Future of Travel (1)

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Back in the (northern) summer I was involved with a project looking at the future of travel and holidays. In the end the client didn’t like it and it was all junked. Seems a shame to waste the material so here is a bit of it. More to follow.

Going on Holiday
The impulse to travel links to human inquisitiveness and the need to rest, relax and reconnect and the continued popularity of holidaying is a sure sign that in an era characterised by upheaval, some things remain remarkably consistent.
In 2012, a record one billion people travelled internationally. By 2020, this figure is expected to reach around 1.4 billion (1.5 billion by 2025) and travel remains one of the largest and important economic activities worldwide, representing approximately 1 in 12 global jobs and around 5% of global GDP.

One might imagine that in times of economic austerity, geo-political turbulence, climate concerns and technological change, the opposite might be the case – that we would all be holidaying at home, in virtual worlds or nowhere at all – but for a great many people this is simply not the case. Despite SARS, Asian Flu, 9/11, oil price shocks, climate change concerns and the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the leisure travel industry has remained remarkably resilient of late– bouncing back quickly after short-term shocks.

In Britain, Spain remains the most popular holiday destination and thoughts of a sun drenched (or snow covered) elsewhere still remain at the forefront of most peoples’ minds. This may change over time, but while destinations and modes of transport will evolve, the need to get away and reconnect with oneself or with others, especially loved ones, will, we believe, remain constant.

Why we’ll still want to get away
Logically, travel makes little or no sense. Why leave the comfort, convenience, connectivity and relative certainty of home to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to do what often amounts to very little?

Some people travel to discover new things, to immerse themselves in new cultures, but for most, the need to slow down and do next to nothing trumps the wish to follow in the sandy footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson. A key reason for this appears to be work. In 2011, nearly 50 per cent of UK adults reported relatively low satisfaction with their work-life balance.

A fundamental driver of most holidays is the desire to unwind and escape from work or to get away from ‘life’ for a while. Increasingly we are working more than we realise too. The middle classes probably have the strongest reason to go on holiday, because they work the longest hours. Full-time managers and senior officials in the UK are paid, on average, for 38.5 hours a week, but actually work for 46.2 hours, a difference of 7.6 hours. Similarly, the professional classes are paid, on average, for 36.6 hours per week, but end up working for 43.4 (a gap of 6.8 hours). (ONS).

Hence the need to stop, switch off and get away, even if all people do is cross the channel and spend the next two weeks still tethered to work via a mobile device. If the future is faster, more volatile, more uncertain and contains more work, then the need to get away and unwind will almost certainly grow.

The same will broadly be true if families become more atomised, relationships become more virtual and people do not see their loved ones as often as they would like – they will want to invent ways to reconnect and bring the family back together.

Who we’ll go with
The travel industry, like other sectors, tends to equate family with ‘nuclear family’, which is the traditional unit of married mother and father and two smiling children.  However the make up of households is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. So companies that recognise changing needs and respond flexibly will flourish. Nowadays, the largest single household type in the UK, as in many other countries, contains just one person – there were 8 million of them in 2012 or just under 30% of all UK households and this is projected to rise to over 10 million by 2025.

Only about 20% of households contain dependent children and so whilst the ‘family holiday’ still exists, and is still big business, the majority of holidaymakers now comprise people travelling alone, single parents, married and unmarried couples and groupings of friends. Additionally, adults are having fewer children and are having them later, which means more mature parents – the average age that people have children in the UK is now 29 (vs. 23 in 1975).

There are also more couples without children, more same sex couples, more couples with children from more than one relationship, more adults living with parents (30% of 25-year-old men currently live at home), more couples living together that are not married (1.5 million opposite sex couples living together in 1996 compared to 2.9 million in 2012) and many more (much) older couples. (14 million aged 60+ now with a forecast of 17.5 million 60+ by 2025), all of which makes the idea of a ‘family holiday’ slightly ambiguous.

In the future we can expect to see single parent ‘family’ holidays together with single parent discounts, more multi-generational leisure experiences and more singles travelling alone to meet other singles, especially people with similar interests (Cue social network airline tickets that match seating plans to interests, allowing us to connect in different ways).

We might also see holidays tailored to recently separated singles – not so much a seven-year itch as a 57, 67, 77 and 87-year itch (the number of over-60s divorcing has risen by over a third in a decade while divorce rates for younger couples has fallen). An increase in older people living alone also means more pets as companions. This could, in turn, create a boom in pet friendly travel – or the opportunity for holiday companies to offer boarding services with the same reassurance and attention to detail that the owners receive, as pet boarding costs become a significant part of many peoples’ total holiday expenditure.

We should also not forget ethnicity. ‘British’ used to mean white or at least born and bred in Britain. This is no longer the case. The 2011 UK Census showed that one in eight of the population were born abroad, so increasing migration and ethnic diversity could open up a whole new segment of travellers less motivated by “traditional” fish and chips on the Costa Brava and more interested in reconnecting with their roots.

Similarly, we should remember that in many instances friends are the new family and people will travel not with direct family, but with colleagues, neighbours and virtual friends.

To be continued…

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One Response to Future of Travel (1)

  1. Kelly Rogers says:

    I think travel is going to be there despite many setbacks. But many people have different reasons why they travel. I hope it is still safe to travel in the next few months.

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