The Countdown: Ten Trends for the Next Millennium
by Risa Weinreb
IN THE EARLY 1900s, a trans-Atlantic crossing by ship took about seven days. By the 1930s, Charles Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris tantalized people with the possibility of long-distance travel by air. The '50s saw the introduction of Disneyland and Arthur Frommer's $5 A Day series, while the '80s brought in the space shuttle and eco-tourism. Bali became the new Boca
Teetering on the brink of the Temporal Big One, the travel scene is changing faster than
the departure screen at JFK Airport. In just the blink of an eye, we've cozied up to e-tickets and Global Positioning Systems, technical high jinks unknown to most consumers at the start of the decade, when Cheers was the highest-rated show on TV.
Adventure travel is always an innovator, and the trends previewed below will soon be mainlining into the travel industry at large. As the cosmic odometer rolls from 1999 into two-triple-oh!, you might feel a tingle of recognition--or is it reckoning?
We have met the future.
And it is us.
- Emerging Destinations. Recently, I visited the Baliem Valley in the highlands of Irian Jaya. By day, I trekked to remote settlements where the villagers were just one generation (hopefully) removed from cannibalism. At night, I settled into an air-conditioned hotel with cold Heinekens, hot-water showers, and a satellite dish that picked up MTV and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The ends of the earth aren't as far away as they used to be, as once-exotic destinations become scrapbook-fodder for been-there, done-that vacationers. Fabled childhood fantasies--Machu Picchu, Kathmandu, Mandalay--now appear on itineraries of even conventional tour operators.
Meanwhile, everyone from toddlers to Great Aunt Bertha is suiting up in Gore-Tex and Patagonia fleece for expeditions once better suited for an Indiana Jones, like hiking to Everest base camp or white-water rafting through the Grand Canyon. Special-interest companies handle all details from hiring the Sherpas to squeezing the Charmin in with the espresso beans and bufala mozzarella.
- Opening Doors. At various times over the past 50 years, Americans were required to have their passports validated for travel to China (until 1971), Vietnam (until 1977) and Eastern European destinations such as Albania (until 1967) and the German Democratic Republic (until 1974). Countries such as Guatemala and South Africa were deemed unsafe due to political upheaval.
Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the carving up of the Soviet Union, and political reform throughout most of Central and South America, destinations once considered "off limits," including Vietnam and Russia, have opened to American travelers .
One still-forbidden fruit dangles just 90 miles from American shores--Cuba. Since 1961, the Trading with the Enemy Act has restricted the access of U.S. citizens to that country; nonetheless, about 85,000 Americans found their way there in 1998, entering via Canada, Mexico, and various Caribbean nations. Many people expect that the trade sanctions will be lifted within five years.
Alas, the year 2000 promises no dawning of the Age of Aquarius, as the recent massacre of visitors tracking gorillas in Uganda and war in the former Yugoslavia reveal. Yes, people want to send postcards from the edge--but they don't want their family vacation to be the lead story on CNN.
While remaining open to new destinations, travelers will also have to watch out for the next danger zone. In short--get there while the going's good.
- Women's Travel. "Women travel differently from men in two ways," says Mary Beth Bond, author of Gutsy Women and travel expert on ivillage.com, The Woman's Network. "First of all, women are more concerned with their personal safety. Women also move more slowly through the world. We make connections--we're interested in getting to know the local people. Women don't need to 'bag' a mountain peak. We want to see the rainforest . . . orchids . . . orangutans."
Women also have economic clout. More than 70% of decisions for all types of travel are made by women, who book air, hotel, and land arrangements not just for themselves, but also on behalf of their spouses and families. Women comprise 38% of all business travelers--and nearly 70% of all adventure travelers.
Wild Women Adventures in Sebastopol, California, runs special-interest trips for females only. While Baby Boom-ettes confronting an empty nest make up a good chunk of their business, they're not the whole story, according to Carol Rivendell, "Queen Executive Officer." "We've also attracted widows and divorcees in their 60s, and also younger career women who want someone else to take care of all the logistics, but still want something unique."
Wild Women designs itineraries to suit women's preferences, "We don't move from place to place to place. You get to know the guy with the gelato stand down the street--you feel like a visitor rather than a tourist." Regarding hotels, "We go for charming. If we can stay in a castle--we stay in a castle."
- Spiritual Travel. Swimming with dolphins. Communing with Andean shamans. More and more people are seeking mental and physical sanctuary from modern-day stresses.
Spiritual tours offer a chance to "leave possessions and personality behind and venture into entirely new surroundings," says Elizabeth Davies of Spirit Travel, a Portland-based operator offering "experiental tours" to ancient holy places in India, Nepal, and Tibet. "A spiritual traveler returns with a whole new perspective of his/her inner self and the world at large."
Amid all the crystals and drumming circles, one should not forget that for Christians, the millennium celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. "There's a 50 to 100 percent increase in inquiries about our trips," reports Scott Scherer, president of Catholic Travel Centre and Trinity World Tours. Destinations drawing the strongest interest include Israel (Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem), Italy (Rome), and Germany (because of the Oberammergau passion play). "Especially in the Catholic market, people are commenting that they want to participate in the tradition of making a pilgrimage to Rome," Scherer observes.
- Do It Yourself--Sort Of. Ever the self-indulgers, both Yuppies and Gen Xers want to have their tiramisu and eat it too. On one hand, they like their freedom. On the other hand, they want someone else to pitch the mess tent and wash the dishes.
The number of independent travelers has grown, according to a recent survey by the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA). Because of the change, a varied array of travel suppliers has benefited. Central Holidays, a tour operator in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, which runs car-rental programs in Italy and Spain, reports that their bookings have grown by 15% a year.
Yacht charters are also up. "We're finding that a lot of people say they're tired of the cruise-ship hubbub, and they want something a little bit more intimate," states Pat Huntley, owner/manager of Huntley Yacht Vacations, who adds that nearly 70% of her clients are new to charter-yacht vacations. "People like the idea that they can stay as long as they like at one anchorage. Not only can they help plan the itinerary, they can change it along the way if they desire."
- Gay and Lesbian Travel. One lifestyle segment deemed "most likely to travel" are the 14 million gays and lesbians in the United States. Homosexuals represent a $47.3 billion travel market, according to a survey compiled by Community Marketing. Over 90% of gay and lesbian travelers polled had traveled in the last 12 months, compared to 48% in the mainstream market. This high propensity to travel coincides with high discretionary income: nearly 50% of gay households report incomes of over $60,000, compared with 28% of the total population of U.S. adults.
There are several reasons why homosexuals might prefer to travel on a gay and lesbian tour, explains Agustin Merlo, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), a network of companies marketing to the community. "First, they feel more welcome. Some tours gear to the special interests that the community may have, such as a location of significance or a hero or heroine." Since safety is always an issue, people tend to feel more secure too, he comments.
Long-time favorite destinations include "gay havens" with large homosexual populations, such as New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. But now, says Merlo, "People want to visit other areas and feel just as comfortable and safe."
- The Hand-Over. It still is an engineering marvel, ranking right up there with the Pyramids and Eiffel Tower. And at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999, the Panama Canal will celebrate a momentous event of its own--the transfer to Panamanian control.
While focusing attention on the passage, the hand-over also is expected to energize interest in Panama itself, a country largely bypassed by the ecotourism boom in neighboring Costa Rica. "Panama is still an undiscovered locale for most Americans," observes Linda Rice, a tour consultant with Panama Discovery Tours in Clarita, Oklahoma. "The beaches are really beautiful, but there's not much infrastructure yet." But both Marriott and Radisson have recently opened hotels in Panama City; Sheraton, Hyatt Regency, and Hilton are also going into the market.
"The country has a lot of the same ecology that Costa Rica does," Rice explains. And at the marine park in Bocas del Toro, there's turtle nesting and mangroves with a lot of sea life.
- Vacations for Learning. Knowledge--not just snapshots--has become the focus for more and more travelers, who are booking onto edu-ventures such as literary tours, language study, and research programs.
For example, Earthwatch Institute began in 1971 with 39 volunteers, and has grown into the second-largest source of private money supporting field-science expeditions in the country. In 1999, they will place almost 4,000 volunteers with research teams in 51 countries.
"A lot of the people who turn to Earthwatch have already lain on beaches and visited museums. They're looking for an experience that opens gates to places that they couldn't or wouldn't normally go," says spokesperson Sarah Blume.
Programs in Africa rank among the favorites, especially those dealing with rhinos and elephants. Dolphins and turtles are also big draws. "We've been studying turtles consistently for many years, so people know that they're part of ongoing research," explains Blume.
"We're seeing new interest on the learning and the education aspects," she continues. Earthwatch has added a new Masterclass program in Africa and Mallorca, allowing people to visit with several different expeditions on a two- or three-week trip. "You could visit an archeology site one day, a nature preserve the next . . . the goal is to give an overview not just of the animals, but also the people, climate changes, and more."
- Cooking Schools. Here's an interesting dichotomy. Americans now eat one-third of their meals away from home--a proportion that has doubled in less than 20 years. At the same time, sales of gourmet goodies such as extra-virgin olive oils are up, and viewership of the TV Food Network doubled between 1996 and 1998, currently drawing about 37 million subscribers.
Mary Beth Clark, founder of The International Cooking School of Italian Food and Wine, thinks that dining out has actually boosted interest in fine food. "People are still interested in cooking at home, but--because their time is so limited--they want to get the most out of it. Since most people do dine out, restaurants are now their reference points. I teach restaurant techniques and style that the average cook can successfully achieve."
About 60% of her clients are women, 40% men. In age, she's gone as low as 15 and up to a "very spritely 82." Most participants "have gone to most of the major tourist sites, and now they want to learn more about the culture."
When people first call to inquire about her programs, Clark relates, "They say, 'I've wanted to do this for years.' It's like a dream come true for them."
- Space--The Next Frontier. Flash Gordon. Princess Leia. Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Challenger and Columbia.
Suddenly, 2001 is just a few flips of the calendar away--and a space odyssey will soon become reality for everyday Americans, if Zegrahm Space Voyages has anything to say about it. The company aims to give altitude to just plain (or is it plane?) folks within two years.
"If you talked about space tourism anytime up to two or three years ago, people would laugh," recalls Tom Rogers, president of the Space Travel Association. Now, "People are beginning to take the idea seriously." Plans center on sub-orbital flights as well as sojourns at space hotels.
Will you need a passport? Can you bring carry-on luggage? What time-zone are we in anyway?
Stay tuned for the next century.