The genius French novelist Jules Verne foresaw like no other the future of mankind, conquering frontiers that seemed beyond the wildest dreams in the 19th Century. Space travel; speleology; the Nautilus, something close to an almighty nuclear submarine; and yes, global travel in my personal favourite Around the World in 80 Days. Today, a satellite can orbit the earth 16 times in a day.
The most-extended common place today is to speak about globalisation, how small the world has become or that the Internet, social media and instant news have taken everything to everyone’s smartphone or computer. But that is simply not enough.
The world is experiencing an unstoppable trend, the passion for travel, leisure and first-hand experiences. I can’t dare say that the 1.3 billion humans who travelled to a country other than their own in 2016, did for cultural reasons, for their education or to deepen their knowledge. A part of that huge number certainly did but even those who travelled just to have fun, always bring back, for the most part, experiences that will change them, shape them and educate them.
Some facts are really surprising: only 46 per cent Americans have passports and not all of them travel, around 75 million (of 1.3 billion population) Indians have passports, and that number is growing by a mind-boggling 12-14 million passports a year! Only six per cent of the Chinese have passports and again not all of them travel. Just imagine, if 10 per cent of Indians and Chinese travel, it will shake the industry beyond recognition.
Travel of all types is going to continue to surge: business travel (not everything can be done on a conference call or video conference); cultural and education travel; leisure; gastronomic travel; adventure and environmental-friendly trips. People want to travel; they feel the need to see the world for themselves.
Imagine what all of this will mean for Indians, that in ever- growing numbers have become world travellers. In the rankings of tourist of quality, they score very well. They are family travellers, good spenders, urban sightseers, museum visitors, and respectful of the laws and customs of the countries they visit. It also works the other way round—India receives only about eight million foreign tourists compared to Spain’s 73 million. But India has some of the most fascinating treasures to show and the numbers are going to rise consistently in the coming years, and that will be a serious challenge for the existing infrastructure.
The air travel industry is going to live a silver age, not exactly a golden one, because air travel is going to grow exponentially, but mostly the low-cost airlines with a very low quality service. There will be a chronicle deficit of pilots and professional and well-trained cabin crews. This explosion of world travel is going to require a serious effort to balance efficient and speedy systems of visa issuing, without compromising on security and border control.
All of this is changing the world as we know it beyond recognition. Isolationism, dictatorships and even authoritarian regimes will most surely not survive nor will evolve into something different and hopefully better in this intensely interconnected and interdependent world. Travel, tourism, trade and cultural exchange have been changing the world but especially for the last 70 years. Spain’s democracy, for example, owes a great deal to tourists who visited from advanced democracies in the 60s and early 70s. Multiply that effect by a million today.
Tourism in the 21st Century is going to be a fundamental pillar of economic development and political evolution. If only for this reason, the UN should seriously upgrade the Word Tourism Organisation headquartered in Madrid, that recently elected a young and dynamic Zurab Pololikashvili as its secretary general. The Ambassador of Georgia in Spain is full of energy and new ideas. Travel and leisure are going to become more important than ever, a fundamental actor in the planet’s future. Sit back, relax and witness it, and if possible, enjoy firstname.lastname@example.org