“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said. A saying which always seemed to me so bold, so forthright. But it is the affirmation of resilience that the human race somehow discovers during times of crisis. How will we cope? What will the future hold? However we observe or react to the current climate, it seems fairly certain our planet is hurting and is taking time out from normality. It’s hit the pause button. A moment of reflection and solitude, a time to heal. Each one of us is a champion and it’ll soon be our time to shine brightly again, but perhaps with a slightly more mindful conscience. But what will the new normal be? This hiatus could be a time to consider making positive changes to how we live and travel. I remember leaving college in 1999 and spending six thrilling months in Sub-Saharan Africa, bumping along miles and miles of unmade tracks in our rickety ex-military truck. Twenty of us squeezed onto two rows of cracked wooden bench seating with weathered tarpaulin canopies, shading us from the blistering equatorial sun. Happy village children giggled and pointed, chasing after us with the offer of a banana or apple. Their bright little faces beaming. How can someone with so little be so generous? i thought to myself. But they had just the right amount of everything. A warm, safe home, a loving family. A community, food and drink. Cracking open the elegant ribbed glass Coca-Cola bottle, I noticed the crate with empties hidden at the back of the shop, ready to be returned to the bottling plant to be cleaned and refilled. That was twenty years ago, so, why haven’t we returned to this in England? And across the globe? What impressed me was how resourceful the continent is – perhaps generally through necessity rather than choice.
What could the future of leisure travel look like? How might it evolve? Indeed, in the coming months, when consumers process, accept and begin dreaming of exotic beaches, mountain trekking and diving for treasure, perhaps we all might consider fewer but more meaningful journeys. Knowledge that one return flight from Hong Kong to London produces roughly 2,000kg of Co2 per passenger might help adjust consumer mindsets, thus reducing the number of annual flights we take. Perhaps we might start to see fewer trips each year but spend a longer period of time in each country. A ten-day or two-week South American tour of Chile and Argentina, say, could replace two seven-night trips, thus considerably reducing overall Co2 emissions. Incorporating sustainability themes into itineraries, even if just a one hour presentation introducing a local foundation or charitable initiative, will begin to offer travellers a gentle insight into the repercussions of our actions, but also little tips and adjustments we can all make to live life with a lesser environmental impact. The hotel community, it seems, are finally taking notice of the climate emergency, and we are now observing big players like Intercontinental Hotel Group and Hyatt pledge to remove all single-use plastics by 2021. To avoid a global environmental disaster in the decades to come, a conscious decision by travel designers and consumers must be made to select accommodation which demonstrates strong eco-principles, such as the elimination of single-use plastics, composting of organic waste, green energy, and kitchens creating menus primarily focusing on locally sourced and seasonal produce. I’d like to see operators curating experiences, which champion local expertise and focus on engagement and protection of indigenous traditions. We must do more to respect small communities and natural wildlife. Deforestation, coral bleaching and melting icebergs are all real and happening today.
Many independent, often family-owned, properties have exercised strong, award-winning eco-principals for decades. Soneva, Song Saa, Singita and Shinta Mani each run their own foundations and are doing brilliant things by giving back and caring for the planet. Soneva, with its two Maldivian hotels and one in Thailand, has created a fund to build and repair fuel-efficient cook stones to support struggling families in Myanmar to which guests have the ability to donate. To date, 230,000 people have benefitted from this initiative. The Shinta Mani Foundation has set up a few initiatives to assist members of society in need of a little help, including travelling to Cambodia’s remote villages with a mobile clinic and offering free health check-ups to the most vulnerable, administered by a team of volunteer dentists and doctors. Both Song Saa Private Island in Cambodia and Singita, with its distinct aesthetic of safari-chic lodges scattered across East and Southern Africa, were purposefully set up to protect local communities and invest in resources and sustainable conservation.
It would be churlish not to mention the importance of funds generated by guests through holidays and travel experiences. In terms of spend on travel in the high-net-worth sphere, historically our members might splash out on milestone birthdays, honeymoons, and wedding anniversaries, once every few years (spending over £150,000) but with much of the world currently experiencing forced lockdowns and border closures, we might start to observe a spike in ‘high value’ trips for travel throughout 2021, many of which will be pondered and curated over the coming months, during this relative period of calm. Depending on government guidelines, in quarter three and four 2020, we might also see an increase in domestic travel as confidence takes time to return to long-haul holidays and a propensity to avoid crowds – airports and train stations, for example. It is important to note that continents such as Africa will experience the repercussions of cancelled safaris and tours over the coming months, which is why we as an industry urge consumers who have current travel bookings to try to postpone the holiday and find new dates, rather than cancel altogether. This small action will go some way to help thousands of vulnerable communities globally to weather this tricky storm.
With more time on our hands, can we as travel designers take creativity to the next level in a responsible manner? We must grasp each journey as an opportunity to inspire and delight. Based on the in-depth knowledge we possess on each client, their psychology, and the manner in which they live their lives, can we create a concept for the journey? What stories can we tell and how do we add sparkle to each trip? One future reality is guaranteed: each and every one of us will deserve an adventure on the other side. How will you make yours extraordinary?
Timmy Coles-Liddle is the founder of NINE, a private club curating imaginative travel and lifestyle experiences globally.