We see it all around us, and more importantly, we can feel it.
The runways are lighting up. The world is opening up. Things are looking up. Finally!
Travel itineraries are reaching out to Africa. And Asia. And the Americas. And all places in between. It is a worldwide scramble for travel, and it’s exciting. Wish lists are turning into bookings. Virtual hugs are being turned into tight, real squeezes. Missed milestones are being turned into shared memory-making in one place, not on one screen.
Travel anywhere, whenever one wants, has, for a world of grounded travellers, long been a dream, even if long lines at many airports are a nightmare. Not to mention the enduring risks of cancelled flights, lost baggage, long waits, and sky-high airfares.
The travel turbulence can, and is, being pushed through. There is no stopping travel’s return. Millions upon millions are going, now. They are getting on with their planning, their boarding, their living again. Don’t even think of getting in their way!
The labels for this global travel scramble are growing: ‘pent up demand’, ‘revenge travel’, ‘bounce back’, ‘back to normal’, ‘resilience in action’.
However diverse the terms, whatever we call it, the message is clear: travel is back. That word – ‘back’ – is one which can easily be understood as a very good thing, a sign of welcome recovery. Recovery is indeed underway, green shoots are dotting the landscape. But seeing the increasingly impatient, irritated, ‘I’-centric crowds, clearly all is not good.
Why? Because those little green shoots, at first a welcome sign, are now a warning sign.
The warning? We, the world’s travellers, are at risk of going back to our old ways in this new world of travel.
As a world of travellers exhausted from 2+ years of waiting, missing, and dreaming are scrambling to book holidays, board flights, and be with loved ones once more, they are trampling over the green shoots popping up on the road to recovery. We see it all around us, and importantly, we feel it, a growing sense of ‘Oh dear, here we go again’.
As the world is reopening, the world is forgetting. We are forgetting what was once our shared focus, our shared agenda, our shared hope, for over two years. We are forgetting what Mother Nature gave us all, everywhere, all at the same time: over two years to rethink how we view travel and tourism – the privilege of it, the opportunity of it, the blessing of it. As a global community of sector leaders, we rethought our championing of it, duty to it, responsibility for it. We talked about the risks of returning to old ways: over tourism, overcrowding, overuse of resources, overextending the networks that allow us to connect, overstaying our welcome in communities. Importantly, we reflected on our undervaluing of frontline experience delivery workers in travel who are the future of travel, and our underserving sustainability’s call to action.
We committed to not repeating our old ways.
Sadly, however, it appears we are losing our way. Again.
We see that the desire to recover travel momentum is turning into the desire to recover lost earnings, to make up for lost time, to leave behind the pains of the recent past.
We see wide open natural environments becoming congested, photo-ready sunset spots, again.
We see houses of faith turning into tourist attractions, again.
We see places that should be respectfully quiet ringing with the noise of conversation, again.
We see sacred spaces being coming spots for the perfect selfie, again.
We see members of local communities starting to get that look in their eye as their streets buzz with strangers stopping to take photos of them without stopping to think to ask permission.
One can argue it is human nature – after years of being deprived of the world, travellers are yearning to venture out once more. They want it. They need it. They deserve it.
And oh, how dearly, deeply they have missed it.
The missing, however, does not make the madness acceptable. The missing does not make the invasion acceptable. The missing does not make bad manners spending money a good thing. The missing does not make the stomping on green shoots acceptable.
We as a global travel industry, and as a global community of travellers, need to be careful. We need to be very careful that in our quest to make up for all that was lost in the recent pandemic past – time, touch, dreams, desires, discoveries, meetings, memories, and of course money – we re-embed bad behaviours that will cost us the blessing of the chance to co-create a stronger, smarter, more sustainable, more grateful future.
The battle is on: human nature vs. Mother Nature.
In our minds we may wish to boldly think that we will prevail. In our hearts, however, we know that in this battle, in the future as in the past, Mother Nature will always win. x
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2022