After a tough few years, the tourism branch is back, with a few changes. Experts anticipate a steadily growing industry that will be among the most important in the world in a few decades.
People don't have to travel far for a bit of pampering
The threat of terrorism was only able to dampen the mood in the tourism industry for a few short years.
If the World Tourism Barometer is right, 2004 will continue the upwards trend of 2003, the first recovery year following the Sept. 11 attacks. According to the Madrid-based poll, which consults experts in 100 different countries, the industry's sales have increased from $474 billion (€384 billion) to $514 billion from 2002-2003.
The news is encouraging for a business that aims to be one of the 21st century's key industries. Pushed on by a prosperous world economy, experts estimated that there will be around 1.6 billion tourists by 2020, more than double the number in 2003.
Most will continue to head to Spain, Italy, France and the US, which remain among the most popular destinations, followed by China, Britain, Austria, Mexico, Germany and Canada. But southeast Asia, presently the choice destination of backpacking youth, is experiencing a sharp upwards trend.
The type of vacations people take is already changing. Terrorism fears have led travelers to find vacation spots closer to home, involving less travel time. The trend towards spending vacations in your backyard, a hit in Germany in 2001 and 2002, seems to be subsiding a bit, but will remain popular, according to the Future Institute, located in Hamburg.
Vacations will also likely become more personalized in the future. Tourism companies selling package tours plan to allow their clients to "build" their own vacation, rather than offer a one size fits all option.
Healing the mind and body, on vacation
"Destination Me" vacations are built around the health craze in the Western world. Less important than the actual location is the activities the tourist will be doing there - yoga, meditation, etc. Those that don't want to work on their bodies but want to heal their hearts can select travel group vacations designed to bring together those in similar situations (like new divorcees), according to the institute.
Whatever travel packages future tourists choose, industry experts say the main thing remains that they continue to travel. Up to one-fifth of Europe's combined gross domestic product depends on tourism. Worldwide, tourism has long replaced cars as the biggest export, according to the IMF.
Even the threat of terrorism hasn't been able to change that.