Just recently when I was uncluttering a dusty attic at my parent’s house, I have come across a paper map of Italy. There wouldn’t be anything unusual about it if it wasn’t for all the good memories it revived. Back in the day, it was that particular map which led me and my parents across the country when I was a child. My dad would always have it handy on every trip and if he misplaced it somewhere by accident, he would have a panic attack over losing his one and only guide to our next holiday destination. It kind of brings a tear to the eye when I think of it now. But I realized how much the way we travel has changed. My dad has long ditched his paper map and switched to Google Maps, he books flights on the go on his mobile, and treats reviews posted by hotel guests more seriously than any other travel guide. Welcome to a world of customized experiences and “flooded” with Fluid Tourists.
The Wealthier, the Mindful, the Fluid Tourist
A fluid identity means that tourists can afford to indulge in new experiences more frequently than ever before. As a society, we earn more, we know what we want, and we want it now. We desire thrill, seek novelty, but also get bored very quickly. This is how the modern way of living, rising incomes and wealth accumulation has shaped us and our fluid identity in the world of constant change.
It is safe to say that we have all lived to see the world change into one global village. Some call it a ‘melting pot’, but I prefer to call it a global village. A place in which the globalization of tourism combined with increases in disposable income sets its own standards. It give us an endless mass of possibilities while traveling. We can go virtually anywhere we want, we are no longer defined by boundaries, distance or culture. As tourists, we are both comfortable with a European city break or a 3-month expedition across Asia. We are, or at least feel like, the citizens of this world.
Tourists can no longer be labeled by their culture or nationality. It is no longer applicable. They all seek new experiences, constantly evolve and have access to an endless choice of possibilities. They often want to stay longer and go deeper into the culture of their destination. Especially the emerging tourists from Asia.
Looking at that old map, I can remember how much my vacations today differ from the way I traveled with my parents. I’m sure many of you can also relate.
In a Time Not So Far Away…
Back in the day, we would either book holidays at the high street travel agency or go on trips to places we’ve already been to several times. It was efficient, it saved us time, money and quite frequently, also the frustration of having to search for the ideal accommodation all over again. Why bother and search for something new if you’re already happy with that good old resort you’ve been to so many times? Instead of going out of our way in the search for new experiences, we chose to travel domestically rather than internationally, also known as stayvacation.
But back then, tourism did not thrive as much as it does now, people didn’t have so much extra money to spend and society wasn’t in general so hungry for new experiences and adventures. We were complacent with what we had. In the 1950s, only 25 million people worldwide took an international holiday. Fast forward to 2017 and we have 1.3 billion people travelling internationally every year (Yeoman, 2008). Why?
The answer is relatively simple, as the digital world barely even existed two decades ago and Tim Berners-Lee was just about to invent what we call the Internet today — that might explain it a bit. There was no place yet for technology to create the urge to travel and information wasn’t as accessible as it is now.
The birth of the Internet triggered the change in people’s attitudes towards traveling. It came along with growing incomes which created higher expectations and changed the overall definition of traveling. Today, we make travel plans spontaneously, we plan these trips on mobile phones and we do it more frequently than ever before.
The contemporary growth of tourism is based on the increase in household incomes per head, which doubles every 25 years in OECD member countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Along with the economic boom, came the era of accelerated technological progress, laptops, tablets and of course, smartphones.
One Review Is Worth More Than a Thousand Words
The combination of endless choice, technology and 24/7 access to our smartphones with wifi has transformed us into master bargain hunters and whiners at the same time — we tend to voice our opinions more often than before. And as we have the power to express our points of view — we do so, whether through social media or the word of mouth. In fact, we tend to form our opinions on reviews we find online written by peers rather than official sources. Therefore, the importance of guest generated content can never be stressed enough. For tourists, the Internet has become a one-stop-shop with endless reviews from other users or guests which tourists apparently love so much.
Now, let’s turn the tables and put ourselves in the shoes of the hotelier at the other side of the screen. Those of us who have booked a hotel online at least once, knows how how easy it is to rate the hotel afterwards. Long story short, all hotels want a 5-star review from tourists with expectations often going through the roof.
Pleasing demanding guests isn’t always a piece of cake, especially in the era where many people live under the assumption that everything that can be invented already has been invented. In order to meet these expectations, hotels have started customizing the entire guest experience. They aim to fully personalize guest experiences at all levels from start to finish, often by means of hotel TV systems and an array of other digital signage solutions.
“People are looking for meaningful experience. More and more travelers prefer to fully customize their own plans rather than go on another cookie-cutter trip.” said Marcin Jamroz, CEO of Berg Technologies. “They want their travel experiences to be unique and distinguish them from other travelers by exploring as much as they can on one trip. Whether they plan to go on a 2-week family vacation or enjoy a city break, every trip can be unique — like joining a fiesta in Mexico or visiting private tombs in Egypt. It’s the experience that needs to be seamless. With the right technology that guides the tourist through such adventure by sharing the most valuable information about the destination, it will be.”
And You, Do You Have a Fluid Tourist In You?
Reality check for all. Ever since luxury has become more accessible to the world’s middle class, we’ve all become more lavish. Hiring a cabriolet or a private boat for the weekend sounds like a plan and no longer is a big deal. But fluid tourists are not so much about the material aspect. What really matters at the end of the day is our cultural capital, that is how we, tourists, talk about our trips and experiences. The importance of these has started defining our status and identity. It is the critical currency in many conversations i.e. ‘Have you been to Japan? I’ve recently climbed mount Fuji.’
It’s the knowledge and overall experiences of travelling, arts and culture that tell others who we are, rather than our social status or the volume of our wallets. As we’re moving away from the industrial era and making a swift shift towards cultural capitalism, our inner fluid identity has also developed a strong cynical attitude towards marketing. The following scenario represents it best:
I love to travel. I usually go on long vacation twice a year and take a few short breaks in between. This time, I decided to explore Italy. In fact, I’ve been to Rome before, but never had the chance to really indulge in the rest of the country. And there’s so much to explore! So many of my friends have talked about the great food in the countryside, the picturesque beaches of Tuscany and the architecture in Florence… So before I knew it, I was booking a cheap flight and renting a car to begin my true adventure across the country. I didn’t book any accomodations beforehand — I trusted my gut, but also wasn’t sure in which city I would end up. At first, I thought I would go to Cinque Terre, but after having seen like a million pictures from the famous villages on Instagram, I thought I would go for a less obvious destination. Something new, something I haven’t heard of. My feeling lead me towards the east coast. And so I spent the most wonderful time of summer in Ancona and Numana Beach, a place where I could try something new every day. Whether it was visiting the Frasassi caves, a day at the beach, a road trip to Florence, or a day spent at the local winery.
My scenario has undoubtedly been shaped by many trends and factor of the fluid identity such as, personal recommendations cultural capital, wealth and the desire to explore new things, but the biggest impact on me was the will to experience italy by simply traveling across the country and living life rings ‘as is’. Rings a bell, doesn’t it?
2008. Tomorrows Tourists: Scenarios & Trends. Oxford: Elsevier.