by David Porter,
The UK’s tourist industry faces unprecedented pressure, competition and environmental issues that clog the political agenda. New realistic vision is needed. The world’s biggest travel website, TripAdvisor, is created by millions of users of hotels and services who write about their experiences for the benefit of others. It’s the modern way, to use the wisdom of the crowd, but it has caused a storm when it turned out in January 2012 that some of the reviews were fabricated, condemned by the Advertising Standards Authority as ‘non genuine content’.The furore opened a wider debate in Britain, about the future of tourism in general and homegrown holidays in particular.In the past few years, the British ‘staycation’ has become part of language and culture. Strictly, it defines people staying in their own homes making day trips to parks, beaches, cities, countryside and amusements. It has come equally to mean those who holiday in the UK, making the most of Great Britain one way or another.
Of course, Brits still travel abroad in significant numbers to guarantee sunshine. Many have become habitual abroaders, believing that staying home is just not the same thing.
Tourism Is Politics
Meanwhile, tourism’s issues have risen up the British political agenda, because along with the entertainment business it remains a major employer and job creator. That is reflected across the world, where in some countries entire economies are tourist dependent, even those devastated by social unrest.
That in turn raises issues like energy consumption, sustainable tourism and the environment, maintaining historic fabric/integrity and how developing countries can participate without being swamped. Further, controversies like building a new London airport in the Thames estuary in Kent to allow the UK to compete in tourism and business against European hubs and into the lucrative China, Brazil, Indian markets, is not straightforward.
Add in a view that global warming could turn southern Europe too hot, while the UK is agreeably warm, growing semi-tropical produce. This benefit would be mitigated by water rationing because there isn’t enough in England and politically/economically no investment in water pipes from Scotland or Wales has been made.
British Services Industry
As income squeezes show no signs of easing, people demand ever better value for their spending. Servicing tourism in the internet age is the key to successful business growth, and after the January cruise liner disaster off Italy of the Costa Concordia, tourism is ripe for a shake up.
The Daily Telegraph obliged with searching questions and demands (28 January 2012): 10 Things We Would Change in Travel. These included no single supplements, no compulsory service tipping on cruises or elsewhere, addressing sky-high British rail fares, the habit of airlines to charge for everything and the sheer incapacity to cope of much infrastructure from airports, stations and roads to the countryside.
Charles Starmer-Smith wrote that despite the internet providing tickets, information and data in spades, a ‘bewildering choice’ of holidays, much needed hotel improvements, travel feels like an ‘exercise in not getting fleeced at every turn’.
He said that it’s not just airlines who see a ticket sale as a starting point for extras like booking itself, baggage, use of credit cards, food, drink and shopping. Airports and rail stations are retailing opportunities. Some airports extort a ‘development tax’ from all passengers.
Cattle-herding of passengers is made worse by the mantra of security. Nobody dares to say it has got beyond common sense. The government itself ‘sees the travelling public as a cash cow’. Motoring taxes are exorbitantly high in Britain, Air Passenger Duty is a levy on holidays in the name of ‘the environment’.
So much for the present. Some are concerned about the future. A consortium of travel industry companies and Government called Forum for the Future conducted a study. It’s based on six principles: protecting the environment; developing employees; providing customers with mainstream sustainable products; ensuring destinations benefit from tourism; innovating to create sustainable transport and resorts; and developing a business which is environmentally, socially and financially sustainable.
Bearing in mind climate change, population growth, increasing domestic demand, legislation, shortages of oil and other resources and increasing travel from emerging economies, they wanted to consider ‘how, where, when and even if, people will travel in the coming decades’.
For this unique peer into tomorrow’s world Goldsmiths College, London students created four vivid, plausible scenarios followed by a vision of a sustainable tourist industry. They asked if mass tourism, swollen by ‘Chinese and Indian middle classes’ would cause overcrowding in popular destinations? Would soaring oil prices make air travel so costly that families have to save for years? Forever?
We already have extreme tourism and movie tourism, so will we see the dawn of ‘doomsday tourism’, where people flock to see certain animals and habitats, icebergs, rain forests and coral reefs before they vanish? Will future ‘carbon quotas’ force more staycations?
Boom and Burst looks at how global travel has grown but trade-offs are needed in UK emission targets and destination density and asks how long growth can be maintained? Will travel decline? Divided Disquiet focuses on devastating climate change, wars over resources, social unrest, unbearably tight security and overcrowding.
Price and Privilege poses a situation where fuel costs make travel punitively expensive to such an extent that mass tourism is an industry shrunk to a niche market for the very rich. Finally, Carbon Clampdown, imagines tradable carbon quotas have been made compulsory in response to public demand for environmental action as problems of climate change take hold, so that local holidays become fashionable and the norm.
For now, tourism remains a powerful industry in the British economy. If the UK dissolves into her separate component nations, the problems of Scottish, English, Welsh and Eire’s tourist economies will remain to be solved, separately or together.