eager than ever to throw caution into the wind and get the heck out of dodge.
“After having a year of my life, my business and my freedom of movement stolen from me by #CovidZero zealots, the last thing I'm willing to do is immediately capitulate to green maniacs. If anything, I will aim to make my carbon footprint larger than ever, and will encourage everyone I know to do the same. Anyone who has a problem with that can **** right off.”
I get it. We’ve all lost a great deal in the past year. We’ve lost loved ones we’ll never spend time with again. We’ve lost moments to create new memories. Hugs we’ll never feel. Inside jokes we’ll never create. Experiences we’ll never have.
We stand on the edge of a really interesting moment. The climate crisis is a burning flag on the horizon. Racism and inequity have clearly been revealed in all their ugly reality. Disinformation campaigns are rampant. And politicization of just about everything has made it nearly impossible to have civil conversations about anything — let alone about any of these serious issues that need to be addressed.
It’s a hostile world out there, and the challenges facing society are overwhelming.
Travel professionals are eager to point toward Booking.com’s recent survey data as proof that at least the tourism industry has turned a meaningful corner. This research notes that 83% of travelers think sustainable travel is vital, and 61% say that living through the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.
Yes, these are promising stats. But what isn’t stated in this same breath are survey results from another Booking.com survey, which indicate 71% of global travelers would rather go on vacation in 2021 than find true love, and 64% say travel is more important to them now than before the pandemic.
Booking.com is known for its relatively responsible ethos, so the people responding to its surveys are more likely to be a bit mindful as they venture out into the world. Yet, even they are eager to get moving — almost at any cost.
And if they’re ready to pack their bags right this minute, where does that leave casual travelers — those people who don’t think twice about the negative or positive impacts traveling has on the destinations they visit, the people who live there, or the planet as a whole?
Revenge tourism is on the brink of exploding, and with it, we can expect to see travelers acting on impulse and a pent-up desire to release their stress in all sorts of disturbing ways.
People like this travel blogger, who commented on a thread where others expressed concerns about the state of aviation and the cruise industry: “After having a year of my life, my business and my freedom of movement stolen from me by #CovidZero zealots, the last thing I'm willing to do is immediately capitulate to green maniacs. If anything, I will aim to make my carbon footprint larger than ever, and will encourage everyone I know to do the same. Anyone who has a problem with that can **** right off.”
This magical moment we’re holding in our hands? It is the catastrophic combination of anger, frustration, misinformation, accumulated vacation time, expendable income, and a sense of entitlement and privilege.
What this means is that revenge tourism is on the brink of exploding. Eager to accelerate an industry that essentially came to a screeching halt, many tourism professionals are on board with the trend. But with it, we can expect to see travelers acting on impulse and a pent-up desire to release their stress in all sorts of disturbing ways.
From the moment the coronavirus swept across the globe, the tourism industry closed ranks, leaned into collaboration, and doubled down on its efforts to build the framework for a better future for tourism. This is the moment the tourism industry finds out whether its commitment to a more regenerative model of operation is worth anything more than the hot air it takes to state that commitment.
Let’s not throw the last year and a half of work away. Instead, let’s embrace action that every single travel service provider and destination can take today to help mitigate the harm caused by revenge tourism.
> Prioritize sustainability.
People take the path of least resistance. From cutting out single-use plastic bottles to adding a carbon removal fee into every transaction, you need to build sustainability into every aspect of your operations, if at all possible.
Travel should be sustainable with intention by default. Don’t give people an option to travel any other way.
> Clearly state expectations — then stand by them.
Travelers will push the boundaries of acceptable behavior because they’ve been catered to in the past. Be very clear about how you expect them to act in your destination or on your tour, and be clear about the consequences for not adhering to these expectations.
Whether these expectations are related to mask-wearing protocols or how to interact with marine wildlife, it is essential that revenge tourism does not dictate what tourism will look like in the coming months and years. A safer, more equitable, more sustainable model of tourism does not center travelers at the expense of local communities, wildlife, or the environment.
> Think of local needs and desires first.
What are you telling local residents when they have to stay locked up while travelers can run wild? What message do they receive when you attract travelers with vaccine tourism but local people don’t have access?
The pandemic made it clear that community resilience comes from within. Don’t forget that it was the people who lived in your own neighborhood who kept local businesses afloat and supported each other. Keep them front and center as you open your doors to outsiders. Without locals, you wouldn’t have destinations that other people would want to visit.
> Tell a more transparent story.
Don’t fall back into the habit of sanitizing your travel-related stories. Be honest about the challenges facing the people and environment in the destinations you represent. From wildfires to water shortages, these challenges are very real for a vast majority of the world’s population.
Communicate with travelers about how their presence impacts these challenges and what they can do to help curb their negative impact. Yes, there are folks like this travel blogger who aim to intentionally increase their carbon footprint, but there are also those who are eager to travel and mitigate their harm. Get as many people on board as possible with clear, consistent, transparent, and reinforced messaging.
> Model good behavior.
Generally speaking, we all want to travel right now. As you pack your bags, don’t forget that others are looking at you for insight on how to act. What this means is that you also need to fight the temptation to jump on the revenge tourism bandwagon. Your actions matter. You are highly influential. Don’t forget that.
The world is a different place than it was in early 2020. For better or for worse, when people travel again, they’ll be traveling with a different mindset. The question is, will that outlook on life support or destroy a better way of living, being, seeing, and experiencing the world?