While Dolly Parton might be getting a ton of much-deserved love lately, I’ve had her country contemporary Willie Nelson stuck in my head. “Goin’ places that I’ve never been, seein’ things that I may never see again,” he sings in his most famous track. “And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
In a post-COVID-19 world, what will being on the road even look like? Today, thoughts of the “future of vacation” are pragmatic, starting with the much-related future of business travel. Overall, travel and tourism make up 8.6% of the gross domestic product in North America, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Business travel has an outsized economic impact. The rewards, points and status that business road warriors reap from airlines, hotels and credit cards help fuel their leisure travel as well. What happens if business travel shrinks for the long term?
That’s the focus of much of this issue, but it’s also table-setting for our broader discussion of the future of vacation.
We’ll look at the balance of power in the accommodations marketplace with the rise of vacation rentals. We’ll talk about shifts in the points economy. And we’ll talk about the present and future of virtual tourism.
Virtual reality and augmented reality hold a lot of potential in this space. Could VR be a replacement for “being there”? Could VR be used more broadly as a tool for destination marketers? On one hand, it already is. On another, how many hotel booking sites have you visited that still don’t have decent or useful photos of the guest rooms? There’s room to grow here.
Eventually, there are scenarios where virtual worlds enable a full economic spectrum of tourism. The tech could become a more affordable way for the masses to access high-end niche experiences. VR could become a luxury unto itself with bespoke custom worlds that cater to exclusive clientele. After all, VR doesn’t just have to be a way to experience our actual world. You can use it to create any world.
All of this sounds dreamy in the current context where the discussion is focused on travel restrictions, mask-wearing and cleanliness standards. Yet, what better time to think about the future? After all, that’s what vacation planning is really all about: ensuring amazing experiences, virtual or otherwise.