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Travel

Susanne Eckes on normtrotters, drones and zero-waste tourism

Where will vacationers be heading in 2016? What are the most exciting global trends? What challenges does the tourism industry face? DW asked trend researcher Susanne Eckes.

Deutsche Welle: Today most vacationers find out about attractive holiday destinations through social media, blogs, and user reviews. But when it comes to booking, many still go to travel agencies. What will tourists be doing in 2030?

Susanne Eckes, Copyright/ Fotograf: Jeske Beier

Susanne Eckes is a consultant at Zukunftsinstitut GmbH, a German think tank that examines future trends, and also author of the "Tourismusreport 2015"

Susanne Eckes: I don't believe that travel agencies will die out. Information will never replace advice and service. And that's what travel agencies offer, both online and offline. In the future, that distinction will no longer be quite as important. It's clear that the number of people who go online to find out more about travel destinations will continue to increase. The older target generation, which tends to travel a lot, has more and more access to tablets and smart phones - and young people already have that access, of course. Forty-one percent of Germans have booked a trip online. I believe that number will continue to rise - things like train tickets and airline tickets, nothing all too complicated. That will become commonplace. What's trickier are things like package tours - the kinds of things where people will think, "Do I really want to scrape together the individual components in my spare time, online, or should I just go and book the entire thing through a travel agent?" When it comes to that kind of expertise, I don't believe that will go out of style.

Globetrotters, individual travelers, all-inclusive vacationers, beach holidays. Will those categories continue to exist in the future? Do you see any new species of holidaymakers on the horizon?

Beach in Cuba, Copyright: Peter Zimmermann

An undying dream: the empty sandy beach

In absolute numbers, not all that much has changed. For example, beach holidays on the Spanish coast are still very popular among Germans. But the "normtrotter," for example, is a new phenomenon. It's a term that relates to a larger social transformation. For quite some time, travelers had a tendency to scorn package tours. Individual travel became increasingly popular, and it was definitely more chic - but not everyone wants to do that. Today we're seeing a mix of both. People want to have the sense that they're having a personalized experience at their destination and that they're getting personalized service, rather than being part of a standardized one-size-fits-all tour. So today vacationers are being comfortably transported through Scandinavia, with all their bookings arranged in advance, and they're no longer having to make all their own arrangements in advance, or on-site. But at the same time, they're enjoying the sensation of a personalized travel experience - even though the arrangements are in the modality of a package tour.

How did you come up with the term "normtrotter"?

"Norm" means average, and "trotter" is taken from "globetrotter". But it also draws upon the normcore fashion trend. People are wearing simple clothing, like blue jeans and a simple white t-shirt, without thousands of accessories. So it's a kind of simplification that stands in opposition to the frantic trend toward individualism.

What other new trends have you been observing in the tourist industry?

In the past, it tended to be affluent, older travelers who brought their children or grandchildren along on holidays - for example, on cruises. But that's become a broader social trend. It's probably also got something to do with the fact that families are often widely dispersed nowadays, and don't see each other all that often. This kind of multi-generation traveling is especially popular in the US, where numbers are on the rise. I predict that overall social transformations will also tend to encourage that kind of multi-generation traveling here, too.

Since you've already mentioned the US - that's where festivals are becoming increasingly popular as a sort of mini-getaway.

Burning Man Festival 2007, Copyright: dpa - Report

In the middle of a desert in Nevada: the Burning Man Festival

Festivals are popular right now in the US and in Europe, too. They create a short-lived sense of community. People come together, share an experience, and feel connected for that brief moment in time. It's a trend that's very typical of the networked generation. It's also linked to a large culture of volunteer effort, for example when it comes to organizing the festivals. The appeal derives from the opportunity to immerse yourself in a parallel world that is bounded in both space and time. This world might somehow represent your own personal ethos in some way, or promise you something new and experimental. Take the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, for instance. Participants all don flamboyant costumes. They build fantasy-vehicles, right in the middle of the desert. The main draw is the community that is created. And the numbers show that it's an increasingly popular trend. In 1994, Burning Man drew 2,000 visitors. By 2004, it was 35,000. In 2014, that figure had risen to 66,000 visitors.

According to the worldwide tourism organization UNWTO, Europe is the most popular global travel destination - although with a downward trend: in 1980, 64 percent of all tourists went to Europe; in 2013, it was just 52 percent. How will that change by 2030, and who has the edge over the competition?

Asia is clearly the winner. That's partly because Europeans have discovered Asia. But many Asians also travel within their own region, thanks to increased economic prosperity in their own countries. The UNWTO predicts an increase of 30 percent in tourism to Asia and the Pacific region by 2030, and only 41 percent for Europe. I'm always slightly cautious about such predictions for the future, because sometimes the indications can change very quickly. But I think China will remain strong, because by now many people belong to the middle class, and would also like to travel more individually.

For two years, the Chinese have surpassed world travel champions the Germans. Their favorite destination is Europe on group tours. Will that continue?

Shopping in Vienna, Copyright: Alison Langley

Chinese tourists travel to Europe with new expectations

According to current statistics from a marketing agency, 9 out of 10 Chinese people return disappointed from their trips to Europe. They no longer want to be treated as standardized tourists. Instead, such topics as well-being and tours tailored to their own tastes are in demand - especially among younger people. In keeping with the "normtrotter" concept, Chinese tourists traveling individually want tea or noodle soup in their hotel rooms or a breakfast area specializing in Chinese dishes and access to Chinese television. Specific hotel groups, rather than regions of Europe, tend to excel in providing that.

Islands are sinking under rising seas, polar ice caps are melting - the challenge of climate change is affecting the world. Now the UNWTO has named 2017 the year of sustainable travel. Is sustainable tourism a solution?

I believe that, unfortunately, sustainable tourism in the sense of reducing your carbon footprint isn't a driving force at present. But sustainability must become important. How can we travel without feeling guilty? We want to travel despite climate change, so innovative ideas have to be found. There are examples such as volunteering, where tourists on vacation help locals on site during their holiday. But we usually fulfill our wish to travel to pristine natural surroundings at the expense of nature.

Tourists in Greeland, Copyright: Patrick Pleul

Witnessing climate change firsthand: tourists in Greenland

In your publication you talk about the trend to "zero waste" related to this topic. Could you please explain that?

We have to see ourselves as part of nature and think in terms of closed loop systems. There's no waste in nature, because everything flows back into the natural cycle. Environmental researcher Michael Braungart describes it in his latest book, "Cradle to Cradle," and it's something we still don't really manage to do. We separate out a few waste products and reuse them once or twice - upcycling, downcycling - and that's the end of it. Hotels should think about zero waste, because they have closed-loop systems in which they could try it out.

What examples already exist in which the principle of zero waste is being applied to tourism?

Right now there are more zero-waste restaurants than anything else. They try to produce everything themselves, work with local suppliers and dispense with packaging. Another example is a sightseeing tour in Kerala in India, in which tourists visit a zero-waste center organized entirely by women. Everything that is no longer needed is taken there. The people there sort the items, recycle them and sell them very successfully – to hotels among other places. Hotels even have some items that they need produced there. It's an excellent example of how any waste product can be made recyclable.

Will zero-waste tourism be a trend in 2030?

I don't believe we'll be able to take zero-waste vacations. More than anything, vacations satisfy a desire to experience something we don't see every day. But the question is: how can we keep people from feeling guilty? I think we have to think very hard about innovations in that respect.

What do you think is the craziest future travel trend?

Drones in tourism. First there was the selfie, then the selfie stick, and in the future, drones will fly along to film us mountain biking. Or a drone will accompany me on vacation and edit together a film of it for me. Psychologically that's possible, because people like to take pictures of themselves, and the selfie stick isn't infinitely long. In addition, the fact that you can use a drone to look at regions or archaeological excavations that aren't accessible will certainly ensure that they'll play a part in tourism in the future.

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