This New Years Eve, a group of friends and I were having dinner. At someone’s prompting, we all shared our five favourite moments of 2019. Two things stood out. First, everyone included at least one memory from a holiday. And secondly, in all those holiday-related moments what people said mattered was not the place, but the time. It was the experience, shared with people they loved, that they treasured.
This may seem a fairly trite observation. After all, we are endlessly reminded that we live in an experience economy, or that this year is the year of experiential tourism. But those are more often experience as object to be acquired and desired – the highest, deepest, fastest, loudest. It’s life as theme park.
The experiences my friends recounted over dinner were far smaller – they were about time spent in nature, with family, with friends. Laughing over drinks at a campsite. Slowing down. Simply being together away from the need to achieve any superlative firsts.
Also none of them really demanded that we go far away. They all required a change of scene. But that could have been no further than the neighbouring county. All they really required is that they all stopped doing the same work in the same place every day and went ‘on holiday’ somewhere else.
A couple of months ago, at World Travel Market, I was watching a session called Travel Broadens the Mind: Can We Do More? In it I heard from Aziz Abu Sarah, who is founder & CEO of Mejdi Tours, a company which adopts an innovative approach to guiding. Mejdi Tours’s excursions feature two tour guides, each offering different perspectives on its unique ‘Dual Narrative Tours’, for example a Palestinian and an Israeli in Jerusalem, or a Protestant and a Catholic in Northern Ireland. It’s a truly radical and brilliant approach to what tourism can do.
But what stuck in my mind was not his business model, but a simple observation Aziz made.
“The mistake is to think travel is about distance,” he said. “Travel is about change. It is about discovering difference.”
The age of unfettered long haul travel is – though its proponents will deny it for some years yet – coming to an end. If I was to make one new decade prediction it would be this – the financial cost of carbon is going to go up considerably in the next few years, to say nothing of the social cost. (That the environmental cost is unaffordable and escalating I am taking as a given). Flying long distances will become as relatively expensive as it once was. Long haul travel won’t end. But it will be scaled back drastically.
Of course we’ll still go on holiday. My friends’ New Year’s Eve memories made it clear how important it is to spend time away from work with those we love. But they also made it clear that the memories weren’t defined by the exotic nature of the location, or how far they’d schlepped to get there.
Huge investment and energy is going to be expended in the next 10 years trying to develop new clean fuels and batteries light enough to fly across the Atlantic. I wish them well.
But I also wish we’d spend a bit more time imagining something else. Learn to appreciate closer, smaller things. Build a world that celebrates difference, not distance.