Airlines, hotels, travel & tourism

War zones are the new beach

Macabre though it sounds, people like going to war zones and fascination with them is a popular form of tourism. Visiting places of intense suffering, like Auschwitz, Gallipoli or Gettysburg, is dubbed ‘dark tourism’ and there is even an institute named to study it, the Dark Tourism Institute. Travel to war zones and political hotspots, has grown about 65 percent each year over the past four years and is now worth about $US263 billion.

According to the International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, there are many aspects to this fascination with “heritage that hurts”. Some call it “deviant leisure”, but it could be argued that wanting to understand death better, or come to terms with a tragic historical event, is just part of being human.

But it is not all based on history. Even now in war-torn areas like Syria or Gaza, there are thousands of spectators gathering just to watch the battles, the weapons and the bloodshed. This is nothing new – people once used to gather in the town squares to watch beheadings and hangings. Morbid fascination is something most of us experience at some time.

It may be less acceptable, however, to see it as a commercial opportunity. Never before have there been so many businesses making a living from selling death, or simply offering fodder for the morbidly fascinated.

There are new tourist agents like Political Tours, Untamed Borders and Wild Frontiers, which specialise in giving tourists the ultimate, immediate thrill of fear and conflict in the world today. For example, Political Tours offers a Libya tour costing $US7,000, including visits to Qaddafi’s former compound, the Abu Salim prison, and face-to-face meetings with some militia members. Untamed Borders considers Afghanistan to be the “new frontier for skiing and boarding”.

The latest trend seems to be to take grinning Selfies in front of morbid cultural icons. It makes us wonder what is going on. Perhaps life has become too dull and predictable for some of us and people are looking for some excitement. Perhaps we have run out of things or services to buy. It seems like a bizarre alternative to the beach.

Ref: The Atlantic (US), 15 July 2014, The rise of dark tourism. D Kamin.
See also: Dark Tourism - New research published on attractions of death and disaster. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research. Vol. 7 Issue 3, 2013.
Search words: death, war, ‘dark tourism’, Syria, Auschwitz, Dark Tourism Institute, Political Tours, Untamed Borders.
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The holiday you have before the holiday

Looking forward to going on holidays is a natural part of life, but preparation for a holiday may be better than the experience you have on holiday. A survey by Expedia found more than half of Australian travellers spend a lot of time and money getting ‘holiday ready’ before they depart. Forty percent buy new clothes and a third get their hair cut. Ironically, according to, these and eating out are the very things we are likely to give up buying so we can afford a holiday in the first place.

This is not merely an Australian habit. The Expedia survey was worldwide and found 43% of people all over the world bought new clothes for a holiday. Predictably, 10% bought a dieting product or service, to prepare their bodies for some kind of scanty clothing.

Others save money. Apparently 71% of travellers all over the world save for a holiday and 31% actually start saving a year ahead. Mexicans and Indians are most likely to save early, but the Japanese and Dutch are less likely to save early in advance.

This makes us wonder if all the preparation for a holiday pays off in the end. According to one UK study, it takes employees two days to thoroughly unwind at the beginning of a holiday and 10% said it took them a week. At the end of the holiday, it’s even worse. Some 40% of workers don’t come back to the office feeling more relaxed – 90% are worried they’ll have hundreds of emails.

Apparently, holiday stress is a reality. This makes us wonder if the preparation for a holiday is really the best part. If so, perhaps there’s an argument for preparing physically for a holiday – new clothes, funky haircut – but taking the holiday online where there is no need to adjust to time zones, cultural mores or unwanted tipping expectations. Plus you can check your email. (See story below.)

Ref: Expedia (US), 9 June 2014, Vacation spending index reveals sharp differences in travel planning, tipping habits and cost expectations across nations.
Sydney Morning Herald (Aus), 19 June 2014, Australians spend big on pre-holiday rituals by J Fraser.
Search words: holiday, spending, clothes, hair, diets, saving, ‘holiday-ready’, preparation.
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Digital detox for the digitally addicted

The whole idea of ‘digital detox’ is a great piece of tourist marketing, but it also says something about our crazy way of life. Many people find it almost impossible to give up the internet (they’d rather give up sex) or their mobile phone, even though they are both recent additions to our human timeline. How did these technologies get such a grip on us?

Around a third of visitors to Scotland are unhappy because they have poor mobile reception in the most scenic areas of countryside. VisitScotland talks up the “novelty of Luddism”, but the truly addicted are not interested in that. For them, those gorgeous Bens and Glens have become a ‘digital backwater’ in the always-on society. It seems sad.

Meanwhile, the clever companies are offering business people the opportunity to switch off – for a price. Four Seasons Hotel in Costa Rica offered a “Disconnect to Reconnect” retreat where guests had to give up their iPhones for – how long? – 24 hours! In exchange, they received a list of 24 things to do without technology. The Caribbean island of St Vincent and the Grenadines offers a special digital detox package where travellers exchange their smartphones for a guidebook: it tells how to function without technology and there is even a life coach to help them get through it. How very sad.

While it’s easy to pity the digital addicted (most of us), there are even studies to suggest that looking at pictures of nature on our screens, through windows or in virtual worlds, has the same psychological effect as going out in nature. Presumably, the studies could not measure the effect of that earthy, fresh smell when out in a pine forest, compared to looking at one onscreen.

Someone we know has tech-free Tuesdays at home. Obviously the prospect of an entirely tech-free holiday is too much for some, but we think it could do a lot of good – if it didn’t come with a thousand dollar price tag. Giving up technology for a few days can be free, if you have the discipline and can get over the fear of missing out.

Ref: The Guardian (UK), 21 March 2014, A digital detox holiday? But there’s no harm in staying switched on. S Thomas.
Search words: digital detox, tourism, iPhone, VisitScotland, mobile reception, luddism, nature, activities, addiction.
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How the Chinese are travelling

Around 10% of international tourists today are Chinese, and their ranks are swelling with the growth of middle class incomes. There were 96 million journeys out of China last year, half of them for leisure, and Chinese travellers spend up - $US129 billion in 2013, compared to $US86 billion by American tourists.

The way the Chinese travel is changing also, as the younger, more affluent travellers seek a different kind of experience from their parents. They take fewer bus tours and tend to prefer more personally organised travel, staying longer in their destinations.

This means that travel agents and service providers in the hospitality industry are starting to target their services to the changing Chinese market.

The first part is to make it easy for travellers to get there. Tourist operators have to provide direct flights and easy visa processes, before visitors will even consider a destination: 25% of Chinese abandoned trips to Europe in 2010 because of visa delays. America now interviews Chinese visa applicants online and they can pick up their visas at any of 900 bank branches rather than the Embassy. The Maldives, which have no visa requirement, are booming, and attract happy couples wanting to get married too.

Second, more than 80% say that shopping is a big part of their holidays. They like products or trips seen as ‘authentic’, ‘limited edition’ or ‘VIP’, which includes shopping for luxury brands, taking photos at cultural icons and now, taking part in more adventurous cruises, polar expeditions and safaris. Printemps has a dedicated entrance for Chinese tour groups in its Paris shop, while Harrods in London has 100 Union Pay terminals in its store.

Third, nearly half of China’s population is now online, and two thirds use travel websites to prepare their itineraries. Their search engines and social media platforms are not the same as the English-speaking world uses – and failure to use Chinese language will only exacerbate that problem. Tourist operators have to learn how to adapt their sites and link to those used by the Chinese, as well as use their language in hotels, shops and transport centres.

One commentator says they are particularly afraid of being treated as second class. This may not be just a Chinese fear. Most tourists on holidays expect to be treated very well in exchange for their hard-earned cash, particularly when they have done considerable preparation to get there (see story above).

Ref: The Economist (UK), 19 April 2014, How the growing Chinese middle class is changing the global tourism industry.
Search words: Chinese, tourism, direct flight, visa, shopping, luxury brands, experience, language, middle class.
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