There has never been a better time to rethink the traditional vacation. International tourism has been decimated by the pandemic, and it is likely to be difficult for the travel industry to recover in the near future.
Short-term, uncertainty around leisure travel continues. COVID-19 restrictions have limited international travel opportunities to a confusing patchwork of recommendations and restrictions. Tourists travelling for Euro 2020 have been linked to spikes in COVID-19 cases. Australia has re-imposed regulations on domestic and international travel to try and manage the virus’s spread.
Long-term, we need to make tourism more sustainable. Aviation contributes around 5% of annual human-made global warming. Tourism also needs to be more inclusive. In the UK, just 1% of the population take 20% of flights abroad.
Given this situation, familiar assumptions about what vacations should look like are overdue a reset. Our current model contributes to climate change. It confines the benefits of tourism to a few positives, while the negative impacts are felt by many. And it may be unavailable for the foreseeable future.
Alternative tourism approaches are available, however. But rather than being about money, they focus on mindset. They are the ways in which philosophy can help us to rethink tourism and explore options which may be more accessible and sustainable to us overall.
Tourism is something that takes us out of the usual. Stepping outside of everyday routines gives us a chance to relax. Doing something unfamiliar provides opportunities to learn. But you don’t need to travel long distances to reap the benefits. We can access the unfamiliar close to home:
This refers to tourism that takes place within a confined space. This might be inhabitants of small islands taking a trip from one side to another, for example. Or even visiting a holiday home that is in sight of your main house. Even tiny journeys can take you into an entirely different headspace.
Somewhere close by can be unfamiliar. A particular footpath never followed, or an unknown part of town. Entering such spaces provides the chance to leave behind the accustomed. It gives people the change to relax, rethink, and reconnect with themselves and others. Psychological rather than geographic distance is what counts.
It may even be possible to take a vacation without leaving the house. Virtual travel involves entering digital landscapes. These may be recreations of physical spaces, such as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Alternately, they may be imagined worlds in themselves, such as open world games.
Virtual travel gives convenient access to emotionally and intellectually stimulating spaces. Animal Crossing, for example, became hugely popular during 2020. Players could use games like these to escape confinement and travel to a safe and relaxing space. Shared with online friends, virtual tourism can help to combat the stress, boredom and isolation of lockdown.
Finding alternative tourist destinations may not be a case of travelling somewhere new at all. The unfamiliar can be found in our everyday surroundings. Our houses, neighbourhoods and workspaces shape how we think and act. However, it’s our familiarity with these spaces that make us insensitive to their effects.
Psychogeography can resensitise us to these environments. It involves a series of techniques originally developed by philosopher Guy Debord which he called dérive. These practices can help us to become more conscious of our surroundings and how they make us feel and behave.
Psychogeography involves drifting through spaces both physically and mentally. This means following the flow of whatever landscape you’re in with no particular purpose. The idea is to see what interests you on the day, following those instincts, and finding out where they take you. Wandering and wondering can lead to surprising places. The Dérive app can be downloaded to give this a go.
Micro-domestic tourism and virtual travel teach us that we don’t have to go far from home to explore the unfamiliar. Psychogeography, meanwhile, encourages us to re-engage with physical, and perhaps digital, spaces that are taken for granted. In doing so, the unfamiliar may be rediscovered.
COVID-19 has encouraged us to embrace new forms of tourism. Domestic tourism is booming in the UK. Likewise, virtual travel is gaining appreciation. Game-based holiday hotspots have long been known to fans. However, more mainstream consumers are picking up on the potential. Rough Guides, the well-known travel guide books, recently launched a guidebook to the X-box games console, for example.
New tourism habits are likely to remain, now that people have had the opportunity to discover that it can be more than the long-haul. A growing realisation that wanderlust can be satiated close to home will be a good thing for re-balancing an industry that has over-emphasised financially and ecologically expensive travel.