On space travel, immersive experiences, and other questionable travel trends
Author Chris Wright Illustration Sam Island
This month, travel-trend watchers descend on the city of Dallas for the World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual Global Summit, the highlight of which is the glittering “Tourism for Tomorrow” awards ceremony. I haven’t been invited to the event, which seems a little odd, given that I recently compiled a forward-looking study titled “Tourism for Next Tuesday.”
OK, I didn’t compile such a study, but I do have an interest in where the travel industry is headed. For one thing, I like to think of myself as an adventurous traveler. This does not mean that I’m the kind of person who will strap a camera to his head and throw himself into the nearest volcano; it means I have a tendency to embrace progressive tourism. Recently, for example, I’ve been big on what the pundits are calling immersive experiences, which might otherwise be termed “Cheap.”
The idea behind this trend, according to those in the know, is “having a unique experience rather than going to the landmarks”—even better if you can have your unique experiences in a destination not generally associated with tourism, like the phosphate mines of Nauru. Once you’ve checked into your gratifyingly run-down hotel, you might heighten the anti-holiday effect by pulling out your laptop and working on a spreadsheet, thereby partaking in what’s being called “bleisure travel.” Similarly, upon your return, you might sit at your desk sipping cocktails out of a pineapple.
My immersive experiences usually revolve around dining, if you can call it that. Wherever I am, I’ll bypass the so-called “good” restaurants and head instead for the ones for whom the term “bare bones” describes both the decor and the stuff they put on your plate. I had a nose-to-tail special in Paris recently that looked like something out of the Siege of Leningrad. Still, nothing says “lack of pretension” like a shinbone salad.
Closely related to the immersive experience trend is the “hipster holiday,” which mainly involves roaming around Berlin until you find the block with the most graffiti. Ideally, such a vacation should include the drinking of fortified wine from a parking lot pop-up stand, followed by a food-cart order of gluten-free bruschetta topped with locally sourced wilted crabgrass, and a post-prandial mugging.
Another big trend for 2016 is “multigenerational travel,” which, to my mind, might be a trend too far. The first problem is that toddlers, teens, and octogenarians have very different reference points, so the breakfast-table conversations are going to be strained—along with a good deal of the food. Also, many young people want to try out the local nightclubs when they go abroad, and it’s difficult to be “on fleek” when you have grandpa in your ear moaning about the lack of orthopedic chairs in the chill-out room.
Many of the more cutting-edge innovations, in fact, leave me confused. For one thing, I’m not so sure about this whole Airbnb thing, which seems to boil down to the idea that you give a stranger some money, and in return they invite you to spill Jägermeister on their living room rug. Even more puzzling was a recent headline telling us that “Travel Is Getting More Mobile.” I look forward to the follow-up article: “Water Is Getting More Wet.”
OK, OK, they were referring to mobile technology, the impetus behind the digital travel trend. Speaking as someone who has never used the word “hashtag” in a sentence, I’m going to have a hard time getting on board with this one. There are, for instance, several apps out there whose sole purpose is to inform you when you’re getting sunburned, which doesn’t seem a million miles from an app that tells you when you’ve been hit by a bus.
I don’t mean to sound negative here. There are many 2016 travel trends that I am keen to try. Underwater tourism is very high on my bucket list, even if a week in a private charter submarine does seem to be a good way to get closer to the bucket. Same goes for space travel, one of this year’s most intriguing trends, though I’m a bit concerned about roaming charges. I also plan to try my hand at “responsible tourism,” for the simple reason that doing so will mark me as a superior being. After all, how many people can honestly say that they would never even think about stepping on a baby turtle?
The travel trend that’s really got me hot under the rucksack straps, though, doesn’t actually involve travel. More and more, forward-thinking tourism boards are hosting “pop-up performances” in major urban centers—a London luau, say, or a Beijing barn raising—in order to lure would-be tourists to their destinations. It’s only a matter of time, I guess, before someone sets up a New York hotdog cart in a Dubai shopping mall, creating a perfect marriage of the authentic and the fake, at which point the entire trend-watching enterprise will disappear up its own web portal.
Ink Global U.S. editor Chris Wright looks forward to the day when human beings will be able to buy $150 family buckets of chicken at a pop-up shop in the Little Bushwick section of Mars.