The new age of tourism

What’s driving the global travel and tourism boom? It’s a combination of geographic trends and long-term demographic patterns.

No matter where you spend your summer holiday – unless you rent a private island– you’re not likely to be alone. Today, more people are travelling to more places than at any time in history and that trend shows no sign of slowing down. Travel and tourism is one of the world’s largest industries, accounting for 10% of global employment and with a total value of nearly £8 trillion. It expanded by 3.8% last year alone.

No region is growing faster than Asia-Pacific, which now accounts for 45% of the worldwide retail travel market. China is that region’s largest contributor, with Chinese residents expected to take some 150 million outbound trips this year. China and the United States – the world’s two largest economies – collectively account for 35% of global travel and tourism spending, followed by Japan, Germany and the UK. Overall, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development expects that some 600 million additional ‘new guests’ will enter the tourism market in the next few years.

Global trends are constantly changing. Witness, for example, the rise of Asian gaming tourism, which is up 11% in the past two years in regional hotspots such as Macau, Singapore and the Philippines.

However, one of the greatest ongoing shifts in worldwide travel and tourism is demographic, rather than geographic. As global life expectancy inexorably rises – up 5.5 years between 2000-2016 alone – the number of retirement-age travellers is rising with it.

Over the next 35 years, the number of people above the age of 85 will triple. Some, though by no means all, will have the time, means and ability to travel well into their twilight years.

In Germany, for example, roughly two-thirds of the population travelled for leisure last year, the highest percentage ever. Growth there was driven by those above the age of 55, and especially those aged between 65-74, according to the BAT Foundation for Future Studies.

The same trend is mirrored in developed countries worldwide, where this increasingly mobile ‘grey market’ will account for an ever-larger percentage of travel and tourism spending. And what’s true for that industry is true for others, too – including retail, dining and even fitness.

Despite all these positive indicators, the tourism industry faces numerous challenges, including greater sensitivity to the negative environmental impact of all that increased travel, especially by air. Security is another issue that has never been higher on the list of tourist concerns, and one that is especially unpredictable.

Finally, in our mobile world, at a time when everyone is available 24/7, the ‘out of office’ message will soon be a thing of the past. Consequently, connectivity is now a core requirement for most travellers – adding to the cost of running a hospitality business anywhere, including on that private island, and forever changing what it means to ‘get away from it all’.

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